Elizabeth Mitchell began working on children's music when her main musical outlet was her long-running chamber pop band Ida. While on tour with Ida in 1998, she and future husband Daniel Littleton made a stop at Michigan producer Warren Defever's home studio and recorded an album's worth of children's songs in a single day before heading off to the next town. After venturing into parenthood herself, Mitchell's focus on children's music grew, and she slowly began building a catalog of incredibly warm and loving sounds for little ones, her gorgeously present voice and fingerpicked acoustic guitar at the forefront of simple songs of first lessons. Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie collects recordings of Mitchell's interpretations of the legendary folkie's songs going as far back as that 1998 one-day album. The 13 tracks are ceaselessly charming and often cut the preciousness inherent to kid's music with a subtle sense of humor and reverence walking hand in hand with the more childlike elements. Field recording-like automotive sound effects on "Riding in My Car" are devoid of any cuteness whatsoever, and Mitchell's extensive liner notes speak of her discovery of Woody Guthrie's freely associated children's music and how it helped her find mystery and joy in what formerly seemed too straightforward or cloying. Her deep connection with his innocent sounds in her adult life is felt throughout the album. As they're geared toward children, a lot of these songs quickly get melodically repetitive in a way that's easier for youngsters to grasp and memorize. Mitchell and company augment Guthrie's beautifully singsongy tunes with sophisticated instrumental arrangements, breaking up the standardized forms with unlikely instrumentation. The sweet lullaby "Sleep Eye" is based around Dean Jones' balafon rhythms and Kristin Jacobson's lilting flute lines. "Rattle My Rattle" is similarly minimal, with baby-talk lyrics over spare percussion and rattle sounds, interspersed with some Robert Wyatt-esque woodwind arrangements for the adults. Subtle touches and slight alterations to Guthrie's timeless songs are what makes the album so beautiful. Even the ubiquitous campfire classic "This Land Is Your Land" takes on a slightly melancholic color with autumnal piano touches and slight diversions to softly haunting minor chords and harmonium drones. Album closer "Little Seed" sounds modeled after the barnyard stomp of the Band circa The Basement Tapes, with zigzagging violin and mandolin accompanying muted drums. The relatively brief Little Seed captures all of the freewheeling ramble of Guthrie's spirit and fuses it with the starry-eyed beauty of Mitchell's crystal-clear voice and glowing songcraft.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas