Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Chandrika Tandon: “Ammu’s Treasures” (2023) CD Review

Chandrika Tandon Is a vocalist whose first album, Soul Call, was nominated for a Grammy (Best Contemporary World Music Album). She has since then released a few more albums: Soul March, Soul Mantra, and Shivoham – The Quest. Her new release, Ammu’s Treasures, is actually a three-disc boxed set, containing two discs of songs and one disc of chants. And though it’s packaged for children, even containing two sheets of stickers, it can, and should, also be enjoyed by adults. In fact, in the 148-page book included in the box, Chandrika Tandon addresses the adults (after addressing the children, of course). “My dear grown-ups,” she begins, and then explains where the name Ammu comes from. “Ammu is the name my grandchildren call me,” she writes. She continues, “Ammu means happiness; Ammu means sweetness; Ammu means purity.” That should also give you an idea of her approach to the music contained in this set. Ammu’s Treasures is a wonderful collection of songs, including some old folk tunes and more modern pop songs, all delivered with warmth and joy and honesty. She has created lyric videos for some of these songs, and the video for “Miller Of The Dee” is what first got me interested in this release. The song is beautiful and haunting, the animated video depicting some strange creatures. It really grabbed me, and I ended up watching it multiple times (something I very rarely do). That one track was more than enough to get me excited about this artist and this release. But there is magic running throughout this three-disc set. By the way, Chandrika Tandon includes very brief notes on each of the songs, short messages for children on what they might take away from each track, as well as art work related to each song.

Volume 1 – Songs

The first disc, labeled “Volume 1 – Songs,” contains nearly an hour of music. The album opens with “Children Of The Stars,” and right away it is clear Chandrika Tandon is not talking down to children. This song mentions the various sun signs, and celebrates our differences. As a Pisces, I enjoy these lines: “Pisces children dream away their worry/What’s your secret, Scorpio?/Capricorns are better safe than sorry/But Aquarius says, ‘Let’s go.’” This track features some nice percussion. That’s followed by “I Will Bring You Flowers,” which has a pretty instrumental introduction. This track takes us to a distant land, or a sweet dream land. “I will bring you happiness wrapped up in a box and tied with a yellow bow/I will bring you rainbow skies and summer rain to make your garden grow/And in the winter snow, my songs will keep you from the cold.” What more could any of us ask for? And her delivery is bright and warm and honest. We trust her as we would a friend or parent or angel. Then “À La Claire Fontaine” is sung in French, with some beautiful string accompaniment.

“Kookaburra” is a cheerful number about a bird, featuring some wonderful work on banjo. That’s Béla Fleck on banjo, by the way. Yes, Chandrika Tandon has assembled some fantastic musicians to accompany her on this release. In addition to Béla Fleck, these discs feature the work of Michael Ward-Bergeman on accordion, Eugene Friesen on cello, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Howard Levy on harmonica, Maeve Gilchrist on harp, Dave Schroeder on Mongolian horn, Purbayan Chatterjee on sitar, Marcus Roja on tuba, and Charissa Hoffman on ukuelele. Paul Calo, Bobby Keyes and Romero Lubambo all play guitar, and Brian Gill, Paul Kowert and Victor Wooten all play bass. Rakesh Chaurasia and Keith Underwood play flute. Martin Bejerano and Kenny Werner are on piano, and Cyro Baptista and Jamey Haddad are on percussion. On strings are Kenny Werner, Kevin Kliesch, the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and FAMES Orchestra. Again, this is not your typical children’s album. Back to “Kookaburra,” this track made me laugh aloud the first time I heard Chandrika Tandon sing, “Stop, Kookaburra, stop, Kookaburra/That’s not a monkey, that’s me.” This is delightful, and will certainly appeal to children. That’s followed by “Teddy Bears’ Picnic,” which is adorable, and includes tuba.

“Ash Grove” is a traditional folk song, a song of sorrow, of mourning, of memory, of holding that special someone in our hearts. It features some nice work on piano and a beautiful vocal performance. That’s followed by “Surangani,” a fun and cheerful number with some good percussion. There is a great joy to Chandrika Tandon’s vocal performance here, and to the music. It is a song that ought to raise your spirits. I love that work on harmonica, and this one also contains wonderful stuff on banjo. Then “Wish You Could Be Here” is a pretty and warm song about missing someone and wanting to share experiences. It features some nice work on guitar and a friendly vocal performance. That’s followed by “Lemon Tree,” a song I heard a lot while growing up. My parents played the Peter, Paul & Mary rendition in particular. Chandrika Tandon’s offering is a lively, delightful rendition, featuring banjo, accordion, tuba and percussion, giving it something of a Louisiana flavor. “Polly Von” was also covered by Peter, Paul & Mary. It is a much more serious and somber song than “Lemon Tree,” and Chandrika Tandon’s vocal approach changes accordingly. She delivers another beautiful performance. This is the message that accompanies this song in the book: “We all make mistakes sometimes without meaning to. We must learn to forgive others and forgive ourselves” (p. 45). I also the artwork for this one, which is on page 44 of the book.

“You Are Old, Father William” is a poem written by Lewis Carroll. Chandrika Tandon delivers a delightful and playful rendition that features some good work on harmonica and some interesting percussion. That is followed by “Que Sera Sera,” another song that I heard a lot while growing up. Back then it was the Doris Day record that I heard the most. In more recent years, it’s been the Pink Martini version. But this version by Chandrika Tandon is up there with those great recordings. It has a lighter flavor than some versions, to be sure, and at times feels like a dream, like a magical dance. “Will You Walk A Little Faster?” is another that comes from Lewis Carroll’s writing. It is often titled “The Mock Turtle’s Song.” “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?” Absolutely.

Chandrika Tandon then turns to a standard, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” her version featuring some wonderful work on piano. I love that she doesn’t shy away from jazz here. I remember loving jazz when I was a child, though I had no idea that the music was jazz (I mean, come on, we all loved the Vince Guaraldi stuff), and I think kids will appreciate this version. Certainly, adults will. Then “Woodpecker’s Song” begins with some percussion imitating the sound of a woodpecker. This is a playful, goofy number. And of course, there have been some jazz renditions of this song. “Sway” is another standard. Chandrika Tandon delivers an excellent rendition. This is one of my favorite tracks from the first disc. It features some wonderful work on both guitar and piano. She does change the word “thrill” to “sway” in the phrase “Make me thrill”: “I can hear the sound of violins/Long before it begins/Make me sway as only you know how/Sway me smooth, sway me now.” She then delivers another that began as a poem, but this one not by Lewis Carroll. “Wynken, Blynken, And Nod” was written by Eugene Field. The first disc concludes with a gorgeous, magical rendition of “Scarborough Fair,” another that I heard a lot in my childhood, then the version by Simon & Garfunkel.

Volume 2 – Songs

The second disc, which is labeled “Volume 2 – Songs,” contains close to an hour of music. It opens with “Miller Of The Dee.” This, as I mentioned earlier, is the track that got me interested in this release. I’ve listened to it many times now, and it is compelling each time. What a gorgeous vocal performance she delivers here, with something of a haunting quality. There is also some wonderful work on banjo. “So let us his example take/And be from malice free/Let everyone his neighbor serve/As served he’d like to be.” That’s followed by another beautiful track, “On A Cool Summer Morning,” this one too featuring banjo, as well some really nice work on flute. This one also features an interesting use of percussion, and a vocal performance that is at times stunning. Chandrika Tandon then delivers a beautiful rendition of “Molly Malone.” I’ve heard several great renditions of this song over the years, by artists like Sinead O’Connor, The Dubliners, and Pete Seeger, and this version by Chandrika Tandon has a place among them. It features some pretty and moving work on strings, but of course it is her vocal performance that is at the center.

The music becomes more fun with “Vive La Compagnie.” “We’re all together for only a while/Vive la compagnie/Sharing a laugh, a book and a smile/Vive la compagnie.” This one has a good Latin rhythm, and features some great stuff on piano. That’s followed by “(How Much) Is That Doggy In The Window?” I can’t help but think of that scene from Pink Flamingos whenever I hear this song, but of course you don’t have to be concerned with your children making that same association. Or do you, fantastic parents? This track is kind of adorable, at least as adorable as the doggy she describes, and it features some wonderful work on guitar. Then “Listen To The Pouring Rain” features gorgeous work on piano, and an equally beautiful vocal performance. There is yet another pretty vocal performance in “Santa Lucia.”

“Now’s The Time For Planting Seeds” is a lighter and playful number that will likely bring a smile to your face. “Early in the day we rise/For our pleasant exercise/And we are healthy as can be.” Yeah, about that, it’s on my list, really. But, seriously, this track is adorable. That’s followed by “Oh Dear! What Can The Matter Be?” Okay, perhaps something is wrong with me because I honestly thought this song was going to be “Seven Old Ladies.” I didn’t realize the tune itself was older than those lyrics. I suppose I should be embarrassed by that, but tra-la-la. Anyway, this is a fun track (though not as fun as it would be with the old ladies lyrics). Then Chandrika Tandon gives us “Where Have The Flowers Gone.” This is a folk song I heard a lot while growing up. My parents played the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul & Mary versions, as I recall. Chandrika Tandon does a really good job with it, delivering a gentle, moving rendition that features some pretty work on flute. That’s followed by a sweet rendition of “Donna Donna.”

