Monday, December 09, 2019

Holiday Hits: Joyful Videos from Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta and Duke Otherwise

There's no greater opportunity for wordplay than when a children's musician juxtaposes a word that works as an emotion and a name. Duke Otherwise's new video for “Joy’s a Grump” takes full advantage of kids with mismatched names and their teacher, Miss Nomer. Duke's niece once met a girl named Joy at a party and gave him the inspiration for the song, telling him “her name shouldn’t be Joy ‘cause she is grumpy." The CD is available for sale at Duke's website.

Holiday joy is another kind of making merry. And Denver's Katherine Dines and Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta celebrate with a video for their new song, "Joy":

Monday, December 02, 2019

An Upbeat Return for Dog on Fleas

The true Dean of children's music is Dean Jones – ├╝ber-producer of many acts like Gustafer Yellowgold, Frances England, and the Lucky Band – as well as an individual performer and part of the three-man band, Dog On Fleas. The latter is returning after a five-year hiatus with their newest release, I'M AN OPTIMIST. The CD certainly wins a "truth in advertising" award, as it's one of the most unrelentingly sunny and upbeat things I've heard in quite some time.

"Wanna Be" is a call-and-response song about growing up and choosing to be original, different, and fulfilled. "In a world of talking, I wanna be a listener," Dean sings. "In a world of rangers, I wanna be a black bear." The nature ode "Sting Along" will spark joy among the young animal lovers in your midst, recounting how every creature has its own family, genus, and species within its taxonomy.

Dog On Fleas must have wanted to land a funky dance groove and they succeeded with "Village d'├âtoile," which is french for "Star Village." That's also the entire extent of the lyrics for the song. "Doppelganger," based on a true story of misidentification, starts with its Alan Parsons Project vibe and changes personality a moment later. The anti-educational "It's a Miracle" takes the modern world at face value…

It's a miracle...that an airplane can fly up in the sky.
It's a miracle...that an apple tree comes from an apple seed.
It's a miracle...when you see ants work together, and how about the bees.
It's a miracle...that our heads don't pop off every time we sneeze.

Dog On Fleas is more than Dean Jones, surely. John Hughes (not the filmmaker) provides bass, guitar, and vocals. Chris Cullo sings and plays drums and percussion instruments. The trio spent the past year ensconced in upstate New York, fiendishly plotting their return. Hard to believe it's been half-a-decade, but Dean had other fish on his plate. And knowing Dean, that could have been a song right there.

It's almost retro for Dog On Fleas to come back as the 2010s are ending. The Fleas (or Dogmen or whatever you call them) sound as if they've always been a part of the children's music scene and never left. I'M AN OPTIMIST is best characterized on "A Little Hiccup," where the narrator could have become dejected by mistakes or adversity, but explains that life still went on and yours should, too. Time doesn't stand still and Dog On Fleas is optimistic that there will be more days to dance and celebrate in the future.

I'M AN OPTIMIST is available from Dog On Fleas' website, CDBABY, and Apple Music.

Here is their recent video for the song, "Doppelganger":

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Remembering the Music of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers) had a long and storied career and still-growing legacy. He has been celebrated with numerous awards and tributes, while alive and posthumously. There was an acclaimed documentary last year ("Won't You Be My Neighbor," now on HBO). This month debuts Tom Hanks in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

Musical producer Dennis Scott sought to secure the majesty of Fred Rogers' more than 200 songs with last year's collection, "Songs From the Neighborhood." Now he is returning to sip from that well with another compilation, THANK YOU, MISTER ROGERS. The 13 tracks on this release parallel the earlier CD, but that's because there are essential tunes in play, such as "Won't You Be My Neighbor," sung here by the Cowsills, the 1960s band that was the model for the TV series, The Partridge Family.

