Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, January 1, 2016

Don't Fence Me In – Andy Z
Animal Kingdom – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Sourwood Mountain – Red Yarn
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
Raise Your Hand – The Not-Its!
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy
Favorite Book  – The Bazillions
Hymn For The Weekend – Coldplay
The Word – Caspar Babypants

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, December 31, 2015

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
Bad Haircut – The Bazillions
A Head Full Of Dreams – Coldplay
Weirdos On Parade – Chibi Kodama

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dad Is Takin' a Nap – Keith Munslow
Snaggletooth – Dean Jones
I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
It Suits You – Gustafer Yellowgold
Maps – Maroon 5
Music is Everywhere – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Long White Beard – They Might Be Giants Feat. Robin Goldwasser
On Air – The Pop Ups

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mayim – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Hello Goodbye – Caspar Babypants
That Way  – Chibi Kodama
I'm Not the Sharpest Tool – Dean Jones
The Tale Of The Sun And The Moon – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Elephants – They Might Be Giants Feat. Danny Weinkauf
Yawn – Gustafer Yellowgold

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Amnesia – 5 Seconds of Summer
My Heart Is Open – Maroon 5 Feat. Gwen Stefani
Hamsterdam – Ratboy Jr.
Backyard – Riff Rockit
Then The Kids Took Over – They Might Be Giants
Rooms – Tim Kubart

Berkner Shares "This Little Light," Pop-Ups Share New Video Special

Kids love Laurie Berkner!

No really, they do. And in support of her recent two-CD collection, LAURIE BERKNER'S FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS, she has released a new video of the holiday standard, "This Little Light of Mine." There are 51 songs in the compilation. Yes, you read that right.

Berkner will not be releasing 51 separate videos. That would be silly. And "This Little Light" is certainly not a silly song. So take a gander and relax with your families through the holiday season. I'll be take with some new children's music reviews after the New Year.



Remember holiday variety specials? Clips from the abominable STAR WARS Christmas special are rife on the Internet right now, but I refuse to provide more fodder. Instead, direct your attention to the Pop-Ups. They've been releasing kids' music videos for some time. Now, as part of their deal with Amazon Prime, they have unleashed a 30-minute "Great Pretenders' Club Special" just in time for the holidays.

You can view individual videos from the duo at their YouTube channel. But the special (part of their Great Pretenders' Kids Club) is an Amazon Music exclusive. It will move to the YouTube channel in the future, but you need a Prime membership to see it right away.

Sign up your kids for the club and earn badges. When they earn all the badges, they can get the biggest badge of them all. Next year, The Pop Ups and Amazon will release more videos to accompany each song on the album. And if you're not a Prime member, you can download the entire MP3 album for $7.99! See the band at Symphony Space on Saturday, January 9.

Here's the video for "Pretend We Forgot":

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, December 21, 2015

The Bright Side Of Me – Alastair Moock & Friends
A Mapmaker's Song – Andrew & Polly
Ghost Riders in the Sky – Andy Z
Super Hero Rock Band – The Bazillions
Out Of A Tree  – They Might Be Giants
Gettin' My Ya Ya's Out – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, December 18, 2015

Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Start Of The End – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Archaeology – Danny Weinkauf
Rest Easy Now – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Bionic (feat. Shiz & Lady Asha) – Father Goose
Omnicorn – They Might Be Giants
Amistad (Featuring Dan Zanes) – Hot Peas 'n Butter

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, December 17, 2015

Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Sugar – Maroon 5
Stuff – The Pop Ups
Paper Airplane – Recess Monkey
Sweetest Devotion – Adele
Caught in the Screen – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

All In A Day – Alastair Moock & Friends
All Around the Kitchen – Andy Z
Bad Haircut – The Bazillions
Tomorrow's People  – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
River Lea  – Adele
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama

Monday, December 14, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Secret Fox– Gustafer Yellowgold
Dad Is Takin' a Nap– Keith Munslow
Uh Huh– Dean Jones
Mama Don't Allow– In The Nick Of Time
Water Under The Bridge – Adele
Coming Back For You– Maroon 5

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, December 14, 2015

Mooshpie – The Whirlygigs
Haircut – The Not-Its!
Grizzly Bear – Red Yarn
Unwind – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Hello  – Adele
Sunday Crafternoon (Featuring Drue Davis) – Tim Kubart

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, December 11, 2015

Shake a Friend's Hand – Andy Z
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
Sons and Daughters – The Bazillions
Gettin' My Ya Ya's Out – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
One After 909  – Caspar Babypants
San Francisco – 5 Seconds Of Summer

A Frog Named Sam – Happy Hops from Rudnick & Friends

Eleven albums into his children's recording career, Ben Rudnick took a turn.

I know that sounds ominous, but I mean it in the most positive way. Rudnick and Friends have taken (some would say "repurposed") songs from his oeuvre and worked them into the soundtrack for a musical for children, A FROG NAMED SAM. An oft-requested Rudnick favorite, Australian playwright Augusta Supple was enlisted to spin this yarn.

Rudnick and Friends have carved a niche as a kid's jam band, hence the copious references to the Grateful Dead (although every time he whips out a harmonica, like on "When Something's Got You Terribly Blue," I think of Dan Zanes). A soundtrack is different from a concept album in that everything is neatly explained on the latter. Without liner notes (or an attached public relations note), A FROG NAMED SAM comes across as a decent collection of Rudnick tunes, some previously heard and enjoyed. "Macaroni and Cheese" and "Love Is a Superpower" bring back pleasant memories of past CDs. The band clearly relishes the opportunity to deliver alternate takes on the older songs (anybody read for a Dead callback?).

Briefly, the title character is a world-weary rock star who returns home to find his pond nearly waterless and populated by a three-eyed alien named Tripp. The duo decide to investigate what has caused the disrepair. In between, there's the country-fied "Where's My Horse," with a clip-clop beat and violin and "I Got a New Friend (He's an Alien)." Yes, a southern rural hoedown that brings extraterrestrials to the inclusion table. The disc wraps with a bonus track (which means it's not part of the overall theme of the musical) "Coney Island Crazy,"  a straight rock closer for Rudnick.

Rudnick and bandmates John and Chris Zevos and Jared Steer stick mostly to the New England area, although they did visit Symphony Space earlier this year and they return to Manhattan on January 16 at Brookfield Place. The tightly-honed quartet also tightly knits its identity to their region. Yet their sound is pure Americana, harkening back to Fourth of July boardwalk entertainment and county fairs. There's a summer feel. And with a genuine alien character, A FROG NAMED SAM is literally out of this world.

A FROG NAMED SAM is available January 22 (pre-order it) from Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video from "I Got a New Friend":

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, December 10, 2015

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
Rest Easy Now – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Danceology – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Colores (Featuring Oz Noy) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Airplanes – 5 Seconds Of Summer
Best Friend – In The Nick Of Time

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Alligator Get-Together – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Kings & Queens – The Hipwaders
Animals – Maroon 5
Music is Everywhere – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Permanent Vacation – 5 Seconds Of Summer
Motorcycle Mom – The Not-Its!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Carry a Tune – Recess Monkey
Turned Out – Paul McCartney
Backyard  – Riff Rockit
DJ All Day – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Dancing in the Kitchen – Tim Kubart
Outside of December – The LeeVees and Matisyahu
Hey Everybody! – 5 Seconds Of Summer

Sing Along With Raffi's Owl Singalong

It's hard to envision a world without Raffi.

Even people without kids – we in the kindie world refer to them as "civilians" – have an awareness of the man who almost single-handedly spearheaded this movement. I don't want to belabor the point, but yell "Raffi!" in a crowded movie theater and someone will know who you're talking about.

It's thus mind-bending to realize that such an influential figure, a seminal individual, a statesman for children's music (okay, he's no Abraham Lincoln) could take a 12-year break from his best-known industry. That's almost twice the average age of his preferred listener. An acceptable dog's lifetime. But in 2014, Raffi returned to the scene and toured to support his CD, LOVE BUG. And he's back to welcome 2016 with OWL SINGALONG. It's not like we should be surprised that Raffi is recording new music. It's just that after an extended absence, we didn't expect it. And then expect more, so soon.

Since his debut in the 1970s, Raffi has remained a dependable acoustic source of warm, hummable children's tunes. OWL SINGALONG contains reworkings of "More We Sing Together," "Dog on the Bus," and "The Lion Pokey." Pete Seeger's "Abiyoyo" wraps up the collection. In between, there's shapes ("You May Be A Triangle") and personal achievement ("I’m Not Small"). And for you French Canadiens, "Dans La ForĂȘt Lointaine" (In the Distant Forest) harkens back to Raffi's days in Toronto and Montreal coffeehouses.

When Raffi played Manhattan's Town Hall in 2013, it fell on the same day as the family festival of Kidstock. Befuddled kindie pundits tore themselves from BAM to make an almost-obligatory pilgrimage. The next day, I anticipated the set list and lamented being unable to triangulate my day (where I was tasked with wrangling both kids). And this from a man who spent nary a moment listening to Raffi (my entire family had aged out, so no Beluga grads in my house) during his heyday. My initial exposure was a concert DVD at a friend's family's New Years Day party to entertain their kids. "Raffi?" I inquired. "He's a better choice that Elmo," I was told. How little we knew. If only I had then the knowledge base I have now.

The good news is, if you liked Raffi when you were a kid, you'll be excited to introduce your kids to that Raffi. Sure, there's a focus on ecology ("Green Dream" and "Garden Song"), but that's to be expected from a man who founded an organization dedicated to honoring and respecting the Earth and Children. Oh, and there's no bad news in that respect.

For many performers, children's music stays a hobby, a sideline, something to fill some family time until their own kids are grown. Rare are the artists who persevere and dig deeper into the darker corners of childhood to deliver more than just wistful homilies. Under the classification of children's music, Raffi remains almost sui generis, a genre unto himself. Long may he strum.

OWL SINGALONG is available for pre-order and drops January 15, 2016 from Amazon and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Owl Singalong":

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, December 7, 2015

Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Domino Town – Dean Jones
Extraordinary – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Archaeology – Danny Weinkauf
My Teacher's An Alien – The Bazillions
Yawn – Gustafer Yellowgold
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, December 4, 2015

Sourwood Mountain – Red Yarn
Let The Records Play – Pearl Jam
Hamsterdam – Ratboy Jr.
Take Me Away – Sunshine Collective
Word Crimes – Weird Al Yankovic
Better (Featuring Laurie Berkner) – Tim Kubart

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, December 3, 2015

Loving Cup – Cat Doorman
Shake My Sillies Out – Andy Z
This Land Is Your Land  – Alastair Moock & Friends
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
That Way  – Chibi Kodama
Toothloser – Gustafer Yellowgold
Snaggletooth – Dean Jones

Kindie Quick Hits: New Vids from Berkner, Rudnick

It's that most stuffing-stocked time of the year.

Here are a couple of new videos, one holiday related and the other, not so much.

First, Laurie Berkner performs "Children, Go When I Send Thee," accompanied by Long Island's own Brady Rymer. The song appears on the new LAURIE BERKNER'S FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS as well as A LAURIE BERKNER CHRISTMAS.



Ben Rudnick and Friends are releasing A FROG NAMED SAM: A MUSICAL FOR CHILDREN in January. Here is the debut video, "The Adventure Song," featuring animation by Matt Litvinov.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bionic (feat. Shiz & Lady Asha) – Father Goose
Mama Don't Allow – In The Nick Of Time
Go Jump in the Water – Keith Munslow
Baldy – Lloyd H. Miller
Great Pretenders Club (feat. HAERTS)  – The Pop Ups
Jelly Beans! – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips

Monday, November 30, 2015

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Spatula Vs Sun – Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips
The Bullfrog – Red Yarn
Sugar – Maroon 5
Everybody Out There – Paul McCartney
Right Side of the Bed – Ratboy Jr.
She Looks So Perfect – 5 Seconds of Summer
Biggest Brother – Tim Kubart

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, November 30, 2015

The Bright Side Of Me – Alastair Moock & Friends
Start Of The End – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
All Around the Kitchen – Andy Z
Archaeology – Danny Weinkauf
Sons and Daughters  – The Bazillions
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
The Word – Caspar Babypants

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, November 27, 2015

Mayim – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Another Good Year – Lori Henriques
Hey Jude – Caspar Babypants
Stay Up Late – Dean Jones
This Little Light Of Mine – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
Say Hey!  – Mil's Trills
Stuff – The Pop Ups
Flannel Jammies – The Not-Its!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ben's Thanksgiving Playlist - Thursday, November 26, 2015

Don't Fence Me In – Andy Z
All In A Day– Alastair Moock & Friends
Ground Food– Ratboy Jr.
If I Could Fly– Riff Rockit
Look, Think, Guess, Know – Tom Chapin
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Bad Haircut – The Bazillions
The Start of Things  – Alison Faith Levy

Vered Targets Newborns (Never Fear, It's All Good)

I don't want to say that Vered Benhorin has never been on our radar. Her first CD for newborns, GOOD MORNING MY LOVE, happened to reach our ears just after our younger son, Matthew, had "aged out" of her listening audience. Her latest CD, HELLO MY BABY, renews her enthusiasm for engaging the parent/new child connection via music therapy.

As Vered explains, "Research in developmental psychology shows that the first two years of life are critical for a baby’s emotional and social development. How ‘in tune’ we are with our babies can predict the child’s ability to regulate emotions, cope with stressors, and create fulfill."

Reading her Baby In Tune website, followers come off as disciples or converts. Vered has developed a methodology and her CDs allow parents-in-training to bring her program into their homes. The concepts are simple – "Grandparents," "Cooking," and "Peekaboo," just to name a few. The title track is NOT to be confused with the famed Michigan J. Frog number. The title track is "Hello," not the Adele song. And you can even enlist Vered (for a fee) to personalize the song for a specific child.

I don't want to suggest that Vered can be bought, literally. But it's important to buy into the concepts that she's expressing. And she's got a whole lot of top-shelf support staff on her side, led by uber-producer Dean Jones. HELLO MY BABY brings together an Okee-Dokee Brother (Justin Lansing) and a Nightlight (Joanie Leeds). Not to give anyone short shrift, Jon Samson and Rachel Loshak's names also jumped out at me.

Vered knows that parents want. In the closer, she sings "All I want is to sleep seven hours." Hey, my younger son just turned FIVE. That's about how many hours a night that I average with my eyes closed (luckily he chose to nap yesterday, so we all collapsed for a wee bit). Singing along with Vered takes on a larger meaning for some parents – these songs are meant to be sung TO children, to inspire them to song along and to sing back. For music-loving adults, there can be no greater joy than those small moments. On those occasions, a dad really does want to say "Hello my baby, you've arrived."

HELLO MY BABY is available from Vered's website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for "Something Other Than a Mother":

Rocknoceros Hits Home for Holidays

Everybody tends to lose focus during the holidays, when they need to gather their thoughts the most. You have friends, family, responsibilities, and oh yes, what will you be doing for Christmas Eve, or the first night of Hanukkah – wait, it's in a week and a half!?!

Soothing your mood is essential. Try some Rocknoceros. That's right, Rocknoceros has a new CD frothing with spirit, HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ROCKNOCEROS. The Virgina-based power trio delivers a snappy nine-song candy dish of traditional favorites, topped with a mashup of Prince Buster (by way of the Specials) "Auld Lang Syne (Enjoy Yourself)."

There's no Kwanzaa tune but a faithful version of "The Dreidel Song." And an organ-sizzling "Wenceslas." And "Up On The Rooftop" bops and rocks your littler ones. Rocknoceros actually start waltzing with "This Thanksgiving," but I give them props for beginning the disk with "Halloween Masquerade," for those who treasure the opportunity to get free candy more than getting an itchy sweater.

