Friday, September 13, 2019

Quick Hits: New Music from ScribbleMonster and Uncle Dox

As the leaves begin to crinkle and brown, ready for their descent from the trees, children's music artists' focus turns as well. Indeed, I can report on new songs from Uncle Dox and the long-absent ScribbleMonster.

It's been a while since ScribbleJim and ScribbleJayne released new material, but the band has turned to children's books in the break (three to date), and continued their live performances. And apparently there's a Greatest Hits compilation coming in 2020. In the meantime, here's "Amazing Brain," their power-pop, positive-values ode to using your noodle and not taking yourself for granted.

Take a listen now at Soundcloud. And find their catalog now on Amazon Music

Uncle Dox has issued "Laser Beam Eyes," a 1980s rap throwback with sound effects that will satisfy all video game players (from two generations). And there's more to come in the near future.

You can find "Laser Beam Eyes" on SoundcloudSpotifyBandcamp, and Facebook.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Oran Etkin Speaks to Children Through World Music

Children's music and music education are not mutually exclusive. But organically fusing the two concepts is a risky proposition. Get too preachy and the kids won't go for it. Yet if you're too obtuse, you do your source material a disservice. Internationally acclaimed jazz clarinetist and composer Oran Etkin looked for a way to build deep musical connections across cultural boundaries. The initial result was the Timbalooloo method of introducing young children to music. The second – a resulting CD of musical selections – is now a reality, as FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME: A JOURNEY WITH CLARA NET.

Passing on the joy of music through generations is Oran's mission. To manifest his destiny, in 2005 he founded Timbalooloo, which re-imagines teaching children to become fluent in the language of music. Timbalooloo uses a creative alternative approach to music education, as well as concert performances, recordings and video content, engaging children around the world to speak an international language of music with the same fluency as their mother tongue.

FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME was recorded and filmed on location in Zimbabwe, Turkey, Czech Republic, Japan, and China with representatives of each country’s traditional music as well as instruments indigenous to that region. Oran uses the concept of his instrument (Clara Net the clarinet) as a method of communication (hence, speaking through song to the world). For instance, the song "Kutapira" was recorded with Musekiwa Chingodza, a Zimbabwean spiritual master of the mbira (thumb piano).  On other tracks, Clara and Oran interact with new instrument friends like the accordion, kopuz, balalaika, and shamisen. These instruments have individual personalities (discussed during introductory pieces before each song) that evoke a range of feelings, from joy and humor, to weariness and sadness.

There are lullabies, dancing songs, and fanciful tales of nature on FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME. You wouldn't think a two-string musical instrument could convey emotion. But that's what happens on the Japanese "Mo Li Hua." Oran merges his love for disparate cultures and bringing together children with the music native to those regions. His accomplishment is showcasing that music is indeed a language that expresses intense emotion for young children. FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME may inspire children to investigate in more depth than they're used to; music is indeed a worldwide adventure for Oran Etkin. Have clarinet, will travel.

FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME: A JOURNEY WITH CLARA NET is available from TimbaloolooApple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for Oran's song, "Kutapira":

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Quick Hits: From Jazz to Hip-Hop With Camille Harris, Father Goose

Jazz is making a comeback. Jazz fans may object to that wording and declare "jazz doesn't NEED to make a comeback, it's doing fine!" But they wouldn't argue that more jazz appreciation wouldn't be a bad thing. To wit, a resurgence of jazz-infused children's music, including defending Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari. Now Brooklyn's own Camille Harris resumes her so-called silly jazz contributions with her fourth CD, BABY ON THE SUBWAY.

A veteran of musical theater and stand-up comedy, Camille uses her quirky sense of humor and unique toolbox to bang new life into such chestnuts as "Muffin Man," "Old MacDonald," and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." The CD opens with “Jiggly Wiggly,” featuring a strong Latin accent and a trumpet solo by Wayne Tucker. The title track (see video below) brings to vivid life how cute infants unite everyone across a swath of cultural differences. Driving through Long Island, both my kids fell into a familiar, friendly singalong for "Wheels on the Bus" (how can you not?). I dared them to attempt Camille's "The Backwards Alphabet" and won that bet.

Camille uses her jazz to demonstrate that children's music has many forms. You don't need to walk a thin line between folk and funk. There are a bunch of other options, some right in your own backyard. Camille represents the growing number of independent-thinking, diverse, and reflective performers finding ways to introduce contemporary, classic genres to young audiences.

