Friday, September 30, 2016

Deedle Deedle Dees Rocket Through History

History is making a comeback! The hottest ticket on Broadway is Hamilton. Among the hottest online sites is Epic Rap Battles of History. One of the hottest TV shows is Drunk History. And who was cultivating this trend way, way before any of these Johnny Come Latelys? Lloyd Miller and the Deedle Deedle Dees, that's who.

Last year, Lloyd embarked on his "Singalong History" series with GLORY! GLORY! HALLELUJAH!, which centered on the Civil War and that tumultuous period in our country's evolution. This followed the Dees' three CDs that began their travels down the passageways of time. Volume 2, THE ROCKET WENT UP! further advances their brand with a veritable pinball machine's worth of content, from legendary magician Harry Houdini to Typhoid Mary to swimmer Diana Nyad. I guffawed out loud at "I Remember You, Lucy," a song that sounds like a love ballad until you realize it commemorates skeletal remains.

Über-producer Dean Jones helms the disc, guaranteeing further hijinks. Rachel Loshak, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, and others make guest appearances and contributions. Thomas Edison attempts to out-rank Nikola Tesla (Skidoo) on "Tesla V. Edison" (and fails):

Edison: I'm the inventor the whole world will remember.
Tesla: Whatever you say, boss. Here's what's funny – 
You don't have friends but you do have money.
Edison: Yeah? Well at least I'm not a neat freak.
Tesla: Clearly. Did you change your pants this week?
Edison: The world won't even know who you are.
Tesla: I don't know. Have you seen my new car?

Miller and fellow Dees Chris Johnson and Ely Levin have a deft sense of what kind of history kids might enjoy, or ways to engage them through song. "Dissolve" takes on the difficult topic of Nobel Prize winners melting down their medals while the Nazis were on the march. Indeed, there's even a horn section. Another rap tune, "Ada Lovelace," quickly delivers some girl power to the woman who wrote the first computer program. And kids get their say on the quirky "Stephen Hawking, Can You Fact-Check This?"

The CD was a long time in coming (five years) and the band issues a statement of purpose on "This Is For You," delivering a positive affirmation of their goals. This is driven further home in "Super Strong," talking about personal achievements such as public speaking and recovering from surgery. The Dees overriding sentiment is that history does not have to be dull or dry; these were people and times that can come alive in contemporary terms (hence rap). Healthcare workers dealing with Ebola and Zika even get their own anthem, "Every Time I Stand Up (I Feel Like Falling Down)." Shakespeare said, "What's past is prologue," which kinds of indicates that our best days – and the coolest songs about our past – are still ahead. Strange dees, indeed.

THE ROCKET WENT UP! is available from the Deedle Deedle Dees' website, CDBABY, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for the song, "Houdini":

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 30, 2016

DJ All Day – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Don't Fence Me In – Andy Z
Free Ride Everyday  – Lori Henriques
Only One You – Danny Weinkauf
Tae Kwon Do – Bob and Luc Schneider
Uh Huh – Dean Jones
Young at Heart – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 29, 2016

Don't Stop – 5 Seconds of Summer
Every Day's A Holiday – Alastair Moock & Friends
How Can You Tell If It's Going to Rain? – Andrew & Polly
My Magic Helicopter – Danny Weinkauf
Superman – Bob and Luc Schneider
Thank You (feat. R. City) – Meghan Trainor

With Kids Music CD, Amy Lee Goes from Goth to Gosh

Ah, child-bearing. When a rock star's fancy turns to children's music. That's a fairly sexist statement but it cuts across gender lines – Johnny Cash recorded one of the most famous children's music records of its time. Now Amy Lee (of Evanescence fame) has joined the pantheon, releasing DREAM TOO MUCH, a collection of 12 songs from her (and her son's) childhood.

As a band, Evanescence generated a controversy regarding the potentially faith-based message of its music. By delving into kid's songs, Lee goes from faith to faithfulness. While the recordings are bubbly and ethereal, they do not go overboard or stray far from the originals. "Rubber Duckie" is a ukulele skiffle and "Stand By Me" gets a girl group revamp. Title track "Dream Too Much" provides an amusing contradiction to itself, pointing out there's no way to dream too much.

The CD skews for three-and-under, which is reasonable to surmise, since Lee's son fits that demographic. "I'm Not Tired" is an anti-lullaby and "Little Bird" fits perfectly into Lee's high range. "The collection closes with "Goodnight My Love," a duet between Lee and her father, former DJ and guitar player John Lee. "The End of the Book" sounds like it came directly from a child's mouth:

The end of a book isn't the end
It's the beginning that comes
You can pretend pretend pretend 
And read it again

It's easy to dismiss someone's first entry into children's music as an easy one-off, a curio that doubles as an audio lock box for their child's happy memories. However that's where Lee's faithfulness works in her favor. She doesn't sound forced, the new material does not come off as contrived, the song selection is endearingly scattershot, not what a committee would pick to maximize impact; tailored to Lee's already-existing following. DREAM TOO MUCH is a realistic portrait of modern parenting presented by a mom who's a rock star and her father, the mentoring musician.

DREAM TOO MUCH is available exclusively from Amazon Music.

Here is the video for the title song, "Dream Too Much":

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Brain Freeze – The Not-Its!
The Bright Side Of Me  –  Alastair Moock & Friends
Don't Fence Me In  –  Andy Z
Expo Line  –  Andrew & Polly
Good Old Times  –  The Okee Dokee Brothers
Groove  –  Lori Henriques
Popsicle  –  Bob and Luc Schneider

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 27, 2016

All In A Day – Alastair Moock & Friends
Bile Them Cabbage – Red Yarn
Calling All the Kids to the Yard –  Cat Doorman
Don't Fence Me In – The Okee Dokee Brothers
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Island in the Ocean – Bob and Luc Schneider
Thank You for the Box – Andrew & Polly

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 26, 2016

Ice Cream Time Machine – Todd and Cookie
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
Run For The Sunshine – Sunshine Collective
Shake a Friend's Hand – Andy Z
So Gazed Upon – Cat Doorman
Unhuggable – Caspar Babypants
Washington, Dc – The Not-Its!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 23, 2016

Banana Bread – Caspar Babypants
Eyes on the Prize – Cat Doorman
Hamsterdam – Ratboy Jr.
Oh Island in the Sun – Aaron Nigel Smith
This Land Is Your Land – Alastair Moock & Friends
Up To Something Good – Sunshine Collective

Bob Schneider: When The L Fits, Hear It

I get it. Recording music is fun. Recording music with your kids is more fun, because you're including them in the process and sharing their energy and vitality and ideas. It's become almost a cottage industry within children's music. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo's daughter Saki enthralls young girls in the audience (trust me, witnessed several times first-hand). Danny Weinkauf turned his son Kai into a Kids Place Live superstar. Chibi Kodama's John Cullimore has perfected the home assembly line of turning kids-into-musicians with his girls.

You can add Austin musician Bob Schneider to the list. He and (now) 11-year-old son Luc have released I WILL FIND YOU NO MATTER WHAT through Amazon Prime Music as part of the etailer's new children's music initiative, which includes upcoming collections by Lisa Loeb and Amy Lee.

The collaboration, under the aegis of "The L," was not originally intended as a structured kids CD. Bob recorded two songs with Luc when the lad was four years old ("Vacuum Cleaner" is clearly one of those early ventures). Over the years, more tunes were recorded. In that sense, I WILL FIND YOU... is a musical family album. Which is appropriate, coming from the son (Bob) of an opera singer. He's just passing the torch from generation to generation.

Oh yes, what of the music itself? The songs range from the organ- and pots-and-pans bop of "Popsicle" to the campfire lullaby "I Love You." There's a little vocoder on "Island in the Ocean."And Luc's plaintive vocals summon smiles on the ballads "Happy Face" and "Christmas Pony." It's not hard-charging, high-energy pop, except for "Monster Truck," which initiated the following backseat conversation between my kids:

15 year old: What's he saying?
5 year old: Monster truck.
15 year old: (Incredulously) No, he's not (listens) Oh yes, he is.

The prolific Schneider (more than 2,000 songs written and 18 solo albums) stretches his wings far enough to make room for Luc. The L may be a one-off or the first of a series. As with most projects involving children, as they age and their interests change, it's hard to predict with any certainty. I WILL FIND YOU... is a wistful walk through childhood imagination, as distilled through the perspective of an actual child. No matter what, you can click through and hear for yourself.

I WILL FIND YOU NO MATTER WHAT is available exclusively through Amazon Prime Music

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 22, 2016

Alligator Get-Together – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Right Side of the Bed – Ratboy Jr.
Small Bird – Caspar Babypants
Take Me Away – Sunshine Collective
To and Fro –  Cat Doorman
Wind in Our Sail – Weezer

Look! Up in the Sky! It's the Laurie Berkner Band!

Sting is releasing his first CD of original pop music in more than a decade. It's an opportunity to introduce new fans to his catalog. Due to his career longevity, the majority of Sting's solo and recordings with The Police fall under the heading of "Classic Rock." Whether or not he trends with younger audiences depends upon how hip they find the 64-year-old former punk.

The Laurie Berkner Band has released SUPERHERO, its first CD of original children's tunes in eight years. Unlike Sting, Berkner and Company may not win back any lapsed fans – that's literally an eternity in kid's music. It's not like they've been on hiatus. Between FOOD SONGS and MOVEMENT SONGS and LOVE, there's been a ton of cover (and recycled) songs in the marketplace to remind people that Laurie Berkner is more than the first lady of children's music, she's a hearty brand.

Similar to Caspar Babypants on his website, Laurie writes liner notes (possibly not available with the download) for each song on SUPERHERO. For instance, "Tallulah Jones" came from her love of rhyming pure silliness. "I love the name Tallulah," she explains, "Plus, I'd really like to see a 10-foot egg":

Hello hello I am Tallulah Pegs
I’ve got a 10 foot house
Filled with 10 foot eggs
And I’ve got music in my legs

Laurie is ably backed by longtime keyboardist Susie Lampert, drummer Bobby Golden, and some guy named Brady Rymer on bass, who also duets on "Opelika Alabama."  Ziggy Marley also duets on My My Marisol" and yoga-mindfulness expert Kira Willey provides violin and vocals ("Swing Me") on the CD.

When Laurie started on this children's music thing, she was doing kids parties with no kids of her own.  Now her own daughter, Lucy Mueller, joins the family business on "Elephant In There." Some recording artists find themselves evolving and "growing" their sound as their families age. That's true to an extent with SUPERHERO, which clocks in at just under one hour. "1-2 Hands" is a speedy blur of a concept about bodies. "Face To Face" is a facial recognition song that I can see as part of her "The Music in Me" program.

Harkening back to her earliest recordings, there's a dance remix of "We Are the Dinosaurs" that older siblings can enjoy, too. But the bread and butter of the LBB audience are still the little people who weren't even conceived the last time Sting released a pop album. SUPERHERO mines all that toddlers desire and feel, which is Laurie's strength as a singer/performer. In a callback to "Hello Dolly," it's so nice to have Laurie back where she belongs. Others have tried to fill the vacancy in the intervening absence. But Laurie Berkner is back to reclaim those shoes... and pig hats.

SUPERHERO is available at Laurie's website, Amazon, iTunes, and other fine digital retailers.

Here is a video of the Laurie Berkner Band performing the new song, "Bicycle":

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Amistad (Featuring Dan Zanes) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Because I Love You – Caspar Babypants
Bop Bodiop! – Cat Doorman
Circle Of Friends – Vanessa Trien & The Jumping Monkeys
Ground Food – Ratboy Jr.
Picky Eaters – Danny Weinkauf
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy

Monday, September 19, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 20, 2016

All Together Now – Vanessa Trien & The Jumping Monkeys
The Bullfrog – Red Yarn
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Done With The Science Fair – The Not-Its!
Forever Young  – Andrew & Polly
The Great Divide – The Okee Dokee Brothers
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 19, 2016

Fourth Day Of July – Red Yarn
Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Kid Of The Week – The Not-Its!
Rattlesnake – Caspar Babypants
The Ultimate Frisbee –  Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
Willie And The Hand Jive – Vanessa Trien & The Jumping Monkeys

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 16, 2016

Cow Cow Yippee – The Okee Dokee Brothers
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Hey Jude – Caspar Babypants
Jersey Dinosaurs – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
Look At Those Clouds – Danny Weinkauf
One Foot In Front Of The Other – Vanessa Trien & The Jumping Monkeys
Sourwood Mountain – Red Yarn

Vanessa Trien & Jumping Monkeys Go Forth With 4th CD

If positive affirmation had a band name, it might be Vanessa Trien & the Jumping Monkeys. Back with their fourth CD, WONDERFUL YOU (get the idea), the brightside Bostonians deliver a dozen sunny, feelgood tunes for tots, toddlers, and youthful students.

The CD practically radiates its central concept, a celebration of family, friends, neighborhood. and community. You don't have to read between the lines on a song like "Shine":

Greet your family and friends hello
Give a hug, how you love them so
Hear the laughter and join right in
It feels all right with everyone tonight
And the love is burning bright and you will shine

Alastair Moock is on hand to kick things off with the singalong "One Foot in Front of the Other," which sounds like a missing track from his release, "Singing Our Way Through," an album tracked his daughter's successful battle with cancer. Trien lauds her New York roots on "Fireworks," as its chorus marvels at "fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge." Former Dan Zanes bandmate (and Boston area resident) Barbra Brousal is featured on two chipper songs, "Round and Round We Go" and "Feeling Thankful," which also has Rani Arbo on vocals. While I'm listing guest performers, here's a tip of the hat to Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer), who lends five fingers for a cover of "Willie and the Hand Jive."

There's nary a dark cloud or acknowledgement of a bad dream on WONDERFUL YOU. Making a joyful noise is the over-riding mission, right down a cover of the Beatles' "All Together Now," where Trien's kids Ellis and Laila (and their pals) join the chorus. Doubt is not an option on WONDERFUL YOU, a highly unusual stance in this quirky election season. But that's the world of children's music, where a gentle "Circle of Friends" singalong closes out the disk and resets the table for a new day of engagement and entertainment.

WONDERFUL YOU will be available on October 14 from Vanessa Trien & the Jumping Monkeys website, CDBABY. and iTunes.

Here is an almost brand-spanking video of the band performing their new song, "Shine":

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 15, 2016

By The Light – Red Yarn
Do You Talk To Yourself – Dean Jones
Fresh Spokes (Featuring Susan Lapidus) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Hello Goodbye – Caspar Babypants
Mama Don't Allow – In The Nick Of Time
The Start of Things  – Alison Faith Levy

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Clap Your Hands – Red Yarn & Mo Phillips
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
The Grass Is Always Greener – The Okee Dokee Brothers
L.A. Girlz – Weezer
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
The Word – Caspar Babypants

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 13, 2016

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
Future Looks Good – OneRepublic
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
That Way – Chibi Kodama

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 10, 2016

California Kids – Weezer
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Ghost Riders in the Sky – Andy Z
One After 909 – Caspar Babypants
Press Play – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Wake Up  – Red Yarn & Morgan Taylor
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 8, 2016

Animal Kingdom – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
King of the World – Weezer
Loving Cup – Cat Doorman
Mystery – Dean Jones
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy
Your Happy Place – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Paskow Seeks to Entertain Kids

Jennifer Paskow has delivered her IndieGogo project of children's songs, MAKE A CIRCLE. It's a sweet, fast life-affirming set of songs that perfectly suits her persona. Jennifer performs at many children's hospitals. Tunes such as "Listen to Your Heart" and "On the Inside" should brighten up many a sick room.

I've lost count the number of times an artist has described their pursuits as spiritual and managed to work yoga into the same sentence. I'd be a down dog to throw Kira Willey under the mat here, but she's the first name that comes to mind. Paskow follows a similar mindset, having moved west after starting her musical career on the gritty streets of New York City.

Don't look for miracle cures on MAKE A CIRCLE. The intent is to gently entertain and Paskow acutely targets her young audience. "The I Love You Song" (and its reprise) work in the classic "Bushel and a Peck." And the traditional "This Little Light of Mine" gets a sunny rendition that matches the fervor of previous kindie cover versions by Dan Zanes and Brady Rymer. This is not music to change the world, it's songs for lighten the heart and change the mood. Everybody should make a circle for those sentiments.

MAKE A CIRCLE will be available September 30 from Jennifer Paskow's websiteiTunesAmazon, and CDBABY (links not live to this CD yet).

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 5, 2016

The Bright Side Of Me – Alastair Moock & Friends
By The Light – Red Yarn
Forever Young  – Andrew & Polly
Good Old Times – The Okee Dokee Brothers
Picky Eaters – Danny Weinkauf
Unhuggable – Caspar Babypants

Friday, September 02, 2016

Todd & Cookie Back After Playing Hooky

The multimedia experience known as Todd & Cookie has returned with their new three-song EP, SUPER DELUXE ACTION FIGURES, comprised of three tracks – "eMutt," "Ice Cream Time Machine," and "In the Backseat."

As you might expect, Todd McHatton (who has max kindie supergroup cred with his other collaborative effort, the Underbirds) is the right person to draw out the best rap verses from Mista Cookie Jar. And CJ returns the favor by pushing Todd to conceive more improbable, amusing scenarios – a talking car seat? What happens when technology and dessert co-mingle indeed.

McHatton is all over the map, but in a good way – songs, comics, and now even a podcast, "Imaginary Accomplishments." It's enough to give a mere mortal blogger pause. Mista Cookie Jar is a near-endless font of rapper's delights, from his guest spots for Andrew & Polly and other performers. Versatility and fun are the two factors that make these two such a good combo, and their latest joint effort feels almost effortless.


Here's a (slightly dated) cartoon video from Todd & Cookie: