KIDS MUSIC Artists update their sound
The new style is music to the ears of the parents of tykes.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Kids are ready to rock.
Supersweet musicians like Raffi used to dominate the market for preteens, but a new generation of performers is bringing a more sophisticated, rock-tinged style to the genre.
"Kids' music has definitely gone beyond 'I'm a Little Teapot,"' says Regina Kelland, director of children's marketing at Rounder Records. "It has gotten more sophisticated musically and lyrically. Every year, we get recordings from new people who have a unique sound and a unique voice."
Over the past 10 years, a number of well-known artists have produced records for youngsters, including Jerry Garcia (shortly before his death), Lisa Loeb and They Might Be Giants.
And a number of hit makers have done songs for compilations. Cake, Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan, for example, contributed tracks to "For the Kids." A sequel to that disc should be out this October.
But the biggest change in music for the younger set has come from a group of singer-songwriters who have become top sellers by providing blessed relief to parents who suffer when a cloying CD goes into heavy rotation.
"It's always a good thing when parents don't want to throw themselves out of a car at 65 mph because they can't stand to listen to a CD one more time," says Kelland. Seat belts remain buckled because of artists like Brady Rymer, who came to the kiddie arena after 13 years as the bassist for the popular jam band From Good Homes.
Rymer began by writing songs about being a new dad, and four years later, he's about to release his third album, "I Found It."
He may be singing about brushing teeth, but he says the difference in the gigs is minimal.
"The great shows with From Good Homes would boil down to one energy between us and the audience," says Rymer. With the kids, "it's all just happening and they're responding to that same energy the same way -- with dancing and clapping."
Kids 'absorb it'
Laurie Berkner -- who has been called the Ani DiFranco and the Sheryl Crow of kids' music -- recognizes that sentiment.
"They take it kind of seriously," she says. "Kids don't just listen to the music, it's like they absorb it."
Berkner, currently eight months pregnant with her first child, moved to New York from Princeton, N.J., in the mid-'90s to make it big in the rock world. But a year later, armed with a degree in psychology, she became a music specialist at a preschool and started writing tunes for her students.
"Eventually, kids started singing the songs out of the classroom," she says. "Parents wanted to know what they sounded like, so I put them on tape."
Berkner was soon performing at several birthday parties per week -- including ones for Madonna's daughter, Lourdes, and Sting's son Giacomo -- and her fan base increased exponentially. Now she tours throughout North America.
Other budding performers for kids include Jessica Harper, Dan Zanes, Ben Rudnick, Yosi, Elizabeth Mitchell and Ralph's World.
Despite all the success, there are still some very small worlds to conquer.
"Parents are expecting to be talked down to or patronized," says Rymer. "I think they are surprised (to hear this new music) -- there aren't many opportunities to have a dance party with your kids."