Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sugar Free All-Stars Celebrate Record Store Day

Oh man did I love vinyl. It's been decades since I last purchased actual record albums. CDs never felt the same. Their decline, due to the advent of digital media, has been sanguine. I still harken back to college, when I'd load up a plastic bag of my favorite comedy CDs and lug them down to the radio station to do my one-hour, weekly broadcast.

For those of us who long to go back to the future, there is Record Store Day on Saturday, April 19. Conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees, Record Store Day is a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1000 independently owned U,S. record stores (There are Record Store Day participating stores on every continent except Antarctica).

There are a multitude of freebies and near-freebies, as well as promotional giveaways in conjunction with this year's celebration. On the kindie scene, the Sugar Free All-Stars have released a 45 of "My Daddy's Record Collection" on colored vinyl. For the digital enthusiasts, there is also a download code that comes with your pre-order, if you just can't wait to hear the song. But wait – you can, if you just click on the handy dandy lyric video below!

Vinyl is coming back, if you care to read the reports. People always missed the full sound, rendered dissonant by compression algorithms. And SFAS's Chris “Boom!” Wiser and Rob “Dr. Rock” Martin wanted to add their two cents to the equation.

My turntable died about 10 years ago. It was part of a component system with a double cassette deck (for tape-to-tape recording) and AM/FM radio, as well as an AUX input/output. When I finally hunkered down and replaced it with a mess of new equipment, it took another couple of years before I bought an ION turntable with a USB port for conversion. But we have stacks of CDs stored on top of it, so when the All-Stars' single arrived, I had to do some juggling to even play the disc.

My three-year-old, ever so helpful, jostled himself next to me and turned on the CD player. When I pulled the disc from the slip cover, he just stared. He immediately knew the oversized 45 would not fit in the CD player. "What that?" he asked. "Just wait," i told him, and put the single onto the turntable. We listened to both the A side and the B side ("Banana Pudding'). I asked him, "What do you think?" He said, "It's good!" High praise from a kid who listens to a three-artist rotation of Ralph's World, Recess Monkey, and Sesame Street.

It will be a few years before the kid is able to handle the turntable's sensitive nature. In the meantime, the download code puts the songs in easy listening range in iTunes. Kudos to the folks behind Record Store Day, as well as the Sugar Free All-Stars for reminding me that I still love vinyl.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, April 17, 2014

Swinging on a Star – Zak Morgan
Life Is Better With You – Michael Franti & Spearhead
I Got You –  Jack Johnson
Flat Stanley – Play Date
Mr Wolf – The Short Films
Ice Cream Soup –  Jambo
Pardon My Pajamas  – Dog On Fleas
Archaeology –  Danny Weinkauf
The Roach Waved Hello –  Chibi Kodama
Full Tilt – The Not-Its

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weinkauf Heads Class With "No School Today"

Danny Weinkauf knows how kids work. Literally.

Spending 19 years working as a pediatric physical therapist, he helped challenging children (his words) work out issues with their bodies. Transitioning to a full-time musician (commercial work, solo gigs, and playing bass with They Might Be Giants), Weinkauf now works out people's bodies, as well as children's minds.

Parents who enjoyed the whimsy of his contributions to TMBG's kids compilations ("Where Do They Make Balloons" and "I Am a Paleontologist") will be happy to hear about his first full-length children's CD, NO SCHOOL TODAY. In much the same way Sugar Ray mined the success of "Fly" with songs in a similar vein, Weinkauf returns to his sweet spot with "Archaeology" and "Marsupial." There is also some weird science with "The Moon Is Made of Cheese" and "The Kdiney That Lived in Four People."

The Kickstarter-funded CD fills the kindie void that TMBG created by (temporarily?) abandoning the genre to concentrate on adult endeavors. I can't imagine the Johns dueting with Laurie Berkner on a song like "Our Love Fits," but it's a sweet ukelele-strummer. Musician Hank Green also drops by for the kidney song that wraps up the disc. "Ballad of Ben" may be about Ben Folds, but when your own son (named Ben) happens to play piano, it's a fortuitous coincidence.

Weinkauf is clearly proud of his son Kai's vocals (and rightly so). But the wordy "Cast My Vote" clunks along, with fact-laced verses that hammer the point into your head:

Amendment 15 changed the law and included all black men 
But women called the Suffragettes fought long and hard 
'Til when Amendment 19 said that women needed voices too
(Now) all citizens can register it's great for me and you (great for me and you)

There is a fairly large contingent of kindie music families who were brought into the fold primarily due to the four "kid-fueled' TMBG albums. Weinkauf is staking his own ground in the market, and his connection to the group will certainly help make inroads that other artists might not see. Ultimately the question is, "Does NO SCHOOL TODAY hold up on its own?" Short answer, yes. There's some light rock and roughhousing, some wackiness, and some value reinforcement, as in "Together We Can Fly."

