Thursday, January 28, 2016

My Goodness, It's Michael and the Rockness Monsters

For many performers, children's music goes from a hobby to a passion to an occupation. Some try to emulate the success of Music Together, which binds the product (CDs) intrinsically to the program. I will forget a few, but Laurie Berkner is the latest to take that route, which includes Music for Aardvarks, Kira Willey (yoga), and New Jersey's Preschool of Rock.

The risk/reward ratio has an exponential curve – your core audience must be constantly cultivated with concerts, videos, local public relations, and word-of-mouth. Kids who age out of the lowest levels of the program can stick around for music lessons. But it's an endless cycle that can wear out the most dedicated instructors, who sometimes farm out the hands-on activities and stick to the administrative side.

It takes a lifelong immersion to surrender completely to the process. Among the most disciplined of these disciples is Michael Napolitano, the founder and director of Preschool of Rock. The son of a professional touring drummer, Michael began his musical adventure at 18 months old. Smash-cut to 10 years performing with the Blue Man Group and jump-ahead eight years to present day, with Preschool of Rock established at more than one dozen NJ/NY metropolitan locations.

Ben (15) occasionally asks "Where's the next Music for Aardvarks CD?" I explain that he's aged-out of that program. Thus, even if we got new music, it would be more suited for his little brother (5). Michael has left the constraints of Preschool of Rock for a while to devote himself to MICHAEL AND THE ROCKNESS MONSTERS. It's a children's CD without instructions for parents and isn't that a blessing.

Under the direction of ├╝ber-producer Dean Jones, Michael lets loose a whimsical narrative-free compilation of characters and concepts. After listening to literally dozens of CDs that Jones has produced over the past few years, it's no wonder his services are in such high demand. The Rockness Monsters don't hit any wrong notes or jagged chords because they've been crafted to near-kindie perfection under his skilled hands.

The album's first track, "Pirate Song," delivers a sing-along "yo ho ho" chorus replete with multiple chances to scream "Aaarrrrrrrr!" Michael espouses that Black Sabbath is his favorite band. The closest thing to heavy metal on this disc are "In a Band" and "Rock It!"

More of the songs are in the toe-tapping juvenile jaunty vein of "Single Digits," where the protagonist bemoans the cold weather and recounts all the locations he'd rather be. For out-and-out fantasy, there's also "Dinosaur Haircut" and the reggae-tinged "Cosmic Vacation," where the best places to visit are all in the mind. Understandably (and since the CD is "Presented by Preschool of Rock"), Michael can't get completely away from the winding down concept with "Humming Song."

MICHAEL AND THE ROCKNESS MONSTERS doesn't break any new ground. But it allows Michael an opportunity to erase the dotted line between quality and quantity of musical expression that comes with a time-dependent kids music program. I wouldn't doubt that a few of these tunes show up in Preschool of Rock's curriculum. But they're fine on their own, which is a good placement on the risk/reward ratio for Michael.

MICHAEL AND THE ROCKNESS MONSTERS is available February 26 from the band's website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the debut video from the album, "Pirate Song":

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