Thursday, June 30, 2016

No Bother, Time for Father Goose Live

We started our summer music series in earnest this week. The boys and I trekked into Manhattan for not one, but TWO children's music shows in TWO separate public parks. I'll talk about the morning show first – Father Goose in Madison Square Park.

MSQ has kind of a quirky setup – kids performances are sequestered to a side lawn near the playground. Meanwhile, you can look over the fountain to the main lawn, where there's a huge platform stage for adult music performances happening in the evening.

But their free summer concert series has been a boon. We took in Recess Monkey last summer, and this year's end-of-school, camp-hasn't-started concert turned out to be the Gooseman and Company. Luckily the weather was not as hot or humid (yet) and it was a breeze to walk with two kids in tow. Ben's knapsack contained a blanket to sit on. I carried waters and snacks (and a camcorder). Matthew, now too big for a stroller, handled the walk with aplomb.

Father Goose is coming back from some major medical issues and noted that this was his first full performance. The band did play two numbers on their own, which gave him a slight breather. The cast of characters also included "Little Goose," who contributed vocals for most of the set. Goose went through his catalog and kept the crowd entertained, stopping songs a couple of times to fill in background for the adults.

For some reason, I thought it would be fun to document more than 1-2 songs. I did not realize I would wind up shooting five of the numbers in the one-hour set. But it will give the kids more than a snapshot of their day to remember. Goose lets the band do most of the heavy lifting but his vocals and command of the crowd kept things lively. Ironically, one of the most spontaneous moments – a little girl dancing crazily as he stepped from the small stage – was not captured in my videos.

Goose is not touring a new album, rather getting back on the road and showing people that he still has it. And he still has it. I would suggest following him on social media for future appearances, as his web site stops at today's show. The kids grooved, the kids moved, and then we got the show on the road. There was some sadness on my part to today's travels but the kids buoyed my spirits. But that's something I'm writing about elsewhere in a more appropriate forum.

Stay tuned for part two – Joanie Leeds in Union Square Park.

Ben's Playlist - Friday, July 1, 2016

Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Amnesia – 5 Seconds of Summer
Water Under The Bridge  – Adele
Take Me Away – Sunshine Collective
Sugar – Maroon 5
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Turned Out – Paul McCartney

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 30, 2016

Animal Kingdom – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
LA Christmas – Andrew & Polly & Mista Cookie Jar
All In A Day – Alastair Moock & Friends
Toothloser – Gustafer Yellowgold
Music is Everywhere – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Clap Your Hands – Red Yarn & Mo Phillips
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
California Kids – Weezer

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Carry a Tune – Recess Monkey
A Mapmaker's Song – Andrew & Polly
Sweetest Devotion – Adele
Harder To Breathe – Maroon 5
The Great Divide – The Okee Dokee Brothers
The Only One  – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
San Francisco – 5 Seconds Of Summer

Monday, June 27, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Wake Up – Red Yarn & Morgan Taylor
Hello – Adele
Shake a Friend's Hand – Andy Z
This Love – Maroon 5
New  – Paul McCartney
Wind in Our Sail – Weezer
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
The Start of Things  – Alison Faith Levy

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 27, 2016

The Grass Is Always Greener – The Okee Dokee Brothers
Fun – Coldplay Feat. Tove Lo
Airplanes – 5 Seconds Of Summer
Favorite Book – The Bazillions
Uh Huh – Dean Jones
Hamsterdam – Ratboy Jr.
Press Play – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Oh Island in the Sun – Aaron Nigel Smith

Friday, June 24, 2016

Press Play: All-American Summer Sound from Brady Rymer and Co.

Hard to believe that we are deep into the second decade of the kindie era. Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner helped kick off the first wave just prior to 9/11. Now I am gobsmacked by the wall of sound that envelopes the movement – from the Okee Dokee Brothers to Ziggy Marley to Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could.

