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