Weinkauf has stressed that he is not "in" TMBG but merely plays "with" the band, which he dissects as the Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell). People come to see them and he happens to be there. By stepping out on his own, Weinkauf gives parents a reason to listen to (and eventually see) his original compositions. School may be out for Danny Weinkauf, but he's apparently only started educating a fan base.

NO SCHOOL TODAY is available on April 29 at Amazon and iTunes.

Here is the video for the TMBG song, "I Am a Paleontologist," sung by Weinkauf:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Don't Believe A Thing I Say – Jack Johnson
Anybody Got A Watch? – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Jump Right In – The Twigs
Electric Lady –  Justin Timberlake
Liza Jane –  Jr. Madness
I Must Be a Genius – Dog On Fleas
Electric Guitar – Laura Doherty
Rock Melon – Gustafer Yellowgold
Mooshpie  – The Whirlygigs
Fun Fa Fun Fun Fun – Danimal
Is This a Joke?  – Billy Kelly and the Blah Blah Blahs

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Monday, April 14, 2014

Dream a Little Dream of Me – Zee Avi
Nonsense – Davy Andrews
Roar  – Katy Perry
What's My Name? – Rihanna Feat. Drake
Danceology – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Waiting Room  – Fugazi
BroOKlyn – Mil's Trills
Till There Was You – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Me Time – Chibi Kodama
Tomorrow's People – Brady Rymer

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Friday, April 11, 2014

Just a Normal Day – Lesley and the Flying Foxes
Early Days – Paul McCartney
Thinking Good Thoughts – Dog On Fleas
Up Periscope – Recess Monkey
Fill It Up – Josh And The Jamtones
Cheese World – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Love The Way You Lie (Part II) – Rihanna Feat. Eminem
Sunglasses – The Que Pastas
Ben – Zee Avi
Freak Out – Astrograss
Alove Alliteration – Mr. Palindrome

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, April 10, 2014

Who Loves the Sun – Zee Avi
Breakfast – Ratboy Jr.
Little Blimp – The Joy Formidable
Swing Low – Josh And The Jamtones
Hide & Seek – Princess Katie & Racer Steve
Brave – Sara Bareilles
Radiate – Jack Johnson
Shake It Off! – Uncle Rock
Metaphor – The Alphabeticians
Potted Plant Guy – David Heatley
Little Cloud (Featuring Rachel Loshak) – Joanie Leeds And The Nightlights

Big in Malaysia, Zee Avi Aims for U.S. Kids

They say you're not truly a worldwide superstar until you've made it in America.

For instance, how many people stateside have heard of Robbie Williams? This former British boy band member has sold millions of copies of his solo CDs, yet remains a virtual unknown in this country. But if you saw the Live Eight concert, Williams' reaction was almost identical to the one a reunited Pink Floyd received 20 minutes later.

To that point, Zee Avi is one of the top 10 Malaysians. Name one of the other nine. I dare you. The pop songstress has a dedicated fan base and is now seeking to expand her reach into the United States, by going through our children. The result is Zee Avi's NIGHTLIGHT, a nine-song set of cover tunes that you've heard before.

NIGHTLIGHT is a mellow collection of the very familiar, performed with stripped-down ukelele arrangements. "Don't Worry Be Happy" doesn't get much airplay these days. "Rainbow Connection" on the other hand, has been covered by everyone from Paramore's Hayley Williams to Sarah McLachlan. We're busily planning a bar mitzvah, so a simple version of Michael Jackson's "Ben" may get exposure at his event. For everyone else? Not so much.

Perhaps it's a cultural thing. Maybe Zee Avi, though well-intentioned, did not thoroughly vet her set list. It's been a while since I heard Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game." I could have gone a few more years. And I never thought "Colors of the Wind" was one of Steven Schwartz's better efforts. Kudos to a timely rendition of Lou Reed's "Who Loves the Sun," however.

Zee Avi apparently traveled to Woodstock, New York to produce NIGHTLIGHT. Nothing got lost in translation or travel from such a distance. But it would have been nice to hear something original mixed in with such well-tread material. You can turn off this NIGHTLIGHT and still remember exactly where everything is.

NIGHTLIGHT is available April 22 through Zee Avi's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for Zee Avi's cover of Sara Bareilles' "Winter Song":