Friday, May 24, 2019

Lissa Schneckenburger Celebrates Adoption

Buzz around children's music for any period of time, and you'll see pretty much every topic covered with the nth degree of sincerity. Whether or not that's in your wheelhouse is one thing. Whether or not you want to share those sentiments with your child is another thing. Lissa Schneckenburger's wheelhouse is foster parenting and adoption. Take a deep breath and we'll continue.

Adoption and foster parenting is an important factor in our lives. Even blockbuster movies such as Shazam! face foster parenting head on. When times get hard and people can't cope for various reasons, the most innocent among us are the most vulnerable. Schneckenburger (say that three times fast) is intimately involved in that community and her new song cycle, THUNDER IN MY ARMS, addresses its issues head-on, in collision mode, with violins and piano. It's a precocious cacophony and meticulously mimics the aspects of the process, from the viewpoint of the disillusioned youth who feels thrown away in "Look Away" (I know/you cannot fool me/nobody wants me) and "On My Own" (I used to have a father once/He doesn't live like me), to the accepting adult who offers inconceivable, unconditional love on "Since the Day We Met":

Everybody makes mistakes and
We get up and try again
But make no mistake, you were no mistake and
I've loved you since the day we met

Simple, stark arrangements surround the songs "They Sent Me a Picture," "Feel Better," and "I Need Us Together." As for the deep breaths, you need to be prepared when "I'll Stick Around" opens with the line "When my mother left me it was for my own good" and "Blow Out the Candles" begins "You flew in on a plane from Korea, to Anchorage, to me."

THUNDER IN MY ARMS is a tribute and testimony to the adventure of foster parenting and the special people who undertake its responsibilities. Schneckenburger has the tenure and tone in the movement and enlisted friends and extended family to chronicle her experiences. It's rare that a bold statement can bring me to tears in my car. THUNDER IN MY ARMS is that exciting exception.

THUNDER IN MY ARMS is available from Lissa Schneckenburger’s website, CDBABY, Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is a video of Lissa performing "I'll Stick Around":

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Setting Sun – Bears And Lions
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie
Buenos Dias-the Lucky Band  – The Lucky Band
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants
What Will I Be? – The Not-Its!

Pointed Man Band's New Age of Kid's Music

What if you woke up in a world where the Alan Parsons Project and King Crimson recorded children's music? Well, have no fear – Pointed Man Band (Dan Elliott) had the same vision and his latest release, AMONGST THE TALL TREES, delivers exactly that sort of perception, interwoven with childlike wonder and whimsy.

The TV series Twin Peaks showed that the Pacific Northwest is a region of profound mystery and hypnotic music. In that vein, Dan Elliott's music as Pointed Man Band celebrates the customs and culture of growing up, without sentimentality, conjuring up comparisons to the late Harry Nilsson's quick flirtation with children's music (essentially the soundtracks to The Point and Robert Altman's Popeye). 

Children's music has fragmented to where there are now whole categories – folk, rock, jazz, blues, World, and experimental new age (STEVENSTEVEN) and Pointed Man Band.  Elliott captures the sound of a daydreamer, sharing his vision on songs like "Pint Size," "Eagle Creek," and "Vs. People," which sounds like Brian Eno producing Yes. For the jaunty "Dark Divide," the title doesn't precisely jibe with the inner argument of nature versus nurture:

Oh! Hey! Hurray for the rain that will wash it all away!
For the rivers and streams and the nature of things
Who can remain unseen through the decades.
To the moss and the ferns and the moisture in turn
Amongst the tall trees and the pristine
Between the dew and the pines you find that animal minds
Go beyond what they may seem.

The artwork of AMONGST THE TALL TREES captures your attention as well. Portland illustrator Brooke Weeber delivers cover paintings that harken to Roger Dean's famed fantasy landscapes for Yes and Asia. The scope of Elliott's vision has also attracted performers such as Recess Monkey's Jack Forman and Johnny Clay (Ants Ants Ants) on tracks like the mostly instrumental "April Fools." The album is a singular, genial message of fun and exploration through "new age" music sensibilities. Your youngest may miss the forest, but they should still enjoy their time amongst the trees.

AMONGST THE TALL TRESS is available from Pointed Man Band's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the full Pointed Man Band performing their song "The Cardoons":

Monday, May 20, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Sounds of the Seasons – Nathalia
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
I Need Us Together  – Lissa Schneckenburger
Kitty Catchie – Alina Celeste
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants

Friday, May 17, 2019

Rymer Opens Umbrella Over A Big World

At its core, children's music is inclusive. Large categories of "adult music" are meant for rainy days, individual listening, and internalizing. Children's music, by contrast, is generally upbeat, sunlit, and built for a larger community.

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could (Claudia Mussen, Liz Queler, Seth Farber, Larry Eagle, Jeremy Chatzky, and Dan Myers) walk the walk, dance the dance, and celebrate the community on their 10th release, UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA.

Brady does tons of work with special needs children, which resulted in his 2011 CD, LOVE ME FOR WHO I AM. The band's latest release folds that student population into the bigger worldwide melting pot for a master class in inclusion, with songs such as "Different Is Beautiful (Yeah Yeah Yeah)" and "Different is Beautiful (Like A Rainbow)." And yes, those are two completely different tunes. Universal kindness is a key precept of Rymer's thesis, as every good deed counts as a "Drop In the Bucket":

So let’s fill it up with stars and love
Let’s fill it up to the top
Let’s fill it up with all we’re made of
‘cause it’s a drop (it’s a drop)
It’s a drop (it’s a drop)
in the bucket

There's an international flavor running throughout UMBRELLA. "With a Little Help From My Friends" features UK children's recording artist David Gibb. There's a bilingual duet with Sonia de los Santos on Woody Guthrie's "Don't You Push Me Down" and a cover of Jimmy Cliff's surprisingly malleable "You Can Get It If You Really Want." UMBRELLA also includes a previously-released sweet, horn-driven cover of the Diana Ross classic "I'm Coming Out," which lists a slew of children and their real-life "coming out" moments, such as "being a good friend" and "wanting to be a dancer."

My family has a long-standing relationship with Brady and Company, going back a decade to Kindiefest at Brooklyn's Jalopy in 2009 (and a video of "Jump Up!" with 3,000 views). Ben has gotten so immersed in performances that he joined Brady on the mic last summer – unprompted – at one local concert. UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA seeks to accomplish figuratively what the band did literally with my son – make him feel included and part of the musical community. Open or closed, there's always room under that umbrella.

UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA is available on May 17 from Brady Rymer's website, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the band's version of the Diana Ross classic, "I'm Coming Out":

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ratboy Jr. Remains Sincerely Silly

It takes a village to produce consistently entertaining children's music and Ratboy Jr. lives is such a village. Tim Sutton and Matt Senzatimore like raucous and ridiculous concepts, which makes their fourth CD, LUCKY FOOT AND SUNNY MOON, a delightful addition to their oeuvre.

Take "Rap Van Winkle," which is about exactly what we all think it is – a guy who slept for 20 years and wakes up rapping. "Play Us On the Radio" is the guys' version of "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and a plea to call SiriusXM Kids Place Live (and other outlets) to request their music. The proficient guiding hand of ├╝berproducer Dean Jones polishes such amusing gems as "Flexible Brain" and the hard-rocking (with tinkly toy piano) anthem about "Dirt."

Mark Twain once said that jokes are like frogs. You can dissect them, but then you've killed it. To that extent, it's best to accept Ratboy Jr.'s premises at face value. "Anything Can Be a Hat" indeed. And when life is like juggling in the circus, you want to put on your "Clown Shoes":

When you're down, you just gotta laugh a lot.
It's the only thing we have.
So let's go fix this circus.
It's like running uphill with your clown shoes on.