Whither the Little Band That Could. They've been an integral part of our children's music experience going back eight years. We purchased Brady's first CD and Ben remembers the first time we saw the group live (Jalopy, Kindiefest 2009) and I have the video to prove it (2,800+ views to date). Since then, I've lost track of all the shows but the annual Kidstock gigs in Port Washington are always a delight.

Hailing from Long Island, Brady Rymer and crew deliver a tightly-honed all-American sound. "It's a Beauty" is a country charmer about an antique fire truck being restored for (what else) a parade. "Me On The Map" would not feel out of place on any Bon Jovi CD from the past 15 years. "Chain Reaction" and its Stax sound (horns, harmonies) should get the most recalcitrant kids up and dancing. The poignant "Hold This Home Together" describes the efforts of new parents negotiating responsibilities for their new child:

You say a prayer and I'll knock on wood.
You be the bad guy and I'll be the good.
You take the night shift and I got the dawn.
You sew a stitch and I'll sing a song.

The Little Band That Could (Claudia Mussen, Liz Queler, Seth Farber, Jeremy Chatzky, and Larry Eagle with Dan Myers on saxophone) need no compliments but I'll dole some out anyway for good measure. Many ensembles go through a feeling-out process that is sometimes discernible in the mix. No problems here as the band charges through the message-intensive "I Surprised Myself" and "Switcheroo Day," which asks children to consider how the world looks from other perspectives. The band operates as one cohesive unit and everyone gets their chance in the spotlight to shine.

For a while we thought Brady might be putting his group on the back burner to concentrate on his side gig, playing bass for the Laurie Berkner Band. But the band continues to record and perform and hasn't missed a step. We've felt a strong personal connection to Brady since the release of his 2011 CD, LOVE ME FOR WHO I AM, which grew out of his experience performing for and working with kids with Autism, Asperger's Syndrome and related disorders. This is not an intermittent or transient choice that coincidentally comes and goes depending on the release date of a new CD. Brady works with these kids every year. NEWSDAY caught a recent performance in May.

Many high-functioning special needs children want to "pass" as typical. It's easier for them to get through the day if their idiosyncrasies don't draw undue attention. But Brady's music promotes kids being kids and celebrates their differences. Ironically, we've found that the best children's music is produced by artists who "pass" as typical; It doesn't matter if there are kids around, Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could will get you rocking with PRESS PLAY.

PRESS PLAY is available from Brady's website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video for the band's song, "One Day By the Riverside":

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, June 24, 2016

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
Rest Easy Now – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
All Around the Kitchen – Andy Z
Good Old Times – The Okee Dokee Brothers
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
My Guitar – Recess Monkey
Alligator Get-Together – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hey Everybody! – 5 Seconds Of Summer
Best Friend – In The Nick Of Time
Kid Of The Week – The Not-Its!
Right Side of the Bed – Ratboy Jr.
Caught in the Screen – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
Hello Goodbye – Caspar Babypants
Time to Make the Donuts – Recess Monkey
Yawn – Gustafer Yellowgold

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, June 22, 2016

LA Christmas – Andrew & Polly & Mista Cookie Jar
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Sons and Daughters  – The Bazillions
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama
The Tale Of The Sun And The Moon – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Mustaches of the World – Recess Monkey
Mama Don't Allow – In The Nick Of Time

Monday, June 20, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Amnesia – 5 Seconds of Summer
I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Forever Young  – Andrew & Polly
Fourth Day Of July – Red Yarn
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Snowball – Recess Monkey
The Word – Caspar Babypants

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 20, 2016

The Bright Side Of Me – Alastair Moock & Friends
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
Amazing Day – Coldplay
Every Flavor – Recess Monkey
Amistad (Featuring Dan Zanes) – Hot Peas 'n Butter

Friday, June 17, 2016

Never Mind 12 Monkeys – NOVELTIES is Recess Monkey's Lucky #13

Curios. Indulgences. Treats. Oddities. Recess Monkey, the Seattle trio that personifies the current independent children's music scene, returns June 17 with NOVELTIES, its 13th (!) collection, available exclusively through Amazon Music.

How do I describe Recess Monkey? Imagine if three guys with day jobs as school teachers elected to use their musical abilities outside the classroom as entertainers? Hence the concept of "recess." Performing for the merriment of children? Hence the "monkey." What about a little wink to let the adults in the room know that the music is enjoyable for all ages – well, I remember some of the looks I got when I told people the name of my kids' favorite band. "Rhesus Monkey?" "Oh never mind..."

The band's original logline has undergone some changes – Jack Forman now hosts SiriusXM Kids Place's "Live from the Monkey House" (Memo to SiriusXM – update that bio page). Fellow founding Monkeyman Drew Holloway is one of the most consistently appealing vocalists, providing character ("Sweaty Yeti") as well as emotion ("My Guitar"). Drummer Korum Bischoff anchors the trio, filling in harmonies and rhythmic patterns.

Every summer for the past decade, Recess Monkey has added to possibly the strongest discography in the burgeoning genre of children's music. Somewhere along the way, we jumped on board for the ride, much like Nemo's dad Marlin in "Finding Nemo" when he met Crush the turtle and rode the East Australian Current. Coincidence alert! "Finding Dory" comes out June 17 as well.

How does NOVELTIES stack up? For a CD with an ice cream truck on the cover, it's remarkably warm and approachable. The one/two power punch of "Every Flavor" and "Sweaty Yeti" opens the disc, segueing from ice cream (753 choices) to imaginary creatures. Family dance anthem "Piggyback" gives the band a chance to rap over a raging horn section about fun times that result in a piggyback ride from dad. "Mustaches of the World" brings a rarely-heard electric guitar into the mix for facial hair so fierce it can be seen from traffic helicopters. "Time to Make the Donuts" (video below) delves into a specific confectionary obsession:

Realize that it's getting rough
When one dozen is never enough
So you head on back down to the donut store.
Here I am as sure as rain
Put the steaming donuts in the window pane
I bake them all and then I bake some more.

The 14 tracks on NOVELTIES traverse making music ("The Band Next Door") to toys ("Wind Up Robot") to fantasy ("Lovestruck Unicorn") to pets ("Chasing My Tail" and "Smitten for Kitten"). The brother singing "Snowball" plots warm weather revenge after a winter sneak attack. Recess Monkey long ago began to brand each new CD with a "theme." The originality and scope on NOVELTIES demonstrates the band's playful nature and serious professional chops, under the production aegis of fellow Kindiependent Collective member Johnny Bregar.

I've had mixed feelings about the Amazon Music program incorporating kindie artists such as the Pop-Ups. Following a promising start, there was a lengthy lull and frankly, I believed there was a possibility we wouldn't hear another release. But signing Recess Monkey is like snaring the brass ring on the carousel at the carnival. Amazon Music is making a clear statement that they are committed to children's music. Recess Monkey and its simian siren song have taken us far from home (to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, actually). Next month we'll trek to Yonkers or the Bronx (or both!) to see the fellows ply their groovy trade. The future looks bright for these NOVELTIES, indeed.

NOVELTIES is available through Amazon Music (streaming service or physical CD).

Here is the brand-spanking new video for "Time to Make the Donuts":

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, June 17, 2016

Start Of The End – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
A Mapmaker's Song – Andrew & Polly
Water Under The Bridge  – Adele
Voodoo Doll – 5 Seconds of Summer
A Head Full Of Dreams – Coldplay
The Start of Things  – Alison Faith Levy

New Kid Vids from Eric Herman, Hollow Trees & Recess Monkey

Wanted to share links to a couple of fun new kids vids:

Eric Herman and the Thunder Puppies have released "Take a Bath," an animated short featyring contributions by special guests Keith & Ezra from Trout Fishing in America, Kenn Nesbitt, Mister G, Roger Day, and more. Hate to bath? Have a kid who hates to bathe? You get the picture. The track is from the band's new album, BUBBLE WRAP.

