Thursday, July 19, 2018

Photo Finish for Recess Monkey on 14th Family Album

After more than a decade (mostly) together, Recess Monkey reached a turning point in 2016 – their Amazon Music exclusive release, NOVELTIES, received the band's first Grammy nomination for Best Children's Recording. It was a bittersweet moment for the trio; after all, it had taken 13 CDs to achieve that milestone. Then there was silence as the group went on hiatus after a promotional tour. Jack Forman remained a presence with his show on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live and released a solo CD, LIVE FROM THE MONKEY HOUSE. But the sturdy simian sweatshop had definitely lost its momentum. The question was, would the mojo ever return?

it turns out the fellows (Jack, Drew Holloway, and Korum Bischoff) needed a mature time-out to recharge their batteries. Their 14th CD, FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM, has dropped with 15 choice selections, led by the sneak-previewed "Chewy To Your Han" ode to friendship and "That Laugh" on Star Wars Day (May 4).

Every Recess Monkey CD has its own theme, from THE FINAL FUNKTIER (2009) to WIRED (2014). FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM relates each song as a snapshot of family and friend relationships. Perhaps this concept occurred organically as the band reconnected earlier this year in the studio with producer Johnny Bregar. As Jack noted, "This particular moment in time seems to be in need of building community more than ever. Fundamentally, that sense of family is the overriding reason that the band made this album."

The monk-sicians courageously share some real family photos of their own on the sleeve of the CD. It's enlightening to see (and hear) how some of their bright-eyed innocence shines through decades later, on tracks such as "Wake Up," about spending a lazy summer/weekend day with friends and "Together," which examines how every activity is more fun when it's accomplished by more than one person. Imagination is on full display as Drew and his pal Leo shovel all the way through the planet on "Digging A Hole."

My own "family photo" incident happened – thankfully – decades prior to social media, when a few college friends visited my house and absconded with a distinctly ghastly school photo that my mother had framed for public consumption. Imagine my stupefaction when I arrived on campus the next day to see that picture on numerous flyers hanging around the student union building. After methodically destroying every flyer, I tracked down the possessor and retrieved said photo. It never returned to the previous place of prominence, lest it get re-abducted.

After 14 collections, Recess Monkey deserves an opportunity to bask on their laurels. There's no evidence of coasting on FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM. Songs like the anti-bedtime anthem "Just One More Thing" and the soloing of improvisator-anarchist Mister Noodles on "Make It Up As You Go" are as whimsical and inventive as anything in their existing catalog. The band remains one of the top family acts and it's a pleasure that they're still around making joyful sounds. With FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM, Recess Monkey opens desk drawers and attic boxes and turns it all into a boisterous omnibus of the less obvious.

FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM is available on July 20 from Recess Monkey's website, SpotifyAmazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Wind Up Robot":

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Quick Hits: New Vid from Kira Willey, New Music from Father Goose and Mista CJ & Uncle Dox

"King of the Dance Party" Father Goose returns with his new self-proclaimed CD this week. It's a baker's dozen tracks featuring a bevy of special guests, including Dan Zanes, Josh (of the Jamtones), Aaron Nigel Smith, Danni Ai, and many more.

The music celebrates family, inclusion, and a multicultural world. Key tracks include the evergreen "Monkey Man," "Wanna Love U," and "Father Goose Time," the latter with Dan Zanes.

Father Goose manages to work in many styles to his musings, from sea shanties to English Music Hall, soul, North American and West Indian folk. Jamaican born Danni Ai, who toured with Shabbas Ranks and the Fugees, provides guest vocals on several songs.

You can find KING OF THE DANCE PARTY here to preview tracks or buy the CD.

Children's recording artist/mindfulness advocate Kira Willey has released a new video to promote her recent CD, EVERY VOICE.

The video for "Community" was created by multi-Emmy-award and winner Maciek Albrecht (also honored with a Peabody Award) and his company, MaGiKWorld Animation, in partnership with ArtsQuest. Much of the art was created during a collaborative arts project at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania's Southside Arts Festival.

Kira is part of the festival's music program in August (Aug 10), which also includes performances from Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke (Aug 3), Mil's Trills (Aug 9), Brady Rymer (Aug 11), and Joanie Leeds (Aug 12).

Here is the video for "Community":

Mista Cookie Jar brings the West Coast to the Midwest with Minnesota's Uncle Dox, on a new summer song, "Chillin'." It's a slow groove with some acoustic guitars and beats. What else do you want on a hot day in July? Find the song here:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, July 18, 2018

True Illusion – Vertical Horizon
Popsicle – Bob and Luc Schneider
Story/Tellers – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Can't Stop – Dave Matthews Band
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions

Monday, July 16, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I'm Not Running – Vertical Horizon
The Art of Letting Go – Stone Temple Pilots
Dreaming Again – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Solar Flares – Mo Phillips
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
Saturday's a Sadder Day – The Oot 'n Oots

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 16, 2018

It's A Beautiful World – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Breeze Off the Pond – Justin Timberlake
Red Hot Lava – Purple Fox and the Heebie-Jeebies
Magnetic – Phillip Phillips
Stickin  Right by You – Recess Monkey
Electric Jellyfish Boogaloo – The Oot 'n Oots

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Steve Elci and Friends Provide Joyful Puddle-Jumpng

American roots music is self-explanatory – a group of musicians playing infectious good-time pop tunes. Long Island has been gifted with Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could. But there are other acts on the East Coast – and around the country – who accomplish the same outcome. In Connecticut, Steve Elci and Friends have filled this niche since 2009. Their fourth CD, JUMP IN THE PUDDLES, showers young listeners with an array of basic concepts and declarations, such as "We're not so different or far apart."

Steve followed his father (a musician in big bands for 50 years) into the family business. Steve certainly doesn't lack in confidence, as his bio describes his outstanding characteristics as "charisma, leadership, and compassion." The comparison to Brady is fitting, though, as I became aware of the Little Band That Could around the same time that Steve Elci began his children's recording enterprise. While listening to JUMP IN THE PUDDLES, I kept picturing Brady's voice singing this collection of songs – and wondering what Steve would sound like singing Rymer compositions. Maybe a summit/kindie convergence is in order at some future festival.

"Shine On" draws parallels to Rymer perennial "Shine A Little Light." "Supersonic" has the similar harmonies and singalong power of "Who Wants to Wear Shoes." It's a little bit of a stretch, but "The Three Chord Song" falls into the same camp as "One Day By the Riverside." Okay, enough of the comparisons. The question remains, do Steve Elci and Friends succeed on their own merits?

The answer, most assuredly, is with charisma, leadership, and compassion. One can almost envision Steve and bandmates imploring kids to bat "Balloons" around in the air during their live shows. "Hello Song" was so thoroughly agreeable that both kids began singing "konichiwa" and "bon jour" almost instinctively (Or maybe because I started singing along before they did). The CD does have its tender moments, with "Teddy Bear" and "Baby Get Up" aimed directly at the under-three set. But "The Three Chord Song" rocks out like Bon Jovi Junior, a sentiment Ben (a hard rock concert vet) affirmed.

JUMP IN THE PUDDLES is the first of Steve's CDs to reach my desk, which is almost surprising considering I've been at this for almost as long as he has. Now that I've encountered his music, it will be interesting to see if Steve Elci and Friends become more of a live presence in this region. I have a few precious live kid's music years left in me, and JUMP IN THE PUDDLES offers a tantalizing taste of what the band offers in concert.

JUMP IN THE PUDDLES is available on July 13 from Steve's website, Amazon, Apple Music, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for the song, "Good Morning," featuring Mista Cooke Jar:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fun Is the Flavor for Jelly of the Month Club

The most people I've ever seen onstage during one performance was at Kindiefest 2013, when the Dirty Sock Funtime Band (DSFB) engaged at least 15 people for "Dino-Soaring." In retrospect, that was almost a swan song for the band, who now operate sporadically (including last summer as a trio at Kidstock sans Mr. Clown).

Families who loved the noisy, goofy, inside baseball nature of the DSFB will kvell and swoon for their SoCal brethren, the Jelly of the Month Club, and their second CD, ENJOY THE SHOW. The Jelly fellows divide the chaos between the four main members, Mic Dangerously, Bert Susanka, Mr. Crumb, and the deceptively-named Todd Forman.

On ENJOY THE SHOW, the band introduces outlandish characters like "Charlie the Polliwog," with a definite
Cab Calloway/Minnie the Moocher vibe, a Borscht Belt-infused "Boris the Butcher," and a "Shelfish Elf" who reports back to a lactose-intolerant Santa on your child's behavior. "Food Fight" is a delightful, messy number with overtones of Madness. Speaking of the early '80s, "Fun Facts for Kids" is rollicking rockabilly that'll teach ya something (my son also yelped "That's Mr. Sandman," making me beam with parental pride).

What outfit with members hailing from Chicago doesn't want to celebrate the World Series victory of their beloved Cubbies? "Cubs Cubs Cubs" references so many major league references that kids will be googling for hours and viewing clips – with a Harry Caray game call at the fade-out. Got a math geek in your clan? "Pi" quotes to the 26th place and then delivers a pop quiz:

Is it 90210?
No that's a 90 show.
25 or 6 to 4?
No that's Chicago
Is it 867-5309?
What no that's Tommy Tutone
Is it 562-321-4365?
No that's my cell phone number
Please nobody call me

Jelly of the Month Club is a high energy, high concept ensemble with members using children's music as an outlet from their day jobs in other bands - such as Sublime. ENJOY THE SHOW immediately turns any routine drive into a singalong and panel discussion. It's been four years since they raised the curtain on new material, so let's give them a hand. Put some Jelly in your rotation; it won't rot your kids' teeth or their minds.

ENJOY THE SHOW is available on Jelly of the Month's website, Soundcloud, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for Jelly of the Month's song, "Cubs Cubs Cubs":