Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Not-Its Were Ready to Rock in NYC

Last summer was full of chaos and commotion as far as scheduling and camp so we didn't get to Madison Square Park to see any of their annual summer kid's concert series. This year, the window was closing but Matt and I managed to attend the final show of the season – the Not-Its, in the middle of their East Coast run.

The band, longtime veterans of outdoor concerts, shared a laugh as their introduction fought a fire engine's wail. But they got right to business with "Vacation," encouraging their still-growing audience to move forward to sing and dance along.

They quintet – Sarah Shannon (former singer Sub Pop band Velocity Girl), Danny Adamson (rhythm guitar), Tom Baisden (lead guitar), Jennie Helman (bass player) and Michael Welke (former drummer of Harvey Danger) – brought a selection of favorites as well as a new track, "Hide and Seek," from the upcoming READY OR NOT.

The one-hour show demonstrated the oft-frustrating constraints of performing for young audiences, as many parents and caregivers were late to arrive, but even more made for the exits at around the 40-minute mark. On the positive side, that provided room for timid children to move forward and participate later in the concert.

Although temperatures zoomed into the low 90s, they were not quite that high throughout the set. The Not-Its drove to Connecticut for another show that night, and rocked out audiences in another high-temp zone. As a gateway to "hard stuff," the Not-Its make it hard to sit still (although one stunned girl did just stare for the entire show). They are still on tour for the rest of the month back home in Washington State.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Chewy to Your Han – Recess Monkey
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions

There's a Chance Babypants Will Make You Dance

Children's music is not a competition! Some artists craft and hone and spend years between releases. Others make it look effortless, stringing together a collection every year. In the latter category falls the eponymous Caspar Babypants (aka Chris Ballew, known also for The Presidents of the United States of America). Chris has summoned forth his 15th CD of highly original children's tunes, KEEP IT REAL!

One of the perennial questions when I review music is "What were they thinking?" CB allows us behind the Wizard's curtain, in a section of his website called "Song Stories," giving all the insights about tunes like "You Are the Baby." Basically, Chris laid out his infant children on a blanket. "I sat there with a guitar and played improvisations about how much I love them and how cute they were," he writes. Asked and answered!

Under "fun facts about Chris," his Wikipedia page indicates that he shared an apartment with Beck and toured in his band. That would certainly explain some of the amusing quirkiness of Caspar Babypants. There must be something in the water on the West Coast, as Chris seems to be in casual competition with Recess Monkey (14 CDs). Although the Monkeynauts gave him a mulligan by taking 2017 off from recording as a group. Both groups seem to have their thumbs right on the pulse of their audiences, devising characters and situations unlike many other established recording artists. Chris crafts "Disco Hippo" and "Watch Petunia Dance" and answers the somber question, "When a Penguin Moves to California."

Chris is the master of taking traditional tunes and concocting new verses. This talent makes live performances interesting, as children think they know where a song is going – only to have Chris subvert their expectations and go in different directions. He doesn't go way, way out on "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes," but does take liberties with "On Top of a Mountain" (think "On Top of Spaghetti").

Caspar Babypants remains a "family business," as Chris credits his kids for inspiration and artist wife Kate Endle for design (and children's books based on his songs). But really it's the constant creativity that keeps CB in the game. Who else would come up with "Emotional Robot" and "Always Keep A Ukulele In Your Trunk"? And if one song doesn't quite do it for you, there's another 19 right behind it. Caspar Babypants may be a figment of our collective imaginations, but he seems determined to KEEP IT REAL!

KEEP IT REAL! is available on August 17 from Caspar Babypants' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the song, "Free Couch":

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Frances England's Carnival of Calm, Balmy Delights

Getting surgery on a torn meniscus was really a decision taken out of my hands (or more precisely, my knee). Luckily I had a stack of warm, friendly, comforting kid's CDs to keep me company as I limped around like James Caan in Misery.  On the top of the pile was the brand-new release from San Francisco's Frances England, BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS. In my estimation, you can't go wrong with Ms. England. Frances is a kindie Regina Spektor, with a distinctive sound that separates her from the rest of the pack.

BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS is an eight-track in the modern sense, in that there are eight songs. It's also a throwback to the previous eight-track player era, with a 1970's SoCal sound that wouldn't be out of place in rotation with Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt. That feel seems almost intentional, given that the disc was co-helmed by ├╝ber-producer Dean Jones.

The laid-back sound of BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS should act as a soothing tonic to our times, according to Frances. "I hope these songs provide an antidote to all the bad news out there," as she's quoted in the press release. And for the 24-minute duration of the CD, Frances makes good on her promise. "Not Just My Sister" is an ode to the bond between siblings of all ages. "Carefree" even name-checks the founding fathers of good-time surf music:

Windows down with the radio on
Switching up the stations 'til we find a good song
Then the Beach Boys start singing
And "Good Vibrations" are ringing

The disc continues with the finger-snapping "Good Day" and a cover version of Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing Out" with Dan Lebowitz, known for playing with left coast artists Phil Lesh (remember him) and Jack Johnson. You want more? But wait! There's a console-your-kid ditty, "Mama Said," and the sigh-inducing siesta doo-wop, "Perfect Afternoon Afternoon." Frances closes out with an acoustic parental overview, "Watching You Grow," which intones "I feel so proud it's hard to measure/A love so big, so deep, forever." I can already imagine Frances closing her shows with a sing-along version, where the kids curiously assay their teary-eyed parents.

It's the rare children's CD that ends and I realize, "Oh wait, that was it?" BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS is more like a sprint than a marathon. It's the equivalent to the dog days of summer, when it feels like sunset happens quicker and faster each day as going back to school gets closer and sooner. In the meantime, Frances England provides some smiles and rhythms, if not necessarily dance tunes. And until I get done with physical therapy, that's exactly what I've been longing for.

BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS is available on August 17 from Frances England's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is a preview sample of the new Frances England song, "Good Day":

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Purple Fox Dishes Out a Buffet of Love

Jimmy Buffett only sang one overt children's song – "Caribbean Amphibian" for a Sesame Street special. Yet it lives in perpetuity on Kids Place Live, YouTube, and a host of other online venues. But if you enjoyed the gentle island feel of that tune, and wished, "What would a full album sound like," I've got the answer for you. The mega-named Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies and their second CD, THE SOMETHING OF LOVE.

Part jam band, part educational experience, and 24x7 fun, Purple Fox and company was imagined into reality by Josh Friedman in late 2014 in Silicon Valley. And you thought only software and sitcoms came from that region. THE SOMETHING OF LOVE is a theme album, with the title track harkening back to Fishbone's epic "Everyday Sunshine."

Other tracks amplify the central theme, with "We Got It (Our Time Together)," "Forever Everyday," "You're Welcome (In My House)," and the Jamaican-influenced "Please (I Don't Want to Harsh Your Mellow)":

Please, when you know what you want but you don't know what to say
Please, when you know what you need and you need it right away
Please, it's a magic word that just can't be replaced
Please, please

In my estimation, Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies will start some slow dancing gyrations with THE SOMETHING OF LOVE. It's an infectious combination of warm-hearted vocals and zydeco with biscuits. Friedman and his congregation invite your family to celebrate the fusing of family, friends, and good funk.

THE SOMETHING OF LOVE is available from Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies website, Amazon, Apple Music, CDBABY, and Soundcloud.

Here is the video for the band's song, "S'alright":

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Symphony Space Ready to Celebrate 40th Season

Hard to believe that Symphony Space is 40 years old. That's an amazing milestone and makes the facility a legitimate city landmark.

Tickets are now on sale for all events for its 2018-2019 season, including the Just Kidding Kids family series. In addition to concerts, there are also theater and literary events, such as Thalia Kids' Book Club Camp with author Katherine Marsh (Nowhere Boy) on Saturday, September 22 and the National Dance Institute Team Celebration on Saturday, October 27.

Mindy Thomas and the Pop-Ups
But the heart of the children's program has been the breadth of the musicians. We've been attending going back 15 years to seeing Dan Zanes, Tom Chapin, and Ralph's World. It's been a musical education not only for my children, but for myself. It opened doors to appreciation of different cultures and lifestyles. For me, it also turned into an entire venture (which you happen to be reading).

Performers for the upcoming season include Michael and the Rockness Monsters (Sat., October 6), Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players (Sat., Nov. 3), Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats (Sat., Dec. 1). Mindy Thomas from Kids Place Live and the Pop-Ups also present a live installment of "Wow In the World" on Saturday, October 13. Heading into 2019 are the Okee Dokee Brothers (Sat., Jan. 5) to promote their upcoming CD and Gustafer Yellowgold (Sat., Feb. 2).

Tickets range from $17 for non-members to $14 for members. (Wow in the World tickets are $20 for non-members, $17 for members). For information on the entire season, visit Symphony Space's website.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, August 3, 2018

Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Saturday Sun – Vance Joy
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Me And You – Caspar Babypants
What's Done is Done – Jack White
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Josh (of the Jamtones) Flashes Ninja Skills for ANW

People get obsessed with all sorts of reality competition shows. Right now, I'm fascinated by "Naked And Afraid," although I could never see myself participating. Last weekend I wimped out on a hot pool deck and ran for sandals after 30 seconds.