Rocknoceros rounds out the year by pausing their "state songs" project after this summer's PLYMOUTH ROCKERS. Producing more than 20 songs this year definitely gives the group a merit badge for productivity. They delivered quality as well as quantity in 2015. With more state songs on the horizon, Rocknoceros should be stuffing stockings for quite some time.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ROCKNOCEROS is available from Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

This video shows the subversive side of Rocknoceros. It's Santas and crying infants galore, during a merry reading of "The Night Before Christmas":

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bile Them Cabbage – Red Yarn
Amnesia – 5 Seconds of Summer
New – Paul McCartney
Poofy – Ratboy Jr.
Slow – Trout Fishing In America
Caught in the Screen – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ben's Matthew's 5th Birthday Playlist - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Every Day's A Holiday – Alastair Moock & Friends
All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
Favorite Book – The Bazillions
Tomorrow's People – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Hello Goodbye – Caspar Babypants
Mystery – Dean Jones
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, November 23, 2015

Sunday Crafternoon (Featuring Drue Davis) – Tim Kubart
Music is Everywhere –  Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Nose In A Book – The Not-Its!0
Great Pretenders Club (feat. HAERTS)  – The Pop Ups
LA Christmas – Andrew & Polly & Mista Cookie Jar
Paper Airplane – Recess Monkey

Friday, November 20, 2015

Andrew & Polly & Mista Cookie Jar Delight in LA Xmas

First Jason Didner concocted "Surfin' Santa."

Then the Salamanders delivered "Pirate Santa."

Earlier and earlier creepeth the holiday music. Discounted Halloween candy lies in giant piles just past the supermarket checkout (always an odd location for items for purchase). And now cometh the festive times and with them, a bevy of holiday tunes.

Andrew and Polly have gifted us with OTHER DAYS, a four-song sampler that includes the peppy "LA Christmas." Featuring West Coast kindie hip-hopper Mista Cookie Jar, the accompanying video shows the trio ironically putting lights on a palm tree and running on the beach in snappy sweaters.

If you like the song (shut your eyes during the video and it's just like radio), there are three more A&P originals on the EP. It's just over $5 (cheap, as MAD Magazine used to say). And if you're fed up with "more of the same" for your holiday offerings, then you've come to the right place. There, not here, I mean.

The title track celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, but can't wait for the new year and all the promise it brings. "Thank You For the Box" is the tale of frustration that every parent feels when a child is indifferent to a gift but delighted by the packaging – and the hours of imagination play that come with it.

Hey I'm no Grinch. I just put in a request to receive more holiday music to write about. Yes, there is more holiday music coming – and not down my chimney but in my mailbox. Ahahahaaaa!! Forget Festivus, this is music for the rest of us.

OTHER DAYS is available from Amazon and iTunes.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, November 20 2015

Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Word Crimes – Weird Al Yankovic
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy
Sons and Daughters  – The Bazillions
Gettin' My Ya Ya's Out – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
A Mapmaker's Song – Andrew & Polly
One After 909 – Caspar Babypants

Dealing With Howard Stern Possible End of Days

There has been radio silence of late on the Howard Stern contract negotiations with SiriusXM. In a way, that's a sign of progress. Longtime fans have been through this situation before and they've worked out every time. We have reached the "final nine" broadcasts in December 2015 that finish Stern's second five-year contract with the satellite radio service.

Over the summer, callers would ask how negotiations were going. Then...silence. Although he's been slipping in mentions of "meetings" every day or two, which sounds promising to the untrained ear. I still enjoy Stern, but I zone out more than I used to. Endlessly loyal to the workhorses around him, Richard and Sal are mostly played out. Tan Mom is the new Nicole Bass. High Pitch Eric has transformed from a conniving savant to a can't-be-mourned-soon-enough sad sack. Bobo and Mariann find a way on the air almost every day, leading casual listeners to wonder "Where are callers from the midwest? Overseas? Anywhere south of New Jersey?"

However this is a new era for Stern. Technology has rendered SiriusXM a luxury, niche service for people who want commercial-free music, talk, and sports events in their vehicles, offices, homes, and on their mobile devices.

Auto wi-fi and Spotify, Pandora, podcasts, and many other things have pushed satellite radio towards the middle of the pack. Not yet an afterthought, but not a must-have necessity. Unless you're in it for Howard Stern, and clearly millions of subscribers are still tuning in. Which puts Stern in the catbird seat, to some degree.

Stern's first SiriusXM contract a decade ago rocked the radio business. One hundred million dollars for four shows a week, two devoted channels with original programming provided by Bubba the Love Sponge and Scott Ferrall. Jackie Martling returned for a weekly joke show. (I made more than a dozen appearances on Super Fan Roundtable.) "Miserable Men" was two hours of ball-busting with Rev. Bob Levy on Sunday nights. Stern even ran a "First Annual Fan Film Contest."

Slowly, over time, the show evolved. Or rather devolved. We lived through Artie Lange's self-immolation. One by one, the original programs fell by the wayside, replaced by "Sternthology" replays of more classic, reprogrammed content from Stern's 30+ years on the air. Howard remarried. He mended fences. He friended celebrities. He took a job on America's Got Talent, talked about it until even superfans complained, then grew to resent the time it took from his life and gave it up as second job. He hired an internal HR person to re-educate his staff and deal with long-delayed hirings and firings. He became more politically correct. Comedians, once a regular staple on the show, became few and far between. Dave Attell? Gilbert Gottfried? Replaced by endless crank phone calls. Remember HowardTV?

Several months back, Stern hinted at an "intriguing" offer for 2016 that would preclude him from continuing his SiriusXM show. But satellite radio provides Stern with money and exposure. He is the poster child for the service, make no doubt about it. They can put Oprah, Eminem, and Martha Stewart on their literature and website, but Howard Stern drives SiriusXM business.

Howard as long been vaunted as an interviewer. His long-form segments are still newsworthy (Bree Olson, a former porn star, gobbled headlines for her post-Charlie Sheen-revelation HIV talk). But for every Bradley Cooper or Seth Rogen, there's a Ray Kelly, Whoopi Goldberg, or Christie Brinkley. Let's talk about meeting Billy Joel 30 years ago. Edgy talk indeed. The Wrap-Up Show, hosted by Jon Hein and longtime Stern producer Gary Dell'A'Bate, generated a more contemporary guest list in the last month alone with appearances by Jeremy Sisto, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Judah Friedlander. Or as Howard would say, "Who?"

Sirius made Stern an offer he couldn't refuse – money, marketing, and a brand-new studio facility in the heart of Manhattan. Stern had pooh-poohed XM Radio, headquartered in Washington, DC, for not fully committing to a real estate commitment in his native New York City. But as former CEO Mel Karmazin admitted in his lone Stern radio appearance on Sirius, if he had been in charge years earlier, he would not have locked the company into an expensive, long-term realty deal in midtown.

Years ago, Stern mocked Don Imus for broadcasting from his "cancer ranch." He openly questioned how Jay Thomas could run a show from his home in New Orleans while his sidekicks were in New York and Los Angeles. "You take callers, Howard, it's no different than that," Thomas retorted. Quietly, those obstacles disappeared. When co-host Robin Quivers dealt with the ravages of post-cancer treatment, an ISDN line kept her "on the air" with Stern. In a complete reversal of sorts, he talked about having Sirius install an ISDN line in his apartment that he could "flip on" any time he wanted to just "talk" to his fans, at a moment's notice, with just some social media advance warning.

Any company seeking to "steal" Stern has a clock ticking on customizing facilities to meet his specifications. Unless it's a major broadcasting entity (an HBO) willing to front big bucks to convert a soundstage or recording space in midtown, those "intriguing" options don't seem to make financial sense, either to media conglomerates or Stern. While Comedy Central or another cable outlet could push an hourly late-night Stern gabfest away from "safe harbor" time slots, his demographics don't warrant that sort of payout. And realistically, Stern plays best on a larger landscape not limited by time constraints.