BABY ON THE SUBWAY is available on September 13 from Camille Harris's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the title track, "Baby on the Subway":

Father Goose returns with a new five-song EP, I CAN MAKE IT, filled with hip-hop powerful pop tunes. Goose and crew drop the following songs – "I Wanna Dan
ce With U," "Kidzzz (Want To Be Free)," "By The Beach," and the title track. Goose keeps the house party moving, through his force of nature personality, charisma, and natural ability to lead kids through dancing and call-and-response songs.

The Goose Trotters (an ever-expanding assemblage of East Coast performers) includes Vic Rosario, Danni Ai, Delilah Lady Delish Tollinchi, Steve A. Williams, and too many more to list here. But they all come together to provide solid beats and sound messages.

Grab I CAN MAKE IT from the Goose Hut or Bandcamp.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Quick Hits: Jon Samson Examines Differences, Drowsy Tunes from Monika Ryan

The day is drawing near, when children's music will become a thing of the past. It's mostly falling on the shoulders of my OLDER child who still enjoys the genre. His younger brother is beginning to request pop music more often. But his brother – with his teenage years dwindling – is happiest engaging with musicians, and nobody has been more appreciative than children's performers.

One of the first live musicians we saw was Brookyn's Jon Samson, a music therapist who knows how to connect with special needs kids. His latest collection, AGELESS, addresses the question: “How do we maintain our childlike spirit through the challenges, problems and predicaments we face in the world and within ourselves?”

AGELESS tackles ADD, frustration with everyday life, and how speaking to other people can be overwhelming. "Videogame," featuring youthful guest singers, talks about how life is like a game, with endless levels after levels. "Predicament" shows that it's okay to safely trigger emotions for healing purposes. You may think "Bye, Polar Bear" is about extinction, but it's really about differences between people:

So the penguin in me greets the polar bear in you
As we melt our polarities and make something new

AGELESS focuses on gentle messages for young minds, with "Love Is Not a Race" being at the forefront. It's part of the curriculum for his CoCreative music program. But it's also a lesson where everyone could use a refresher.

AGELESS is available August 30 from Jon Samson's website and Spotify.

Here is the world premiere video for Jon's song, "Predicament":

Think lullaby and you conjure "Twinkle Twinkle" and babies snuggled warmly into their beds. Jazz vocalist Monika Ryan decided to give them a twist – her new LULLABIES collection features vocals and ukulele. It's a stripped-down home studio batch of lovingly crafted sincere sentiments, for children as well as their (non-drowsy) parents.

Not technically a children's CD, Monika definitely sings for them, as on "Life Is A Mess":

Life is a mess, a great big hot mess, a dirty wet mess, if you're doing it right
Life is unkempt untangled and unfurled
Life is unmade unbridled, mixed up, and swirled

Designed as a tonic to reassure, recharge, and replenish, LULLABIES gives Monika a showcase for her lilting vocals, with only occasional strumming on the uke to change the key and move the tunes along. The CD is designed to refuel people burned out at the end of the day, when they are home and surrounded by their loved ones. Music gives us mental nutrients to reactivate and re-engage us with our families. And for everyone, music provides the potential for a good night.

LULLABIES is available from Monika Ryan's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Caspar Babypants Celebrates Sweet 16 (CDs)

It's hard to believe there was a time when Caspar Babypants wasn't a part of our children's music experience. And yet it's true; his first CD did not erupt until 2009. Since then, we're witnessed the music of Chris Ballew's alter ego firsthand (alas, before I started recording songs at live performances), viewed his amusing videos, and heard all of his releases, including his latest (an astronomical number 16), entitled FLYING HIGH!

This is the paragraph where I usually delve into the background of the musician and his cultural or personal relevance to me as a reviewer. Let's skip that part. Read about the metamorphosis of Caspar Babypants here. In short, Chris is a dad and a former alt-rocker who now uses his powers of creation for the younger set. More than once I've uttered, "That's just ridiculous!" while listening to a Babypants track, then found myself singing along a moment later, including the brand new "Shine It Up!"

The works of Caspar Babypants are often hard to explain. Chris brings forth characters and situations that exist in a realm between authentic and fantastic, such as "Roly Poly Buggy Ball," an ode to armadillidium members of the insect family. He exercises his Dr. Seussian muscles with "Rhymes With Orange" with four concoctions that my younger son thought might actually exist. "Google them," I suggested. Chris also delves into southern rock, giving "Ducky Is the Name of My Bike" an Allman Brothers guitar twang.