Artwork for LUCKY FOOT AND SUNNY MOON is by Anton Refreigier, a notable Works Progress Administration (WPA) muralist and sculptor whose last cover was for the Weavers in 1959. But he was also Tim's grandfather, so that was quite the door opener. His most famous work, "The History of California" is nothing less than that, chronicles in 27 panels in downtown San Francisco's Rincon Center. It took eight years to complete and is still on exhibit.

Recording songs is an intricate, mysterious process. It's like watching popcorn in a microwave oven – you never know quite when it's done. Tim and Matt took two years to assemble the enjoyable, voluble tracks on LUCKY FOOT AND SUNNY MOON. It may not be their master opus, but Ratboy Jr. are more inclined to make you rock out then to sit and think about dangerously serious stuff. Flip on your flexible brain and pull on your sock hat for the boys – glad to have you back!

LUCKY FOOT AND SUNNY MOON is available on May 17 from Ratboy Jr's website, CDBABY, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the band's song "Sponges:"

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Even When....  – Ratboy Jr.
That's My Style – The Bazillions
People Watching – Dean Jones
Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, May 10, 2019

Bright Morning Song – Dan Zanes
The Beautiful Dream – George Ezra
Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants
Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
Give You a Call – Jack Forman
You Can Get It If You Really Want – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Randy Kaplan Gently Shakes Those Delta Blues

It's been a long day's journey into the delta for Randy Kaplan. For more than a decade, Randy has mixed and merged humorous storytelling with an affection for traditional delta blues. That might not seem as delectable a snack combo as peanut butter and chocolate. But the distinctive Kaplan touch allows adults to snicker at references to Joan Didion while kids laugh at slide whistle sound effects (in a modernization of "Little Brown Jug," a song that dates back to 1869).

Randy's love of the blues is tangible, his persona is affable, and the results are laughable – for all ages – on SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT, his latest release. The educator in Kaplan (a much-credential teacher) can't resist giving deep background on the origins of his songs (giving shout-outs to Charlie Patton on the title track and Blind Blake of "Doing a Stretch").

Randy is flexible at adapting material for younger listeners. "Doing a Stretch" was originally about serving time in prison. In this new incarnation, narrator Kaplan does a series of body-contortion exercises, accompanied by the aforementioned sound effects. Blind Boy Fuller's "Been Your Dog" comes straight from the pooch's mouth – with a canine-voiced verse, to boot. It's an appropriate song to hear on a car ride from New Jersey to Queens – heading for the Long Island Expressway as you hear it described in song. Family dynamics are investigated in comic detail in "From Four Until Late," as Randy recounts spending weeks with his grandma when his parents would go away on seemingly endless trips. And the stripped-down version of the classic "Swinging on A Star" features singing donkeys and fish and a Google-worthy mention of Carol Dweck (I did it for you).

My folks were keen on introducing me to classical and folk music using TUBBY THE TUBA and WOODY GUTHRIE FOR KIDS. Randy follows through on this template for delta blues, renewing the works of Mississippi John Hurt ("Candy Man Blues") as well as the better-known John Lee Hooker. Part of the fun is trying to recall the original intent (and lyrics) that Kaplan appropriates to get across his versions. A six-minute "Little Brown Jug" closes the collection with a literal cavalcade of references that require the assistance of Siri, Alexa, or your friendly neighborhood scholar. And yes, an acknowledgement of Mance Lipscomb, who started recording delta blues in the 1960s.

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT is a throwback to early Kaplan releases like FIVE CENT PIECE, with sparse arrangements showcasing an acoustic guitar and vocals, and a stray harmonica solo offering counterpoint. Listeners get ample aural and entertainment value, plus a level-headed offering of information about why the delta blues remains so enticing to performers like Randy. And why the genre still has the ability to entrance a new generation of listeners.

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT is available on May 10 from Randy Kaplan's website, CDBABY, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for Randy's song "Crew Cut":