Which leaves the possibility of a deal with Amazon Prime Music. Certainly Amazon could afford to sign Stern, who would drive millions to Prime. I know I would sign up for $99 a year, for unlimited access to Stern plus the streaming music service and free shipping on purchases. I could even see Amazon adding a new tier that includes Stern, costing $149 per year. Still a bargain at that price.

CBS Radio mounted an assault in 2006 when Stern went to Sirius, in an effort to maintain hold of the content he produced while in their employ. It made the first few months at Sirius a chore for Stern, who had to produce five weekly shows just to generate raw hours to broadcast over two channels, until a legal settlement was reached. No doubt Stern owns every second of every show aired on Sirius. Which begs the question, if he goes, do both of his channels go with him? Does Sirius strike a separate, lesser deal for one legacy channel? Or would a new service start a "classic on-demand" channel with a primary "live this week" channel?

Looking back, my favorite period of Stern-dom were the early 1990s, just after the Channel 9 TV show. Stern refocused his attention back on the radio show. There are people who like the late 1980s peak with Sam Kinison and his entourage, but I truly enjoyed having the show as a distraction and voice of insanity during the OJ Simpson trial. Not only was Jackie Martling a primary instigator but voice maven Billy West was on hand in the studio. Years later, callers would still moan, "Where's Billy?" not realizing that West had quietly closed that chapter in his professional life.

Stern was angry, he shot from the hip, he didn't care whom he offended. He bit the hand that fed him. He moaned about his marriage and his kids. He lambasted the other DJs on the station as well as other New York stations. He inaugurated the "CIA-holes" to report on his competition across the country, as well as to tell him when other broadcasters stole his bits. He took his show to Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, to Cleveland, to Las Vegas. Yes, there were lengthy commercial breaks. But for anyone who learned how to record the show and listen back on audiocassettes, the breaks were never a deterrent. In fact, I had to rewind and play back through the most momentous commercial break – where Artie Lange confessed his heroin addiction and broke down on the air during one of Howard's live reads.

I recorded over hours of Stern content for my own stash of "Best of" CDs. But nowadays I find myself relishing the non-Stern weekdays and giving podcasters like Marc Maron, Dana Gould, Greg Fitzsimmons, and Adam Carolla a listen. Sorry to say, but being a decade older than me, Stern's worldview is not quite in tune with mine these days. And no matter how much I enjoy Howard's impressions of his parents, it's depressing to realize they may expire before the end of his next term of employment.

So where does Howard Stern go next? Surely these are not the end of days, a puny nine more shows. I can't imagine a broadcasting landscape that does not include a Howard Stern. Despite its contrived nature, America's Got Talent gave Stern a new voice in the marketplace. And Sirius would not have yielded to his wishes and moved the show from 6 to 7 AM weekdays if they did not earnestly wish to keep him happy.

Losing the court case to Sirius over a payout from the merger with XM cost Stern more than money – it ended his longtime relationship with mentor Karmazin. Feud-settling Stern was able to mend fences with Les Moonves, who filed the lawsuit in 2006 to withhold decades of content. Perhaps this too one day shall pass. Whether it remains a sticking point in the current negotiations as well. Would Stern settle for a mea culpa attached to $20 million? Short-term, that might sound better to Sirius than upping his salary $10 million per year for the same number of shows he's been producing since the 2011 follow-up contract.

Bottom line, I see Stern as a creature of habit. SiriusXM showed him the money and he became their point person. Sirius revolves around Stern and vice versa. He even opted out of starring in a second movie (Barry Levinson's MAN OF THE YEAR) to concentrate on promoting the satellite radio service, which was only in 600,000 homes when he signed his deal. A decade later, that partnership has been good for everyone. Sirius has more than 24 million subscribers. Stern has unprecedented freedom that no other broadcaster has ever received. Would a bump in pay grade be worth the risk of changing everything, while reminding people that this contract could be "it"? It's better to dance with the same partners, warts and all, where Stern is the big man on campus.

I'm a Howard Stern fan. Have been, will probably always be. The elements that I don't enjoy about this show, thousands definitely cheer. In the latter days of Artie Lange, there were several cliffhangers based around "Will Artie be back?" For the first time in five years, there's the genuine possibility that come January, there will be a Stern-less SiriusXM Radio. As they used to say in old-time radio, stay tuned for our next episode.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, November 19, 2015

Animal Kingdom – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Archaeology – Danny Weinkauf
Rest Easy Now – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Amistad (Featuring Dan Zanes) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Road Trip – In The Nick Of Time
Other Days – Andrew & Polly
Trapped In The Attic – Lloyd H. Miller

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Let's Be Friends – Mil's Trills
New – Paul McCartney
Sponges – Ratboy Jr.
The Bullfrog – Red Yarn
DJ All Day – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo T
Thank You for the Box – Andrew & Polly
Better (Featuring Laurie Berkner) – Tim Kubart

Darlene Graham Jammin' With Younger Set

American historian Daniel Boorstin once said, “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” In that context, children's music is overwhelmingly important – your core audience comes in with no knowledge whatsoever, past nursery rhymes, lullabies, and whatever their family shares inside the home.

Long Island-based children's performer Darlene Graham (with her backups, the Shades of Green Band), is familiar with that conundrum and has spent more than 20 years "combatting" the problem with Mommy & Me sessions, birthday parties performances, classes, and concerts. This year, she released her second CD, BIG HUGS FOR MAMA, to continue her passion.

The CD is broken into two sections, 12 tracks with the band (mostly original songs) and a live solo show (mostly covers and traditional tunes). The latter part skews to pre-walkers ("Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Head and Shoulders"). Graham and band (including co-producer and hubby Chris Graham) stay in the upper range of that neighborhood with "Somebody Come And Play" (you must know it from Sesame Street). They also cover a gamut of interests from "Commuter Kid" to "I'm Going to the Beach."

Darlene harkens back to her celtic trio days on "I'll Tell Me Ma" and casts an underwater net for the tale of "Billy the Fish." With three of their own kids providing an acid test for their material, the Grahams are one of the region's first families of children's music. Three kids piled in the backseat also provides a handy explanation the seven-year gap between the new CD and Darlene's first album, EVERYBODY DANCE in 2008. Well, that and relying on Kickstarter as a funding source.

It would be facetious to say that there are "Darlene Grahams" all around the country. There are music education specialists who turn their passion into their livelihood, some who turn into Laurie Berkner along the way. But people who take on the responsibility of teaching their children about music should be seeking out those performances, classes, and sessions. Long Island has Darlene Graham (Canada had her, but that's a story for another day) and children around the region delight when she starts singing "Hello" (and not the new Adele version either).

BIG HUGS FOR MAMA is available from CDBABY, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is a video of Darlene with her band (and dancers) performing "Big Hugs for Mama" at Jones Beach last summer:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Don't Fence Me In – Andy Z
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
Voodoo Doll – 5 Seconds of Summer
This Land Is Your Land – Alastair Moock & Friends
Super Hero Rock Band – The Bazillions
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy

Kids Plugged in for Justin Roberts Unplugged

A brisk Saturday morning in November is the perfect time to take a short trip. Physically, emotionally, and musically, we trekked uptown to Symphony Space to experience Justin Roberts: Unplugged, featuring a streamlined performance accompanied by Gerald Dowd and Liam Davis.

As Ben reported to Justin after the show, this was our eighth time seeing one of his shows (and the fifth time at Symphony Space). This was surprising to me only because program director Darren Critz opened the event by stating Roberts had performed at the venue for a decade – meaning we've actually somehow missed five of his concerts.


As I explained to the boys on our train ride into Manhattan, this show would be similar to Justin's 2015 KindieComm set, where he played with Trout Fishing in America, more than a full band set, such as the one we saw in April at the New Victory Theater. Indeed, it was reminiscent on many of the tunes, such as set closer "Willy Was a Whale." However there was also glockenspiel and ukelele and mandolin (albeit with a busted string), which was a departure from both of those performances.

Justin and company were up for the challenge of a theater full of youngsters, many of whom had their own ideas about what entertained them. There appeared to be an ongoing conversation between Roberts and a front-row child obsessed with the film Hotel Transylvania. Another concertgoer got so into the music that she strayed too far from her father. "Emma, come down front," he announced between songs. [Emma was successfully located less than a minute later, halfway across the venue]


Despite these distractions, the trio went through a setlist of old favorites ("Pop Fly") and new songs ("Must Be This Tall to Ride"). There were even performances of the little-heard "Kickboard Baby" and "Polar Bear" from 2012's LULLABY CD. Justin, Gerald, and Liam worked hard to make their musical byplay appear effortless. Or maybe it just looked that way from more than a decade of playing together. Either way, at least the adults kept the crowd noise to below a dull roar so they could hear the artistry. On the hazards of being a children's musician.

Symphony Space does promote more than music for kids – this was the inaugural "Social Space," which featured sponsors giving samples of child-friendly products and services, such as Dolphin Organics bath products. The Upper West Side location also draws a wide base, obviously, since we've been coming since 2004 from Queens. We even got to say hello to Jason, one-half of the Pop-Ups, who headline the venue on January 9.


Justin did the obligatory merch plug for his CDs, books, and shirts on display at the back of the auditorium. But he also stated that he's working on a stripped-down number of tunes for an upcoming release "in the future." Hopefully the CD will be ready in time for his next appearance in the New York area. We'll be physically, emotionally, and musically prepared to make the trek to experience it live.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, November 16, 2015

Loving Cup – Cat Doorman
Start Of The End – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
That Way  – Chibi Kodama
I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Kings & Queens – The Hipwaders
Pj Party – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Best Friend – In The Nick Of Time

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, November 13, 2015

Alligator Get-Together – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Follow The Drinking Gourd – Lloyd H. Miller
Coming Back For You – Maroon 5
Spatula Vs Sun – Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips
On Air – The Pop Ups
Alligator – Paul McCartney

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bile Them Cabbage  – Red Yarn
Backyard – Riff Rockit
Up To Something Good – Sunshine Collective
Rooms – Tim Kubart
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Sittin On A Cloud – The Whirlygigs

Kindie Quick Hits: Vids from Hot Peas 'N Butter and Miss Padgett & New Salamanders Tune

New York's own Hot Peas N Butter are continuing the promotional push for their new CD, PUTTING OUR HEADS TOGETHER. Here is the video for their song "Amistad" (produced with and featuring Dan Zanes and co-head Peaster Danny Lapidus). Band mate Francisco Cotto performs on bass. While film mavens know the Spielberg film of the same name (based on the true story of a slave ship revolt), "amistad" translates to "friendship" from Spanish. A central theme for Hot Peas N Butter, the song will help warm your chilly autumn.



The Good Ms. Padgett is back with a new video for the title track from her album, IF WE MUST WE MUST! To be honest, the CD was released quite a way back but it's refreshing to see someone reconnecting with their audience even after such a time lapse. When watching the video, you will understand that the beach/fantasy cleaning sequences could not be shot last winter. Yes, beach/fantasy cleaning sequences.


The Good Ms Padgett: If We Must We Must from thegoodmspadgett on Vimeo.

The pride of Montana, the Salamanders, are releasing a new holiday song this week. Wait for it – "Pirate Santa" manages to whip up Christmas in a whole new way. Jason Didner took Santa surfing off the Jersey coast. Now Cowboy Andy and company are taking him to the High Seas:

On Christmas morning the crew came to the deck
And all gave a shout of joy “what the heck?’
Cause the main mast was lit up like a Christmas tree
With presents all around for everybody

You can find the tune on Bandcamp, iTunes, and CDBABY. Yo ho ho ho!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ghost Riders in the Sky – Andy Z
My Teacher's An Alien – The Bazillions
The Word – Caspar Babypants
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama
I'm Not the Sharpest Tool – Dean Jones
Runaway – Ed Sheeran
Toothloser – Gustafer Yellowgold
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band

Justin Roberts Back in NYC....Unplugged!

Has it been seven months since Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players last performed in New York city? Justin returns to Symphony Space on Saturday, November 14 at 11 AM with an intimate "Unplugged" experience.

When I spoke to Justin in April, he expressed a desire to return to the folk and vocal harmony concepts from his earlier albums. That sentiment was reinforced when the power went out towards the end of one of the band's concerts. "For the encore, I got an acoustic guitar and Liam Davis grabbed some shakers and we sat on the edge of the stage and sang Henrietta's Hair," Justin says. "It was cool to strip everything away and reconnect with the audience. My last several records have been really power pop, but it would be nice to get back to that simplicity."

Justin plans to performed stripped-down versions of songs from his entire catalog, including new songs. "Not just the early stuff, but re-imagining some of the big rock songs that were written for a full band in a more folky setting," he says. "For example, 'Pop Fly' played on ukulele."

Prior to Justin Roberts Unplugged, Symphony Space will present its first ever pre-show activity center for families, Social Space at Just Kidding. There will be vendors, new family-friendly companies and services, and activities and free samples, starting at 10 AM.

Here's the rest of the interview that I conducted with Justin:

Justin's 18-plus-year career in the children's music industry started as a sideline from his day job as a Montessori preschool teacher. "I played Raffi CDs for the kids and appreciated what he was doing but it was not what I wanted to hear as a 20-year-old," he recalls. Digging into his own music collection, Justin exposed his students to traditional Irish songs, Schoolhouse Rock, and Sam Cooke. "There's nothing like a group of four-year-olds singing Cupid," he laughs.

Children's recording artists tend to have audiences akin to dog years – every seven years, you grow a new crop or your career dries up. "We've been extremely lucky and keep attracting youngsters," Justin says. "I ran into a family that used to take their son to my shows when he was three and now he's a senior in high school. We were performing nearby and said to come by...and they did, and they brought their son!"

Last year, Justin stretched his artistic wings and wrote the score for a new musical version of "Hansel and Gretel," produced by the Emerald City Theater. "I tried to write to the format but wound up with a torch song that seemed right," he says. "It all just came together naturally."

Hansel and Gretel exceeded the theater's sales expectations, creating the possibility that the show may join their rotation of holiday productions. "We're also talking with four or five other children's theater companies who are may pick it up for their 2016-2017 seasons," he reveals.

Children's musicians generally keep things light and aim their subject matter at a level that is easy to understand. However, Justin has never shied away from deeply emotional topics. "Mama Is Sad talks about divorce and Never Getting Lost deals with an important issue for kids," he says. "At one concert, a woman asked if we would play the song for her son. I asked if he ever got lost in a mall. She said no, but he feels bad for children who do."

On the side, Justin and band mates Gerald Dowd and Liam Davis perform as an 80s cover band called the Part-Time Lovers. "Our first performance was during reunion weekend at Kenyon College, my alma mater," he explains. "If a song was recorded and released during the 1980s, we will play it." Occasionally he finds his way to local singer/songwriter nights at clubs like The Hideout in Chicago, where he can play acoustic songs for adults.

The mantle of kindie music has landed on Justin's shoulders, as well as such artists as Cathy & Marcy. Back when he started in the mid-90s, there was not as much exposure for the genre. "I always loved singer/songwriters like James Taylor and Cat Stevens, but I didn't really know about any other children's music performers," he says. When Justin's second CD, YELLOW BUS was released, he learned about former Del Fuegos member Dan Zanes' ROCKETSHIP BEACH album. "At that point, I started researching music for kids and found out about a lot of people who were doing it." Justin has played with many of them, including Ezra Idlet and Keith Grimwood from Trout Fishing in America at last summer's KindieComm (where my family and I caught up with him).

Justin learned a lesson about the cyclical nature of the entertainment business from veteran children's music performer Dan Crow. "After Raffi got big, the major labels all wanted their own version, so Dan and many others got signed," he says. "Of course, everything exploded and fell apart." Dan told Justin that no matter how big the venues were that the label booked him into, he kept doing school assemblies. "Those were his bread and butter," Justin adds. "I took that to heart and still do lots of schools and residencies. Even though I've performed on the TODAY show, I never lose sight of the fact that I'm just one of a million artists."