Josh Shriber, front man for Josh and the Jamtones, found himself (and his family) enamored with "American Ninja Warrior" (ANW), now entering its 10th season on NBC (Monday nights at 8 PM ET). He was recently invited to the show's Philadelphia qualifying event – completing the course but falling just a little short of gaining a spot in the televised finals.

"My wife Patience is also into health and fitness, so it was fun for us to watch ANW and imagine how we’d do," Josh explained. "The turning point from casual viewer to possible contestant was when we saw 'Mighty' Kacy Catanzaro from season five."

Josh Shriber plays a few guitar licks for the producers of
"American Ninja Warrior."
Josh has always been active, including college-level soccer and tennis. "I competed in triathlons and read about and explored health and fitness, since I was a kid really," he said. Josh loved sports and played soccer, tennis, and basketball throughout his childhood and teens. "Nevertheless, I was a chubby little dude with little upper body strength," he added. "In my mid-to-late 20s, I got into pull-ups and body weight work. I trained with the P90x Extreme Home Fitness Workout and the resulting insanity, which increases your pulling and pushing strength through body/weight work, was my entry point."

Shortly thereafter, Josh entered a ninja gym and, eventually, a rock climbing gym. "I discovered that a bunch of pull-ups and push-ups mean nothing when you’re trying to hang and fly to and from obstacles," Josh confessed. But the first time out, he caught the bug and slowly made progress until this past year, when he decided to put in a submission to ANW. "Before then, when people would ask 'Are you going on ANW?!' I would laugh and say 'No! I'm just having fun training with awesome athletes,'" Josh said.

Like any competitive event, the vetting process for American Ninja Warrior started well in advance. "Step 1 was a massive questionnaire along with a submission video, three minutes max, telling your story and showing your ninja skills. There are no formal auditions," Josh explained. "I entered my submission in December and trained as if I was definitely getting the call."

The strategy worked in Josh's favor. "There are people who train year round, fly across the country to many gyms, and never get the call," he said. "You need to combine a good story with at least decent athletic competence." From the time submissions were due in December until the end of April when people received invitations, Josh trained like he was already accepted. "If I hadn’t trained my butt off, I would have only had a few weeks to prepare when I got the call," he said. "Instead we just assumed we were a go and went all out."

Josh was invited to Philadelphia to compete on ANW on May 11. "My whole fam came – mom, dad, my sister and bro with their families as well – and of course my wife and kids," Josh said. "They were my sideline team, so they came inside the gate and paced me as I ran the course." While having his family nearby was special, it also added a dimension of uneasiness. "They definitely looked horrified that I would fall," Josh added. "And my three-year-old was worried there were sharks in the water."

Josh Shriber in action on the ANW course.
Josh ran the course and placed in the top 50% of contestants. "It was freaking awesome," he recalled. "I sorta blacked out on my run but I remember bits and pieces. I gained a huge amount of confidence being on the biggest course the sport has to offer and outperforming my expectations."

The ANW set has a "no spoilers" policy. "No phones are allowed on the course and everyone is sworn to secrecy," Josh explained. "But try sending your kids off to pre-school, kindergarten, and second grade...with all their friends and teachers knowing they were just at a live taping of the show and trust them to not say anything? Good luck!"

The suspense was finally broken when last month's season premiere finally aired. "We had a viewing party and everything but I received no love when it came to air time," Josh sighed. "It would have been cool to see my run. But air time or not, it doesn’t change my experience in Philly."

While enduring a grueling training regime, Josh and the Jamtones also released their latest CD, WE ARE O-N-E. "Jamtones music has always been about positivity and getting kids and families moving their bodies," he said. "The American Ninja Warrior Nation is also super inclusive. In fact, the show thrives on just that…stories of overcoming great obstacles, not just on the course but in life."

According to Josh, when ninjas train and compete, there is an overwhelming feeling of support and community that he hasn't found in other competitive sports. "In our music, the Jamtones encourage kids to be their best, to love their friends and family, to be kind, active and strong," Josh said. "This experience has given me something like a megaphone to accelerate that message. I look forward to releasing some new music this year with exactly that premise."

Josh emphasized that the intensive training showed him what he could accomplish. "Our bodies and minds are capable of more than we box ourselves into," he said. "Two years ago, I would never commit to running across narrow bridges or jumping gaps, flying from one obstacle to the next. But now, when I see a new obstacle, I know it's within my ability and just go for it."

While season 10 of American Ninja Warrior is wrapping up, Josh can't wait to keep training, get stronger, and compete again. "I am more fired up than ever to enter again next year and attempt to hit that buzzer," he said.

WE ARE O-N-E is available from Josh and the Jamtones' websiteAmazonSoundcloud, and Apple Music.