Vitamin L’s music
Just as there is an awkward age in children, there is an awkward age in children’s music. It comes when tots are too big for Raffi and too young for Debbie Gibson and New Kids on the Block. Actually, I know many 4-year-olds who admire Debbie Gibson. But this phenomenon is too depressing to discuss, beyond noting that in a culture where kids go straight from preschool into puberty, we need in-between music more than ever.
Enter Vitamin L — yes, the ”L” is for love — whose two collections may fill the gap. The Vitamin L group of three teens and three adults includes Jan Nigro, folksinger Laura Nyro’s brother, who wrote some songs in 1987 that were used for a values curriculum in New York City public schools. The positive response led him to form Vitamin L in 1988. Cass Morgan, of the clever theatrical musical Pump Boys and Dinettes, is also a member. They are the most intensely upbeat bunch I’ve heard since the Up With People tour stopped at my high school back in the 1970s.
You never hear the word God during these songs, but you feel the presence of a powerful moral influence: peer pressure. These are character-building songs dense with behavioral dicta. Luckily, all are beautifully performed, and most are hummable. Caught up in Jan Nigro’s original gospel and pop-rock songs, kids may not notice they’re being lectured — or they may not mind.
Each of the 13 tunes on the group’s new album, Everyone’s Invited!, promotes a positive trait. A kid who embodied all the values expressed in ”A Beautiful Way” (generosity), ”Laughter” (cheerfulness), ”Welcome” (friendliness), and the rest would be too good to be true, or too obnoxious to tolerate. But these songs don’t demand perfection; they explore the struggle for it.
”Decisions, Decisions” has more questions than answers (”What are my choices? Where could they lead?”). ”Talking ‘Bout a Put-Down” notes the social pressure on kids to be insulting and sarcastic (”How bad can it be? I always hear it on TV”). And the charismatic gospel tune ”That Is a Mighty Power” (i.e., love) is mighty powerful — a song worth the price of the album. Vitamin L’s 1989 collection, Walk A Mile, boasts a dozen similar songs. ”So Much to Share” extolls the virtues of the elderly (”Look in their hearts for the treasure”). ”Family Feeling” fosters the saintly emotions required of members of big families (”There’s always room in your heart!”). And ”People Are a Rainbow” praises diversity (”If everything were blue,/I’d enjoy that color less”).
They may preach diversity, but unfortunately Walk a Mile‘s songs don’t demonstrate it the way Vitamin L’s newer songs do. There’s no breakout number here, and with rare exceptions, Mile‘s tunes all sound pleasantly alike. But then you could say the same of Debbie Gibson’s.
Vitamin L is sometimes sanctimonious; I pity the poor polluter caught in ”See the Beauty” (”With all that nature has done for you/Can’t you do a little too?”). But even more, I pity the preteen who never goes through that slightly obnoxious period of piety these songs describe. It seems a necessary step on the road to moral adult behavior.
Everyone’s Invited!: A-
Walk a Mile: B+