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 shady 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":

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Danny Weinkauf Back With Rockin' Osomeness

Is Danny Weinkauf the kindie equivalent of Dave Grohl? Bear with me here... Grohl graduated from Nirvana (which wasn't really a choice, given the circumstances) and created the Foo Fighters, a band which will go into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its own merits. But Dave had so many musical synapses firing that he had to disperse all those thoughts into ancillary bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Probot, and Them Crooked Vultures.

Danny Weinkauf, on the other hand, is mostly known as the bassist for They Might Be Giants. Heard of them? They're celebrating their fourth decade and Danny has been there since 1998 (Wikipedia has a pretty cool band timeline). He also played with Fountains of Wayne and has hundreds of tracks to his credit. More immediately, he has a thriving "side business" as the lead in the Red Pants Band with Steve Plesnarski and Tina Kenny Jones, producing three CDs. The latest, TOTALLY OSOME! is out there, I mean, really out there, right now.

TOTALLY OSOME contains 14 songs (and two snippets) that demonstrate Danny's versatility and inventive songwriting. The earworm singalong fave, "Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day" kicks off the collection, with the verses contradicting the chorus of what is allegedly a happy family day at the beach:

We wake up super early, dad's cranky as can be.
The drive takes us forever, I really have to pee.
My mom makes us wear sunblock, I hate the way it smells.
My foot's already bleeding, I cut it on some shells.

Music has become more of a singles-based business and Danny utilized this methodology to release "Sunshine" as well as three other tracks, the female empowerment anthem "I'm A Girl (Step Aside)," "It's Your Birthday," and a power-pop ode of SiriusXM Kids Place Live host Mindy Thomas, "Superpowered Mindy." Danny has done these dedicated numbers before. I used his tribute to songwriter Ben Folds, "The Ballad of Ben," as part of my son's bar mitzvah video a few years ago.

Danny's engaging experimentation is on display with two takes on "Put Down That Smartphone" – a straight-ahead charging rocker and a tongue-in-cheek 80s themed "modern" version. "Ray Scott Thanks A Lot" is a doodle in the style of the man known for scoring Looney Tunes. One of my favorites, "The Bah Bah Song," deconstructs the process of getting together, playing instruments, and deciding exactly what a song is going to be about. Many tracks feature the sparkling vocals of Tina Kenny Jones (wife Michelle and kids Kai and Lena also make appearances). Kai is showcased on "A Song About Anything," and could carry the family business forward for another generation.

if you want a CD that you can crank up and make passerbys wonder, "What are they making their kids listen to?" then this is a TOTALLY OSOME! recommendation for you. The kids won't mind rocking out and you don't have to worry about subliminal messaging or hidden product advertising. Best of all, they might be giant Weinkauf fans.

TOTALLY OSOME! is available from Danny Weinkauf's website, Bandcamp, iTunes, CDBABY, and Amazon.

Here is the video for "Eyes in the Back of Her Head":

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Friday, August 4, 2017

Unhuggable – Caspar Babypants
Fourth Day Of July – Red Yarn
Kid Of The Week – The Not-Its!
2 If I Ever Was A Child – Wilco
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
People Watching – Dean Jones
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Superman – Bob and Luc Schneider
One After 909 – Caspar Babypants
Who's Your Favorite Beatle – LARD Dog and Band of Shy
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Do You Talk To Yourself – Dean Jones
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Forever Young – Andrew & Polly
Sourwood Mountain – Red Yarn
Small Bird – Caspar Babypants
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Echo Park (Featuring Frances England)  – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Just Say Goodbye – Wilco

LARD Dog: Having Fun in the Colander Sun

There's a Beach Boys documentary from the early 1980s that haunts me.

Brian Wilson is shown at the height of his paranoia and sorrow (and goes surfing with the Blues Brothers). But he describes how his brother Dennis would coax him to write songs with McDonalds hamburgers. "He'd give me one hamburger for every song," Brian explains. Then he shows the crew a closet of reel-to-reel tapes and other materials and you realize that Wilson fed his enormous hunger by writing HUNDREDS if not thousands of these quick tunes.

It's not easy to write one song. Now imagine promising to write and release one song a month – and give it away to your audience. That's the 2017 challenge for Lard Dog and the Band of Shy. They release their July song on the cusp of August. "Colander Sun" describes their love of wearing a straining container on the head. It's an orange slice of SoCal hijinx with the usual LARD Dog wordplay.

Grab "Colander Sun" here for free this month. Other earlier songs are also available.

The Band of Shy is also hosting a selfie contest, with a LARD Dog t-shirt as the prize. Just tweet a picture wearing a colander as a hat. Winners are selected at sole discretion of Lard Dog. Just e-mail your photo to lard@houseoflard.com or post on Instagram with hashtags #LardDogColander #LardDog (so they can find it). Contest deadline in August 30, 2017.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Imagination: A Penner for Your Thoughts

Ever see Twin Peaks? One of the most haunting elements about the show was the music by composer Angelo Badalamenti. And the theme song, "Falling," which was sung by Julee Cruise. Showtime has revived the show. And most episodes end with a female vocalist singing some ethereal song of a similar ilk.

I thought of Twin Peaks while listening to IMAGINATION, the new children's music EP by Los Angeles singer Jess Penner. You get six classic covers, such as "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" and "You Are My Sunshine" as interpreted by Jess. You also get the original title tune and closing track, "Forever In My Heart," which gave me flashbacks to those David Lynch closing segments. In a good way, mind you.

Penner grew up listening to oldies and folk music and toured in a Christian rock band, so her influences are pretty diverse. Her music seeks to deliver a positive message without being preachy. An LA professional, she shares her knowledge of the recording industry on SongCents, her blog. Recent posts discussed anxiety and how to make an impression with your press kit.

It isn't easy to balance being a stay-at-home mom of two and an independent female songwriter. But Jess Penner is doing it with grace, charm, and simplicity. All it takes is a little IMAGINATION.

IMAGINATION is available on August 11 from Jess Penner's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for the title track, "Imagination":

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Quick Hits: Summertime Video Cavalcade

What's better on a sweltering summer afternoon than watching a bevy of videos with your kids? Here's a new kindie crop of just-released singles to promote new and upcoming releases.

Morgan Taylor's Gustafer Yellowgold returns in September with a new CD/DVD, BRIGHTER SIDE (pre-order here). The first single, "Hot Nights," is the sizzling saga of life on the Sun.

Singer Jess Penner is releasing her first children's EP, IMAGINATION, on August 11. The EP is a short collection of her childhood favorites and a few originals. Here is the video for the title track:

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam have made a video to accompany their song, "Pandagarten." Go to their website to download three tracks for free.

Jazzy Ash and the Leaping Lizards recently released SWING SET. Here is the video for the song, "Eh La Bas":

Lisa Loeb is still releasing singles from last year's children's CD, FEEL WHAT U FEEL. Here's the video for the song, "The Sky is Always Blue":

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 24, 2017

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
Because I Love You – Caspar Babypants
How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players
Picky Eaters – Danny Weinkauf and the Red Pants Band
Silver Lake Stairs – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Your Happy Place – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Friday, July 21, 2017

Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Island in the Ocean – Bob and Luc Schneider
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama
Right Now – HAIM
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Randy and Dave Aim High & Mild on a Trampoline

The current age of television has been dubbed "Peak TV" due to so many available choices. To a remarkable degree, the same could be said about the current age of children's music. With CDBABY, Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and other independent options, recording artists do not have to marry themselves to a label for exposure (although it doesn't hurt). Recess Monkey and The Pop-Ups are among the musicians who have signed deals with Amazon Prime Music. On the other end of the spectrum are Randy Sharp and Dave Kinnoin, back with their second collection of tunes, LIFE ON A TRAMPOLINE.

The CD starts with a lot of nonsense. "Enjoy It While You Can" begins a dozen tracks where the storytelling sometimes threatens to go off the rails. "Last Time I Was Here" is the pre-teen version of a Curious George cartoon, with a recounting of various misadventures. "Squadoosh" deconstructs an imaginary monster. Keeping with the spooky theme, "A Weird Thing Happened" is either a nightmare or an O. Henry story. Randy and Dave leave it to the listener to decide.

Randy and Dave enter the children's music arena with extensive credits under their oversized belt buckles. Randy Sharp has seven #1 country singles and has written and worked with Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Edgar Winter, and Linda Ronstadt to name just a few. Dave Kinnoin has eight award-winning kid's recordings and has written songs for Disney (Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Kermit the Frog). I thought I detected some Piglet in the 100 Acre Woods in "Happy To Help," despite the 'kick yourself in the rear' finale.

Try not to sing along with the chorus of the title track, LIFE ON A TRAMPOLINE. You won't, I couldn't, and neither could my kids. Randy and Dave subvert your expectations without assaulting your senses. The CD is at turns jazzy or country but never goes for all-out head-banging rock. For a true walk on the mild side, your family might remove their sneakers for a bouncy session with Randy and Dave.

LIFE ON A TRAMPOLINE is available July 28 from Randy and Dave's website and CDBABY.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
The Start of Things – Alison Faith Levy
Press Play – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Magic Believers (Featuring Mista Cookie Jar) – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Walking Away – HAIM

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lucky Diaz and Company Love L.A.

When done correctly, children's music is truly for all ages. Songs like Dan Zanes' "House Party Time" and Justin Roberts' "How Lucky We Are" can be included on playlists targeting grown-up types without drawing a snicker. With the release of MADE IN LA from Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, I am safely adding the opening track, "The Magic Believers," featuring Mista Cookie Jar, to that elite list. At first blush, "The Magic Believers" sounds like somebody accidentally flipped from Kids Place Live to the Pulse (pop hits) on SiriusXM. But no, it's your introduction to MADE IN LA, a concept album of songs about life on the West Coast.

Lucky Diaz and his super-energetic, frenetic, kinetic, multi-ethnic Family Jam Band tackle the architecture, culture, business, and traffic in the City of Angels. "When It Rained" has a grandfather/grandson bedtime story intro from Mike Phirman (and his son Milo) which helps establish that the mere thought of precipitation is as fantastic and imaginary as a fairy tale (of course it poured last summer). If you're fond of the surf guitar sound and don't mind if the song's about a rabid duck, perhaps you'll enjoy "Pato Loco." Andrew and Polly also contribute to the fun on "Paletero Man" (spanish for ice cream), "Traffic," and "Fiesta De La Brea."

Other sites commemorated in the travelogue portion are the "Silver Lake Stairs" with Todd McHatton and "Echo Park," with ethereal, dreamy vocals by Frances England. MADE IN LA manages to remain distinctly a Lucky Diaz CD while incorporating and assimilating the talents of all its guest performers. Indeed, that dichotomy also describes the city of Los Angeles.

Supervising everything is über-producer Dean Jones, the two-time Grammy award-winning multi-instrumentalist whose expertise has made him the "go-to" guy behind the board. But MADE IN LA cannot be quantified as a labor of love for any one individual. It takes a village to build a concept album. Lucky Diaz (and partner Alisha Gaddis) assembled a veritable Murderers' Row (or for the sake of the kids, Cuddlers' Row) of top kindie talent to complete their vision. Much like the city it celebrates, MADE IN LA is a flawed treasure. There's a lot to love about it, and you don't have to be a grown-up to enjoy it.

MADE IN LA is available July 21 from Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the lyric video for the #1 song on Kids Place Live, "Palentero Man":

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 17, 2017

How Can You Tell If It's Going to Rain? – Andrew & Polly
Banana Bread – Caspar Babypants
Do You Talk To Yourself – Dean Jones
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Something To Tell You – HAIM
All I Can Think About Is You – Coldplay

Friday, July 14, 2017

Jazzy Ash Gets Kids In the Swing Of Things

When you boil it down to the essential elements, children's music is all about discovery. The first songs that every child hears, they think are just being created for them, until they hear the music being performed by others. A standard like "Happy Birthday" is interpreted as a family heirloom until they realize that everybody knows it.

The next stage of children's music is rediscovery. That happens when kids are introduced to the same songs as performed by different, diverse performers. I've always contended that parents do their kids no favors by being snarky and only playing "adult" or "pop" music for their tots. Most of it is age-inappropriate. But also, what are the odds that other children even know what they're singing? And once they get to school age, that kind of parenting is going to be stigmatized by more conventional thinking. 

Okay, I could go on another 20 paragraphs by I've digressed far enough. Part of the concept of reinterpretation occurs when musicians go back to their roots and dredge the past for classics and forgotten tunes. Jazzy Ash (and the Leaping Lizards) have done just that with her latest collection, SWING SET. Fourteen songs are gathered, from the well-known "Down By the Riverside" and "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain" to little-known "Little Sally Walker" and "Eh La Bas."

SWING SET accomplishes for the New Orleans sound what Dan Zanes did nearly two decades ago when he inadvertently inaugurated the kindie movement. Putamayo has released similar collections, but one must be familiar with their organization (or their SiriusXM KidsPlace Live show). Jazzy Ash and the Leaping Lizards resurrect the purely American brassy NOLA beat, which draws clear lines to blues, jazz, rap, and country.

A fully-rounded children's education presents many forms of music and lets them decide what they like. As a result, I have a six-year-old who requests The Offspring and a 16-year-old who cycled through Dave Matthews and Pearl Jam. SWING SET gives children and families an opportunity to learn about the rich history of NOLA music and culture and opens the door to a different perspective from another time and place. 

SWING SET is available July 21 from Jazzy Ash's website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is a video of Ash and friends recording an impromptu version of "Li'l Liza Jane" in a vintage recording booth:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Radio Days: Going On the Record With One Story

Marc Maron recently hosted comedian Jason Mantzoukas on his podcast (WTF). Jason has a number of credits and is cohost of the "How Did This Get Made?" podcast. During their conversation, Jason talked about becoming general manager of a radio station, being tasked to purchase $3,000 worth of records, and how it was the "best summer" he'd ever had.

Marc Maron (left) and Jason Mantzoukas
The anecdote brought back memories from my college radio days and I wrote a quick email to Maron. However I also wanted to share it more widely, so here it is:

I attended Queens College and on my first day, I went down to the radio station (WQMC 590 AM) and signed up for anything I could possibly do. I auditioned for a DJ spot and didn't make it, but became a newscaster and engineer for other people. Over the next two years, I became the "go-to" guy for sound editing on AMPEX mono reel-to-reel machines and dubbing pop songs onto

The station had security problems (i.e., no security). There was a sign-in book that was routinely ignored by everyone. Even when the station board passed an edict that if you didn't sign in, you would be suspended from your air shift, nobody signed in. INCLUDING the general manager, chief engineer, program director, and music director.

In the fall of 1984, Bruce Springsteen's BORN IN THE USA and Prince's PURPLE RAIN were huge on radio. But our DJs had to rely on old carts of the singles or bring in their own copies to spin.

We had no budget. Some of our staff visited WLIR on Long Island, under the premise of delivering some mail to former Queens College student and WQMC News Director - either Larry Dunn (Larry the Duck) or Mark "the Shark" Drucker. They thought maybe WLIR could donate some equipment that they had decommissioned. They returned in a state of shock - OUR dilapidated hardware was better than WLIR's ancient equipment.

Finally, on the verge of a DJ revolt from lack of current releases, I suggested we hold a bake sale. "How would be do that?" someone asked. "I'll bring a folding table from home, you buy some cookies from A&P," I explained. A group of people committed to buying stuff. On the agreed day, we set up shop for three hours, with no notice or permission from anyone on campus. We sold everything and made $200.

I was business manager for the station and technically that money should have been deposited into our account. But I said, "Come on." Two board members piled into my car and we drove to Sounds on St. Mark's Place. We bought 36 albums – rock, blues, punk, funk, and comedy (I did a one-hour comedy show every week with classic and original bits).

We brought everything back to the station and marked all the covers and record labels "Property of WQMC."

The general manager watched us, then borrowed the copies of Prince, Springsteen, and a few more in the top 10. He burned new carts of the hit singles. "Why?" I asked. "Now we have the records."

He just nodded at me.

I left feeling elated. In less than a week, we had engaged in positive change. As I walked out of the station, the DJ was spinning tracks from six different brand new used records we had just left in the record library.

Two days later half of them were gone, including Springsteen and Prince.

The general manager quietly put the carts of the hit singles in the live studio. He patted me on the shoulder and said, "You fucked up. You trusted people." He paused, then added, "You're not thinking about running for GM next year, are you?"

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Friday, July 7, 2017

Don't Grow Up To Fast – Keith Munslow And Bridget Brewer
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Little of Your Love – HAIM
My Magic Helicopter – Danny Weinkauf
Must Be This Tall – Justin Roberts
The Ultimate Frisbee – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Jazzy Ash Swings By With Hambone (video)

America is a melting pot. Independence Day constantly reminds us that this country, in its current form, was incorporated on the backs of immigrants. Peoples many nations brought their cultures, recipes, and musical tastes and mixed them into a jambalaya that stews to this day. Pun intended.

Jazzy Ash and Uncle Devin
New Orleans native Jazzy Ash is a living and breathing example of that mix – with a mom from NOLA and a father from Trinidad. Her upcoming CD, SWING SET, features reinterpretations of chestnuts from the American pantheon. But in the meantime, she has released a video previewing "Hambone," one of the 14 tracks.

Originally known as Juba (from Haiti), hambone is an American style of dance that involves stomping as well as slapping and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks. With an assist from drumming pro Uncle Devin and stompin' Sarah Reich, Jazzy Ash demonstrates (briskly) what hambone is all about.

Since Jazzy Ash is mostly known for dixieland and NOLA rhythms, "Hambone" is a change of pace. And certainly not indicative of the rest of SWING SET (review to follow next week), which features the entire ensemble known as the Leaping Lizards. But it's part of Jazzy's further exploration of the soupçon that makes up the American experience, which should be an essential part of any children's musical education.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, July 6, 2017

How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
The Grass Is Always Greener – The Okee Dokee Brothers
By The Light – Red Yarn
Small Bird – Caspar Babypants
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
2 If I Ever Was A Child – Wilco
People Watching – Dean Jones

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Expo Line – Andrew & Polly
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Rattlesnake – Caspar Babypants
Dodgeball – Justin Roberts
Down by the Riverside – Ella Jenkins

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Quick Hits: LARD Loves the Beatles, Uncle Dox Does Elephants

As you get older, staying regular is sometimes challenging. It's also challenging when you declare that you will release one song every month, much as LARD Dog and the Band of Shy are starting to realize. Their June song of the Month, "Who's Your Favorite Beatle?" arrives just in time for....July.

Steven Erdman goes old-school (early 1960s era) for the legendary feel of the song. It's probably the least wacky LARD song since his inception and more of a straight rousing rock number with "yeah yeah yeahs" and a limited selection of non sequitors (replaced by historical Beatles references). The download page includes nifty artwork from legendary illustrator Danny Hellman.

You can grab the tune from the website or stream it through this direct Soundcloud link.

Speaking of Soundcloud, you can also access Uncle Dox's new song, "Elephants," at the site as well. It's a veritable team effort (you've heard of herds, haven't you)? Guest choral artists include Lucas Miller, Lucy Kalatari, Vivi Melody, Heather Hirschfeld, and Jason Didner (of Jungle Gym Jam fame).

Minnesota's Uncle Dox has an animal affinity. Between the frogs and squirrels, his music is a mutlifaceted menagerie. And instead of taking a long drive and waiting in the hot sun to stare at animals staring back at you, you can just listen to the tunes in the comfort of your own air conditioning.

More songs are here on Soundcloud. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Perfect Places – Lorde
Look At Those Clouds – Danny Weinkauf

JungleGymJam Says Welcome to the Pandagarten

New Jersey's Jason Didner is following the example of other children's musicians and beginning to self-produce his own material. As such, by streamlining the process, he is able to make it immediately accessible to his audience. Now he is planning a "single of the month," in the tradition of Mista Cookie Jar and Lard Dog and the Band of Shy.

The first release by Jason and the Jungle Gym Jam, "Pandagarten," tells the bouncy story of Bao-Bao the baby panda. "Pandagarten" is based on a family trip he and his wife Amy took with their daughter Holly to the Smithsonian National Zoo and a firsthand meeting with Bao-Bao.

Initially tentative about self-producing, Jason asked Chibi Kodama maven John Cullimore for tips and advice. I reckon things went well – in that Jason has embarked on such an ambitious endeavor (hopefully he has a bonus track hidden up his sleeve for a rainy day).

Now, you can stream "Pandagarten" or click through below to purchase it for $1. You can subscribe to the band's Patreon page for a monthly amount of your choice and get "Pandagarten" (and every future single) pre-release.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Unhuggable – Caspar Babypants
Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Popsicle – Bob and Luc Schneider
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones
Supercut – Lorde
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band

Back to Camp With Ella Jenkins

Remember your camp years? I remember mine – two years at two different sleepaway camps that no longer exist. Back in the 1970s, they were already starting the sad process of constricting...what used to be male/female cafeterias were merged and campers were served in shifts, to consolidate resources. Activities such as overnight campouts were rotated and restricted, to the point that since the kids in my bunk "misbehaved" and lost so many demerits that we were stripped of that experience.

But there are some universalities of camp life, including the singalong. And 60 years into her recording career, Ella Jenkins, the "First Lady of the Children's Folk Song," has deemed us all ready for CAMP SONGS WITH ELLA JENKINS AND FRIENDS. It's intriguing that so many of the songs sounded familiar, and yet came from so many disparate sources. I recalled a few songs from Camp Cejwin, which were distinctly Jewish, but we also did a few American spirituals and European folk songs, it turns out.

Produced by Tony Seeger (yes, Pete's nephew), the one-hour-plus collection brings the expected ("Down in the Valley") together with the obscure – at least for me ("The Court of King Caractacus"). In between, Ella reminisces about her family and when SHE was a camp counselor. The only real misfire is an interminable version of "Everybody Loves Saturday Night." Explaining that children from different cultures were often asked to sing it in their native language, there are 12 additional verses that stretch it to nearly eight minutes.

Matt (6) is a year or two away from the sleepaway experience. But he still noted, correctly, "This is my CD?" as if to prepare him for the campfires. If you have a child nearing camp age, want to offer a pre-camp tutorial, or feel like taking a nature walk through your own memories, CAMP SONGS is like a lazy night around the campfire. Except with air conditioning and fewer mosquitoes.

CAMP SONGS WITH ELLA JENKINS AND FRIENDS is available June 23 from Smithsonian Folkways' website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 19, 2017

Green Light – Lorde
Fresh Spokes (Featuring Susan Lapidus) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Because I Love You – Caspar Babypants
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Thank You for the Box – Andrew & Polly
Oh Island in the Sun – Aaron Nigel Smith

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Matt's 2nd Playlist - Thursday, June 15, 2017

Press Play – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Can You Picture That? – Sugar Free Allstars
Must Be This Tall – Justin Roberts

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wedneday, June 7, 2017

Only Angel – Harry Styles
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
To and Fro – Cat Doorman
Rattlesnake – Caspar Babypants
Press Play – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Shake a Friend's Hand – Andy Z
All In A Day – Alastair Moock & Friends

Mr. Dave's Feeling Good Vibes from Chicago

I've lost track of the number of press releases that tout a performer as "a local legend" or "beloved cultural figure of this region." And for good reason – many performers with discernible, tangible talent thirst for that next, seemingly logical step that will "break" them nationally or internationally. But for most of them, local or regional success will ultimately be the pinnacle of their recording career.

Once upon a time, Dan Zanes was a beloved cultural figure in the East. Laurie Berkner was a local New Jersey legend. Tom Chapin was just Harry's brother. Even Raffi was a coffeehouse performer somewhere in Canada. But for every one of these artists, there are a stack of able-bodied, full-voiced, credible musicians who never got past that "foot in the door."

Dave Hamilton is embarking on that next baby step. Known as "Mr. Dave," his new CD, FEELING GOOD, contains 10 songs to educate, amuse, and energize children in his native Chicago – and hopefully nationally and internationally. Dave operates a children's music studio (with his wife, Christina) and his music exudes the confidence of someone who has no fear of parking sunny SoCal white rap ("Pelican Kid") next to a Mr. Rogers' singalong ("Song In All Of Us").

Dave has a unique back story. He and three high school friends formed Second Look, a hip-hop dance/vocal group. After auditioning for Star Search (hosted by Ed McMahon), they were placed behind the Backstreet Boys for a slot on the show. After the Backstreet Boys signed a recording contract and dropped out, Second Look wrote and recorded a new song in a matter of days and became Star Search finalists. From there, Dave decided that in some form, music would be part of his future.

The fate of every children's music performer comes down to generating a new audience every 3-5 years, and whether or not the birth and growth of their own children conflicts with their aspirations. Some musicians choose to "age" their material with their progeny. Others bring the kids into the act and make it literally a family show. A majority of performers record a few CDs and then life takes them in other directions. But for now, Mr. Dave is a local legend seeking to make his mark on the larger children's music arena. You can hear clips on his website or YouTube channel. That'll make him feel good, if you like his FEELING GOOD.

FEELING GOOD is available from Mr. Dave's website, iTunes, Amazon, CDBABY, and Spotify.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Have A Good Day, Courtesy of LARD Dog

Right this way for a ride to New Orleans.
LARD Dog and the Band of Shy are back with their latest free "song of the month." The eclectic collection of characters has concocted a carefree confectionary treat, entitled "Have A Good Day." It starts with some Satchmo scat and horns and includes a celebrity cameo (no spoilers). 

Continuing the LARD Dog philosophy, there are a ton of throwaway mentions, from MAD Magazine to ping pong to "slurp the noodle" (an ongoing LARD tradition in the Band of Shy). 

Best of all, you can "Have A Good Day" for free this month. That's right, the song is FREE for download until June 22. So click on over, submit your email, and extract some peppy encouragement.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Matt's First Playlist - Friday, May 26, 2017

One – Aaron Nigel Smith
I Like – Lard Dog
Hey Jude  – Caspar Babypants
How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
I, Wood – Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, May 25, 2017

Big Buncha Buddies – Keith Munslow And Bridget Brewer
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Cow Cow Yippee – The Okee Dokee Brothers
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Matt Damon Magnetized Me – The Salamanders
Rattlesnake – Caspar Babypants

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, March 24, 2017

Animal Kingdom – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
The Great Divide – The Okee Dokee Brothers
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
My Magic Helicopter – Danny Weinkauf
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
People Watching – Dean Jones
Skeleton Rag – The Salamanders

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whizpops Herald Endangered Species Day With Ensemble Extinction Song

"We Are the World" was more than a song title, it was the start of a movement.

Photo Credit: Buffalo Field Campaign
People fondly remember the 1985 mega-fundraiser that drew attention to poverty and hunger.
Many have attempted to recreate that ensemble and the sentiment of the charitable endeavor.

Now there's a kindie version focusing on preserving creatures in our national parks, animal sanctuaries, and in the wild. Just in time for Endangered Species Day, the Whizpops are debuting a video for their song, "Extinction Really Stinks."

Last year, the Whizpops released RANGER RICK'S TRAIL MIX, VOLUME 1 to commemorate the occasion. This year, they up the ante with the video, featuring the talents of Aaron Nigel Smith, Jack Forman (Recess Monkey), Bill Harley, the Pop-Ups, and others).

Enjoy the music, listen to the message, and explain to your kids what the fuss is all about.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quick Hits: Tim Kubart, LARD Dog Concert Dates

Once you win a major award, it changes how people relate to you. However it doesn't have to change the way you relate to people, especially children. Grammy winner Tim Kubart (see what I did there) continues his run of local performances this weekend at Flushing Town Hall at 2:15 pm. Next month, he has two concerts scheduled at the Paramount Hudson Valley Theater in Peekskill, NY, on Sunday, July 9.

Here is a brand-spanking new 2017 remix of "Superhero," featuring Sunny Side Up cohost Carly Ciarrocchi:

LARD Dog and the Band of Shy will be doing an autism-friendly performance of their multi-media extravaganza at 11 am on Saturday, June 10 at the People's Improv Theater in NYC. While my son has handled regular gigs thus far with no issues, this special performance will be delivered in a relaxed atmosphere where guests can talk and vocalize, exits and re-entry will be permitted, and there will be a"Chill Zone."  House lights will be on (dimmed) and no flashing lights will be used on stage. No balloons or interactive props will be used at this performance. Here is a trailer of a regular LARD Dog show – picture with the aforementioned accommodations.