Friday, July 03, 2020

Quick Hits: Berkner's Handwashing Heroes and Party; Sprout Touts Jefferson

If you do a search online for popular children's music artists, Laurie Berkner always comes up near the top (if not the top). Her fan base is immense, her songs are inventive, and her connection to her audience has grown over nearly 20 years. Laurie starts the month of July with "The Superhero Handwashing Song," and an accompanying video (more conceptual than anything else, featuring still images and borrowed footage from previous videos).

The era of coronavirus means taking extra bathroom precautions for health reasons. Laurie addresses those issues in a direct, effective manner (hey, less than one minute and 20 seconds). As she explained, "It can be hard to come up with a way to keep a young the sink long enough to safely wash their hands. Ask your little superheroes to fly over to the sink and then turn on the song. Just by following along they will be dancing - and have fully clean hands - in only one minute!"

The Laurie Berkner Band will be hosting a "Dino Beach Party" on Sunday, August 9 at 5 PM ET ($20 admission). This will be the second in Laurie's summer concert series and the first with her whole band (Brady Rymer, Susie Lampert, and Bob Golden) appearing in some capacity. Click the title link for more information.

Just in time for the Fourth of July, Jonathan Sprout is releasing new kid's music, in the form of the song "Happiness." You can watch that video here. But more directly related to the actual national holiday and our founding fathers, Jonathan has the song "What He Wrote," talking about Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the original Declaration of Independence, which was signed coincidentally on July 4, 1776. This tune has been around for a few years, and was co-written by fellow kid's music composer Dave Kinnoin. Together, "What He Wrote" brings history to life with music and rhyme:

We hold these truths to be self-evident
All men are created equal. And on it went.
Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness...
He spelled democracy and nothing less.
He made it crystal clear 
So all the world could hear.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Story Pirates Debut Creator Camp in July

Put your creative kids' minds to work this July with the Story Pirates virtual Creator Camp. Yes, they do improv music and stories. But now the Story Pirates are breaking the fourth wall and making kids do all the work, sort of.

Random House Children's Books is partnering with the Story Pirates to bring best-selling kids' authors and illustrators into the creative process and take questions from campers. Attendees will then download story sparks and related activities to try at home. Curated book bundles are included as part of camp registration. While the material will be age-appropriate, suggested ages are 5-12. Camp sessions are held Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

It's almost hard to believe that the Story Pirates has evolved from a live sketch comedy show based on stories written by kids, performed by friends in a Harlem school auditorium. From their debut in 2004, they launched a radio show, the number one podcast for kids and families, a live coast-to-coast tour, a middle-grade book series, and two albums of music.

Each week of their July camp features virtual visits from best-selling children’s book authors and illustrators, interactive livestream activities led by the Story Pirates. Topics include illustration, cartooning, time travel, and space. Not to give any performer short shrift, but parents may be most familiar with Danica McKellar (Wonder Years, The Times Machine!), Lincoln Peirce (Big Nate comic strip) and Judd Winick (well, me at least from The Real World).

Sessions start on Monday, July 6 and run through Friday, July 31. Attendees may attend any and all sessions. Each week costs $195 with a $50 add-on package. Those interactive, small-group “cabins” sessions are led by Story Pirates’ expert teaching artists. They are held to 20 campers per group,  grouped by age and grade level with material geared specifically for them. For more information, visit the Story Pirates website.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 29, 2020

All I Have To Do Is Dream – The Everly Brothers
Doppelganger – Dog On Fleas
Mother Earth – Joanie Leeds
reasons for the seasons – caspar babypants
A Song that Makes Me Happy – Danny Weinkauf
Thank You For Being You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
That's My Style – The Bazillions

Friday, June 26, 2020

Randy & Dave Dance Around Kids Stuff

There are many levels of children's music, from the independent, home-recording enthusiast to longtime industry professionals calling in favors from famous, well-known friends. Randy and Dave entered the kids recording arena with extensive credits under their oversized belt buckles. Three-time Grammy award winner Randy Sharp has multiple #1 country singles and has written and worked with Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Edgar Winter, and Linda Ronstadt to name just a few. Dave Kinnoin has written multitudes of songs for Disney (Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Kermit the Frog) and released eight children's music recordings on his own.

It's hard to knock Randy and Dave when they've made a lifetime's worth of music aimed specifically for children all over the world. Their fourth release, GIGGLE AND BURP BALLET, even donates a portion of its profits to charitable organizations that help kids. Over the course of four collaborative CDs, Randy and Dave have distilled their brand of children's music into a very distinctive formula – songs about stuff when they were kids ("Red Jalopy" and "Gubble Bum"), songs from an unexpected perspective (a fly sings about being separated from its mate on "Screen Door"), songs about beloved pets and species ("Scratch," "What Kind of Animal," and "For a Biscuit"), or tunes that qualify as thigh-slappin' or chin-scratching ("Giggle and Burp Ballet" and "Other Than That").

I'm sure Randy and Dave weren't thinking about being profound when they wrote "Nobody," but the song takes on deeper meaning in the context of a global pandemic:

I wanna build a time machine to drop in on whenever
I'm sure I'll hear all my friends say, "Nobody is that clever."
I'd like to go must father than the speed a light beam goes.
I don't know how to do that now. Nobody knows.
Nobody is the only one who knows all there is to know.
Who can do what people say is impossible, so...

Life is pretty simple for kids portrayed on GIGGLE AND BURP BALLET and perhaps that's for the best, considering the state of the world for everyone right now. The worst that happens to the kid in "Other Than That" is his wifi signal up and quit, he's 10 cents short for ice cream, and he left his homework on the bus. Imagine it was only three months ago that kids could still ride a school bus. In the world and words of Randy and Dave, all these things are still possible, if now merely reduced to nostalgic.

GIGGLE AND BURP BALLET is available from Randy and Dave's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Randy and Dave don't necessarily make videos for kids, but you can hear "Red Jalopy" and other tracks from GIGGLE AND BURP BALLET by clicking here:

Friday, June 19, 2020

Rolie Polie Guacamole With Avocado For All

Deep into their second decade as children's musicians, Rolie Polie Guacamole have enjoyed a special niche as the kid's rock band that sometimes tilts Spanish. Thus, there's the anthemic title track of their new release ACOVADO, as well as the Spanish equvialent, "Aquacate," further inside. Bandmates Frank Gallo (son of veteran kid's music artist Lou Gallo) and Andrew Tuzhilin deliver a sonic blast of bilingual childhood energy that focuses on fun, family, and life outside the COVID bubble.

Lou Gallo started recording children's music when his son Frank was two years old. In that way, Frank Gallo was born into the family business – he witnessed firsthand as his dad touring with Lou Gallo and the Very Hungry Band. Frank and Andrew created Rolie Polie Guacamole in 2006 and added a spanish twist to their second-generation kindie sound.

Who doesn't want to get back to the ballpark, as embodied in "Ay Batta Batta"? And there's a whole story song about "Basketball Jane." Über-producer Dean Jones is back at the helm, but the legendary Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, more) lends a hand to give "Fire Truck" the extra push down the hill to extreme metal. Coming down from that manic production is the exquisite "A Very Quiet Song." It's Christmas in June as Rolie Polie Guacamole puts their stamp on the classic "Jingle Bells." There's a fully-formed comedy participation sketch as they go on a journey "Dancing on the Sun":

Dancing on the sun, dancing on the sun,
It's a lot of fun when you're dancing on the sun
But you must go fast because it's hot hot hot hot hot

There's a trick to making children's music that doesn't sounds like it was conceived on a conveyer belt and packaged to meet certain pre-determined standards ("We need a dinosaur song! We need a bedtime song!") Rolie Polie Guacamole habitually walks this line as if it's child's play. The end results are exactly that, so yo salud to Frank and Andrew and ACOVADO for all.

ACOVADO is available from Rolie Polie Guacamole's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the title track, "Avocado":

Monday, June 15, 2020

Elena Moon Park's Unhurried Journey

Every performer goes through stages of a career, eventually discovering what message they want their art to ultimately deliver. I first encountered Elena Moon Park backing up Dan Zanes as part of his ever-evolving children's band. Elena fully embraced the roots of her culture and has spent eight years performing with an unprecedented number of collaborators. Elena recently released an extraordinary collection of reimagined songs from the Asia Pacific rim, UNHURRIED JOURNEY.

The themes on UNHURRIED JOURNEY are not new, nor are they region-specific. But Elena takes the trip with musicians from Cambodia, China, Korea, Mexico, Indonesia, and Japan. For once, performers from the United States are put in a supporting role to the arrangements and conventions of indigenous people from the other side of the world. For North American listeners, this gives the music an almost ethereal feel, as many may never have been exposed to this folklore and these societies.

UNHURRIED JOURNEY also reunites Elena with artistic partner Kristiana Pärn, from her first album, RABBIT DAYS AND DUMPLINGS. It's clear that the imagery draws from the music and vice versa; the works of these two women meshes and creates a total immersion of cultures for children and their families.

I would usually list some song titles and the guest artists, but UNHURRIED JOURNEY falls mostly outside my comfort zone as a reviewer. You can visit these pages on Elena's website for song samples and a list of all the contributors. It would be jingoistic to limit the album's appeal as a "cultural item." For families that want to sample freely from a diverse variety of languages and experiences, Elena Moon Park stands ready to walk you through a landscape unlike your own.

UNHURRIED JOURNEY is available from Elena's website, Apple Music, Spotify, and Bandcamp.

Here is the video for Elena's new song "Flower Dance" (written and directed by Andrew Benincasa):

Friday, June 12, 2020

Quick Hits: New Video from Oot n' Oots; Laurie Berkner Father's Day Concert

Canada's pride and joy, the Oot n' Oots are back with a new song and video! The song "Thank You Universe" features 13-year-old Ruth Cipes, her father Erza, and his brothers. The video uses social distancing to bring together a host of people, including Flor Bromley and Ugandan hip-hop pioneer Babaluku.

Right now children's music is focusing on inclusion, togetherness, and positive values. As the country (and the world, since the group comes from north of the US border) becomes more divided, it becomes necessary to stress things that we all love to do, such as singing and dancing. Join the Oot n' Oots as they embark on their mission:

Children's music monarch Laurie Berkner is releasing three new singles this month and is hosting a special Father's Day concert on Sunday, June 21 at 6 PM ET on her website (Tickets are $20 for the direct stream link). Each invite comes with a personal "hello" video and there are "meet and greets" available post-show for $80.

Laurie is looking for the virtual show, as this is the longest time she has gone between full live performances since her daughter was born 15 years ago. According to Laurie, she can’t wait to bring the experience of a live concert to families watching from home and is planning some fun activities that children can enjoy virtually.

Through the Facebook page, Laurie has been producing livestreamed 30-minute "Berkner Break" concerts over the past two months to support kids and families at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those sessions are ending as summer approaches; this Father's Day concert will have to suffice as Laurie is looking forward to taking a "Berkner Breather."

“Listen to the Sounds” was released on Friday, June 5. The high-energy song "Jumping Jack" was released today (click here). June's final selection, “Beautiful Light,” comes out Friday, June 19.