Michael Doucet,
Le Hoogie Boogie:
Louisiana French Music for Children

(Rounder Records, 1992)

Children and traditional music are a natural combination, particularly when the music is rhythmic and sparkling. Long restricted to retreads of popular American folk songs, traditional music for children has crossed cultures and styles, providing a wider selection.

Michael Doucet adds to the mix with Le Hoogie Boogie: Louisiana French Music for Children, backed by his wife, Sharon Arms Doucet, Melissa Maher, and a host of family and friends, including the members of his band Beausoleil. This rollicking collection of 20 songs and rhymes is guaranteed to have toes tapping and fingers snapping faster than you can say "jambalaya."

The CD gets off to a flying start with "P'tit Galop Pour Mamou (Giddy-up to Mamou)," a galloping song packed with plenty of fiddle and accordion, not to mention Doucet's characteristic singing. "Mon Cheval (My Horse)" follows, a brief rhyme game to play with a baby, recited by Barry Ancelet.

Finger snaps and a sassy fiddle introduce the next track, which in a sense needs no introduction: "Le Hoogie Boogie (The Hokey Pokey)." The James Sisters (Althea M. James, Carmen James, Joanne J. Pratt and Carmella Marshall) raise "The Hokey Pokey" to whole new levels, although those wanting to learn how to say "that's what it's all about" in French will be disappointed, since they sing "La, la, la" on those lines. Still, turn this on at a birthday party or family picnic to add a new twist to the festivities; everyone will know what to do.

"Deux Cocodries" is another simple song game, with a catchy melody and the directions are included in the liner notes; you can put it on repeat for as long as you need. "Zydeco Gris-gris" is a zydeco rap song, and the combination isn't as incongruous as you might think. Those of you who can read French will realize that the lyrics are a little creepier than the liner notes let on, but it sounds cool, and that's what really matters.

Doucet returns to a more traditional sound with "La Cravate a Zig et Zag (The Zig-Zag Tie)," a cumulative song about the articles of clothing given to the singer by his sweetheart, which includes a zig-zag tie. Vocals, fiddle and accordion race along at quite a clip; one can barely hear Doucet take a breath. "A, B, C et 1,2,3 (A, B, C and 1,2,3)" provides a breather with a jaunty version of the alphabet song which includes counting to 20 in French and which goes slowly and clearly enough that it's realistic to actually learn the letters and numbers.

"O Mes Jolies Dames (Oh My Pretty Ladies)" is another cumulative song in the tradition of "Hi Ho! The Rattlin' Bog" and "The Green Grass Grew All Around," about a tree in the woods, with the requisite branch, nest, egg and bird. This bird has a heart, though, and in the heart is love. The minor melody is lovely, underscored with guitar and congas, and it's one of my favorite tracks.

Other highlights include "Paquet d'Epingles (Packet of Pins)," a rollicking rendition of the folk song, "Les Maringouins Ont Tous Mange Ma Belle (The Mosquitoes Ate Up My Sweetheart)," and "Allons Danser, Colinda (Let's Dance, Colinda)."

The next to the last track, "Johnny Peut Pas Danser (Johnny Can't Dance)," rocks, with grinding guitars and bass, exuberant accordion, and back-up vocals by the James Sisters which don't quit. Grab les petits and go wild, and don't worry about getting the kids too wound up. The last track will settle everyone down with a pair of lullabies "La Petite Poule Blanche/Fais Do Do (The Little White Hen/Night-Night)." Just two-step and waltz your little one right up the stairs and into bed.

The liner notes contain complete translations of all the songs as well as credits for all the talented musicians who put their efforts into this recording. You don't have to know French to enjoy the sound, and there's plenty of variety here. Allons danser!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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