Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, November 1, 2012

We lost power on Monday afternoon.

Ben did not make a playlist for Tuesday because we could not power up the laptop anywhere.

Tuesday, I went to a friend's house and powered up and Ben made a playlist but we had no network connection to share it.

Here is today's selections.

Five Minutes More - AudraRox
Today is Monday in New York - Johnette Downing     
Come To California - the Hipwaders
Turning Tables - Adele
Puzzle Pieces Within - Lunch Money
Sleepover  - Ellen & Mark
Clap Your Hands  - The Time Outs
Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart - Fountains Of Wayne
Green Green Rocky Road - Randy Kaplan

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 29, 2012

Glad You Came - The Wanted
Barely Breathing - Glee      
Great To Be A Kid - The Not-Its!
We Just Won't Be Defeated - The Go! Team
Gingerbread Man - Lunch Money
Escalator - David Tobocman
Wimoweh  - Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Mammal - They Might Be Giants
Reading Rocks!  - Johnette Downing   
Rocketfuel - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
The Great Outdoors - Ralph's World

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cagey Cajun Style Delivers Reading Advice

When Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, there were numerous side effects. One positive headline was the re-cultivation of an international interest in the musical traditions of the area. For a brief period of time (far less than 15 minutes), people remembered Allen Toussaint.

Fanning the flames of the New Orleans sound for children's music is Johnette Downing. An educator who has spent 20 years traveling the world, Downing has recorded 10 CDs as well as numerous children's books. Her efforts have garnered 21 national awards (check her website for the complete list).

Her latest CD, READING ROCKS!, stresses an obvious point. How do you get kids ages 2-8 to open a book? Well, you could do worse than have Downing sing them a story, which she does on "Why the Oyster Has the Pearl" and "Why the Crawfish Lives in the Mud." As you might expect from the titles, there's a strong, admirable respect for the culture and sensibilities of Louisiana.

"Books and music played an important role in my childhood and I wanted to share the thins I love with others," Downing explains. "My greatest musical influences came from having the good fortune to have been born and raised in Louisiana, the birthplace of jazz, Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco music."

Downing uses those influences on two versions of "Today Is Monday..." one set in Kentucky:

Monday burgoo
Tuesday sorghum
Wednesday hot brown
Thursday Bibb lettuce
Friday rolled oysters
Saturday derby pie
Sunday spoon bread
Come and eat it up.

And the other in New York:

Monday is apples
Tuesday pastrami
Wednesday Buffalo wings
Thursday Nathan's Hot Dogs
Friday cheesecake
Saturday pizza
Sunday bagels and lox
Come and eat it up.

As regular blog readers know (come on, there are some of you), I have a natural aversion to "message" songs and concept CDs. Downing does everything but hit kids over the head with her message. "Pick up a book and read," she sings on "R*E*A*D." The emphasis is hers, not mine. Okay, that song is barely more than 90 seconds, but we get the point.

However the stories are amusing and the tunes are catchy. Downing has been at this game a long time and she executes an amiable game plan: Deliver a message, teach kids about the music of her beloved New Orleans, and get out before they realize they've learned something. Mission accomplished. Have some creole.

READING ROCKS! is available on November 20 from Johnette Downing's website, Amazon, CDBABY, iTunes, and her Facebook Fan Page.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Frday, October 26, 2012

A Friend Like You – Steve Weeks
Take It to the Street – Re-Birth Brass Band
Peace Sign – David Tobocman
Why Is Dad So Mad?  – The Board of Education
Music Makes Me Feel – Astrograss
Wimoweh – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
How Will I Know – Glee
Want U Back  –  Cher Lloyd ft. Astro 
Butterfly – The Nields

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 25, 2012

First Day - The Board of Education
Conservation  - Rocknoceros
The Science Fair - Ashley Albert 
The Owie Song - David Tobocman
Good Bad Boy - Joe Jackson
Kiss With A Fist - Florence + The Machine
DeeDee Taught Me How To Count - Kepi Ghoulie
Playground - Astrograss
Changes - David Bowie
Treehouse - Dog On Fleas
Falling - Joanie Leeds and The Nightlights
Flat Stanley - Play Date

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Summer Daze - Susanna Hoffs
Generator (First Floor)   - Freelance Whales
What Will You Ever See? - Lunch Money
Immigrant Song -   Led Zeppelin
Binary - The Board of Education       
I Am A Scientist  - Mates Of State
A Road Song - Fountains Of Wayne
There's a Band in My Head  - Dog On Fleas
Locked Out Of Heaven  - Bruno Mars     
Burning Coffee - They Might Be Giants 
Live While We're Young  - One Direction      
Favorite Day -   Hullabaloo

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Edwina Mae  -  Recess Monkey
Sourwood Mountain  -  Carolina Chocolate Drops
First Warm Day  -  The Incredible Chandler Travis Catual Birdomonic
Shrimp and Gumbo   -  Rebirth Brass Band
Continental Geography  -  Astrograss 
Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart   -  Fountains Of Wayne
Spicy Kid   -  Lunch Money
They Got Feet  -  George Carver
Cicada  -  Chickasaw Mudd Puppies
Swinging on a Star  -  Zak Morgan       
Great To Be A Kid  -  The Not-Its! 

Jeff Plays WWE Booker through WM 2013

Twenty years ago, I ran a pro wrestling newsletter called FANTASY FEDERATION.

The premise was simple – We had the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and seldom did a main event performer slip from one group to the other.

I also ran matchups from different eras, such as Bruno Sammartino vs Ric Flair. And the occasional Japanese headliner vs an American champion (this was when I had the time to pay for and watch tapes from overseas).

After a few years, Hulk Hogan made the move to WCW and the dam broke. There was no reason for me to keep producing the newsletter when we had the Monday Night Wars and main event programs were being wasted for the sake of an extra 200,000 viewers on an October night.

CM Punk
Now we have one major promotion (WWE) and one minor promotion (Impact). Since Impact does not know how to build a superstar, their most popular talent are the people who were once big names in WWE, living in the dying days of their stardom.

As the fall season develops, WWE begins its build to the biggest show of the year – WrestleMania 29 (April 2013 in New Jersey). WWE has spent a few months dropping teases of things to come. Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson announced that he would challenge for the championship at January's Royal Rumble. CM Punk then delivered a Rock Bottom (Rock's own finisher) to Johnson on an episode of RAW.

Most observers felt that Punk was being kept strong through Rumble to set up a Rock vs Punk match, where Rock would win the championship. He would then hold the title and drop it to John Cena in a rematch of last year's "Match of a Lifetime" that drew a near-record buyrate for PPV.

But then age and injuries caught up with WWE. Cena needed surgery to repair his injured wrist and the damage was determined to be worse than thought. He would have to miss October's HELL IN A CELL PPV that was to be headlined by him vs Punk. In a jam and lacking live bodies, WWE punted and elevated Ryback into the spot.

A former Tough Enough contestant, Ryback was last seen as Skip Sheffield, a smiling hick cowboy member of the Nexus, a gimmick from three years ago. An injury took him out of that angle and he was rebuilt as a clone of Bill Goldberg. Given an undefeated winning streak, Ryback won squash matches and said little. WWE ignored the chants of "Goldberg" and after months of minute-long bouts, Ryback started to slowly get over with crowds.

The problem is, raising Ryback's hand at HELL IN A CELL, and giving him the championship over Punk, ruins months of previously-planned booking. Not to mention in all likelihood throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars of business in the trash. The locked cell gimmick has already been compromised. So another "crap" finish devalues the gimmick. But Punk has been champ for 300+ days, which has gotten over huge. And Ryback is undefeated (with a few DQ or countout victories over that stretch). Something's gotta give.

I have a booking suggestion that allows WWE to keep their scheduled booking plans, and diverts Ryback into some big matchups of his own.

The best potential solution would be Punk's "manager" Paul Heyman making a frantic phone call on RAW, telling someone that "Money is no object."

At the end of the episode, Heyman gets a text or a voice message and looks relieved, as a tease.

John Cena should be announced as the special guard for the door at HELL IN A CELL, to prevent interference from Heyman or anyone else.

Cut to the PPV: Late in the match, Ryback hits his finish.

A rip appears in the corner of the fabric covering the ring and a hand appears from the rip, distracting Ryback.

The hand grabs his leg and pulls Ryback through the ring.

Cena is going nuts outside the ring, demanding the ref unlock the door. 

Inside the cell, Punk recovers and heads for the door.

A man climbs out from under the ring, wearing a hoodie, carrying a pipe.

He tosses down the pipe and throws back his hoodie: BIG DAVE BATISTA.

The crowd goes nuts. Heyman laughs. Cena is stunned.

The ref opens the cell. Heyman distracts Cena and Punk bolts past him and stumbles up the ramp, losing by DQ.

As the PPV goes off the air, Cena and Batista do a stare-down. No sign of Ryback.

Ryback should not appear on TV in the buildup for SURVIVOR SERIES (November's PPV). The main event should be a three-way championship match between CM Punk, John Cena, and Batista.

For the SS finish, Cena hits the Attitude Adjustment on Punk but Batista breaks it up. Before Batista can hit his finisher on Cena, Ryback's music plays and Batista bails as the big man runs to the ring. Ryback spears Punk (who gets the win via DQ).

This leaves the WWE in exactly the same place it wanted to be when Cena was injured – Punk as champ, positioned for Rock.

But they have a ready-made feud program for Ryback (with Batista) to cement him as a main eventer.

And Cena is "free" to set up a match with Undertaker, if that's the direction the WWE wants to go.

Batista gets a tremendous six-month payday for working limited dates and headlining multiple PPVs (Survivor Series, TLC, Rumble, Elimination Chamber, and WM). If Batista wants to stick around, there's a built-in babyface turn so he can be programmed against Punk post-WM, to get Punk's heat back after losses to Rock and possibly Undertaker.

There's some amateur armchair booking from a guy who spent 3+ years doing it in his spare time. Enjoy the show and let's see how the WWE works their way out of it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

You Gotta Have Friends (new podcast)

I've lost a lot of friends. No, they haven't passed away.

I lost a bunch when I moved from New Jersey to Long Island.

I lost a bunch when I moved from group to group in high school.

I lost a bunch after high school when I segued into hanging out with my new college friends.

I've lost a bunch of college friends who moved or drifted away.

And you gotta have friends in this life.

Sometimes, I bailed on friendships due to bad behavior on their part. Sometimes, I've had people bail on me.

Sometimes, I've stuck around when I should have bailed.

This episode goes into all these combinations.

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 22, 2012

What Katie Did - The Libertines
Sunshine - Vered   
Wimoweh  - Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Turning Tables - Adele
Miss Elephant's Gerald - The Pop Ups       
I Walk The Line - Chris Isaak
Zou bisou bisou - Gillian Hills
Ayo - Play Date
Born To Rock - David Tobocman
Worms - Dog On Fleas

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 19, 2012

Snow Day -  Zak Morgan 
A Friend Like You -  Steve Weeks
Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart -  Fountains Of Wayne
Flat Stanley -  Play Date
Thank You -  Dan Zanes & Friends
Because I Said So!  -  Big Bang Boom
Mammal  -  They Might Be Giants
Mary Anning  -  Artichoke
Escalator -  David Tobocman         
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together  -  Taylor Swift

Baby Songs for a New Generation from Vered

When I was a kid, I got turned off when I saw anything that said, "Music for the whole family!" Now I've pulled a 180 as an adult – with an 11-year-old (Ben) and a 22-month-old (Matt), what I need is exactly that… music for the whole family.

Occasionally, there are exceptions. Ben does not mind hearing his younger brother's Sesame Street CDs. In fact, he was more than happy to share the four CDs I made for him many years ago. But there are limits.

Vered's GOOD MORNING MY LOVE falls into that category of "explicitly for the baby" music. Already a 2012 Parents' Choice Gold Award-winning CD, the independent children's musician spent her summer fine-tuning the tracks for an autumn relaunch.

Having not heard the original release does not put me at a disadvantage – it sounds jaunty and whimsical and easy-going, and I'm sure it was slightly "less so" in its earlier incarnation.

Born in Israel, Vered studied clinical psychology and music therapy and became a jazz performer. There's a joke in there somewhere but I need time to figure out the correct wording. The songs on GOOD MORNING MY LOVE are pretty self-explanatory, with titles like "Hands in My Mouth," "Faces," "Bathtime," and "When You Smile:"

When you smile at me you know I feel just like an ice cream cone.
And I melt onto my fingers, on my toes, and my elbows.
When you look at me with those eyes the color of the evening sky
You know I feel just like the moon outside
Because I know I'll be with you tonight.

Vered bills GOOD MORNING MY LOVE as "a baby CD for parents who want to enjoy their babies more." Well, okay, nothing wrong with that. Matt loves music and would like nothing better than to learn how to control the stereo system by himself. Having started Mommy Music and Me classes, Matt is stunned when he comes home, starts singing fragments of a lyric, and Ben finishes the thought for him.

GOOD MORNING MY LOVE is a blissful, gentle, and loving way for parents to spend a short block of time with (very) young children. Just have something caffeinated on standby if you play the CD in the late afternoon.

The CD is available from Vered's website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blue Sky (Little Martha Intro) -  Elizabeth Mitchell         
Bag of Dreams -  Steven Courtney
Ride In My Little Red Wagon -  Willie & The Wheel
Great To Be A Kid -  The Not-Its!
Playground  -  Astrograss       
Mother Nature's Son -  Aaron Nigel Smith
Shrimp and Gumbo  -  Rebirth Brass Band
On the Greener Side -  Michelle Shocked
Gingerbread Man -  Lunch Money
The Owie Song -  David Tobocman
Wimoweh  -  Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

At The Zoo  - Simon & Garfunkel
May This Be Love  - Elizabeth Mitchell        
The Monkey Song  - Jesse Friedberg
They Got Feet   -   George Carver
Call Me Maybe  - Carly Rae Jepsen
Three  - The Board of Education      
Rad  - Play Date
The Dancin' Bear  - Recess Monkey
Let Me In  - Zak Morgan
Harry Elefante  - Rocknoceros
Let's Go  - Matt & Kim  

Tobocman Elevating Kids Music With "Escalator"

Regular visitors to this blog know that the majority of the posts are my son Ben's morning playlists. These are the songs that Ben selects to hear (on the following) morning, while he is eating breakfast and getting ready for the school bus. There is also a smaller, two-song playlist for the iPod connected to his clock/radio in his bedroom, which is not listed. His "wake up" selections are generally contain less rocking guitar and more piano-based.

At least two mornings a week, the opening selection is "Home," from David Tobocman's first CD, I COUNT TO 10 AND OTHER VERY HELPFUL SONGS. He can't seem to get enough of it. So we were excited to receive a review copy of Tobocman's third children's CD, ESCALATOR.

A prolific composer who has scored numerous TV shows as well as indie films, Tobocman aims to not write down for kids because "kids are smart...I just try to meet them at their level." If you're looking for a similar recording artist, I'd suggest John Boydston, who has recorded for the past decade-plus as Daddy A Go Go.

ESCALATOR's 11 tracks cover a lot of terrain, literally and figuratively. "Custom Family Spaceship" turns a station wagon/SUV into a vehicle that can go just about anywhere. The title track posits that "up" is synonymous with great adventure and "down" is when you should use the stairs. "America's Our Country" is a three-minute tour of sights and landmarks around the country.

And a remarkable thing happened when we played the album while having dinner. Twenty-two month-old Matthew started singing along with "The Owie Song." Just the chorus, though, not the verse. And the following night, he looked at us and sang, "Ow ow ow," insisting we play it again for him. His older brother chose "Peace Sign" as his favorite track on the CD. When it was finished, Ben replayed the song (as well as a reprise for his brother).

"Here's a song for when you hurt your toes,
Here's a song for when you stub your nose.
Next time you bang your knee,
Just remember these words and melody.
Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow
Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow
Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow
I hurt myself."

Tobocman is not reinventing the wheel. ESCALATOR is filled with accessible, child-friendly rhythms and easy-to-sing lyrics. This is not "world music." There is no overriding agenda. This is not processed by a corporation looking to sell tons of related fan club tchotchkes. Journey into the near future with David Tobocman. Your kids will like what they hear.

ESCALATOR is now available through David Tobocman's website, CDBABY, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "America's Our Country:"

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Parents Need Sleep - The Nields
The Monkeys are Breaking Out  - Too Many Cookies
How Can I Sing Like A Girl? - They Might Be Giants
Monkey Love (Featuring Caspar Babypants) - The Harmonica Pocket
Rolling In the Deep  - Adele
Chrismukaah - The Jimmies 
New Shoes - Paolo Nutini
Sing Loud - Melissa Green
Kooks - Elizabeth Mitchell 
Sacagawea - The Deedle Deedle Dees

Sunday, October 14, 2012

You Can Go Home (new podcast)

I've divided my life into three stages: kid, teen, and adult. Kid gets an asterix (for the first 3+ years that I can't really remember, living in the Bronx).

I've talked about the three swim clubs my family belonged to – the first was based in New Jersey. That's where I return for this podcast episode: the two houses we lived in over the course of 11 years.

One of my brothers drove through the community (Somerset, NJ) last weekend, took photos of the houses, and sent them to me, with no advance warning. This episode, a rush of the memories that returned once I saw the pictures.

In a quick second segment, a "dinner out" turns into a minor panic tinged with shades of racism....Or is it? Your call.

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 15, 2012

I Wanna Party -  Hot Wings
Exactly Where I Want To Be -   Grenadilla
Odd Girl Out -  Alexandra
Mister E -   Zak Morgan
What'd I Say -   Ray Charles
Here's To Us -  Glee
Favorite Day -  Hullabaloo
Rocketfuel -  Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Changes -   David Bowie
Everyone -  Elizabeth Mitchell   

Friday, October 12, 2012

FOX Bends the Facts on Affleck Appearance

I don't like to get into politics, especially around election season. You turn off too many people and there's always some other Internet site to support another person's opinion.

As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says, "The wonderful thing about science is that you don't have to believe in it, it's still true." I feel the same way about climate change deniers, pro-Life stonewallers, and the Tea Party. They can have their views, as wrong as I feel they are. The science is on my side, so have at you.

Somehow this leads me to Ben Affleck appearing on the Bill O'Reilly show on FOX News to promote his new film, ARGO. It's a true story about the CIA rescuing six Americans who were being held hostage in Iran during the 1979 crisis. CIA agents came in, grabbed the hostages, and spirited them out of the country posing as members of the film crew of a ficticious movie, "Argo."

Affleck is a known Democrat, having had a role at the 2008 Democratic convention and being a spokesperson for Barack Obama during the last Presidential election. To promote his film, he was willing to appear on O'Reilly's program, knowing the conversation would turn political.

But after the spin that FOX put on Affleck's appearance, you wonder if it was worth it. "Liberal Actor Can't Name One Obama Accomplishment!" rang one headline. This leads Faux News watchers to think that:
  1. Affleck is possibly an idiot
  2. Obama hasn't accomplished anything
  3. Liberal actors fall and genuflect before the genius of O'Reilly
In any case, I don't want to get overtly political. But it's not playing fair to let someone promote a movie – one with a political bend towards your leanings – and then bash him over the head for doing so. Otherwise, prepare to be stuck with a parade of third-rate has-beens and desperate fame whores, who will kowtow to your personalities (they are not true pundits) and say anything for airtime.

Clean Shave for Zak Morgan's Beastly Kids CD

I'm not close-minded. There is the stereotype of getting older and liking fewer and fewer things. You break that stereotype by having children, and being (sometimes forcibly) introduced to new things. And y'know what? Many new things turn out to be pretty darn good.

Which brings me to Zak Morgan. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based native opens his new CD, THE BARBER OF THE BEASTS, with an orchestrated "Overture," then proceeds right into "First Grade:"

I eat my lunch at school
I gobble up my gruel
I feel like a jewel now that I'm in first grade.
This is where we learn and play
We get recess twice a day
Everyone should find a way to be in the first grade.

Seussical and clean, in the vein of Shel Silverstein. The title track tells the story of Nicola Picariello, who sets up his barber shop in the jungle and "can make a lion look like a French poodle." With strings and woodwinds in addition to guitars and piano, Morgan creates a winning style of children's music that is unlike the majority of the popular current artists.

We are currently experiencing a renaissance in the children's music scene. Beethoven's Wig covers classical. The Jimmies handle rock. Dan Zanes is a gentlemen folksinger/storyteller. Every region and every country has their own local superstar, just waiting for the "big break" that takes them national a la Stevesongs. Perhaps Zak Morgan is ready for larger venues outside the Ohio Valley.

Morgan cut his musical teeth performed for family audiences at Paradise Guest Ranch in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. He moved to New York City in 1995 to work for Recorded Books, a leading publisher of audiobooks, and spent four years immersed in the rich offerings of children's literature. His second CD, WHEN BULLFROGS CROAK, received a Grammy nomination, a rare feat for an independent release.

"The White Shark's Chum" tells a tale about a pirate (Captain Yum), a clever girl (Fast Phoebe), and a predator that follows the vessel bearing its name. Whenever someone walks the plant, they become fish food. Hence, the title of the song (and the boat). If you miss the point, Morgan even sings, "It's a double entendre."

Morgan is not all fun and games, though. He winds down the CD with a sweet ballad, "Let Me In:"

A human house of cards can crumble
But never when the heart is humble
Do you see the Light above you?
Do you know I'll always love you

Let me in

Morgan fills the niche between TUBBY THE TUBA and MEET THE ORCHESTRA. His tunes are filled with wordplay and don't stray far from their target audience, with an occasional wink for parents. THE BARBER OF THE BEASTS comes with a lavishly illustrated booklet, including lyrics with a twist: Specific words are highlighted and explained in a glossary to help expand your childrens' vocabularies. The song "Mister E" defines the words melancholy, mope, femme fatale, misanthrope, miscellaneous, misconstrue, and mistletoe, among others.

THE BARBER OF THE BEASTS is the fourth release from myKaZoo Music, a new family music label created in partnership with Universal Music Enterprises (UMe). Zak Morgan’s videos are in high rotation on, their music video channel for kids.

THE BARBER OF THE BEASTS is available on October 30 through Zak Morgan's website, CDBABY, Amazon, and iTunes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 12, 2012

Here Comes The Sun - Ben Rudnick & Friends
(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass  - Nick Lowe
Dad Upside Down - Hullabaloo
Take It to the Street - Re-Birth Brass Band
Cicada - Chickasaw Mudd Puppies
One Thing - One Direction
The Robot Looked At The Stars - Ralph's World
Water - Ozomatli
Continental Geography - Astrograss     
Turning Tables - Adele

All Skies Clear for Mitchell's Blue Clouds

If Laurie Berkner is the queen of children's music, then Elizabeth Mitchell is Glinda, the ethereal "good witch." She hovers above the scene, floating down in her transparent bubble every few years to deliver another collection of unexpected delights.

Mitchell returns this month with her sixth CD, BLUE CLOUDS. Along with original compositions, you get interpretations of songs from a diverse range of artists – David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Withers, Ella Jenkins, Van Morrison, The Allman Brothers, and The Good Ms. Padgett. The CD comes with a lushly-illustrated booklet with song-by-song notes on every selection.

About that booklet and the illustrations....all artwork is by Remy Charlip. If you didn't read any of his more than 38 books, you may be familiar with his creation, the Paper Bag Players. An extensive explanation of Remy's craft is presented by his friend, author Brian Selznick ("The Invention of Hugo Cabret").

Mitchell plays with her husband, Daniel Littleton and their daughter, Storey, as You Are My Flower (a family band). Their extended circle indulges in a smorgasbord of cultures. "Summer Is Icumen In" is based on a traditional 13th century round, transcribed by monks. "Yuki (Snow)" is a Japanese winter song, bookended on the CD by "May This Be Love" via Jimi Hendrix and the Allman Brothers' "Blue Sky."

And who knew David Bowie wrote a parenting song? That would be "Kooks:"

I bought you a pair of shoes
A trumpet you can blow
And a book of rules
On what to say to people
when they pick on you
'Cause if you stay with us you're gonna be pretty Kookie too

If you're a sucker for eloquence and simplicity, then Elizabeth Mitchell is the clear favorite. Renee and Jeremy have a similar sound, but they've snorkeling in the waters while Mitchell is already scuba diving. But I'm using the wrong set of analogies for a CD that looks upward. The title track, "Blue Clouds," was written by Daniel many years ago for Storey and the final line sums up the album:  "A blanket of stars on the back of your eyes." As well as a pillow of peaceful tunes for your ears.

BLUE CLOUDS is available on October 23 from Amazon, Smithsonian Folkways, iTunes, and You Are My Flower.

We've seen Elizabeth Mitchell and company in concert several times. Here are a couple of select videos. First, from this past summer's Kidstock festival on Long Island:

And here's a performance from Kindiefest 2011 in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 11, 2012

Buffalo Gals -  Dog On Fleas
Rolling In the Deep -  Adele
The Backpack Song -  Bari Koral
Catch My Breath  -  Kelly Clarkson  
Thank You -  Dan Zanes & Friends
Party  -  Dog On Fleas
Man Gave Names -  Aaron Nigel Smith
In Tents -    Recess Monkey
Falling  -  Joanie Leeds and The Nightlights
Sing Loud -  Melissa Green

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What Katie Did - The Libertines
Bluebird > Redbird, Redbird > Reef - The Deedle Deedle Dees
Peace And Love - Fountains Of Wayne
White And Nerdy - Weird Al Yankovic
Why Is Dad So Mad? - The Board of Education
Popcorn - Recess Monkey
Hot Sauce - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
 I Like How It Feels - Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull
Freak Out - Astrograss     
Rad - Play Date

Monday, October 08, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sylvie - Elizabeth Mitchell
Everybody Here is a Cloud   - Cloud Cult
If You Wanna Dance Say Yeah!  - Dog On Fleas
Odd Girl Out  - Alexandra
Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart  -   Fountains Of Wayne
On the Greener Side  - Michelle Shocked
Twirl! Twirl! Twirl!   - Mr. Leebot
Music Makes Me Feel  - Astrograss      
New Shoes - Paolo Nutini
A Change Would Do You Good - Glee    
How Can I Sing Like A Girl? - They Might Be Giants

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Road Scholar (new podcast)

My wife had a minor fender-bender this past week.

It reminded me of a number of (thankfully) small auto incidents that have happened over the years.

I'm not talking about being stopped by the police. These are full-fledged collisions and mishaps.

What I thought would be one small segment turned into an entire episode.

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 8, 2012

When the Bells Start Ringing (feat. The Head & the Heart)  -My Morning Jacket
Tongue Tied  - Glee
Siyahamba  - Aaron Nigel Smith
Can't Keep Johnny Down  - They Might Be Giants
Glad You Came   -The Wanted
Let Your Love Grow Tall   -  Passion Pit
Make Me  - Big Bang Boom
Make It Up   -  Astrograss    
Skyfall   - Adele

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Bluegrass Is Greener for Astrograss

Dearest Edith,

I just got back from the organic farm and boy, are my butter-churning arms tired!

Luckily, the commune leaders are not Luddites and believe in keeping their members happy through music. They play a lot of Astrograss. No I didn't mean to write "smoke," I meant "play." Astrograss is a children's group that plays authentic bluegrass music.

Ha ha, I know. You think you need to smoke some astrograss before you'd listen to authentic bluegrass music. Astrograss may be earnest, but their music is simple, clever, and down-to-earth. And seriously, if not for them and Steve Martin and his Steep Canyon Rangers, who else would be performing bluegrass music right now? Bluegrass is an American musical tradition. Astrograss has found a way to introduce bluegrass music to children and keep it relevant.

Astrograss is releasing their third CD, THE COLORED PENCIL FACTORY. Edith, it's a mix of traditional bluegrass songs ("Sail Away Ladies" and "Shortenin' Bread") and new compositions like "Make It Up," which urges children to use their imaginations:

Make it up
Make a legend or a tale
If you haven't got a story
Make it up

All five members of Astrograss are music educators (a fancypants word for teachers) and the band was founded out of their classroom experiences in Brooklyn schools. Edith, School outreach is vital to Astrograss, and their school programs not only integrate bluegrass history and instrument identification, but also feature an "Astrograss Songwriting Challenges," in which kids are invited to write poems, which Astrograss then sets to music. "Music Makes Me Feel," the song that closes the CD, is a musical adaptation of a poem by nine-year-old Marcella Fellus Borgenict.

Soon I will be heading home to see you via mule train, darling Edith. And if the mule train isn't prompt, perhaps a limo. In the meantime, I've selected some tracks from THE COLORED PENCIL FACTORY and shared them in my DropBox. You will enjoy the dedicated vocals of band members Jordan Shapiro, Sarah Alden, and Tim Kiah. Marvel at Sarah's fiddle playing. Enjoy the banjos, mandolin, clarinet, and twin fiddle!

As I send this e-mail, fictitious Edith, think of not only me kindly, but also Astrograss. For their love of bluegrass is to be admired, listened to, and also seen, if possible. See you at the 4 PM staff meeting.

THE COLORED PENCIL FACTORY is available on October 16 through the band's website, CDBABY, iTunes, and Amazon.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 5, 2012

Rainbow Connection - Weezer Feat. Hayley Williams
Valley Winter Song - Fountains Of Wayne
When Will You Die? - They Might Be Giants
Bunny Brown  - Caspar Babypants
I Just Had an Idea - Elska
Hot Sauce - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Changes - David Bowie 
Lucky - Jason Mraz
DeeDee Taught Me How To Count - Kepi Ghoulie
Worms - Dog On Fleas

Wide-Eyed and Sleepy With Sukey

It's not a good idea to fall asleep when you're reviewing a CD.

That's what I kept telling myself while listening to Sukey Molloy's fourth CD, I AM SLEEPY!.

Yet the gentle, hypnotic melodies and sweet, lilting vocals kept calling to me.

"Just a li'l midday nappie, c'mon, who'll notice if your head is on the desk? Just blame deadline anxiety."

Sukey is following her previous 2012 release, I AM HAPPY! by going 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Ironically, most parents would say they are most happy when they are asleep. But this is a children's CD, so the goal was to produce songs to lull the little ones into slumber.

Sukey wanted to give parents a recording that created a peaceful, soothing atmosphere for toddlers, preschoolers, and mothers with newborns. The 17 tracks include some lesser-known traditional songs ("Russian Lullaby") and original fables ("The Story of Little Lamb" and "The Story of Twinkle Little Star").

I'm a stickler for lyrics (either in a booklet or artist's website) but the words to lullabies are pretty standard. Still, it's nice to have them on hand for immediate memorization.

Sukey has won numerous awards – Mom's Choice Award Gold (2010, 2012); NAPPA Honors Award (2007, 2009); and the Children's Music Web Award (2006). I AM SLEEPY! was co-produced by Grammy-winner Larry Alexander, who has worked with artists as varied as Willie Nelson to Bon Jovi to Diana Ross. The CD incorporates ambient sounds of crickets, owls, and lambs to create a netherworld of calm.

Here is the video for "The Story of Twinkle Little Star."

Like I said, I AM SLEEPY! almost worked on me. But I'm generally sleep-deprived. Will it work on your kids? There aren't many more pleasurable ways to get the little ones into bed than with a welcoming voice and warm, enveloping instrumentation. And if you nod off as well, all the better. I give I AM SLEEPY! a snoring ovation.

I AM SLEEPY! will be available on October 16 through Sukey Molloy's website, CDBABY, and Amazon.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 4, 2012

Grandma's Hands - Bill Withers
Generator (First Floor)  - Freelance Whales
Burning Coffee - They Might Be Giants
The Golem - The Deedle Deedle Dees
You Are My Sunshine - Charity And The JAMband     
Mary Anning - Artichoke
El Jefe  - Mexican Institute of Sound
Buffalo Gals  - Dog On Fleas
Chloe - Grouplove
Everytime - Glee

The Point of Harry Nilsson

Stefan Shepherd interviewed Recess Monkey's Drew Holloway recently about the late Harry Nilsson and his influence on the band's music.

I posted a response to his Zooglobble blog with a few sketchy memories and just wanted to flesh them out here, from the dark recesses of my mind.

In 1971, an animated special was produced called The Point, based on a musical concept from Harry Nilsson. In a nutshell, it's a fable about being different.

I missed the initial airing on NBC, but no matter. In 1972, my class and every other third-grade class was marched into the school auditorium and we watched The Point. I went home singing "Me and My Arrow," which later turned up in a commercial for the badly-manufactured car of the same name.

Years later, even with the sweep of the Internet, advent of iTunes, and the deviousness of Napster, I never thought about investigating the music of Harry Nilsson.

One day, we played an album (yes, a record) of TV themes for my son. After it was over, I started singing one of them, "Best Friend," the theme to The Courtship of Eddie's Father. As usual, my son asked his standard question, "Who sang that?" I did some research on Harry Nilsson and we began listening to his songs with some regularity.

Nilsson had the ability to sing about almost anything. Even a nonsense song like "Coconut," which would have pegged any other artist as a one-hit wonder. I was tremendously sad to have to tell my son (in a carefully worded remark) that he wasn't recording any new material.

You can hear Harry Nilsson's influence on a number of childrens artists, from Recess Monkey (Drew's remarks, which begat this post) to the audio/visual mastery of Gustafer Yellowgold. Even though Nilsson is no longer around, his songs and spirit survive, and I'll be looking for The Point this holiday season.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Daydream Believer - Renee & Jeremy
Lonely Glove  - Caspar Babypants
The Christmas Song  - The Raveonettes
Accentuate the Positive - NRBQ
Lemonade Stand  - Deep Fried Pickle Project
Puzzle Pieces Within  - Lunch Money
Ride In My Little Red Wagon  - Willie & The Wheel  
Favorite Day - Hullabaloo
Balloon Fest - Ozomatli
Flying - Recess Monkey
Bike   - Charity And The JAMband
Kinder Words  - Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Monday, October 01, 2012

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Popsicle Soup -  Jawbone
When Will You Die? -  They Might Be Giants
The Monkey Song -  Jesse Friedberg
Lemonade -  Charity And The JAMband     
Zou bisou bisou  -  Gillian Hills
Move On Up -  Curtis Mayfield
Worms  -  Dog On Fleas
Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart -  Fountains Of Wayne
Pleadia -  Andy Z    
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together -  Taylor Swift