Unlike kindie group Recess Monkey, who produce a concept theme album every year, Justin's schedule and writing style result in a new album every two or three years. "A million times, I've come up with a concept and when I sit down to write, that's not what comes out," he says. "Except for LULLABY, which was a complete departure with horns and an orchestra."

Justin plans to keep it simple for his next release. "My first couple of albums were fairly standard little kid stuff, but as I started playing that material with a band that became the Not Ready for Naptime Players, I started to write more with the band in mind," he says. "Now I'd like to get back to the folk and vocal harmony concepts."

Ultimately, it comes down to the recording process. "I'd love to go back to writing songs on my guitar instead of on my computer," Justin confesses. "But whatever inspires me will ultimately be my guide." Whatever he chooses to do next, Justin Roberts is prepared to make it entertaining for children and adults of all ages.

Here is a video of Justin Roberts performing "Way Out" at KindieComm, backed by Trout Fishing in America:

Monday, November 09, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's Only in Your Head – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Turned Out – Paul McCartney
Ground Food – Ratboy Jr.
Grizzly Bear – Red Yarn
Dancing in the Kitchen – Tim Kubart
Unwind – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, November 9, 2015

Shake a Friend's Hand – Andy Z
Tomorrow's People – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Word Crimes – Weird Al Yankovic
That Way  – Chibi Kodama
Cheese World – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
The Tale Of The Sun And The Moon – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, November 6, 2015

Mayim – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Dad Is Takin' a Nap – Keith Munslow
Baldy – Lloyd H. Miller
Fresh Spokes (Featuring Susan Lapidus) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Motorcycle Mom – The Not-Its!
Sugar – Maroon 5

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Bullfrog – Red Yarn
Caught in the Screen – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Look, Think, Guess, Know – Tom Chapin
Hamsterdam – Ratboy Jr.
Tacky – Weird Al Yankovic
Lightning Bolt  – Pearl Jam

Kindie Quick Hit: Santa Surfs!

Ho ho what do you know... Santa Claus has a lot of downtime post-Christmas. Did you know he spends it down on the Jersey Shore? Well, that's according to Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam.

Think about it. He needs a way to stay limber and youthful the rest of the year. He needs a change of pace. He needs to blend in with the locals, who won't make a big deal out of his appearance. Where else but New Jersey, home of the largest Governor in the U.S.? Chris Christie on only a beard away from looking like Santa'a son.

"Summertime Santa" is the new single from the band, produced by local maven Marc Bazerman (Baze and His Silly Friends). You get a jolly story and a rousing chorus:

Summertime Santa down the shore
Serving up treats in the ice cream store
Riding around on his bicycle
Away from the arctic icicles
Summertime Santa, Summertime Santa
I'm glad you're on vacation with me

It's a nice slice of Jerseyana on the cusp of the holiday season from Jason and Company and a preview of their upcoming 2016 full-length CD.

You can find "Summertime Santa" at the band's website as well as Amazon and iTunes.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Secret Fox – Gustafer Yellowgold
Mama Don't Allow – In The Nick Of Time
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
One After 909 – Caspar Babypants
Flannel Jammies – The Not-Its!
Let The Records Play – Pearl Jam
Odd Socks – Dean Jones

Monday, November 02, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
Domino Town – Dean Jones
Gettin' My Ya Ya's Out – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
Hey Jude  – Caspar Babypants
Hot Air – Recess Monkey
Sons and Daughters  – The Bazillions
Weirdos On Parade – Chibi Kodama

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, November 2, 2015

Better (Featuring Laurie Berkner) – Tim Kubart
Bionic (feat. Shiz & Lady Asha) – Father Goose
Favorite Book  – The Bazillions
Pj Party – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Snaggletooth – Dean Jones
This Land Is Your Land – Alastair Moock & Friends

Friday, October 30, 2015

This Record Belongs..... and a Free Halloween Tune

I learned an interesting thing about Golden Books a few years ago, when my younger son started attending "story time" at a local library. Although we had seen myriad titles in other children's libraries over the past decade, this particular one did not stock any. When we inquired as to why, the librarian sniffed, "They're generally a lower class type of book, and they don't hold up well in repeated borrowing."  In one way an insult, but in another, a tremendous compliment about the versatility of the format – and how kids clamored for the selections.

Another vestige from my childhood is vinyl. As digital technology (CDs and then MP3s) became ubitquitous, turntables became more specialized. Now vinyl has made a minor resurgence. But our turntable, escounced in a cabinet and covered with children's music CDs, is practically a non-factor. And our vinyl? A floor away in the basement, minimized next to a pair of CD towers. My wife's old portable turntable is in the attic, but has not been opened in decades. So we have the resources, but just don't have the motivation to put the pieces together.

Two companies, Seattle's Light In The Attic Records & Third Man Records (founded in Detroit by Jack White), have banded to produce THIS RECORD BELONGS TO ______. It's a throwback package to the 1970s, with a playlist of songs available on CD and digitally, but also on vinyl. There's also an illustrated book (by Jess Rotter) that tells a story of animals finding a vinyl record and trying to figure out what it is and what to do with it. And finally, there's a portable Jensen turntable, complete with USB input.

Most of the music in the collection dates back more than 25-30 years, such as Harry Nilsson's "Me and My Arrow" and Carole King's "One Was Johnny," a Maurice Sendak tale from her celebrated CD. Nothing from the compilation was composed specifically for its release (intriguing since it took two record labels of artists to mount this project). To that end, you may have heard the majority of these songs elsewhere, such as Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection." However, where else can you find Vashti Bunyan's "Diamond Day"?

As with any well-intentioned project, you wonder if this is a first installment or a one-off. You can buy the compilation separately, but it appears they really want kids to appreciate the uniqueness of vinyl, which would indicate future volumes at some point. THIS RECORD BELONGS TO _____ is a quirky curio with a number of revelations and a warm, nostalgic feel. Oh, did I mention that the bundle with the turntable is $95? As in those Saturday morning ads, I hasten to add, "Also sold separately."

THIS RECORD BELONGS TO _________ is available from Third Man Records and Amazon.

Mr. Whirly (aka Keith Wasserman) has released his new Halloween single "Bumps in the Night." If you sign up for his every-now-and-then newsletter, you can get it as a free download! How great is this? Music for nothing more than an email address! What are you waiting for? Come on, click through. I'll wait. Well no I won't, the kids have trick or treating to do. And I've got to be vigilant to make sure everything is safe for them to eat, or pass along to eat. You know what I mean, parents.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 30, 2015

All Around the Kitchen – Andy Z
Bad Haircut – The Bazillions
The Bright Side Of Me – Alastair Moock & Friends
Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Start Of The End – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
The Start of Things – Alison Faith Levy
Tomorrow's People  – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 29, 2015

All In A Day – Alastair Moock & Friends
Best Friend – In The Nick Of Time
Extraordinary – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Hello Goodbye – Caspar Babypants
Secret Fox – Gustafer Yellowgold
Super Hero Rock Band – The Bazillions
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy

Little Rockers Band and Greg Page Deck the Halls

It's that special time of the year. No, it's not the holiday season just yet – which means for reviewers, it means we receive all the upcoming holiday music. This year, I have received (to date) two new CDs. Of course, when I say "new," I generally mean "new to the very young," as the majority of the tunes have been covered by numerous musicians over the decades.

Locally, New Jersey's own Little Rockers Band is releasing YULE BE COOL. Technically Jessie and Chris Apple have concocted a Judeo-Christian compilation, complete with the brand-spanking new "Hanukkah Is Here!" and a reworked "Feliz Navidad" that includes a Hanukkah verse (no Kwanzaa, unless they throw that in during live shows).

Fun is a hallmark for the LRB. These crazy Apple kids (and guitarist Liam Moroney) seek an active engagement with their audiences. And even the toughest of hard cases crack when the holidays roll around. It's hard not to be happy around bubbly kids doing their darndest to put on a happy face to bluff Santa (or the designated spiritual behavior monitor) that they've been good all year and really, really deserve that [INSERT INSANELY UNLIKELY PRESENT].

Jessie delivers clear, cheerful vocals and Chris and Liam (and keyboardist Andy Letke and drummer Billy Papenberg) are a solid, spunky unit. "Frosty the Snowman" continues to delight audiences as do "Let It Snow" and "Jingle Bell Rock." And where else are you going to hear Madonna's "Holiday" re-appropriated as a kid's winter anthem?

The LRB have broken the CD into two "album-esque" sections of rockers and ballads (think of it as heating up and cooling down the tykes). This makes it easy to determine a specific point of entry, but harder to put the CD on shuffle mode. In my experience, holiday CDs seem to get played-through until ennui sets in. For YULE BE COOL, the Apples give you just enough of a good thing. Realistically, that's all I want for the holidays this year.

YULE BE COOL is available November 6 from Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video for the band's song "Me & My Dog":



 Across the world, former Wiggle Greg Page has other ideas. Forced to retire in 2006 due to orthostatic intolerance, a form of dysautonomia, Greg's departure caused the Wiggles to have a tumultuous turnover (the firing of his replacement, Sam Moran, on his daughter's second birthday, is particularly galling). The quartet has rebranded with Emma, Lachy, and Simon joining founding Wiggle Anthony Field. And Page has not stayed on the sidelines, producing and starring on Butterscotch Playground for Australian TV.

After a decade-plus wearing the yellow jersey, Greg is eager to entertain (adults and children). Clearly he is managing his medical condition and wants to maintain his solo identity without the crushing schedule and physical mechanics of live touring around Australia and the world.

HERE COMES CHRISTMAS delivers 22 holiday tunes (many of which I've named from the Little Rockers' CD) in the unmistakable dulcet tones that both of my children enjoyed on TV, CD, DVD, and live in concert. Greg was clearly showing the strain, recovering from an arm injury at the Wiggles' New York appearance in 2004. The following year marked the original band's last trek across the globe. He has a sincere delivery and appears to be enjoying himself in the new videos.

Greg seems to have higher ambitions for his music for adults – whereas HERE COMES CHRISTMAS is a completely traditional collection, featuring nothing one wouldn't expect. Some of the songs were covered by the Wiggles, in fact, with Greg as the lead vocal, leading one to wonder if they were included simply as part of a master checklist. As for the four bonus tracks from Butterscotch's Playground, they are self-explanatory from their titles, "Everybody Dance," "At the Fire Station," Knead it," and "Get Down Low and Go, Go, Go." For Greg Page, children's time is now a Wiggly Party for One. Check the sound clips and proceed according to taste and whether your kids have access to the original Wiggles online.

HERE COMES CHRISTMAS is available on November 24 from Greg's website, Butterscotch's Playground, and iTunes.

Here is the title song and opening credits for Butterscotch's Playground:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 27, 2015

Archaeology – Danny Weinkauf
Cheese World – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Loving Cup – Cat Doorman
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
Rest Easy Now – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
That's Just Us (Playing Rock-n-Roll) – Hullabaloo
Yawn – Gustafer Yellowgold

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Free Ride Everyday – Lori Henriques
Future Days – Pearl Jam Lightning
I Can Still Say I Love You – Keith Munslow
Mi Chamocha (Wade In The Water) – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
She Looks So Perfect – 5 Seconds of Summer
Sourwood Mountain – Red Yarn

My 2015 Fids and Kamily Ballot

The 2015 Fids and Kamily Awards were recently announced. I culled my choices from more than 50 CDs reviewed over the past year. I can't believe I reviewed almost one CD per week, but it was a glut to celebrate, for sure.

A few CDs were either constantly being tracked by Ben (14) for his morning playlists or selected for rotation in our car. Those factored higher in the standings. His younger brother Matt (turning 5 in November) and their mother also had some comments on my "second round" choices of 22 recording artists.

My points were distributed among CDs that we either purchased or reviewed. For the first time, I did review all ten CDs listed in the "judges' final" tally. However several of those CDs did not make my personal ballot.

That being said, it's always an honor to be asked to participate in balloting of this kind. When I think back 9-10 years and our entry into the kindie music scene, I never anticipated I'd have to struggle to "rank" such talented individuals and ensembles. Congratulations to everyone who produced children's music in 2014!


  1. Recess Monkey – Hot Air
  2. Tim Kubart – Home
  3. Billy Kelly and Molly Ledford – Trees
  4. Lori Henriques – How Great Can THis Day Be
  5. Ratboy Jr – Hamster Pants
  6. Renee and Friends – Simpatico
  7. Josh and the Jamtones – Rocksteady
  8. Alison Faith Levy – The Start of Things
  9. Andrew and Polly – Odds and Ends
  10. Mil's Trills – Now That We're Friends

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 26, 2015

Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Forever Young – Andrew & Polly
Ghost Riders in the Sky – Andy Z
Mystery – Dean Jones
One After 909 – Caspar Babypants
Sons and Daughters  – The Bazillions
That Way  – Chibi Kodama

Friday, October 23, 2015

It's Rhyme Time for Lisa Loeb

There are people who perform children's music because it's their passion. There are people who perform children's music because it's the next phase of their career. Then there are people, or groups, who record children's music as an organic extension, or outreach, from what they've always done.

Unless a performer gets his or her start in children's music, they most commonly-heard phrase in their press release is "When I had my own kids..." followed by "Once I heard what children's musicians were doing..." I can list a countless number of artists (who run the gamut from great to well, not so great) who fall into that spectrum. Some of their turns were surprising. "Did you know the Verve Pipe has recorded two kids albums?" "What? Really!" "Hey, Lisa Loeb released her fourth children's CD." "Well, of course."

Well, of course?

Well, of course.

There's a generation that grew up listening to Lisa's folkie, sometimes funky guitar sound. Listen to the Coffeehouse on SiriusXM and you can hear her influence on many current recording stars. Her CDs chronicled (and still do) the lifepath of a woman. And while the placement of a lullaby for adults may be warranted under those circumstances, she clearly had other goals when she had her own kids. Once she heard what children's musicians were doing, it became the next phase of her career. Because recording children's music is an organic extension, or outreach, from what she's always done.

As mentioned, Lisa has now released NURSERY RHYME PARADE through Amazon Prime Music. I did a long spiel about the service earlier this month. Suffice to say, it's an interesting project and while the Pop-Ups preceded Lisa last month, there are no further announcements right now. If this is a long-term commitment, there should be some movement in the fourth quarter indicating Amazon's goals and possibly new artists for early 2016.

But that's not a knock against Lisa. She has taken the challenge of reinvigorating such simple tales as "This Old Man" and "The Farmer in the Dell." Not life-changing stuff, but you can never tell with two- and-three- year-olds. Lisa is not trying to reverse-engineer the wheel. If anything, parents get a refresher course on melodies and lyrics for these songs. Hey, I remember singing "Train in Vain" to my infant son many moons ago, when I blanked on the words to a more tyke-tacular tune.

One cannot write an article about Lisa Loeb's children's music without mentioning Elizabeth Mitchell. The two graduated from Brown University in 1990 and recorded two albums together, before their musical paths diverged. They reunited in 2004 for the children's CD, CATCH THE MOON. Perhaps seeing her college friend become a solid, popular recording artist of children's music eased the path for Lisa. Perhaps it was inevitable. Either way, it's given her a new generation to appeal to with her music. In fact, children's music gives her a new generation every 5-7 years.

Do not expect epic material – we're talking about 37 tracks, many that come and go in the blink of an eye, totaling 32 minutes. Will you be charmed? Depends on your affection for "Humpty Dumpty" before and after you watch a young child attempt to sing along or act it out. If you can enjoy that for half an hour, then NURSERY RHYME TIME has provided comfortable engagement. The children of the 90s are into the nostalgia of their own post-college times. This CD can take them back to the future while moving their own families forward. How's that for a mission statement for Lisa Loeb?

Well, of course.

NURSERY RHYME TIME is available through Lisa Loeb's website, which links you to Amazon Prime Music.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 23, 2015

Amnesia – 5 Seconds of Summer
Everybody Out There – Paul McCartney
If I Could Fly – Riff Rockit
Look, Think, Guess, Know – Tom Chapin
Right Side of the Bed – Ratboy Jr.
Take Me Away – Sunshine Collective

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dad Is Takin' a Nap – Keith Munslow
DJ All Day – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Grizzly Bear – Red Yarn
Hold On to Your Dreams – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
New  – Paul McCartney
Sunday Crafternoon (Featuring Drue Davis) – Tim Kubart

Ralph's Circus Maven & Andy's Halloween Videos

Ever wonder who concocted the three-ring circus? What about the circus train (made even more famous in The Little Engine That Could)? You can thank WC Coup, the man who helped P.T. Barnum craft "the greatest show on Earth."

Ralph Covert (Ralph's World) has not forgotten Coup; indeed he celebrates the man. On his new compilation, RALPH'S WORLD ROCKS AND READS! one of the new songs is "Sawdust and Spangles," based on a turn of the century book that has been turned into an animated picture book for kids as well.

Now there's even a video of the song, which Ralph originally conceived as a theatrical work. For your amusement and entertainment at this haunting, costumed time of year, presenting "Sawdust and Spangles":


Speaking of costumes, here's a flashback to Andy Z (aka Andreas Zamenes)'s "Punkin' Patch" video, featuring The Beeheads. This is a perennial favorite, so enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gettin' My Ya Ya's Out – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Kings & Queens – The Hipwaders
Summertime Santa – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
This Little Light Of Mine – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Uh Huh – Dean Jones
The Word – Caspar Babypants

Berkner's Faves a Double Treat

If there had never been a Laurie Berkner, somebody would have created one. There was a chasm in children's music; so huge that the Wikipedia entry for the genre skips from the 1970s straight to Disney movie soundtracks in the 1990s. To this new generation, it's mostly Berkner and Dan Zanes, with a tip of the hat to Raffi.


Berkner is now taking a victory lap of sorts with lullabies, greatest hits collections, even a Christmas album. Her latest release, LAURIE BERKNER'S FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS is almost too much of a good thing – more than two hours worth of tunes divided over two CDs. But wait, there's more! Each CD includes three of Berkner's original tunes that have become classroom favorites ("We Are the Dinosaurs" and "Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz) among them). But wait, there's even more – pre-order one CD through her website and get a second one for free (offer good until October 22)!

Berkner's career goes back to the early 90s, when she used these favorite tunes while "breaking in" her original compositions. Now the circle has closed, in that Berkner's own songs complete the anthology for children who consider her a modern classic.

If you're into your second consecutive decade of children's music (like I am) you have a head start with much of the catalog covered herein. But it would be precious to intimate that only "insiders" have a knowledge with the depth, scope, and breadth of the tracks of this compilation. It's almost like one of those virtual polls on Facebook asking people, "How many of these do YOU remember?" If you have a child in your home under the age of 10, there's a good chance you know the majority of them – from "I've Been Working on the Railroad" to "The Ants Go Marching" to "This Little Light of Mine."

The last track is significant, because bandmate Brady Rymer has also included "Little Light" in his set list with The Little Band That Could. Brady gets to duet with Berkner on "There's A Hole In The Bucket," which got my (younger) son to snap, "He is singing with her, is it his song?" How does one explain folk standards to a four-year-old? Drummer Bobby Golden is the latest addition to the growing Berkner Band, which is rounded out by longtime keyboard player Susie Lampert.

The curse in becoming ubiquitous is that you can be easily dismissed. Raffi has returned to recording new music (his second CD in two year, OWL SINGALONG, is coming in January 2016). Partially because he loves the genre but also to regain his relevance in the modern kindie marketplace. Berkner needs to avoid this same pitfall. FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS is a cornucopia of goodies. But it's time to put the classics aside and remind people why their kids consider Laurie Berkner the tertiary Modern Mother of Kindie.

LAURIE BERKNER'S FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS is available from her website, Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Froggie Went A Courtin'":

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Backyard – Riff Rockit
How Great Can This Day Be – Lori Henriques
Nose In A Book – The Not-Its!
Poofy – Ratboy Jr.
Tacky – Weird Al Yankovic
Unwind – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

Billy, Molly, Dean Branch Out at Symphony Space

"Two Trees, Old Friends" is a song on TREES, the CD from Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly. When they sang it live last Saturday, October 17 at Symphony Space, the audience (well, the adults anyway) listened intently to the lyrics:

Two trees that grew up together 
Two trees that lean on each other like old friends 
Like old friends
Two trees so close they almost look like one
Two trees



As Billy Kelly noted towards the close of the concert, that's the heart of this CD – a concept album about a very specific part of our natural environment, produced by the one and only Dean Jones. The trio are doing a limited tour to support TREES (and in turn, actual trees). Perhaps the only one more excited than my kids about the appearance was Symphony Space's kids program director Darren Critz. He referred to the performers as a "supergroup" and gauged the reactions of the crowd, song by song. Attendance was stunted by the sheer number of children's artists performing around the city and borough on the same day, including the Laurie Berkner Band and an all-day event in Madison Square Park. But those who trekked uptown got a treat, as Molly, Billy, and Dean swapped leads and instruments on virtually every song. "Is this the guitar I play on this one?" Billy asked at one point, momentarily confused by the set order.



My sons were eager to hear individual songs from their respective catalogs, including Molly's material from Lunch Money and Dean's Dog on Fleas tunes. I patiently (and repeatedly) gently indicated how that should be considered a bonus but not to expect it. In fact, they did not stray from TREES and everything was right with the world, at least to my kids.


Symphony Space has a history of booking artists from around the country. Darren stressed that he was initially earnest about geographic parity but said that has become less important for bookings over time. However a resurgence in one area, such as Boston/New England, may result in more than one artist from one locale getting a showcase in any given season. New Orleans-flavored Jazzy Ash is coming up for Halloween, followed by Chicago's Justin Roberts on November 14.

Symphony Space has been a performance haven since 1978. I had seen movies in what is now the Nimoy Theater (which gave me a few unnerving flashbacks by first couple of kid's shows in the room). But to us, it's always been there – first as a venue to take our (then) only son to see Dan Zanes and then as members for multiple shows despite weather or other obstacles. Now it's second nature for the kids to ask at home, "Who's next?" and I know exactly where they mean.


The "Just Kidding Club" is a great value for Upper West Side families (it was more challenging for us, coming from Queens mid-winter). We've seen Billy at the Long Island Children's Museum. In fact, when my older son asked, "Don't you remember me?" Billy replied, "I remember everyone who comes to my shows. You were wearing a red shirt." And my son stoically replied, "It was orange." We've also seen Lunch Money in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (aka the "main room") and at the lamented Kindiefest. The elusive holdout was Dean – we'd missed his solo and group shows at various venues. Although he did not sing lead on any number, he added solid (production) support and showed why so many musicians have entrusted him with their material.

Darren wrote a recent article about why live performances are important for children. Usually such lists are subject to much eyerolling. But I agreed with his four simple tips. In fact, my kids are the ones who usually push the boundaries, wanting to see more and more things when there is simply not enough time in the weekends. But I continue to make the effort, because as much as they enjoy the shows, I enjoy them as well. And I relax when I see how much they enjoy the music in the moment. As much as they are brothers, they are also two trees and it's a pleasure to see them so entwined by their mutual love of music.... two trees, so close they almost look like one.

The upcoming Just Kidding Club schedule is here.

You can find information about future performances by Billy, Molly, and Dean in support of TREES at their dedicated website.

Download the music from these videos (and the rest of the CD) from Bandcamp.