The Hollow Trees have released a throwback/novelty track, "My Dog Has Fleas." The track was written by noted Los Angeles musician/voiceover actor Will Ryan, known for The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, among other things.

Traci from the Trees sings and performs in the video with a cooperative pooch. Although I doubt he would seek legal remedy for being branded as "flea-ridden." But then again, it's a light little tune. You have two minutes? Here it is:

Recess Monkey is back! And that means new videos! Here is the first video from the new CD, NOVELTIES. We've been singing "Time to Make the Donuts" for the past two weeks, and I don't see that abating now that it's accompanied by moving pictures.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 16, 2016

Loving Cup – Cat Doorman
Bile Them Cabbage  – Red Yarn
My Teacher's An Alien – The Bazillions
Cheese World – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Harder To Breathe – Maroon 5
The Ultimate Frisbee – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sourwood Mountain – Red Yarn
Extraordinary – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Fresh Spokes (Featuring Susan Lapidus) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
This Love – Maroon 5
Hymn For The Weekend – Coldplay
Bad Haircut – The Bazillions

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Don't Fence Me In – Andy Z
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Sweetest Devotion – Adele
That Way – Chibi Kodama
Take Me Away – Sunshine Collective
Cow Cow Yippee – The Okee Dokee Brothers

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 13, 2016

Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Domino Town – Dean Jones
By The Light – Red Yarn
River Lea – Adele
Jersey Dinosaurs – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
Hey Jude – Caspar Babypants
Favorite Book – The Bazillions

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, June 10, 2016

Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
One After 909 – Caspar Babypants
Snaggletooth – Dean Jones
Road Trip – In The Nick Of Time
Extinction Really Stinks – The Whizpops!
Sunday Morning – Maroon 5

Kindie Quick Hits: Free Recess Monkey Single, Music from Jammin' Randy and Alphabet Rockers

Recess Monkey is back! The Seattle-based kindie trio will be releasing their 13th (!) CD, NOVELTIES, next week (watch for my review). In the meantime, you can grab the first single, "Time to Make to Donuts," from Amazon Music, for free, through June 23.

Both kids were super-anxious to get their hands on this release as Jack, Korum, and Drew are among their favorite recording artists – that includes music for grown-ups, too. They are already walking around the house singing along to this tune (and "Every Flavor"). So click wisely and click often, before June 23.

Speaking of children's music from all over the place, Kansas-based Randy Sauer (Jammin' Randy) recently released his new CD, BE KIND (and yes, the title track does end with "Rewind"). A longtime music educator and award-winning teacher, Randy's guitar-twanging tunes have them rocking in the great plains. There must, I mean must be children's music everywhere and especially live music. His original compositions delighted his students. Smash-cut to 25 years later and Randy performing throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.

Rap has completely infiltrated the heartland, as evidenced by "Hip Hop Shake." Guest vocalist Natalie Metcalf delivers soothing vocals to the elementary-school ballad "I Need a Friend." Any Nick Lowe fans out there? "Cool to be Kind" is a title that harkens back to days of Rockpile but delivers a positive message about doing the right thing. Having just written about the Crazy Frog, I'm sure that "Rusty the Robot Gets Fit" is one of the best ways to use vocal distortion to get kids to exercise while driving parents up the wall.

Inspiring kids, creating a love of music, and promoting values are the holy trinity of kindie music. Randy Sauer has spent a lifetime, in-school and independently, delivering on those promises. The least I can do is draw some attention to his activity and his music.

BE KIND is available from Randy's website and iTunes.

Heading back to the West Coast, the Alphabet Rockers dropped their latest EP, THE PLAYGROUND ZONE. The duo of Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd use the culture of hip-hop much in the same way as Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and Mista Cookie Jar – heavy on the beats and easy on the lectures.

Even the song titles play off the tropes of hip-hop. "Players Life" is all about respecting the rules of authority, such as in the playground. "Wiggle Jiggle" is a party-in-the-bouncy-house kind of jam. "That's Your Name, Wear It Out" is about pride, pronunciation, and performance (as in dancing). "Gimme Some Skin" refers to high-fiving your peers of all shades. "Oddball" points out that everybody has something that makes them a little different. The EP concludes with power ballad "Change the World":

Wishing for a day when we don't have to hide who we are
How we pray how we love
Where people stand up, stand up for what's right

The nature of kindie demands inclusion; that's the very heart of every kindie song – are you enjoying yourself? Are you singing along? Do you want to participate? While mainstream artists struggle with declaring what side they're on, kindie artists have consistently been on the right side, forward-facing for the future. With THE PLAYGROUND ZONE, the Alphabet Rockers may have crafted only 17 minutes of music, but the songs are right for the times and right on.

THE PLAYGROUND ZONE is available from the Alphabet Rockers' website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 9, 2016

Forever Young  – Andrew & Polly
Don't Fence Me In – The Okee Dokee Brothers
Don't Stop – 5 Seconds of Summer
This Land Is Your Land – Alastair Moock & Friends
Your Happy Place – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
Everybody Out There – Paul McCartney
Gulo Gulo (Wolverine) – The Whizpops!
Clap Your Hands – Red Yarn & Mo Phillips

Springman's Happy Beach Makes Waves

Sometimes children's music speaks to me, and that's great. Sometimes it speaks directly to the kids, and that's great, too. If I had to explain the appeal of the Crazy Frog, I'd give myself a migraine. Headaches aside, Canadian recording artist Perry Springman has released his first children's music CD, HAPPY BEACH. Perry and his four children travel throughout Canada, the United States, and overseas and promote the World Vision Child Sponsorship Program at their music performances. So whatever I think of the music, he's a man on a mission, in more way than one.

With a title like HAPPY BEACH, the target audience is knee-high. And those are the people who would most enjoy "Bouncy Bouncy" and "Chimichanga." There's also a pretty overt message of faith, with God being directly addressed in "Unh-Uh, No Way," "Me and Buddy," and "Mommy and Daddy," among others. If you're into directing thanks and praise to your Almighty, that's cool with me. We've taken our boys to temple since they were born. But generally, the yarmulke stops there. Perry's website talks about the wonderful people he works with in his ministry. Also cool with me. Families can make their own assessments, with song samples and video links on the website.

After 10 albums for adults, Perry and company have turned to the light side (i.e., daytime performance audiences). He and producer
Mark Heimermann (Toby Mac and many spiritual artists) have crafted a breezy, pleasant collection of tunes with a heavenly undercurrent (i.e., the "little bit of Heaven" sung about on "Happy Beach"):

You and I will know an everlasting life
In my eyes I see God smiling back at me
If the faces of my friends
On a happy beach without end

Um, are they truly singing about the seashore? As Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But that's cool with me. There's an audience for children's music for people of faith and Perry Springman is directing his dioscese concisely and precisely. If that's your idea of a HAPPY BEACH, then dive right in. God only knows what he'd do without you.

HAPPY BEACH is available from Perry's website, Amazon, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for Perry's song, "Bouncy Bouncy":

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
Animal Kingdom – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Thank You for the Box – Andrew & Polly
Sons and Daughters  – The Bazillions
California Condor – The Whizpops!
The Harmony Hills – Hollow Trees

KB Whirly Goes Camping

Hey an actual children's music album with an appearance from Dean Jones that is not produced by Dean Jones! Rather, KB Whirly (frontman for the Whirlygigs) has enlisted Patrick Hanlin (backbeat for Josh and the Jamtones) to helm the production of his new collection, CAMP SONGS VOLUME 1. In concert Whirly is a one-man band. But it takes a village (picture teepees) to build a better trek to camp.

There's a lot to say about the classic kid's camp experience and music is an integral part of it, from morning "Reveille" to "Taps" before bedtime. I spent a summer at Camp Cejwin in Port Jervis (which closed in the 1990s) and another at the NJ Y Camps. Neither was my thing, but I did enjoy the escape into music – a commonality where I could excel among the more athletically-minded. In fact, if not for one stomach-grumbling unauthorized lunch break, I would have been a featured extra in that summer's production of "Guys and Dolls." But the very temperamental drama coach wanted to send a clear message to a roomful of 13-year-olds.

Mr. Whirly turns "The Littlest Worm" into a Spike Jones romp, duets with Jazzy Ash on "Hole In My Bucket," and uses a kid's chorus on the chestnut "Say Say My Playmate." No camp compilation gets a gold star without Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah," wisely included here. There are five original tunes such as the tongue-twisting "Peter Pipers Pickled Palace" and "Not Goin Swimmin." I sympathize with the latter, as the Cejwin lake was miserably cold the first week but if I was not "with the group," I was banished to my bunk. I guess the counselors figured out of sight, out of trouble (for them).

I always say my kids are the best arbiters of what gets played in our house, once it's been sampled at dinner time. Matt (5) decided "The Bumblebee Song" was his favorite and began crafting new verses. Camp season will soon be upon us and KB Whirly's CAMP SONGS VOLUME 1 is a nifty throwback reminder of bygone (and evergreen) camp traditions. I recall name labels in my underwear, pre-address postcards to mail to my relatives, and 10 cent comic books that I could quickly trade with my campmates. And now I've got a ready-made soundtrack.

CAMP SONGS VOLUME 1 is available on June 17 from KB Whirly's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Dessert Song in Skowheegan":

Dessert Song in Skowheegan from KB Whirly on Vimeo.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Bens Playlist - Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Bright Side Of Me – Alastair Moock & Friends
Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Gettin' My Ya Ya's Out – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
The Tale Of The Sun And The Moon – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
Poor Papa – Hollow Trees
Hey Everybody! – 5 Seconds Of Summer

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 6, 2016

Other Days – Andrew & Polly
Permanent Vacation – 5 Seconds Of Summer
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama
Hello Friend – Hollow Trees
Danceology – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, June 3, 2016

Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
All In A Day – Alastair Moock & Friends
Unwind – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Airplanes – 5 Seconds Of Summer
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy
Super Hero Rock Band – The Bazillions
What Do You Want On Your Taco – Hollow Trees
Mystery – Dean Jones

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 2, 2016

Shake a Friend's Hand – Andy Z
Alligator Get-Together – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Kid Of The Week – The Not-Its!
DJ All Day – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
San Francisco – 5 Seconds Of Summer
Stardust – Chibi Kodama
Oh Island in the Sun – Aaron Nigel Smith

Can't Keep 'em Down on Animal Farm

Teachers who make music. Where have I heard that concept before? It's practically a nationwide epidemic, although that might be the wrong word. I should probably say worldwide epidemic. It was only last month that I wrote about the Montana-based educators behind the Whizpops. And if you're into kindie music yet you don't know the backstory for the school teachers in Recess Monkey, please click on their link and come back in a few minutes. I'll wait.

Now comes RUN FREE, the debut CD from Animal Farm. The band played live for several years in the Boston area, only to see founding member Seth Adams move to Chicago in 2012. Cofounder David Ladon found himself in the Windy City the following year, fortuitously allowing the band to reform, regroup, and re-strategize with new management. With savvy boardwork by renowned producer Mike Hagler (Wilco),  Animal Farm is finally ready to roam free range with its genre-jumping brand of kid's music.

Animal Farm (insert your own George Orwell joke here) uses RUN FREE to bring eight initial songs to the spotlight. "When Pigs Fly" is a power-pop ballad complete with conditions from the air traffic controller. There's a countrified "Vegetarian Spider," a South African/world music-infused "The Hippo Song," and they use the metaphor of physical growing pains for the snake-infested "Shed Your Skin":

Everybody's got something they eventually outgrew,
Everybody gotta shed a skin or two.
Because it's out with the old and in with the new,
Everybody's gotta shed a skin or two.

I feel a certain kinship with Hagler, who worked as a parts manager at a car dealership before getting into music. With a day job at a software company, who knew that one day I would reviewing children's music at a prodigious clip? Many kindie acts find themselves in the same position – it starts as a side project or develops after putting together a simple act for a birthday party. it's fun, it's infectious, and to paraphrase the catchy Pringle's slogan, betcha can't do it just once.

Time will tell if distance will divide Animal Farm once more. Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke produced a stellar Animal Kingdom CD last year and numerous other artists circle the terrain. Geography works to their advantage, as I have yet to be inundated with CDs from other Chicago-area kindie musicians. You can play some samples for your kids here. Party down with your children like it's 1984 with Animal Farm (sorry, couldn't help myself).

RUN FREE is available on Animal Farm's website, BandCamp, and CDBABY.

Here is a live performance of the band playing their song, "Glitter Bug":

Inside the Full Forest Sound of the Hollow Trees

The Lawrence Welk Singers never called themselves "Welk." Buddy Rich never branded his bandmates as "The Rich Family." Music took a turn after the Ramones, even though kids' performers have assumed alternate identities for decades (Paging Captain Kangaroo). Bears & Lions may take it to an extreme (I defy you to find their names through a web search). At least the Hollow Trees freely fess up that it's all an act – singer and band leader Gregory Hollow Tree is, in fact, Gregory Mcilvaine.

After a respite, the Hollow Trees are back with their fourth CD, HELLO FRIEND. Continuing the folksinging stylings he learned from Burl Ives in his youth, Gregory realized he could use his powers for good after stumbling across Dan Zanes and Friends' kindie offerings. With a healthy dose of female lead vocals from Traci Hollow Tree (Traci Green), the Hollow Trees remind me quite a bit of the late (if not lamented) Wee Hairy Beasties, another amalgam of musicians who came together to deliver collections of similarly clever, quirky kids tunes. The Beasties also used pseudonyms
as John Langford was billed as "Cyril the Karaoke Squirrel," Sally Timms was "Monkey Double Dippey," and singer/songwriter Kelly Hogan was "Marjorie the Singing Bee."

One of the best things about kindie music is that nobody ever has to ask "Who's going to listen to a jug band bluegrass album" or "Where's the market for alphabet-themed reggae?" Kindie, by its largest definition, envelopes genres and processes them into a child-friendly format. The Hollow Trees have spent five-plus-years culling old-timey favorites like "Poor Papa" with endearing originals such as "Guitar You Gonna Sing Along" and "The Harmony Hills," which would not be out of place on a Red Yarn or Okee Okee Brothers CD.

Like Red Yarn, the Hollow Trees have cultivated a fictional landscape (the tertiary Hollow Tree and its chief resident, Nelson the animal of indeterminate origin). Natch, there's a puppet by that name who appears at the band's live shows. It's part of the Hollow Trees' multimedia appeal, if you get the opportunity to see them in concert.

The music of the Hollow Trees was borne from the heartland and harkens back through the generations. Yet they bring forth a SoCal spin with "What Do You Want On Your Taco" and the theme park anthem "Merry Go Round," complete with calliope breaks. Title track "Hello Friend" could be a Grand Ole Opry opening number. The Hollow Trees seek to be your child's newest and oldest friend at the same time. It's a quirky conundrum but they pull it off. I can't say that Gregory has out-Zaned Dan Zanes, but while Zanes stays mainly in the plains, the Hollow Trees have gone 'round the mountain to craft their own identity as West Coast mainstays. HELLO FRIEND expands the 2016 kindie quest into the underbelly of Americana. Perhaps it's the election year, perhaps it's just a longing for more traditional values. Your kids won't mind – they just want to know what the heck is Nelson?

HELLO FRIEND is available July 1 from the Hollow Trees' website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is their new video for the song, ""I Can't Dance (I've Got Ants in My Pants)":