Friday, October 02, 2015

New Stuff from Alex & Kaleidoscope, Joanie Leeds

September swept over me like a storm. In case you didn't notice, it was an epic month for children's CD and DVD releases. Just now, I am catching up and didn't want anyone to think they were lost overboard.

In our trips to Philadelphia, I've kept our eyes open in the local papers for appearances by Alex and the Kaleidoscope. But we've never seemed to be on the same page. Even when the group has appeared in Madison Square Park in Manhattan, the dates just don't work out. Now Alex Mitnick and company have released their new CD, GET ON BOARD! and we've got another reason to keep our eyes peeled.

A musician and educator, Alex combines the familiar mix of lesson songs ("Vegetable Kitchen Town" and "Recycle") with movement songs ("Oh Won't You Sit Down" and "Outside") and family-friendly fun ("Mama's in the Kitchen"). There's a sitar-infused tribute to bugs on "Insect Tourists" and an imagination-play anthem in "Dino Rangers."

Alex's songs cover the checklist of young childhood – from curiosity to nature to emotions. Now a parent of two, his observations are coming through an intimate prism rather than his teaching experiences. Mirroring his own kids' growth, the Kaleidoscope shows maturity and a deep sense of fun.

GET ON BOARD! is available through Alex's website, Amazon, and CDBABY.

Hey! Did I mention that Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights also appeared at Madison Square Park last year? Did I mention that they released the performance as a full-length DVD? Did I mention that you can purchase the entire show AND bonus selections right now?

I could make a host of semitic jokes but she is simply a mensch. Joanie wears her childhood on her sleeve, and not just because her baby left some spittle there. Over the course of her musical evolution, Joanie has blossomed from part-time chartreuse/folksinger into a genuine emerging kindie voice into a standout performer and bandleader. LIVE FROM MADISON SQUARK PARK documents one of the band's last pre-infant concerts, in front of a stellar kid-tastic audience.

As a special treat, I brought the DVD to the beach when we first got it. When the kids got to unwind with some much-needed downtime (confession: the adults needed it as much as the kids), I popped the disk into the player. To my surprise, the kids who had never heard or seen the Nightlights were as engaged as the ones who have heard "Hipster in the Making" dozens of times.

It remains to be seem if Joanie can continue with her CD-a-year pace now that she's got a baby demanding her attention and affection. If the release schedule slows down, at least now there's a winning document of the band at its child-free, child-friendly best.

LIVE FROM MADISON SQUARK PARK is available from Joanie's website.

Here is a video of Joanie Leeds and drummer hubby Dan Barman performing "Happy As a Clam" on the CBS local news:

Amazon Prime Music Slates New Kids Music – Pop-Ups and Lisa Loeb

Children's music (sometimes referred to as the "kindie" movement) has always been a mixed bag. Dan Zanes begat a number of folk artists suddenly recording their versions of Pete Seeger songs. Laurie Berkner inspired multiple moms with guitars to burn demos of their songs to CD to distribute at neighborhood events (and mail them to me in hopes of a positive review).

I don't mean to belittle, pick up, or single out Zanes and Berkner. Their contributions to the field have been immeasurable. I commiserated with the Dirty Sock Funtime Band in August after their performance at Kidstock in Port Washington. Here they were, a band that had national exposure on Nickelodeon, whose videos are still playing on YouTube. Yet they were performing less than a handful of shows a year. "If only Jack's Big Music Show had gotten renewed for a third season..."

Yes, kindie has perpetually been that kid on the carousel, hoping to grab the brass ring when it comes around, and just falling short. Maybe Nickelodeon could have broken more emerging artists. Maybe Disney could have been more supportive when they signed Ralph Covert (Ralph's World) and ran their abbreviated family music tour, instead of pushing their own channel's self-created tween artists.

However using the same contemporary standards, why didn't Columbia House put a sidebar of children's music in their monthly catalogs? Surely there was a market for family-friendly artists to a service that shipped albums across the country for decades. Simply put, either there was no interest, no great demand, or more likely, not enough research and education that demonstrated a significant financial return.

Even the Internet did not create monumental change in children's music. Yes, Eric Herman has 27 million views of The Elephant Song on his YouTube channel. But has that translated into international super-stardom? Ask a classroom of first graders who Eric Herman is (sorry to use you as an example, Eric). Go on, I'll wait.

Live performances and selling merch are the lifeblood of kindie music. Videos are great to grab eyeballs but you need to excite kids (and their parents) to WANT to share a communal experience. Teach a man to fish, bring a child to live music, it's one and the same concept. Streaming services pay such a fractional amount of money that several kindie artists such as Joanie Leeds and Alastair Moock took to Facebook to belittle their royalties for thousands and thousands of plays (through unnamed famous sites). When we saw Uncle Rock perform at Symphony Space a few years back, he ridiculed the pittance that services passed along to artists for their material. There was a fear of the future, as the center was clearly not holding and the failures of the past were a minefield of busted valises.

Amazon Prime is making the latest attempt to break from the pack. The company has announced its own original streaming children's music service (with physical CDs for some luddite reviewers such as I). The first two artists on the roster are New York natives The Pop-Ups (with their October release), THE GREAT PRETENDERS CLUB and Lisa Loeb (with her fourth children's CD, NURSERY RHYME PARADE).

There are those who should be jumping for joy – Amazon is a colossus and exposure through its distribution channel should be an amazing accomplishment. On the other hand, Amazon is such a colossus that I wonder how much attention and TLC such a niche venture as children's music will receive. Will Amazon attempt to compete with SiriusXM Kids Place and schedule concerts with their contracted artists? Will they help brand and market their performers when they're on tour? Will Amazon Music provide more than a clickable button on its Prime page and feature a monthly children's artist? Answers to these questions will quickly become apparent in the next quarter.

In the meantime, I welcome Amazon Prime to the table. At least they are making an effort to support a genre that has been woefully under-utilized not only during my children's lifetimes, but during MY lifetime. I remember seeing orchestral performances of The Magic Flute and Tubby the Tuba. I saw Marcel Marceau. I saw the Paper Bag Players. I do not have memories of children's musical acts. In fact, children's music is so segregated from its audience that the wikipedia entry jumps from "Puff the Magic Dragon," Peter Paul and Mary, and Sesame Street (1969) to Raffi in the late 1970s. To paraphrase the Pretenders, "My childhood was gone."

I am cautiously optimistic about this new venture from Amazon Prime. Even if it craters (fingers crossed), the service will no doubt invigorate the kindie movement, support deserving artists, and generate an exciting year for the industry. I can only imagine the conversations at KindieComm 2016. Not to mention the next batch of moms with guitars CDs coming my way.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 2, 2015

Carry a Tune – Recess Monkey
Free Ride Everyday – Lori Henriques
I've Had It Up To Here – Weezer
Let The Records Play – Pearl Jam
Mooshpie – The Whirlygigs
Sugar – Maroon 5

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 1, 2015

Don't Stop – 5 Seconds of Summer
Everybody Out There – Paul McCartney
Favorite Book – The Bazillions
Grizzly Bear – Red Yarn
Hello Goodbye – Caspar Babypants
Music is Everywhere – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Shake a Friend's Hand – Andy Z

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Botana – José-Luis Orozco
Colores (Featuring Oz Noy) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
New  – Paul McCartney
Right Side of the Bed – Ratboy Jr.
Size Of The Problem – Tom Chapin
Sunshine Family (feat. Aaron Nigel Smith) – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Word Crimes – Weird Al Yankovic

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Animal Kingdom – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Apodidae Reggae – Pointed Man Band
Baldy – Lloyd H. Miller
Coming Back For You – Maroon 5
Fresh Spokes (Featuring Susan Lapidus) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Haircut – The Not-Its!
Sabrosos Colores – José-Luis Orozco

Shukla's Latest a Preschool Delight, New Vids from Andy Z and Laurie Berkner

Two hundred million views can't be wrong. No, I'm not talking about the latest video from Psy (the Korean rap star behind Gangnam Style). It's of course children's music entrepreneur Patty Shukla, who returns this month with her latest CD, I LIKE TO DANCE AND SING!

As you can surmise from the title, Patty aims for the smallest of the fry, the littlest of the tots, the youngest of the 'sters. Her music promotes positive values, simple lessons, and spontaneous emotion reactions. You know the target audience from charming songs like "Mommy's Got a Baby in Her Belly" and "Potty TIme." Older kids may find it too basic, but there's always One Direction for them.

Shukla Enterprises is a family affair, with husband Neel and their kids helping on instruments, vocals, and production. And the band takes it on the road for live appearances as well. When not  using her own progeny as a live petri dish for material, Patty turns to the core curriculum for preschool and elementary students and gets inspiration from development milestones. Hence "Be Responsible" and "Pop the Bubbles," which I can almost picture being performed before scads of elated school kids as bubble blowers are deployed.

I LIKE TO DANCE AND SING! is available from Patty's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Looking past Halloween and straight on to Thanksgiving, Andy Z has released a new video for "Turkey in the Straw" to promote his CD, CLASSIC SONGS & TRADITIONAL TUNES.

Lord of the children's music rings Laurie Berkner and her band are releasing FAVORITE CLASSIC  KIDS' SONGS on October 23. You don't have to wait for the first video, as "Mahalo" is now live, complete with sign language accompaniment.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 28, 2015

Amistad (Featuring Dan Zanes) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Backyard – Riff Rockit
Follow The Drinking Gourd – Lloyd H. Miller
Germs – Joanie Leeds And The Nightlights
I Can Still Say I Love You –  Keith Munslow
My Heart Is Open – Maroon 5 Feat. Gwen Stefani
Unwind – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 25, 2015

All Around the Kitchen – Andy Z
Amnesia – 5 Seconds of Summer
Bad Haircut – The Bazillions
Dancing in the Kitchen – Tim Kubart
Slow – Trout Fishing In America
That Way  – Chibi Kodama

¡Come Bien! as José-Luis Orozco Serves Kids Music

I don't consider myself the Ugly American. I like to hear other languages musically and promote multi-lingualism in our home (although, to be fair, the second language has been Hebrew, considering last year's bar mitzvah). To that end, it was amusing when I opened Jose-Luis Orozco's new English-Spanish CD, ¡COME BIEN! EAT RIGHT! and my younger son exclaimed, "Is that from the PJ Library?" (A service that send Jewish-themed books to children).

A musician, composer, and educator, José-Luis has won multiple awards for his 16 (yes, 16) recordings. However this CD migrates his music to Smithsonian Folkways for the first time. José-Luis travels 125,000 miles per year performing singalongs to reach kids, families, and teachers. His multilingual music demonstrates that values translate naturally around the world and that you may not understand the words to a song but that there may be universal concepts and feelings behind them.

This theory becomes a reality in songs such as "Chocolate" and "The Fruit Conga." And as soon as "Sabrosos Colores" started, I realized that Dan Zanes has been singing this tune in concert for more than a decade. ¡COME BIEN! EAT RIGHT! is broken into two sections, Spanish and English. It's more than 70 minutes of music – and would have worked in the "old days" as a double concept album. It still works today – and there's not una sola palabra (one word) of Hebrew to confuse my youngest listener.

¡COME BIEN! EAT RIGHT! is available from Smithsonian Folkways, José-Luis' website, Amazon, and iTunes.