Children have a strong sense of humility about themselves. It enables them to believe that there is someone big out there that can help them
Gina Bria—The Art of Family
When I heard about Rain for Roots, a new children’s music CD from Sandra McCracken, Katy Bowser, Ellie Holcomb, and Flo Paris, I was inspired. Before I heard a single song, even before they released any music, hope bloomed in my heart. These are fantastically talented women and mothers, and the words “Rain for Roots”—a powerful metaphor—made me think of Emily Dickinson and how the right words, strung together, can make magic.
Thankfully, blessedly, even magically, Rain for Roots was worth hoping for. The songwriters collaborated with celebrated children’s author Sally Lloyd-Jones, and the result is a gift, like a ladybug, or a robin’s nest, simple and perfect. I am a huge fan of Sally Lloyd-Jones, both as a gifted artist and storyteller and as a champion for children, and with lyrics pulled from the pages of Lloyd-Jones’s Hug-a-Bible, Rain for Roots brilliantly succeeds at the formidable task of speaking the language of children.
First, every song is pregnant with questions. All parents know that questions are a child’s first language, and Sally’s words meet children right where they are. Who made everything? Who died and came alive again? Why did he come? Who heard Daniel when he prayed? Who chose someone really small to fight a giant nine feet tall? Children want to know, and the questions in the lyrics will captivate and entrance (if my four-year-old is any indication), while quietly teaching them how to think about God.
As important as the questions are the songs. They are short, and the melodies are simple and beautifully singable. This may be the album’s greatest achievement. It is no small feat to take someone else’s words and knit them into a beautiful song, but Rain for Roots does it again and again. Ms. Lloyd-Jones is a master of her craft, and her words are lively and rhythmic without any fuss or wordiness. But as the women behind Rain for Roots plied their skills and musical intuition to the text, real songs, worthy of children, came to life.
The production is simple with a folky elegance, often sounding like moms and dads singing together with guitars and tambourines and the occasional pedal steel guitar, with small children at their feet occasionally singing along. McCracken produced the project with a deft touch and a bent towards that family feel but with enough light production changes to keep things musically interesting, like the angelic background vocals that appear on “Moses.” But even so, on songs like “Moses,” “Jesus Loves Zaccheus,” and others, the strong melodies are the stars around which everything else revolves.
And I never tired of the presence of the children within the songs. In one of my many favorite moments, at the conclusion of “God Makes Everything,” Sandra’s daughter Carter (who had been singing along all through the song) says “Yaaaay!” along with a smattering of adult applause. Then Sandra asks “You want to do it again?” and Carter replies, “No, not right now.” That’s lovely, and not what you’d expect to hear on a kids’ CD, and it’s another reason why I loved Rain for Roots.
When they do ramp up the production on the closing song, “Noah,” the drums, guitar tone, and gang vocal simmer into a little folk-gospel jam. I appreciated the lift from the quieter production, but it was again the melody that gripped me. Tied to the simple truth that “God’s the one…who does just what he says he’ll do,” it’s the kind of song you roll the windows down for. You’ll want to turn it up and sing loud, with or without your kids in the car.
If we let them, children keep us honest. They keep us sincere, they keep us grounded in the moment, and they keep us aware of our own need of a savior. I love writing songs for kids because music can reach down into the soul of those little people and shine light on the beauty they already possess. Rain for Roots does this by raising big questions and giving big, foundational answers in happily memorable melodies. It points to Jesus as Lord of All, and encourages our little ones to see themselves right alongside Moses and Noah and Zaccheus and Daniel, within the great story of God’s redemptive plan. They may not put it that way for a long time, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
With such an outpouring of skill matched with love and purpose, Rain for Roots is a treasure for families with small children. It lives up to its name, and I’m so thankful for this simple yet deep addition to the canon of music written for, and worthy of, children.