I still have not seen The Sound Of Music, but I do like some of the songs from that musical, including “Edelweiss.” And on her version, Chandrika Tandon gives a bright, warm vocal performance. That’s followed by a pretty rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer” to play for the little ones when you’re trying to get them to sleep. “Au Clair De La Lune” is another track that is able to transport us, sung in French and featuring sitar. That’s followed by a sweet and rather pretty rendition of the children’s song, “There’s A Hole In My Bucket.” When I was a kid, I remember this song being delivered at a faster pace, but I like the way Chandrika Tandon approaches it. The first few lines of “Hush Little Baby” are delivered a cappella. It feels fitting to follow “Hole In My Bucket” with this one, because there are similarities in the way the lyrics progress. There is a good deal of affection heard in her delivery, and Chandrika’s voice gets softer toward the end, because perhaps by then your little ones have nodded off. The disc then concludes with a second rendition of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” this one delivered in French and featuring some excellent work on guitar.

Volume 3 – Chants To The Light

The third disc, labeled “Volume 3 – Chants To The Light,” contains chants set to some beautiful music. There are twenty-one chants listed on the back of the CD case, but they are all presented on one single track that is twenty-six minutes long. So it is a single piece of music with different sections. And here her notes on each piece are perhaps more helpful. There is also accompanying artwork for each of the chants, as there are for the songs on the other two discs. The “Om Namashivaya” chant is particularly moving and beautiful. It seems to open up a glorious space before us, a place we can inhabit if we wish. There is some wonderful percussion on “Om Namo Narayanaya” and “Om Jai Jagadeesh Hare.” The most familiar of these chants (at least to me) is “Hare Rama Hare Krishna,” which, if I remember correctly, was even used in the musical Hair. And check out the dramatic string work on “Om Bhoor Bhuvasvaha,” “Shamno Mitrah” and “Sahana Vavatu.”

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Children Of The Stars
  2. I Will Bring You Flowers
  3. À La Claire Fontaine
  4. Kookaburra
  5. Teddy Bears’ Picnic
  6. Ash Grove
  7. Surangani
  8. Wish You Could Be Here
  9. Lemon Tree
  10. Polly Von
  11. You Are Old, Father Williams
  12. Que Sera Sera
  13. Will You Walk A Little Faster?
  14. Bye Bye Blackbird
  15. Woodpecker’s Song
  16. Sway
  17. Wynken, Blynken, And Nod
  18. Scarborough Fair

Disc 2

  1. Miller Of The Dee
  2. On A Cool Summer Morning
  3. Molly Malone
  4. Vive La Compagnie
  5. (How Much) Is That Doggy In The Window?
  6. Listen To The Pouring Rain
  7. Santa Lucia
  8. Now’s The Time For Planting Seeds
  9. Oh Dear! What Can The Matter Be?
  10. Where Have All The Flowers Gone
  11. Donna Donna
  12. Edelweiss
  13. Beautiful Dreamer
  14. Au Clair De La Lune
  15. There’s A Hole In My Bucket
  16. Hush Little Baby
  17. Que Sont Devenues Les Fleurs

Disc 3 (all tracks listed are presented a single track)

  1. Om Om Om
  2. Vakra Tunda Mahaa Kaaya
  3. Gurur Bramha Gurur Vishnur
  4. Poojyaya Raghavendraya
  5. Tryambakam Yajaamahe
  6. Om Namashivaya
  7. Vanamali Gadhi Shrangee
  8. Om Namo Narayanaya
  9. Sri Rama Rama Ramethi
  10. Hare Rama Hare Krishna
  11. Sarva Mangala Mangalye
  12. Yaadevi Sarva Bhootheshu
  13. Asato Maa Sad Gamaya
  14. Om Bhoor Bhuvasvaha
  15. Bhadram Karnebih
  16. Poornamadhah Poornamidham
  17. Sarvesham Swasthir Bhavathu
  18. Shamno Mitrah
  19. Sahana Vavatu
  20. Lokha Samastha Sukhino Bhavathu
  21. Om Jai Jagadeesh Hare

Ammu’s Treasures was released on September 7, 2023.

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