Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Friday, November 17, 2017

Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
That Way – Chibi Kodama
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, November 16, 2017

Forever Young – Andrew & Polly
Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Play That Song – Train
King of the World – Weezer
One After 909  – Caspar Babypants
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Bop Bodiop! – Cat Doorman
You Better Believe – Train
Tae Kwon Do – Bob and Luc Schneider
Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song) (Featuring Sonia De Los Santos, Elena Moon Park, & José Joaquin Garcia) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Banana Bread – Caspar Babypants

Quick Hits: Holidays Tunes and Micah and Me

Portland, Oregon's Micah and Me is a mix between Red Yarn and Hullabaloo. On their debut CD, MICAH AND ME IS HERE, the fatherly trio (Aaron Canwell, Ryan Chouinard, and Justin Deckart) share a mix of kindie classics ("All Around the Kitchen" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider") with flavorful originals ("Mosquito Waltz" and "My Creature").

Dads everywhere get together to  play music for themselves and their families. Micah and Me was lucky enough to live near recording artist/producer Johnny Bregar, who saw a kindred spirit that could guide them through the process of permanizing their works. One dozen polished songs later, MICAH AND ME IS HERE is here for audiences of (mostly) very young ages. Situated in Portland, but ready to entertain in your living room as well.

MICAH AND ME IS HERE is available from Micah and Me's website and Amazon.

Here is the band's entire performance earlier this year at the Fremont Theater (perhaps separating out a few songs in particular to highlight would help):

The holidays are upon us and so are seasonal movies and specials. Children's recording artist Trudee Lunden (aka the Green Music Lady) has penned lyrics for "Christmas Love Is Calling," a song included in the upcoming Universal home video release, "Santa Stole Our Dog!" (starring Ed Asner as Santa). Composer David G. Steele produced the song for recording artist Allison Orobia. You can find the song for purchase at Amazon and iTunes. Here is more info about the movie.

Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats released an EP of seasonal music, IT'S THE HOLIDAYS! and have made the song "Grateful" available for streaming through Thanksgiving. You can grab the song here at Soundcloud.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, November 13, 2017

Relax Your Mind (Featuring Neha Jiwrajka) – Dan Zanes & Friends
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy
So Gazed Upon – Cat Doorman
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
Blackberry Pie – Caspar Babypants
It's Snowing – Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones

Monday, November 06, 2017

Quick Hits: Father Goose, Lard Dog & Brady Rymer

Father Goose pays tribute to Bob Marley with his new song, "I Wanna Love U." An upbeat reggae rave, the song features favorites Aaron Nigel Smith, Little Goose, and Josh and the Jamtones. Goose seeks to make the point that people with differing views can come together to make beautiful music. Hopefully... in the same way, people can get together to make a peaceful world. You can listen to "I Wanna Love U" by clicking through.

I voted for Lard Dog and the Band of Shy in this year's Fids and Kamily Awards. If you didn't pick up the CD, you can hear this month's free song, "The Kimbaloo," by visiting their website. I encourage you to sample the tune, and if so inclined, go for a deeper dive.

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could continue their promotional bandwagon for their new CD, REVVIN' UP THE REINDEER. The latest offering is a video for the song "New Accordians." You don't have to go anywhere, I've got the video right here:

Friday, November 03, 2017

Matt's Playlist - Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sunday Morning – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Time to Make the Donuts – Recess Monkey
Everybody Loves My Baby – Jazzy Ash
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Sleeping Dogs – Randy Kaplan

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Friday, November 3, 2017

The Softest Guitar On The Moon – Caspar Babypants
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
This Is How We Bring In The Sun – Justin Roberts
Bop Bodiop! – Cat Doorman
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Concentrate – Demi Lovato
Picky Eaters – Danny Weinkauf

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, November 2, 2017

How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
By The Light – Red Yarn
I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie
Peace Be To All – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Small Bird – Caspar Babypants
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Sorry Not Sorry – Demi Lovato
My Magic Helicopter – Danny Weinkauf

Monday, October 30, 2017

Joanie Leeds, Nightlights Spook Up a Storm at Symphony Space

A kid with special needs will occasionally pull a rabbit out a hat. "The last time we were here was in March for Lucky Diaz," Ben told me as we entered the Thalia Theater at Symphony Space this past weekend. "I spoke to Lucky about Billy Joel." That was indeed true, but real life moves at such light speed that it took Ben's verbal Post-It note to bring back a sudden flood of memories.

So it was indeed seven months between concerts at one of our favorite city venues. In the meantime, we've seen plenty of live music, including a Long Island appearance by the act we traveling to see on Saturday – Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights. However this was a difference iteration of the ensemble, gone acoustic and celebratory-themed for the morning, with many children (and adults) in attendance wearing Halloween costumes.

One of the perks of being a kindie community insider (of sorts) is learning about a performance prior to its occurrence. So I knew that Joelle Lurie of JoJo and the Pinecones would be a special guest, joining Joanie for two songs at the end of the set... although I was badly out of position when she finally took to the stage to sing vocal for "Love Is Love" and the a cappella "Stoop." Joelle is one of the new wave of kindie jazz acts to emerge of late, which includes Lucy Kalantari, Jazzy Ash, and Lori Henriques.

Symphony Space's Just Kidding program has been delighting and entertaining youth from around the region for years. We've been going since Ben was less than three years old and he still delights in the talents on display, even if he is the oldest kid in the room. You can hear him answering some of questions posed to the crowd by Joanie in her introductions. The trio (Joanie, Scott Stein, and Jeff Litman) ran through a set list that went back to her first CD (the song "Ice Cream"). While there were a number of hands raised for first-time attendees to a Leeds' concert, a number of people were clearly veterans who knew Joanie's favorite color is green (the song "I Wanna Be Green"). Joelle has strong chops as well, and her voice blended right into the harmonies (as you can hear on the two videos), in addition to belting out verses on "Love Is Love."

The Just Kidding series continues next week with bilingual rock from Future Hits (11/4). Down the road are puppets, more music, and theater events. Click through and check the calendar.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 30, 2017

Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Lost And Loving It  – Kepi Ghoulie
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
The Great Divide – The Okee Dokee Brothers
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
Drink Up  – Train

Monday, October 23, 2017

Symphony Space: Just Kidding 2017-18 Rolls With Joanie Leeds

Something always slips through the cracks during the autumn season. For me, it was the start of Symphony Space's Just Kidding Kids series. But we're remedying that situation today – and will be there Saturday, October 28 for the concert by Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights.

Just Kidding Kids is the long-running series of events that includes not only concerts, but theater and interactive performances. Coming up November 11 is a puppet show – Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers: Everybody Loves Pirates. Further along Elizabeth Mitchell (November 18), Billy Kelly (December 16), the Experiential Theater Company presents Journey to Oz (January 13), and a very special show featuring the 2017 nominees for Best Children's Album (January 27).

There's oh so much more – but there's a whole subsection of the Symphony Space website dedicated to the 2017-18 season. Click on through and check it out. We'll be there for some shows!

Here is my video of Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights performing "Ferry Nice" at last month's Kidstock:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Matt's Playlist - Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ben – Zee Avi
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Grapes – Andrew & Polly
The Start of Things – Alison Faith Levy
Cheese World – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Hello Goodbye – Caspar Babypants
Hey Jude  – Caspar Babypants

Friday, October 20, 2017

Kid Pan Alley Lets Kids Write The Tunes

What if everybody could write a song? That seems like a grand concept, except that most people don't have either the equipment, the time, the experience, or the idea of where to start. Kid Pan Alley was founded to give children a safe harbor and a window into the world of music. Their new CD, ONE LITTLE SONG CAN CHANGE THE WORLD, is a collection of tunes written with classrooms of kids. It doesn't seek to change the world as much as let people know that things like this are even possible.

The Kid Pan Alley program promotes ideals such as teamwork, creative thinking, and respect for intellectual property (I wonder if they have a PowerPoint on Spotify royalties). We do this by keeping them engaged and giving them the power to create something unique, lasting and completely their own. ONE LITTLE SONGis about respect for others, the environment, the community and ourselves. The songs are recorded by the Kid Pan Alley band, which includes Grammy nominated vocalists.

Kid Pan Alley is the brainchild of Paul Reisler, and the program has been cultivating young minds since 1999.

ONE LITTLE SONG goes high in its concepts, but you can point the finger at the fevered little minds getting the opportunity to set the table. Songs cover "I Don't Think So, You're a Bully," "Don't Put Me Down, Or My Dog," and "True To Me." It certainly provides a wonderful vocal showcase for performers such as Lea Morris, Heath Francis, Ysaye Barnwell, Jason McGlory, Justin Hopkins, Vance Gilbert, and Alison Rapetti. But in reality, my kids have been exposed to so many songs with these concepts – by artists they are familiar with – that the treatments here didn't really engage them.

ONE LITTLE SONG is a neat little curio and probably worth a listen for the families of the kids involved. However music education in disparate forms continues to be an important curriculum and should be supported. To that end, Kid Pan Alley is a worthwhile project and definitely has its ear (and eye) on bringing children into the world of music.

ONE LITTLE SONG CAN CHANGE THE WORLD is available at iTunes, Amazon, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for the song, "Don't Put Me Down, Or My Dog":

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 20, 2017

How Can You Tell If It's Going to Rain? – Andrew & Polly
You Better Believe – Train
What The World Needs Now Is Love – Lisa Loeb
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
That Way – Chibi Kodama
I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thank You for the Box – Andrew & Polly
Banana Bread – Caspar Babypants
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Loving Cup – Cat Doorman
Picky Eaters – Danny Weinkauf
I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Forever Young – Andrew & Polly
Do You Talk To Yourself – Dean Jones
2 If I Ever Was A Child – Wilco
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
Free Couch – Caspar Babypants
Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
To and Fro – Cat Doorman

Quick Hits: Kalantari Jazzed for Holidays, Cookie Jar Gets Socked

When I started this entry, there was a subliminal slip and I typed "Lucky" instead of "Lucy." That's appropriate for Lucy Kalantari, who returns with her ensemble, the Jazz Cats, for their timely-titled IT'S THE HOLIDAYS! EP.

Since it's only five tracks I can list them all – the spooky, peppy, "My Mommy Is a Mummy," which is currently charting on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live, "Grateful," "It's Snowing," "That's a Wrap," and the title track. With that brevity, the kids may still be opening gifts under the tree while the songs are playing.

Grab IT'S THE HOLIDAYS from Lucy's website and Amazon.

Mista Cookie Jar returns this month with “The Quest for the Missing Polka-Dotted Pink Sock." It's not exactly a Halloween themed piece, but is an epic tale of a grand pursuit for his missing foot dressing. The LA-based kid-hop maven delivers an auto-tuned ride to the mall:

You can flaunt that eyelet cuff.
You can rock that pastel tie.
Only you can tell yourself
how to put color in yo' sky.
Me, I like that pink & polka-dotted
pattern in my pupil.
It's the icing on my ensemble.
It's kinda super crucial. 

Who knew that wardrobe selections could be so empowering? "The Quest for the Missing Polka-Dotted Pink Sock" is available at CDBABY, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and YouTube.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 16, 2017

O-O-O Child – Lisa Loeb
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
Have A Good Day – Lard Dog & The Band Of Shy
Not Today – Imagine Dragons

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Brady Rymer's Holiday Rocks

The holidays are (almost) upon us and thus the festive music season has begun. First and foremost (so far) is Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could with their latest CD, REVVIN' UP THE REINDEER. Long Island native son Rymer and his ensemble sing of good cheer, great presents, and the excitement that accompanies the onset of winter for children.

REVVIN' UP THE REINDEER leads off with its period piece title track, with Andrews Sisters-style vocals (featuring bandmates Liz Queler and Claudia Glaser Mussen). "Holiday Jam" and "Hanukkah TIme" follow with the almost-obligatory references to other religious celebrations that seem to mysteriously fall around the same time of year.

The majority of the tracks settle comfortably around the traditional concept of December 25, with "Trim the Tree," "Untangling the Christmas Lights," "Can't Sit Still," "Christmas Peace," and "Christmas Wishes." The infographic for REVVIN' UP THE REINDEER would feature one big, honking "Christmas."

Every band member gets a chance to shine on REVVIN' UP THE REINDEER, from drums to keyboard to accordion on "New Accordions," naturally. The LBTC effortlessly segues through a series of musical stylings, from big band to zydeco to country to folk. "Peace Be To All" closes the CD with a little Jim Croce/John Denver 70s feel.

We've seen Brady and the rest of his troupe (Larry Eagle, Jeremy Chatzky, Seth Farber, and Dan Myers) at different venues multiple times and they always bring the crowd to their feet with accessible, professional, and thoroughly enjoyable performances. Brady can't contain his exuberance to one ensemble, as he divides his time and plays bass for the Laurie Berkner Band. It's pretty much a fait accompli that Brady & Company will swing through the holiday season with a number of gigs to promote REVVIN' UP THE REINDEER and jog happy eggnog memories. Whether you're ho-ho-home for the holidays or down for a live gig, Brady Rymer wishes "Peace Be To All," and to all, a rockin' swingin' solstice.

REVVIN' UP THE REINDEER is available October 20 from Brady Rymer's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the band performing "One Day By the Riverside" earlier this year:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Quick Hits: Videos from Salamanders, Dana & Friends

Recent winners of a Parents' Choice Gold award, the Salamanders have returned with a new music video, "Poppy," from their second album, Bubbles. I'm not big into country – but I'll make an exception for the Salamanders (from Missoula, Montana).

Dana Cohenour (Dana & Friends) are back with another new video, "Do Your Part." Dana hopes kids will be inspired to become more active environmentalists and pay more attention to the world around them. At least they'll jump in and help around the house.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 9, 2017

Bridges – Fifth Harmony
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Must Be This Tall – Justin Roberts
O-O-O Child – Lisa Loeb
Thunder – Imagine Dragons

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 6, 2017

Be My Baby – Lisa Loeb
How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Amistad (Featuring Dan Zanes) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Relax Your Mind (Featuring Neha Jiwrajka)  – Dan Zanes & Friends
Who's Your Favorite Beatle – Lard Dog & The Band Of Shy
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones

Lilting Lullabies from Lisa Loeb

When you think about some acts (think the Verve Pipe), if you don't know better you wouldn't think they were producing quality children's music in addition to being "day job" rockers. For other musicians such as Lisa Loeb, however, the process feels very much like a natural career progression.

Rather than give a whole career recap (that's what Wikipedia is for), I'll concentrate on the kids phase, which started incidentally a decade ago and has come full-circle to be a major component of her recording career, from CAMP LISA to NURSERY RHYME PARADE! to her latest CD, LULLABY GIRL (an Amazon Music exclusive).

A collection of 13 tracks both new and revisited, LULLABY GIRL takes the familiar ("Dream a Little Dream," "Rainbow Connection," and "All the Pretty Little Horses") and mixes with some new choices (Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" and The Five Stairstep's "O-o-h Child," my favorite on the CD). Loeb also adds two new compositions, "Close Your Eyes" and the title track, which serve as hors d'oeuvres for the rest of the tunes.

Loeb traverses the easy-listening landscape for her selections, from the Disney songbook (a wistful take on "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes") to Burt Bacharach and Hal David (slowing down the classic "What the World Needs Now"). And the LiteFM setting turns "Inch Worm" into a full-on cocktail lounge number. She is served better on the more unconventional (for kids) tracks, as I've lost track of the number of cover versions of "Rainbow Connection."

Ultimately, there's always a place for an eclectic bedtime collection. I was constantly looking for something to swap out with Brahms and Shawn Colvin when Ben was tossing and turning. The road to Slumber Town is paved with good intentions. With LULLABY GIRL, Lisa Loeb is providing a new exit ramp, courtesy of Amazon Music.

LULLABY GIRL is available October 6 exclusively through Amazon Music.

Here is the video for "You Can Count on Me (Lullaby)," which is NOT on this C, ironically.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 5, 2017

Unhuggable – Caspar Babypants
Lost and Found – Train
Put Your Money on Me – Arcade Fire
Island in the Ocean – Bob and Luc Schneider
Whatever It Takes – Imagine Dragons
Smile For Me – David Tobocman

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Down – Fifth Harmony
Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song) (Featuring Sonia De Los Santos, Elena Moon Park, & José Joaquin Garcia) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Believer – Imagine Dragons
Have Some Fun Out There – David Tobocman
Dreamers – Lard Dog & The Band Of Shy
Your Happy Place – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Monday, October 02, 2017

Ladysmith Black Mambazo Sings for Kids Worldwide

Lay's Potato Chips had a famous ad campaign 20 years ago with the tag line "Betcha can't eat just one!" The concept was simple – the product was so delicious, so intoxicating, so life-affirming, that nobody could limit themselves to just one. Which led to a bevy of blackout sketches and comedian jokes about chips causing stomach distress, so why WOULD anyone want more than one chip?

Which leads me to the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo. For those who thought the group sprung into existence for Paul Simon's GRACELAND CD, the group came into being in the 1960s. The newest iteration honors the elders of South Africa and celebrates the joys of youth with their new children's album, SONGS OF PEACE & LOVE.

Nelson Mandela designated Ladysmith Black Mambazo as South Africa's cultural ambassadors to the world. They have re-recorded some of their classic material as well as some new tracks, all with introductions that set the tone for the songs, such as "Different Colors Mean Nothing To Me," "Long Walk to Freedom," and especially "Homeless," possibly one of the best collaborations when performed with Paul Simon.

Getting back to my original concept – I'm good with "Homeless." Or "Because I Love You." And for little kids, "Old MacDonald (Zulu Version)." But a whole CD of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was a bit taxing for me. I'd recommend randomizing SONGS OF PEACE & LOVE so the tracks (with intros) get mixed with other artists and genres. Unless you're a mad hardcore fan of world music and Ladysmith Black Mambazo in particular. After all, they're world famous world ambassadors.

SONGS OF PEACE & LOVE is available from Ladysmith Black Mambazo's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the audio (in video form) for "Homeless":

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 2, 2017

Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Electric Blue – Arcade Fire
Tae Kwon Do – Bob and Luc Schneider
Rattlesnake – Caspar Babypants
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Kiwi – Harry Styles
Singing Together – David Tobocman

Friday, September 29, 2017

Quick Hits: Uncle Dox & Green Orbs in Cornfield, Father Goose On Friday

I've got issues with kids and crops. Ever since CHILDREN OF THE CORN and its infinite sequels, the prospect of tykes and tall stalks gives me the willies. Well, until Uncle Dox and the Green Orbs soothed my fragile nerves and got me back in the high weeds.

Their new song, "Cornfield" puts you out past the meadow in the farmland where the corn is green and the kids are happy. And no hidden menace is hiding in the dark, waiting to tear you limb from limb. Unless that's the Halloween sequel.

You can hear "Cornfield" on Apple Music, Google Play, and Soundcloud.

Summer was a busy time and a bunch of stuff slipped through the cracks. Among them was a track from Father Goose – a remix of "Friday." The song features a bevy of performers from Goose to Little Goose to Elena Moon Park to Yami Bolo and more.

FG is one of the artists who has chosen the path of releasing songs as they come to him, eventually fleshing out a vision that results in a full-length CD. In the meantime, the process keeps him current and engaged in the kid music community, as well as gives SiriusXM's Kids Place Live a steady stream of kid hop tunes to sample.

The "Friday" remix is available on iTunes, CDBABY, and Amazon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Jack Forman Monkeys Solo Around the House

What happens when a popular group takes a recess? What happens if it's a popular children's music group like Recess Monkey? Well, in the best of all worlds, you at least get a solo album from one of the performers. In this case, the Monkey Man in question is Jack Forman, and the solo album is SONGS FROM THE MONKEY HOUSE.

If you think you know Jack, then you probably know he's an ex-elementary school teacher and current host of "Live from the Monkey House" on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live. Did I happen to mention his work on a baker's dozen Recess Monkey CDs and the more than 1,000 live shows they've performed? Resumé back in the drawer, Jack doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel with SONGS FROM THE MONKEY HOUSE, which are drawn in part from phone-in encounters with listeners (kids under the age of 13).

Jack is a Star Wars fanboy (I can attest from firsthand conversation) so the track "Yodeling Yoda" is a predictable, amusing curio. Less known was his affinity for Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which serves as the basis for a kid's Survivor tale, "Candy Tour." I could almost sworn I heard Drew Holloway's voice singing "A Little Cheese" and its sister song, "Blue Cheese," however this CD is all Jack.

Jack doesn't have a kid's show for nothing. Let me reword that; Jack makes doing a kid's show look like it's no work. His conversations with first- and fourth-graders produce genuine emotion and laughter as the kids sometimes beat Jack to the punchline. SONGS FROM THE MONKEY HOUSE allows Jack to deliver some of his own, such as the double entendré "I Lost My Lunch" and jock-ular "Sportball Anthem," for the non-athlete in every household.

From a parent perspective, and especially as a reviewer, I gave the disc an extra spin to mentally separate Jack from his simian bandmates. Does it hold up? Or is Jack the Joey Fatone of Recess Monkey? Happily, I can declare that Jack is up to the task at hand, and his songs are a neat companion for the Recess Monkey oeuvre. Yes, that's a French word. Now go enjoy some rollicking Monkey music with your blue cheese.

SONGS FROM THE MONKEY HOUSE is available September 29 from Jack Forman's website (which directs you to Amazon).

Watch Jack live on "Talk Like a Pirate Day" on SiriusXM:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Lard Dog Offers Sweet Dreams

U2 makes important music; always has and always will. Green Day started making silly music, suddenly decided to make important music, and now wishes they could get back to their earlier, sillier days. Lard Dog & the Band of Shy specialize in silly music that sometimes sounds important. But it's always entertaining.

Steven Erdman (that's Lard Dog to you) has turned his multi-media background to children's music. Their second CD, DREAMERS, expands and deepens the tale of Belopia (where Lard Dog is from). The music is a gateway to the live experience, witnessed in the videos that forcefully suggest parents get their kids to a live performance ASAP.

DREAMERS opens with a blast of Tower of Power-sounding horns, positive affirmations and harmonies, and elegantly styled wordplay:

Hello my nation
The devil may care
Savoir faire 
Your time is now
The dread is done
Dance in the rain
Smile in the sun

Similar sentiments abound in "Don't Let the Boogah Bug You Out" (about as political a tract as Lard Dog dares to go) and "I Like," the hit single that you couldn't miss on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live this past spring. People from all walks of life find the Lard Dog message irresistibly earmwormy – sidekick singer HoneyBabe Lucky Feather) Kendy Gable vamoosed to pursue other musical interests in a southern clime this summer and was replaced by chanteuse/banker (HoneyBabe Raé Raé) Sharaé Moultre. If you want a good taste of Sharaé's abilities to carry her fair share of the nonsense, check out the historical recounting of "Rock In The Rockefeller," about what happened to Mexican artist Diego Rivera's mural for Rockefeller Center. Lard Dog gets uplifting on "Take The Road" and "Have A Good Day," not too much of a stretch on a CD that emphasizes the uniting concept of "slurp the noodle of life."

It's a testament to Steven's everyman nature that I was in the same tiny space with him – Red Hook's Jalopy in January (maximum capacity 78) and didn't realize it was him until he morphed into character. Looking back, I should have taken the Belopian Pledge and offered to remain forever frivolous. Now that I know better, I wholeheartedly concur that Life's A Real Dream! LARD for all!

DREAMERS is available on September 29 from House of Lard, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for the band's single, "I Like":

Friday, September 22, 2017

Quick Hits: Mista Cookie Jar, Dilly Dallies, and Father Goose

Mista Cookie Jar (and his nieces Esme and Isa) go totally EDM over pandas in his new song and video, titled "Pandas." If you're into EDM and/or totally cuddly creatures, here's your chance to join the panda-monium (sorry, I just had to).

The Dilly Dallies are back with their second CD of family music, WALKING AROUND WITH GIANTS. Stay-at-home parents Steve Slater and Jenn Ekman (not married to each other, but separated at birth by seven days) display their multi-instrumentation on the ukelele, bass ukelele (yes it's a thing), glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, cowbell, kazoo, vibraslap, and many more. You can get the CD from their website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the Incredibles-esque video for their song, "Superhero":

Father Goose returns with a song about despair and recovery. Not a real pleasant topic, especially when it comes to children. But "In the Mirror," featuring vocalist Patricia Verdolino, goes in depth about his worries for his health and his family when he dealt with kidney and heart failure and being put on life support – twice. FB has more upbeat music in the hopper, and that will be featured in the next quick hits post in a week or so. You can get "In the Mirror" from iTunes, CDBABY, and Amazon.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sing Along on Gustafer Yellowgold's Brighter Side

Whimsy will only get you so far with kids. You need genuine innovation and sincerity, otherwise you're up the creek without a binky. Novelties and gimmicks have a lifespan, which is why it's rare for something fresh to catch on and succeed with generation after generation of youthful audiences. I'm not talking about Sesame Street, with its corporate machine attached to it. I'm not talking about the Wiggles, who are into their eighth cat life (and second set of talent) and at least their third American hosting service. I'm talking about Gustafer Yellowgold, him being from the sun, and certainly the enemy of every spell-check mechanism in creation.

Created more than a decade ago by musician/illustrator Morgan Taylor, his little jaundiced space visitor is now the subject of eight releases. The latest, BRIGHTER SIDE, has the distinction of being the first released as CD-only, with videos being issues periodically on his Youtube channel.

The Gustafer Yellowgold fable recounts an adolescent-like creature raised on the sun who comes to live on Earth, with a pet eel and many quirky friends and episodes. Honestly, describing any single part to a newcomer requires patience and a sense of humor. "Gustafer likes to jump on cakes." "Oh, so he plays with his food." "No, it's just a pastry fetish. But not a fetish really."

BRIGHTER SIDE is divided into night and day songs, filling in some background about "Hot Nights" that inspired Gustafer to abandon him homeworld and best friend, "Ellen Lemon." His journey (recounted in "Ride A Line o'Stars") gives Gustafer the chance to sing "I Love the Night." And he encounters the villainy of "Baconstein," who is not to be confused with DARK PIE's "Cakenstein." This mellow fellow Yellowgold is part Harry Nilsson, part Schoolhouse Rock, and all-around fun.

Gustafer Yellowgold has remained engaging, quirky, and fresh. We stumbled across the live show 10 years ago at the Museum of the Moving Image and came away singing the songs. A decade later, the songs on BRIGHTER SIDE show how Taylor manages to fully delineate a world populated by evil bacon and ageless aliens, even as it defies easy explanation. But perhaps that's the reason Gustafer Yellowgold is celebrating his second decade on Earth, jumping on yet another cake in celebration.

BRIGHTER SIDE is available from Gustafer Yellowgold's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Lucky Day" from the CD:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Inside Mister G's Green World

Mister G looks forward to a cleaner bilingual world. Or at least a world where people can communicate through music. For his eighth CD, MUNDO VERDE/GREEN WORLD, Mr. (and Mrs.) G (Gundersheimer) deliver a speedy (27 minute) discourse with "Agua/Water," "Patas en el Aire/Paws in the Air," the title track, and so forth.

A Latin Grammy winner, Mister G partnered with Mom's Clean Air Force, the National Resources Defense Council, and Voces Verdes in the release of the CD. To promote the environmental aspect of MUNDO VERDE, he is headlining a concert on Capitol Hill on September 27. This is clearly a passion project of The Gs to achieve cleaner air, land, and waterways.

A veritable host of musicians contributed to MUNDO VERDE, including Oscar Stagnaro (Peru), Mauro Refosco (Brazil), Arturo O'Farrill (Cuba), and Marlow Rosada (Puerto Rico). MUNDO VERDE carries two important message – People come from different cultures and may speak different languages but we all share the same planet. So not only should we be tolerant of each other's differences, we should celebrate them, while lending a hand to save our resources. Sî, mundo importante.

MUNDO VERDE/GREEN WORLD is available September 15 at Mister G's website and iTunes.

Here is the video from the title track, "Mundo Verde":

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Kidstock 2017: Enter the Garden (part 2)

When I greet performers, as I did at last weekend's Kidstock in Clark Botanical Garden, I generally ask if there's something they'd like me to specifically record. This gives them a way to showcase material that might not be available online.

The Dirty Sock Funtime Band asked me to record "I Love It," as perhaps they haven't seen a decent version on YouTube. I was more than happy to oblige. "Just give me a sign or say something from the stage," I said. And lo and behold they did it again, mid-song... "Say, didn't we want video of this song?" Mike asked, as I scrambled to get out the camcorder...

Before the music started and during the breaks, the kids and I took several nature walks around the complex. Maybe it was shyness or perhaps just the chromosomes but neither of them had any interest in the dance school or movement instruction. Eventually, after refilling our water bottles, we'd find ourselves back in the chairs for each act.

As I said in the previous blog post, this was a late-arriving crowd. So they started to fill in during the DSFB and the place was at near capacity for Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights. Full disclosure – I played a part in booking the band for this appearance. There's been at least one female act at every event (except the first year), from Elizabeth Mitchell to Bari Koral to Milkshake. Ms. Leeds and the lads became the first to indeed "headline" the event, tho.

Another factor that worked in the Nightlights' favor was the weather. Temps and humidity were brutal to the earlier acts. While Joanie definitely suffered some schvitzing, the skies became overcast (and later drizzly). But in the meantime, she got in her full set and (finally) got a bunch of kids to move forward for some dancing in front of the stage.

Ultimately, Kidstock 2017 gets a thumbs up, although I was feeling trepidation as late as a week ago. The garden setting is different from the beach and the layout would not be conducive to a larger audience trying to view the musical acts. For a festival of this nature, tho, it was alright to get the kids to commune with nature, at least briefly.

For the second Kidstock, the town of North Hempstead printed up t-shirts and sold them. For the next four years, staffers walked around the grounds handing out t-shirts to children. Matthew wore one that he was given two years ago and finally grew into. Apparently the shirts are now all gone. They are collectors' items. Hopefully this year's edition was not the end of the line for Kidstock, too.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
The Softest Guitar On The Moon – Caspar Babypants
Soar  – Mo Phillips
Drink Up  – Train
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer

Kidstock 2017: Enter the Garden (part 1)

For seven years, the Town of North Hempstead has had mostly sunny skies for its annual Kidstock children's musical festival. This year, they added daylillies. After six events in North Hempstead Beach Park, Kidstock was shifted to Clark Botanical Garden for its 2017 edition. The change was mostly successful, as the scaled-down gathering featured three groups, Bach 2 Rock to promote music education, and wrapped up with the National Circus Project.

The beach location beckoned to many families with youngsters and the $10 parking fee was not a deterrent. It also got them to the park early, so that the first few acts played to larger crowds that emptied out. This generally meant that whoever had second (midday) placement became the de facto headliner. Call it the cranky toddler syndrome – most under-fives will empty their gas tank and melt down after 2-3 hours. Schedule a five-hour festival? Something's gotta give.

The principle was in operation here, although in reverse. Maybe because the event was in a different location, maybe because it was free, maybe because any number of variables. But this was a late-arriving crowd, which meant Bach 2 Rock opened to crickets (literally, since this is a botanical garden) and Alex and the Kaleidoscope opened to a mostly-deserted sun field. "You forgot the fans for the performers," Alex Mitnick joked to the technician at one point, while drinking copious water.

We arrived about 20 minutes early (the consequence and good fortune of the event shifting from late August to mid-September) and set up our chairs. The event had several vendors (mostly area dance and art instructors) as well as a food area set up in the parking lot – meaning attendees had to park across the road and take a hike into the garden. There are benches in numerous locations, all great for watching nature but only one near the stage area – and it was promptly "seized" by one grandmother and her family. There was a "Dance Zone" in front of the stage, which is fine when it's cloudy but deadly in the midday heat.

The crowd did begin to gather during Alex's set and was mostly in place for the Dirty Sock Funtime Band. A high-energy quartet, Matt kept asking "Where is Mr. Clown?" Sadly, this was a clown-free performance. "Perhaps he's at the Juggalo March in DC," I wanted to joke, but I doubt a six-year-old would have understood.

Whether it was the clown-free performance or the sun blasting down near the stage, but Matt chose to sit and watch quite contently. Ben, on the other hand, was the ideal participant for a concert. He spoke up, knew the songs from the introductions, and sang along. When Mike Messer (Dirty Sock frontman) jumped from the stage to engage the crowd (hiding in the shade), Ben was the lone exception in the sun ready to shout a line into the mic.

Part 2 to follow...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 18, 2017

Needed Me – Rihanna
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Electric Blue – Arcade Fire
01 Gonna Be Great – David Tobocman
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Videos from Gustafer Yellowgold, Mariana Iranzi & Dana and Friends

There is only one Gusfer Yellowgold. No really, just Google him. Baconstein is coming! The eighth Gustafer Yellowgold CD/DVD, BRIGHTER SIDE, has been released. And with it comes the third video, featuring the so-named evil foe of the title character:

Mariana Iranzi is back with new music – she has issued the first video, "Carocol," a tale of a happy snail, from her upcoming CD, PRIMAVERA:

Dana (Cohenour) and Friends is back with a new video, for the kid's favorite, "Follow the Leader." It's for the wee little ones, but here it is:

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lead Belly Lives Again, Courtesy of Dan Zanes and Friends

If the kindie movement was a car, Dan Zanes occupied the driver's seat for more than a decade. The former New Hampshire-born rocker turned his attention to children's music in 2000 with ROCKETSHIP BEACH and nothing's been the same ever since. But Dan was not content to work the same mine for very long and kept leading audiences down different avenues; from sea shanties (SEA MUSIC) to Carl Sandburg/Mark Twain (PARADES AND PANORAMAS) to show tunes (76 TROMBONES) to latin rhythms (¡NUEVA YORK!).

It's been a while (four years) since the last Dan Zanes and Friends CD. A lot has gone on, including Dan and his fiancé Claudia Eliaza pioneering a sensory-friendly folk opera, "Night Train 57" that debuts in Washington, DC in October. But Dan returns to his roots – as a seven-year-old in Concord – when he got his first library card and checked out a Lead Belly LP. His new CD, LEAD BELLY, BABY! gathers a host of notables to perform together and play homage of the songs of Huddie Ledbetter.

Lead Belly was dubbed "The King of the 12-String Guitar," however LEAD BELLY, BABY! is not looking to commemorate every song as if preserved in amber. These are lively arrangements, with "Cotton Fields" done in Spanish harmonies by Sonia de Los Santos and Elena Moon Park with additional vocals by José Joaquin Garcia. Every generation has its slang and catch phrases and Lead Belly captured the colloquialisms of his times, in songs like "Whoa Back Buck":

Whoa Buck – gee by the lamb
Who made the back band
– oh, Cunningham

Took my gal to the country store
I bought my gal some calico
Taking my gal to the party, oh
Thinking we can dance,
Will it settle our souls?

Smithsonian Folkways is releasing the CD, bringing the music of Lead Belly full circle. As a foundational artist of Folkways Records, Ledbetter passed away in 1949 right before the Weavers turned his "Goodnight Irene" into a worldwide sensation. But his children's music is the focus here, from "Skip To My Lou" (with Chuck D and Memphis Jenks) to "Boll Weevil" (with Aloe Blacc and Pauline Jean).

"Serious" intent is deadly when trying to get children to "appreciate" music. Dan Zanes and friends have spent the better part of two decades finding low-key gateways to introduce young audiences to important figures from the near- and far-flung past. There's a 40-page booklet that will allow adults to answer most general questions without scrambling for Siri or a search engine. Using Zanes' cachet and goodwill, LEAD BELLY, BABY! sets a place at the welcome table for a pioneering spirit in folk music, Huddie Ledbetter. 

LEAD BELLY, BABY! is available from Smithsonian Folkways, Dan Zanes' Bandcamp page, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is my video of Dan Zanes and Friends playing "Welcome Table" at KindieComm in 2014:

Friday, September 08, 2017

Preview: Kidstock Returns, New Venue

Long Island's children's music festival, Kidstock, returns on Saturday, September 16. This year, the event moves to Clark Botanical Garden in Albertson after six years at North Hempstead Beach Park.

I've attended Kidstock every year with my kids and they thoroughly enjoy the show. While primarily there for the music, they like the atmosphere, the clowns (the National Circus Company), and between-act educational pieces from Port Washington's Bach to Rock.

This year's Kidstock features two returning acts and one newcomer – Alex and the Kaleidoscope, Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights, and the Dirty Sock Funtime Band. We're familiar with all these groups (and broken bread with one of them), so this is almost a homecoming.

We've seen the Dirty Sock Funtime Band twice – indoors and outdoors. In looking at their website, their live appearances are sporadic at best these days, so take advantage of this opportunity.

Joanie Leeds is making her Kidstock debut but has appeared on Long Island before. This is a nice open setting (and good weather is expected), so turn out for this free concert experience. The press release is here if you need further information.

Laurie Berkner Band Dance Remixes It Up

Laurie Berkner is more than an American recording artist of popular children's music. After more than two decades in the public spotlight, she and the Laurie Berkner Band have become a brand. That means you can attend regular Mommy & Me classes where her songs are played – or go to specialized sessions that feature her music exclusively with instructors taught by her, personally. You can buy her music, videos, books, toys, towels, and even a bag to put everything into.

Children's music is no different than any other genre when it comes to the tropes of extending your catalog. When in doubt, release a greatest hits compilation. Or do a CD of contemporary standards. For pete's sake, Mariah Carey has recorded TWO albums of Christmas songs and BOTH contain "All I Want For Christmas Is You." And then there are artists whose songs are re-interpreted in other stylings – the Beach Boys and the Eagles had CDs recorded by country artists. Brian Wilson himself recorded a horrific CD of tunes with a Disney-fied theme. Notice I'm not linking to any of these particular recordings.

Another insidious new trend is the dance remix (you can see where this is going). Why a three-year-old needs a remix of a song he just heard for the first time six months ago is a SMH (shaking my head) moment. I'm not saying that these remixes are done with bad intentions or that they are inherently bad simply by being produced and released. Laurie obviously feels deeply for the songs chosen for LAURIE BERKNER: THE DANCE REMIXES. If you chose to buy the physical CD, it comes with descriptions of how the songs, such as "We Are the Dinosaurs" and "Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz)" came to be in the first place.

Again, I caution any parent reading this far that as a critic I understand the paramount and over-riding number one commandment – THUS SHALT NOT OVERTHINK CHILDREN'S MUSIC. My kids have both been attracted to disparate songs and recording artists. Does that mean they have bad taste? No, it just means that their tastes are different from mine and different from each other, as well. Neither of them has displayed a predilection for dance music, although my teenager attends every school dance and does not leave until they turn on the lights and hose everybody out of the building.

Whether or not you're familiar with Laurie Berkner's music, the dance remixes are a different creation, engineered by Grammy winner Dave Darlington. If your kids like the EDM sound or you just want to get them moving and grooving, and want the neighbors to think you're running house parties, then LAURIE BERKNER: THE DANCE REMIXES could be your thing. It's all the favorites, from "Monster Boogie" to "I Really Love to Dance" to "Victor Vito." Alas, it must be too tough to dance with a "Pig On My Head." Unless that's being saved for Volume Two.

LAURIE BERKNER: THE DANCE REMIXES is available September 22 from Laurie's website, Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.

Here is the flash mob video for the dance remix of "We Are The Dinosaurs":

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 7, 2017

Thank You for the Box – Andrew & Polly
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
Play That Song – Train
Everything Now – Arcade Fire
That's My Style –  The Bazillions
Blackberry Pie – Caspar Babypants
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Color Outside the Lines – Ralph's World

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 4, 2017

Every Day's A Holiday – Alastair Moock & Friends
Popsicle – Bob and Luc Schneider
Mystery – Dean Jones
Solar Flares – Mo Phillips
Blue Airplane  – Ralph's World
Feels Like Summer – Weezer
The Start of Things – Alison Faith Levy
Free Couch – Caspar Babypants
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dance Time With Alphabet Rockers (video premiere)

As tough as it was to admit, I am no longer the target audience for MTV. In fact, I haven't watched any programming on the network in a number of years. If you include VH1 in that conversation, I believe it's been almost 20 years since "Behind The Music" was a regular series.

The MTV Music Awards were on recently and I set the DVR to record the show, since I'm taking the teen to see Katy Perry next month and wanted to see if she would perform one of her new songs. I wound up fast-forwarding everything before and after Pink (getting a Vanguard Video award for seven albums over 15 years). Shocking to me that Pink is now in the discussion as a video visionary with people like Michael Jackson – and receiving the award ahead of the Foo Fighters. But the show is no longer catering to me; it's for two generations removed. And that goes for some of the children's music that I receive.

If you want a cocktail with equal parts affirmation and inclusion, the Alphabet Rockers are back with their latest CD, RISE SHINE #WOKE. The messages are clear, the lyrics speak to current social conditions, and there's even a sound bite of Barack Obama to drive home the sentiments. RISE SHINE #WOKE is 17 tracks of kid power, from "Don't Wait" to "I'm Proud" to "Different" to "Stand Up For You." Core duo Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd clearly set out on a mission. Who am I to stand in the way of a movement.

