Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, April 24, 2014

Start Of The End – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Size Of The Problem – Tom Chapin
Recess –  Justin Roberts
International Smile – Katy Perry
Born To Rock  – David Tobocman
Thingamajig – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Desert Dogs – Shiprock and Anchordog
Together We Can Fly – Danny Weinkauf
Bionic (feat. Shiz & Lady Asha) – Father Goose
Raised by Trolls – Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke

Hullabaloo Makes Some Shy Kid Noise

It's been at least 35 years since I saw anyone who attended kindergarten with me. For Steve Denyes and Brendan Kremer of Hullabaloo, every time they get together is a preschool reunion.

Now more than a decade into their kindie recording career, the duo have released an origin story of sorts. SHY KID BLUES tells how Steve (shy) and Brendan (exuberant) met and later decided, in the fifth grade, to collaborate musically.

As most concept albums go, SHY KID BLUES works as two separate projects. The entire 37-minute CD works as a long-form children's story. If you subtract the approximately one dozen spoken-word expositions, suddenly it's a typical collection of Hullabaloo children's tunes, which is never a bad thing.

Steve's vocals have often seemed reminiscent of Johnny Cash and he works that to the band's advantage in "Talking Shy Kid Blues." Among the songs, you get the misty "Best Friends Forever," the countrified kickin' "That's Just Us (Playing Rock 'n' Roll), the zydeco anthem "H-U-L-L-A-B-A-L-O-O," and the performance showcase number, "Like a Bird Must Feel." Parents can inspire their own shy kids to participate with two refrains of "You Can Do This":

You can do this, you can do this
You've got the kind of strength to get you through this.
You might not believe it, but believe me friend, I do.
I believe that you can do this because I believe in you.

Two thousand shows into their career, it's hard to argue with Hullabaloo's success. They fill SHY KID BLUES with a bevy of guest artists, from guitarist Joey Harris (late of the Beat Farmers) to trombone player April West of the Euphoria Brass Band, and Danny "Slapjazz" Barber and Leland "Spoonful" Collins on jaw harp and spoons.

Bottom line, SHY KID BLUES is a tuneful tale that churns to a predictable (and uplifting) ending. It does skew close to southern country for a SoCal band, but Hullabaloo has always presented themselves as kid folk. What you hear is the sound of two kids sharing the music they've always dreamed of performing.

SHY KID BLUES is available on May 27 through Hullabaloo's website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for their song, "DAD UPSIDE DOWN":

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Little Little Baby – The Harmonica Pocket
California King Bed – Rihanna
Pendulum – Pearl Jam
All Together Now – Caspar Babypants
Upside Down – Ratboy Jr.
Cool Watermelon – Ethan Rossiter And The Jamberries
Jim-A-Long Josie – Jr. Madness
Jump Right In  – The Twigs
No School Today – Danny Weinkauf
Iko Iko (feat. Josh and the Jamtones & Little Goose) – Father Goose
Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin

It's Still Billy Joel to Me (at MSG)

If there's a performer I've seen more times than anyone else, it's Billy Joel.

If there's a venue where I've seen him before more times than anywhere else, it's Madison Square Garden.

From Glass Houses to River of Dreams to New Years 1999 to 12 Gardens to his "franchise" stop on Friday, April 18, 2012, if he's been there, we've been there.

Now Billy has his critics as well as his fans, as they are legion. They want to know why he released his last original album in July 1993 and has essentially became a touring oldies act for the past 21 years – a period longer than his original recording career.

I straddle the fence. For New Years 1999, it was kind of nice to see a "big" concert in Manhattan and not have to deal with Times Square. And we were "only" six years out of River of Dreams, so there was still the hope, an inkling of hope, that a new album was just around the corner.

That thought was shot to hell by 12 Gardens, an ambitious engagement meant to shatter attendance records. But it was 13 years since River of Dreams – and a few years (2001) to be exact) since his classic noodling, FANTASIES AND DELUSIONS.

Billy has continually stated that he felt "thwarted" by the constraints of pop music. When Howard Stern interviewed him in November 2010, he went even further. Billy said that after 9/11, he suffered from writer's block and became unable to write new material. No kidding. His output since 1993 has consisted of two songs, one a cover of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love" for GREATEST HITS VOLUME 3 and "All My Life," a 2006 tune for (then) new bride Katie Lee. The only one of his three "wifely" tunes not to make a big splash, it's ironic that he has not performed it live anywhere, considering it's his most recent composition. And he HAS performed "Uptown Girl" and "Just the Way You Are" numerous times.

But there we were on April 18, back at MSG, back to see Billy Joel. Back for the first time with our 13-year-old son, to introduce him to the guy who wrote all those songs he hears on the radio and in the car. "I look like my father," Billy told the crowd. Well, at 64, them's the breaks with genetics.

Billy played entirely from his own catalog. Tellingly, when he strayed, he went OLDER – doing a few verses from the Beatles and Elton John, leading to a punchline. You got no sense of a performer who stayed in touch with modern trends or even more recent entertainers. I'm not saying Billy Joel should be covering "Blurred Lines." But is there really no other material he'd like to attempt that isn't covered in dust, ivy, or moss?

Sadly, it's time to enact some tough love for Billy Joel. His newest CD? A re-release of his "Bridge to Russia" concert...from 1988. The hook? It includes songs that were cut to make room on the vinyl record.

Twenty-one years is long enough to wait. Hell, if you were born on the release date of RIVER OF DREAMS, you are now counting the days until you can legally drink! And believe me, when I think about that, it's enough to make ME want to have a drink. Billy Joel has not released an album of original material in 21 years!

Hell, even James Taylor has Billy beat. James released new albums in 1997 and 2002 and an album blatantly called COVERS in 2008. James performs as many if not more concerts every year than Billy Joel. Admittedly, he's made hits out of many songs that were written and first performed by others. But he hasn't given up the ghost. Even when he was tapped out, he resorted to cover tunes to otherwise break up a 12-year barren streak.

Twenty-one years. By the time our younger son is ready for a Billy Joel concert, Billy will be closing in on 70. I'm holding out the slim hope that Billy will have made a breakthrough and penned some new songs between now and 2020. But I'm not holding my breath. And ultimately, if he's still performing concerts at MSG, we'll be there. Maybe for less than $200 per ticket, too.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sing To Me – Walter Martin
Now Let's Dance – Elizabeth Mitchell & Dan Zanes
Slow – Trout Fishing In America
Bigga Bagga – Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke
Robots From The 4th Dimension – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Up In Cat's Room – David Heatley
Bananas (Plum Crazy) – Tangerine Tambourine
Only Girl (In The World) – Rihanna
Marsupial  – Danny Weinkauf
A Who? (feat. Joanie Leeds) – Father Goose
Twirl! Twirl! Twirl! – Mr. Leebot

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Monday, April 21, 2014

S.S. Brooklyn – Lloyd H. Miller
Over Again – One Direction
Wander 'Round the World – Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke
Unicorns R Real – Koo Koo Kanga Roo
Let 'em Know – Milkshake
I Love Music (feat. Wordsmith) – Rhymezwell
Combination Pizza Hut – Das Racist
The Ballad of Ben – Danny Weinkauf
Fun Day (feat. Roxanne Farrell) – Father Goose
Dear One  – Jim James

Friday, April 18, 2014

Father Goose: Bashment to the Penthouse

When I lived on Long Island in the early '80s, the Stray Cats were in vogue. A bunch of Long Island natives who emigrated to England to make it big playing rockabilly, they also inspired radio stations to push a bunch of other musical genres, such as ska and reggae.

Listening to Father Goose's new children's CD, BASHMENT TIME, I was brought right back to my college days. After I spun an hour of comedy CDs on Monday afternoons for the college radio station, "Jimmy Jim" came in for two hours of island music. He would often show up with seconds to spare, hand me a Bob Marley CD and say, "Cue up side two, mon." Then he would disappear and leave me sitting there, as Marley sang through tracks one, two, three... I would do Jim a favor and air his ad spots. He would resurface, smelling of odd spices, hand me another CD (mind you, I've been off the air for 20 minutes and late for my next class) and say, "Cue up track two, mon."

No, this did not cause me to hate island music. Nor did it preclude me from encouraging my kids to embrace "world music," although it's not particularly my thing. We first encountered the good Father Goose back in his days as Dan Zanes' sideman, coming out at the end of the shows as Symphony Space to get the crowd on its feet for the final few songs.

Goose left Zanes and embarked on a solo career, with a first album ("It's A Bam Bam Diddly!") coming out in 2007. After a health problem, he retrenched for BASHMENT TIME, a term that describes high energy Jamaican dance hall music. And it's a collection of upbeat tunes that put you right on the Island ("Farmers Market," "Top of the Mountain," and "Jamaica Ska").

Guest stars on BASHMENT TIME include Dan Zanes (almost a given) on "Constant Sorrow," as well as Joanie Leeds ("A Who?") and Josh and the Jamtones ("Iko Iko"). There are also some native influences with Lady Asha, Princess Goldie, Roxanne Farrell, and even Little Goose). The vibe is "house party" and the procession of revolving visitors provides an inviting, open feel to the proceedings.

Although it's been seven years between CDs, Father Goose is not laid back when it comes to production. BASHMENT TIME has a full, dynamic sound that will force you into action. If your feet aren't twitching, then your head will be bopping and your fingers will be drumming. You've been goosed.

BASHMENT TIME is available through Father Goose's website, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for the song, "Constant Sorrow," featuring Dan Zanes:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ben's Playlist - Friday, April 18, 2014

Peaceful – Cat Doorman
Delicious – Orange Sherbert
Blink Of An Eye – Frances England
Changes – David Bowie
Show Me What You're Feeling – Tom Chapin
Turned Out – Paul McCartney
Otis – Justin Roberts
Our Love Fits – Danny Weinkauf
Constant Sorrow (feat. Dan Zanes & Coolie Ranx) – Father Goose
I'm a Shark (I Rock, I Swim) – ScribbleMonster

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