There should be a natural children's album in the songs of Fred Rogers. Yet these two releases skew towards adult contemporary artists such as Vanessa Williams on "Many Ways to Say I Love You," Christian vocalist Sandi Patty on "Please Don't Think It's Funny," country artists Kellie Pickler "It's Just a Good Feeling" and Lee Greenwood "When the Day Turns to Night." I found myself needing to explain who was singing every single track to my kids, and then apologizing that 90 seconds of gentle messaging was being turned into three-minute dirges. Off the top of my head, I could come up with a laundry list of currently-recording children's musical acts to pump some oxygen into the arrangements for this collection.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is available for streaming on PBS and Netflix, but THANK YOU, MISTER ROGERS is made for people who stop watching the show more than a generation ago. It's hard to fathom another reason Rita Wilson is attached to the project other than her relation to Tom Hanks and his upcoming film – she's not exactly a top tier performer in the children's music genre. The rationale is easier with Mickey Dolenz – the Monkees were at one point contemporaries of Mr. Rogers, and Mickey vocalizes the best selection, "Perfectly Beautiful Day," which doesn't overstay its welcome. If you want to share your memories of Mister Rogers, the website acts as a fan site as well. So give your thanks there, and find samples of the songs as well.

THANK YOU, MISTER ROGERS is available on the tribute's website, Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon.

Here is a short teaser video of the Cowsills singing "Won't You Be My Neighbor":

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Bring My Chimpy Home – Caspar Babypants
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
It's a Miracle – Dog On Fleas
Stumble Into You – Jack Forman
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Thank You For Being You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Monday, November 25, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Backstroke Raptor – Story Pirates
Everything Has A Song – Caspar Babypants
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
People Watching – Dean Jones
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
You Can Get It If You Really Want – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Quick Hits: New Koo Koo Kanga Roo Video, Jazzy Ash Mystery Book

The dynamic duo known as Koo Koo Kanga Roo continue to make catchy, amusing pop songs for children. Their latest video rocks and raps to the chorus of "It's too hot" for "Hot Sauce." You can grab a look and listen right here:

Family musician Ashli St. Armant (also known as Jazzy Ash) has released an Audible original in the style of a Nancy Drew book – "Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons" is told through the eyes of brave young black girl (enthusiastically narrated by Bahni Turpin). The book is free for Audible members through December 1. You can grab a sample of the book here. Or watch the trailer below:

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Quick Hits: Twinkle Takes NYC; Lincoln Center Jazz for Kids

The kindie version of Lady Gaga might very well be Twinkle Time (Alitzah Wiener-Dallas). Now the West Coast performer is packing her sparkly bags and bringing her stage show to New York's Lincoln Center on Monday, December 2 for the 20th annual Winter's Eve festival from 5:30-9:00 PM.

Twinkle has spent the past decade building a following from the ground up – including a YouTube channel where she spent a good chunk of the year teaching young viewers to "Learn That Letter" from A to Z. It now showcases her torchy version of "New York, New York" (first popularized by Frank Sinatra) in tribute of her upcoming visit to the Big Apple. You can stream the song at Spotify and watch the video here:

While I'm in the neighborhood, Jazz at Lincoln Center's Blue Engine Records has released JAZZ FOR KIDS, featuring Wynton Marsalis and an orchestra doing souped-up syncopated favorites such as "Old Macdonald," "Mah Na Mah MNa," and "Pop Goes the Weasel."

I've written previously that there's been an explosion of children's jazz recordings – from Jazzy Ash to Lucy Kalantari (2019 Grammy winner) to Diana Panton to Lori Henriques and many more. But none has the pedigree and longevity that Wynton Marsalis and his orchestra bring to the table. That's not an insult – that's recorded, undeniable fact. With JAZZ FOR KIDS as their testimony and evidence.

This collection is the real deal – fully imagined tunes that sometimes have little to do with the original concept past the title. "Wheels on the Bus," narrated by Today show host Hota Kotb, goes on for 10 minutes of inspired, polished improv. Not exactly for everybody's tastes – but this is a CD to help your kids cultivate that special taste bud.

You can get JAZZ FOR KIDS at Amazon and Apple Music.

You can hear "Baa Baa Black Sheep" here: