Mel and Friends "Swingset Serenade" -- a Swing Set for the Swingset

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Swingset Serenade

Swingset Serenade,” a family album conceived, written, and performed by Melanie Dill and Tom Johnson, accompanied by the talents of a whole slew of musicians and kids, brings an excitingly different take on children’s music. So much so that calling it just a children’s album doesn’t do it justice. This is an album that the whole family can get into, and to quote an age-old saying and allow them to “swing and sway like Sammy Kaye!” And that’s no stretch of the imagination. This album is a multicultural swing fest from the first song to the last!

What adds to the album's enjoyment is the fact that it is so very well recorded! Seriously, I was blown away by how well this album was mastered. Voices and instruments have an organic naturalness to them that I have found missing on so many other mainstream contemporary albums. The soundstage is wide and deep with multiple layers of depth that give me an ornate feeling of where everyone was in the recording. When you hear the kids talking/singing through the songs, they each occupy their own presence in the soundstage, making it clear not only to detect each voice but also to detect the subtle inflections that each one brings to their dialogue, making their voices unique. And the band... it can be very easy for a swing ensemble to sound like just one or two instruments, as the sounds can blend together in a not-so-good way, but here you can pick out each instrument clearly as they play together, in a good way. Brilliant!

I love how the kids' voices are sometimes interjected in the songs even while someone else is singing, but they don’t overpower the singer; they just add to the song, as they do on “Swingset Serenade.” There are songs on this album that have a Latin swing sound to them too, such as “Jugo De Naranja.” There's so much fun going on in this song (with vocals in Spanish) that if it doesn't light your fire, brother, your wood's wet!

Perhaps my favorite song on the album is the one titled “Make Me A Garden.” To me, it just screams out as something Bix Beiderbecke would have done way back in the 1920s. The words flow together in perfect rhyme and reason to the music. Wonderful!

A nice little visual touch that this CD has is that while all the songs are obviously on one side, the titles are written as if divided between side 1 and 2 and even made to look like a 45rpm record. Nice touch there!

For me, the song “Ruth’s Couscous” has a Benny Goodman vibe to it that drives home my notion that the kids too loved making this album as much as the adults did. They are so full of themselves; they talk and converse with each other in perfect time to go along with the music. “Loose goose pool”... I ask you, who puts that lyric in a song?! Love it!

There are some slower, mellow, cool jazz-ish songs too. When I first heard “Come Back Balloon,” it instantly made me think of a song that would have been at home if included on one of the earlier Charlie Brown specials (particularly “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” came to my mind). “The Speed Of Light” is in a class (science class, that is) all by itself. This song would make Bill Nye the Science Guy or Mr. Wizard smile from ear to ear to hear. While a wonderful musical number, it is interspersed with kids talking about science facts about the speed of light and other related science facts. Not just skimming the surface, but pretty deep ones too for that matter. If science had been taught this way when I was in school, I might have stayed awake in class!

What is also cool about this song is that I feel it’s the perfect segue into the next song on the album, “Me Gustan Las Estrellas,” a song that is sung in both Spanish and English.

This album does a fine job of mixing the lead vocals between adult female and male voices and kids' voices on various songs as well as having some in English and Spanish. Another favorite song of mine off this album is the last one, “Bedtime.” The male vocal harmonizing on this song is so good; it makes me think of The Beach Boys on their songs like “In My Room” or “Surfer Girl,” and it's recorded so well, as I mentioned at the start of this review. The lead vocal is dead center stage, the piano is crystal clear and natural sounding, and you can even hear the brush strokes on the snare drum situated in the back behind the piano and vocals. It’s a nice quiet song to end an album like this because if you play it from start to finish, you won’t be able to help yourself from swinging and swaying throughout it so much that you’ll need to sit down and rest a bit.

Summing this up (although I don’t really think I need to), this album is good on so many levels. The style is fresh, the musicians are consummate, the recording is impeccable, the fun is off the charts, and the joy immeasurable. A lot of people came together to make this album, as you’ll see listed on the inner CD sleeve, and indeed, Mel has many friends, and with this album, she just made another one for life.


  1. Swingset Serenade
  2. Jugo De Naranja
  3. Make A Garden
  4. Mariposa
  5. Ruth’s Couscous
  6. Come Back Balloon
  7. The Speed Of Light
  8. Me Gustan Las Estrellas
  9. Bunk Bed
  10. Bedtime