Chris has an obsession with taking traditional songs such as "London Bridge" and giving them a redo. FLYING HIGH! features "London Bridge Is Falling Apart," I've Been Asleep on The Railroad" (think "working on...") and "Sittin' In a High Chair" (a modernized version of the more than 100 year old plantation favorite, "Shortenin' Bread").

Chris says the inspiration for his foray into children's music was the artwork of his wife, Kate Endle. Together they have crafted a line of children's books (based on more original Babypants tunes) that can be found here.

FLYING HIGH! maintains the high standard of past Babypants releases. It's hard to believe that Chris has produced nearly 300 tunes (there are a couple of Beatles-themed CDs in his oeuvre). It's easy to believe that he's far from done producing effervescent, engaging Caspar Babypants' kids tunes.

FLYING HIGH is available on Caspar Babypants' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for his song, "Made For You This Little Song":

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Alphabet Rockers Share the Love

The children's music category for the Grammy Awards has been a blender of genres over the past decade – winners have included The Okee Dokee Brothers (American folk), Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (kid hop), and Lucy Kalantari (jazz). Oakland's Alphabet Rockers earned a nomination in 2018 for their transformative CD, RISE SHINE #WOKE. Co-founding duo Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Soulati Shepherd double down on their message of inclusion with their new release, THE LOVE.

Described as an intergenerational hip hop album, more than 60 guest artists help the Alphabet Rockers promote racial, gender, and class equality. "Until We're Free" features SaulPaul and 123 Andres joining in the refrain, "I'm not free/until you're free" in two languages.

THE LOVE also showcases interludes that explain the themes being discussed on the tracks, such as "They/Them" for preferred pronouns and "You" about how individuals see themselves, whether as parents, professionals, participants, or multiple designations.

Society is changing. Music culture is changing. The Alphabet Rockers envision THE LOVE as a tool to ease the learning curve that might confuse children and their families. Getting by is one thing; doing better is fundamentally more important, they insist. THE LOVE is a collection of power-pop-rap songs that pack a punch. "I Am Enough" features the "queer boy band" the Singing Bois, who recently called it quits:

I feel free in the skin that I'm in though I wonder when
I can wake up kick back walk through the world never thinking 'but why
You put limits on my body and tell me how to live my life
Listen I'm free, so free

The Alphabet Rockers understand that change is incremental; every generation having the choice what direction the compass will point in the future. Album closer "Someday" is a wistful ode to having "all the pieces and the knowledge and stepping back to acknowledge." Here's to acknowledging that the Alphabet Rockers are on the right track as well as the right side of history, musical and otherwise.

THE LOVE is available on the Alphabet Rockers' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the lyric video for their song, "We Royal":

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Pop Ups Rev Take a Jukebox Journey Through Time

My kids are more voracious listeners than voracious readers. Remarkably, they would prefer to hear music than play videogames – which means our Wii system has become horribly antiquated. Regardless, books are still a staple of their education. And audiobooks from musicians are an interesting new twist. The Pop Ups (Jacob Stein and Jason Rabinowitz) are the latest to embark on such an endeavor, with their JUKEBOX JOYRIDE launching on Audible a little while ago.

Unlike their CDs, which can be digested in under an hour, JUKEBOX JOYRIDE will take most of an afternoon, or several weeks if you go chapter-by-chapter at bedtime (like I did with my son). So I apologize for the delay between release of the audiobook and my review.

JUKEBOX JOYRIDE follows 12-year-old twins Jules and George as they travel through time to find their Uncle Bob, a renowned ethnomusicologist (the study of music). An avid concertgoer, Bob used a magic music box to pingpong through his favorite venues (such as New Orleans in the 1920s). But there's a villain, and a chase, and peril, etc. It's a jaunty, well thought-out adventure. If your child enjoys the "Magic Treehouse" series, just envision those books with a hefty musical component, courtesy of the Pop Ups.

In addition to the Pop Ups themselves, voice talent includes Noel MacNeal (Bear in the Big Blue House) and Carly Ciarrocchi (formerly of Sprout TV). It's a heady jaunt, so be prepared to answer many questions about different eras of history and specific genres of music.

JUKEBOX JOYRIDE is available from Audible (an Amazon company).

Here is the "making of" video for the audiobook: