The best thing about the Canadian children's trio Sharon, Lois & Bram (besides great songs, fluid arrangements, and a general aura of fun) is their sense of economy. They pack more music into every song, and more songs into every eclectic collection than anybody else. Their 10th album, Sharon, Lois & Bram Sing A to Z is no exception.
In the pantheon of children's performers, S, L & B are poised just below Raffi. (Now that Raffi has vowed to work at saving the earth instead of entertaining children, S, L & B will likely rise above him.) The group has been together for 12 years and famous for most of them. With concert tours, reruns of their 1984-89 ''Elephant Show'' appearing daily on Nickelodeon, and television deals in the works, they're harder to miss than Cher.
They don't write their songs, but they choose well. In every collection, from ''One Elephant, Deux Elephants'' (1978) to the great ''Mainly Mother Goose'' (1984) to this one, the trio elegantly blends musical styles and lyrics, making obscure songs singable and reinventing familiar ones. Hence, ''A to Z'''s version of ''Mairzy Doats'' as a food-chain theme: ''Whales eat eels and seals eat eels and baby fish eat oysters.'' A fan wrote the lyrics and sent them to ''Elephant Show'' sidekick Eric Nagler, and Sharon, Lois & Bram recorded them with an arrangement borrowed from The Three Stooges.
Diversity and density. You would expect ''A to Z'' to have 26 songs (the alphabet, of course) but there are 34. If you count the medleys, and the way the trio inserts tiny songs, Russian-doll style, into bigger ones -- ''Turkey in the Straw'' inside ''Grandpa's Farm'' -- the total is close to 40.
The marvel is that there's not one dud among those 40 songs. Standouts are the plaintive duet ''Little Sir Echo'' and the Eskimo spoof ''When the Iceworms Nest Again'' (''In the shadow of the Pole, I'll clasp her to my soul''). There are big band sounds, frog sounds, and songs in Hebrew, French, and Spanish. As with every S, L & B collection, there's a song you'd forgotten you knew -- Mama Cass' pop hit ''New World Coming'' -- and a new version of their trademark ''Skinnamarink,'' a sweet nonsense song contributed 12 years ago by a young friend who heard it at camp.
I tried ''Sharon, Lois & Bram Sing A to Z'' on two 2-year-olds. Their response was instinctive: Both immediately launched into the spasmodic set of movements that parents generously describe as toddler dancing. I tried it on my husband as he drove through rush-hour traffic. He didn't dance, but he did stop cussing.