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