RISE SHINE #WOKE is available on September 1 from the Alphabet Rockers' websiteAmazon, and iTunes.

Here is the debut video from the CD, "Shine":

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Jack Forman: Solo Monkey Prepares for Recess

It's always sad when an animal escapes from the zoo. However there should be much hoopla over monkey maven Jack Forman's first solo CD apart from his Recess Monkey compadres, SONGS FROM THE MONKEY HOUSE.

I don't want to oversell, but my kids are big fans and we're super supporters of the band, having seen them multiple times in different venues in multiple states. And Jack is a familiar voice from his show on SiriusXM Kids Place Live. In fact, The songs are inspired by calls to his show. So the CD, coming September 29, is on our "must listen" list. And we shall. At which point in time, I'll get back to you.

In the meantime, the widget is below so give it a listen on your own. And we'll get together to compare notes in 2-3 weeks!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Quick Hits: New LARD Song, Twinkle's Time to Dance

LAD Dog and the Band of Shy announced a song of the month program way back in the winter of 2017. They almost immediately fell behind schedule (releasing a song for April, for instance, in the last few days of the month). But now the reason has beamed down from Planet Belopio – the band is released a new, full album at the end of September. So you can download this month's free song, "Dreamers," and then get the full CD, with the same title, DREAMERS.

The psychotropic and phantasmic LARD Dog (Steven Erdman) continues to evolve and the Tower of Power horn sound on "Dreamers" provides a welcome blast of summer just as kids are going back to school (and will almost certainly begin daydreaming in earnest).

Yes, life is a dream for LARD Dog and the Band of Shy. And this merry group of dreamers even puts aside most of the esoterica and opts for empowerment for "Dreamers." You can sign up for their mailing list and get the song by clicking through this quaint link.

When Lady Gaga released a CD with Tony Bennett a few years ago, a number of dance-oriented performers jumped in to fill the void. One of those acts was Twinkle and Friends, who are back with their new CD, JUST DANCE (itself the title of a Gaga song).

Even as Gaga has returned to the forefront with a CD and tour (and Super Bowl performance), Twinkle seeks to entertain and get the kids hopping, bopping and moving. JUST DANCE is a full-fledged LA-based production experience for pre-teens. It's age appropriate and comes with original and remix versions of "Kidz Rock," featuring Mista Cookie Jar.

Twinkle and her husband/producer James Dallas met back when both were under contract to Hollywood Records and refer to themselves half-kiddingly as "the original Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez." Um, am I dating myself by saying I remember Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake as a couple?

Twinkle cites a staggering and intimidating number of influences (from Cher to Shania). That's a lot to cram into 31 minutes of original music, including a remix. But self-confidence is one of the lessons that Twinkle promotes, so a bit of self-promotion is not out of character. Check out the video below and see if you want to check of Twinkle and Friends.

JUST DANCE is available on October 6 from Twinkle's websiteAmazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Just Dance":

Friday, August 25, 2017

Welcome Tobocman, Great to Hear You Again

I have two distinct memories from my deep dive into the land of children's music; one for each of my sons. The first time we heard Bill Childs' Spare the Rock podcast, he played Roger Day's "It's A No-No to Kiss A Rhino." Eight-year-old Ben looked stunned, started laughing, said "Again," and made me play the song 3-4 times in a row, laughing continuously. Eight years later, after I had started reviewing CDs, we heard David Tobocman's "The Owie Song." Two-year-old Matt looked stunned, started laughing, and looked at me expectantly. Ben (now 16) stepped in and said, "Play it again, dad." And we did.

Five years is an eternity in children's music. But finally David Tobocman has released his fourth children's music CD, GONNA BE GREAT!! The title itself encourages reviewers to enthusiastically endorse the disc; and it's pretty darn good. For 25 years, David has made a living recording music for film and television. Along the way, he's released four CDs for kids. GONNA BE GREAT!! has been long-awaited in my household and the kids listened over two nights of dinners, as if we were studying audio transcripts ultimately resolving the "Where's Waldo" conundrum.

David manages to sneak in some subversive themes, such as "Something Called King Lear." He describes taking his daughters to see the Shakespeare play, then having them descend into behavior akin to Regan and Cordelia from the show:

It's just like Romeo and Juliet or like them Clampetts on TV.
Don't let anybody tell you where you're at. It isn't where you ought to be.

While "Dalia" is the story of an elephant who ice skates, subtly explaining the "everyone is special" conceit, David takes some very obvious concepts that would draw an asterick in parenting manuals and turns them into songs. How many adults needs to really admonish "Don't Put Money In Your Mouth." Scratch that – after writing the previous sentence, I've heard from two people who said that was an issue for their young ones. A similar concern would be "Take The Spider Outside," although my kids just accompanied me on an errand specifically to buy a new fly swatter to take care of various and sundry bugs in our domicile.

GONNA BE GREAT!! winds down with the inevitable family/bedtime/ballad, in this case called "Smile For Me." However it's a friendly take on picture-taking and private and public displays of affection, as David simply sings, "We're not on TV, it's only you and me, don't say cheese, just smile." I may not get another iconic memory from this CD, but there's still a chance for your family. Hit the Soundcloud link and see if things are gonna be great for you and your youthful music aficionados.

GONNA BE GREAT is available at David Tobocman's website, Soundcloud (with a bonus song), Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for David's song "America's Our Country." Appropriate for our times:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Timeless Kids Tunes as Ralph's World Strums Time Machine Guitar

There was a time when Ralph's World was ubiquitous in our household. Ralph Covert and his band played for several years in a row at Symphony Space and even headlined a Kindiefest event in Brooklyn (I've recounted the story of our double-shot seeing them the same day). In recent times, however, Ralph got more engaged producing a video series, "Time Machine Guitar," and cut back on travel outside his home state of Illinois. His last completely original CD was released in 2010. That is, until this month, with the debut of the soundtrack CD, TIME MACHINE GUITAR, which features songs from his video project.

"Time Machine Guitar Adventures" is an interstitial series along the lines of "Schoolhouse Rock." The 5-6 minute episodes feature Ralph and his puppet friends, Rani, Malcolm, and Beauregard, going back in time for lessons in history and the musical stylings of those eras. A 28-page CD book accompanies TIME MACHINE GUITAR with background information on the historical figures on the album and notes highlighting the musical influences.

TIME MACHINE GUITAR gets a little cutesy with "Toymasters of War" (guess who is the inspiration), but finds its balance on songs like "Gato Negro" (African rhythms fused with Cuban chords and salsa/mambo beats) and "Blue Airplane" (a sweet tune in the style of Sam Cooke - typo alert for the booklet). Ralph also plays a callback to his bandmates in the Bad Examples (still rocking since 1987) with "Christopher Columbus Sailed."  Ralph even manages to squeeze in some honest sentiment with a song to his son, Jude, "Color Outside the Lines":

There are journeys that you will make
There are places you'll go that I've never seen
There are times you will bend and break
There are times you'll find the strength you will need.
Color outside the lines
If you draw from your heart, the light will outshine the dark
If you seek you will always find, if you color outside the lines.

TIME MACHINE GUITAR reminded me how children's music allows me to flash back to all the different times and places where we've seen Ralph's World perform – aside from Symphony Space, there's been Jalopy in Brooklyn and the Disney Block Party (outside the Nassau Coliseum, like a kindie version of Warped tour). These are good memories and it's too bad I didn't start recording performances until the last outing, at Kindiefest. At least Ben got on-stage to sing with Ralph and a host of luminaries at that show. Good times. Nice guy. Fond memories. Neat concept. Timeless TIME MACHINE GUITAR.

TIME MACHINE GUITAR is available at the Ralph's World website and iTunes.

Here is the first episode of "Time Machine Guitar Adventures." More are on Ralph's YouTube channel once you click-through:

Monday, August 21, 2017

Back to School With the Bazillions

Let me educate you! Or rather, let me entertain you, and in the process you might be educated. That's the hallmark (akin to the hall monitor) of the Bazillions. The Minneapolis-based family band (headed by married teachers Adam and Kristin Marshall) have released their fourth CD, ROCK-N-ROLL YEARBOOK and it's a years' worth of family curriculum in 12 songs (and 35 minutes).

In the past (shall I refer to the CDs as lower grades), the Bazillions have devoted songs of punctuation, science, and math. They "bring the brainpower" with tracks such as "Wide Open World of Adjectives" and
"Queen Ellen of the Spelling Bee," which teaches proper grammar in the context of a character profile:

I before the e
Not after c
She tells me that's a rule
Drop the silent e
When adding i-n-g
That's another yeah yeah yeah

But the group also deals with more kid-centric topics such as choosing ones' own clothing ("That's My Style"), the end of the school year ("Summer's Here," closing the CD with a final bell and cheers), and friends moving away ("Keep Your Identity Safe"). What I first thought was an eye-rolling "stranger danger" message turned out to be a moving, fist-bumping "saying goodbye" song, as Adam Marshall implores his friend that "you're gonna turn around your new hometown and I'll keep your identity safe when you move away."

The Bazillions know the kids they're targeting will grow up and away from their music. However they want the information to penetrate those developing noggins. And the best way to do that is with music that sticks in the cranium like a pervasive earworm. Um, of the best kind. And I mean that in the best possible way. Give your child a sandwich and they'll ask you to cut off the crusts. Give your child ROCK-N-ROLL YEARBOOK and maybe they'll ask for guitar lessons. Live and learn, right?

ROCK-N-ROLL YEARBOOK is available August 25 from the Bazillions' website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for their new song, "Back at School." Full disclosure - my kid made the cut:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Video Recap: They Might Be Giants at Central Park SummerStage

It's been a while since we've seen They Might Be Giants live in concert. First and foremost, they haven't been doing a ton of shows playing their children-friendly material. Secondly, there's been other stuff going on. So it was fun to head to Central Park for the August 12 SummerStage Family Day.

The weather was cooperative, the trip was fairly uneventful (except for accidentally taking the A instead of C train and having to disembark and wait for the right train). Seating was on the turf as bleachers were packed. But that was not a problem. And Bill Childs traveled much further from Austin, Texas to play a set of science-related songs before the concert.

The band has been (mostly) together for more than 15 years in this iteration, so they're all on the same page. And in New York City, their home base, they got a raucous welcome reception from the moment they took the stage. The gaps between children's CDs means that a large portion of the toddlers in attendance had probably no idea who the band is. And rarely does TMBG acknowledge their Disney connection (for instance at the Disney Block Party show at the Nassau Coliseum) and play something like their theme for Mickey's Playhouse.

Robin Goldwasser guested to sing "Electric Car" and Danny Weinkauf got to rock out with "I Am A Paleontologist." His new CD, TOTALLY OSOME! also got a shoutout from John and John. The show was crammed with tunes, to the point that a five-year-old sitting behind me said rhetorically, "These guys know a lot of songs."

Indeed they do. TMBG sang so many songs that the show turned into a full set – not a truncated 45-minute "kiddie-length" performance. In fact, during the 80-minute duration of the show, so many parents with smallfry fled the grounds that we were able to move much closer to the stage. And despite Ben's insistence that "Don't Let's Start" would be the encore, it was "Dr. Worm." But Matt was impressed (despite a 20-minute nap) and looks forward to his next exposure. But who knows... by their next kid's concert in our area, he might be able to transport himself. Telepathically, even.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Jumping for Joy: The Return of Caspar Babypants

It's difficult to establish a unique voice. There's so much product out there that few people stand out from the very first musical note. Chris Ballew doesn't have that problem. Entering the second decade in his second career as children's musician Caspar Babypants, Chris has turned out 13 – yes, 13 – CDs that brim with uniqueness.

His latest CD, JUMP FOR JOY! is as buoyant and boyish as the rest of the Caspar Babypants pantheon. As with past CDs, Chris is chock full of the stories behind the songs. "Pushy the Tug" came from a pet name he and his wife (CD artwork and local artist Kate Endle) exclaimed every time a tugboat chugged by their home in Seattle. "Blackberry Pie" is credited to his (then) six-year-old son, Augie, although like every Caspar Babypants composition, he couldn't help put his own distinctive upbeat stamp on it.

Caspar Babypants is all about two things… updating traditional favorites with new lyrics and arrangements and taking bizarre concepts and taking them on oddly logical journeys. JUMP FOR YOU! features the standout example, "My Pants Are On Vacation":

my pants are on vacation I noticed that thery're gone.
My right legs knows my left leg knows they both think somethings wrong.
My pants are on vacation they left a detailed note.
But their handwriting is so sloppy that I don't know what they wrote.

Caspar Babypants music also works on two levels. Kids enjoy the hummable melodies and gentle, amusing material. It's so approachable that when we attended a live performance years ago, Chris started a song intro, "This is a song about a bear..." and Ben cut him off by shouting the title of a particular track he liked. Realizing that yes, he had written two songs about bears, Chris self-corrected and explained, "Yes, this is my OTHER song about a bear." Adults like the wordplay and jigsaw, not-random conceit that burst from Chris's days in the Presidents of the United States. "Free Couch" is about a country tick that moves to the big city and finds a place to live. The chorus? "Don't freak out I'm living in a free couch." Don't just read it – say it. Then you'll get it.

Where else will you get old-time classics remade for today's tots, like "Where O Where," nestled side by side with "The Softest Guitar on the Moon"? JUMP FOR JOY! if you're silly and six. JUMP FOR JOY! if you remember what it was like to be silly and six. For a quick refresher, Caspar Babypants is giving you 19 reasons to JUMP FOR JOY!

JUMP FOR JOY! is available August 18 from Caspar Babypants' website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for the new song, "Underground":