Leah Salomaa is a Toronto-based folk singer who has made two excellent CDs of folk songs for children. This is tastefully sung and played music that’s engaging for children and adults alike: it’s not saccharine like other children’s CDs I’ve heard. Leah’s voice has great clarity and beauty, and there’s an elegant simplicity to this music that’s made me listen to it again and again.
I went to see Leah Salomaa on the weekend at the Toronto Waldorf School , where she was performing a children’s concert. Leah sings and plays the bodhrán  and piano while Chris Gartner accompanies her on guitar. This is done almost like a song circle, involving children and adults actively with gestures, movements and dance. Everyone gets to sing along, and Leah is excellent at getting even the most withdrawn to come out of their shells a little.
Back to the CDs, though. Both are exceptionally well recorded and sound great. The arrangements are simple and leave a lot of space for the songs to really shine. The music is a mix of Celtic, folk and bluegrass tunes, many adjusted lyrically to be more digestible for kids while not losing their charm for older listeners. For example, “Drunken Sailor” becomes “Bow Down Belinda” on I Like to Rise and Father Sun‘s “Mary Mac” has lyrics that are a little less, well, bawdy than the Irish original (then again, there seem to be so many variations on the lyrics that saying anything is ‘the original’ version seems a little meaningless).
Speaking of “Mary Mac,” it’s a fabulous tune and beautifully executed here – definitely my favourite and, I think, deserving of a place in any Celtic music compilation. The verses are sung to only the beat of the bodhrán (she has fantastic pitch!) and are interspaced with superb pipes and accordion playing. It’s a toe-tapping reel for sure, and one that I’m finding myself listening to over and over again.
Leah Salomaa’s website  has information about how to book her. Her latest CD, Father Sun and Mother Moon: Soulful Songs for Children (2007), is available through CDBaby . I can’t seem to find I Like to Rise (2004) anywhere online anymore (you’ll have to go to a concert to buy it). Finally, I see traces online that there was a third CD in 2000 called Celtic Trio (I’m assuming this was ‘for adults’) but nobody seems to have it for sale anymore.
Update: Leah Salomaa has since written to me to let me know that I Like to Rise is available at http://www.firetheimagination.ca  (her distributor) and http://www.parentbooks.ca , a Toronto store that also sells online. The Celtic Trio album was in fact never released (the record label didn’t make it), which explains why it’s not for sale anywhere. And “Mary Mac” was in fact originally recorded for that album, so maybe that’s why it has a sound that’s more appealing to my grown-up ears :) What a treat to get mail from the artist herself!