Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Not-Its Were Ready to Rock in NYC

Last summer was full of chaos and commotion as far as scheduling and camp so we didn't get to Madison Square Park to see any of their annual summer kid's concert series. This year, the window was closing but Matt and I managed to attend the final show of the season – the Not-Its, in the middle of their East Coast run.

The band, longtime veterans of outdoor concerts, shared a laugh as their introduction fought a fire engine's wail. But they got right to business with "Vacation," encouraging their still-growing audience to move forward to sing and dance along.

They quintet – Sarah Shannon (former singer Sub Pop band Velocity Girl), Danny Adamson (rhythm guitar), Tom Baisden (lead guitar), Jennie Helman (bass player) and Michael Welke (former drummer of Harvey Danger) – brought a selection of favorites as well as a new track, "Hide and Seek," from the upcoming READY OR NOT.

The one-hour show demonstrated the oft-frustrating constraints of performing for young audiences, as many parents and caregivers were late to arrive, but even more made for the exits at around the 40-minute mark. On the positive side, that provided room for timid children to move forward and participate later in the concert.

Although temperatures zoomed into the low 90s, they were not quite that high throughout the set. The Not-Its drove to Connecticut for another show that night, and rocked out audiences in another high-temp zone. As a gateway to "hard stuff," the Not-Its make it hard to sit still (although one stunned girl did just stare for the entire show). They are still on tour for the rest of the month back home in Washington State.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Chewy to Your Han – Recess Monkey
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions

There's a Chance Babypants Will Make You Dance

Children's music is not a competition! Some artists craft and hone and spend years between releases. Others make it look effortless, stringing together a collection every year. In the latter category falls the eponymous Caspar Babypants (aka Chris Ballew, known also for The Presidents of the United States of America). Chris has summoned forth his 15th CD of highly original children's tunes, KEEP IT REAL!

One of the perennial questions when I review music is "What were they thinking?" CB allows us behind the Wizard's curtain, in a section of his website called "Song Stories," giving all the insights about tunes like "You Are the Baby." Basically, Chris laid out his infant children on a blanket. "I sat there with a guitar and played improvisations about how much I love them and how cute they were," he writes. Asked and answered!

Under "fun facts about Chris," his Wikipedia page indicates that he shared an apartment with Beck and toured in his band. That would certainly explain some of the amusing quirkiness of Caspar Babypants. There must be something in the water on the West Coast, as Chris seems to be in casual competition with Recess Monkey (14 CDs). Although the Monkeynauts gave him a mulligan by taking 2017 off from recording as a group. Both groups seem to have their thumbs right on the pulse of their audiences, devising characters and situations unlike many other established recording artists. Chris crafts "Disco Hippo" and "Watch Petunia Dance" and answers the somber question, "When a Penguin Moves to California."

Chris is the master of taking traditional tunes and concocting new verses. This talent makes live performances interesting, as children think they know where a song is going – only to have Chris subvert their expectations and go in different directions. He doesn't go way, way out on "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes," but does take liberties with "On Top of a Mountain" (think "On Top of Spaghetti").

Caspar Babypants remains a "family business," as Chris credits his kids for inspiration and artist wife Kate Endle for design (and children's books based on his songs). But really it's the constant creativity that keeps CB in the game. Who else would come up with "Emotional Robot" and "Always Keep A Ukulele In Your Trunk"? And if one song doesn't quite do it for you, there's another 19 right behind it. Caspar Babypants may be a figment of our collective imaginations, but he seems determined to KEEP IT REAL!

KEEP IT REAL! is available on August 17 from Caspar Babypants' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the song, "Free Couch":

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Frances England's Carnival of Calm, Balmy Delights

Getting surgery on a torn meniscus was really a decision taken out of my hands (or more precisely, my knee). Luckily I had a stack of warm, friendly, comforting kid's CDs to keep me company as I limped around like James Caan in Misery.  On the top of the pile was the brand-new release from San Francisco's Frances England, BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS. In my estimation, you can't go wrong with Ms. England. Frances is a kindie Regina Spektor, with a distinctive sound that separates her from the rest of the pack.

BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS is an eight-track in the modern sense, in that there are eight songs. It's also a throwback to the previous eight-track player era, with a 1970's SoCal sound that wouldn't be out of place in rotation with Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt. That feel seems almost intentional, given that the disc was co-helmed by ├╝ber-producer Dean Jones.

The laid-back sound of BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS should act as a soothing tonic to our times, according to Frances. "I hope these songs provide an antidote to all the bad news out there," as she's quoted in the press release. And for the 24-minute duration of the CD, Frances makes good on her promise. "Not Just My Sister" is an ode to the bond between siblings of all ages. "Carefree" even name-checks the founding fathers of good-time surf music:

Windows down with the radio on
Switching up the stations 'til we find a good song
Then the Beach Boys start singing
And "Good Vibrations" are ringing

The disc continues with the finger-snapping "Good Day" and a cover version of Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing Out" with Dan Lebowitz, known for playing with left coast artists Phil Lesh (remember him) and Jack Johnson. You want more? But wait! There's a console-your-kid ditty, "Mama Said," and the sigh-inducing siesta doo-wop, "Perfect Afternoon Afternoon." Frances closes out with an acoustic parental overview, "Watching You Grow," which intones "I feel so proud it's hard to measure/A love so big, so deep, forever." I can already imagine Frances closing her shows with a sing-along version, where the kids curiously assay their teary-eyed parents.

It's the rare children's CD that ends and I realize, "Oh wait, that was it?" BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS is more like a sprint than a marathon. It's the equivalent to the dog days of summer, when it feels like sunset happens quicker and faster each day as going back to school gets closer and sooner. In the meantime, Frances England provides some smiles and rhythms, if not necessarily dance tunes. And until I get done with physical therapy, that's exactly what I've been longing for.

BLUE SKIES AND SUNNY DAYS is available on August 17 from Frances England's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is a preview sample of the new Frances England song, "Good Day":

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Purple Fox Dishes Out a Buffet of Love

Jimmy Buffett only sang one overt children's song – "Caribbean Amphibian" for a Sesame Street special. Yet it lives in perpetuity on Kids Place Live, YouTube, and a host of other online venues. But if you enjoyed the gentle island feel of that tune, and wished, "What would a full album sound like," I've got the answer for you. The mega-named Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies and their second CD, THE SOMETHING OF LOVE.

Part jam band, part educational experience, and 24x7 fun, Purple Fox and company was imagined into reality by Josh Friedman in late 2014 in Silicon Valley. And you thought only software and sitcoms came from that region. THE SOMETHING OF LOVE is a theme album, with the title track harkening back to Fishbone's epic "Everyday Sunshine."

Other tracks amplify the central theme, with "We Got It (Our Time Together)," "Forever Everyday," "You're Welcome (In My House)," and the Jamaican-influenced "Please (I Don't Want to Harsh Your Mellow)":

Please, when you know what you want but you don't know what to say
Please, when you know what you need and you need it right away
Please, it's a magic word that just can't be replaced
Please, please

In my estimation, Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies will start some slow dancing gyrations with THE SOMETHING OF LOVE. It's an infectious combination of warm-hearted vocals and zydeco with biscuits. Friedman and his congregation invite your family to celebrate the fusing of family, friends, and good funk.

THE SOMETHING OF LOVE is available from Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies website, Amazon, Apple Music, CDBABY, and Soundcloud.

Here is the video for the band's song, "S'alright":

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Symphony Space Ready to Celebrate 40th Season

Hard to believe that Symphony Space is 40 years old. That's an amazing milestone and makes the facility a legitimate city landmark.

Tickets are now on sale for all events for its 2018-2019 season, including the Just Kidding Kids family series. In addition to concerts, there are also theater and literary events, such as Thalia Kids' Book Club Camp with author Katherine Marsh (Nowhere Boy) on Saturday, September 22 and the National Dance Institute Team Celebration on Saturday, October 27.

Mindy Thomas and the Pop-Ups
But the heart of the children's program has been the breadth of the musicians. We've been attending going back 15 years to seeing Dan Zanes, Tom Chapin, and Ralph's World. It's been a musical education not only for my children, but for myself. It opened doors to appreciation of different cultures and lifestyles. For me, it also turned into an entire venture (which you happen to be reading).

Performers for the upcoming season include Michael and the Rockness Monsters (Sat., October 6), Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players (Sat., Nov. 3), Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats (Sat., Dec. 1). Mindy Thomas from Kids Place Live and the Pop-Ups also present a live installment of "Wow In the World" on Saturday, October 13. Heading into 2019 are the Okee Dokee Brothers (Sat., Jan. 5) to promote their upcoming CD and Gustafer Yellowgold (Sat., Feb. 2).

Tickets range from $17 for non-members to $14 for members. (Wow in the World tickets are $20 for non-members, $17 for members). For information on the entire season, visit Symphony Space's website.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, August 3, 2018

Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Saturday Sun – Vance Joy
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Me And You – Caspar Babypants
What's Done is Done – Jack White
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Josh (of the Jamtones) Flashes Ninja Skills for ANW

People get obsessed with all sorts of reality competition shows. Right now, I'm fascinated by "Naked And Afraid," although I could never see myself participating. Last weekend I wimped out on a hot pool deck and ran for sandals after 30 seconds.

Josh Shriber, front man for Josh and the Jamtones, found himself (and his family) enamored with "American Ninja Warrior" (ANW), now entering its 10th season on NBC (Monday nights at 8 PM ET). He was recently invited to the show's Philadelphia qualifying event – completing the course but falling just a little short of gaining a spot in the televised finals.

"My wife Patience is also into health and fitness, so it was fun for us to watch ANW and imagine how we’d do," Josh explained. "The turning point from casual viewer to possible contestant was when we saw 'Mighty' Kacy Catanzaro from season five."

Josh Shriber plays a few guitar licks for the producers of
"American Ninja Warrior."
Josh has always been active, including college-level soccer and tennis. "I competed in triathlons and read about and explored health and fitness, since I was a kid really," he said. Josh loved sports and played soccer, tennis, and basketball throughout his childhood and teens. "Nevertheless, I was a chubby little dude with little upper body strength," he added. "In my mid-to-late 20s, I got into pull-ups and body weight work. I trained with the P90x Extreme Home Fitness Workout and the resulting insanity, which increases your pulling and pushing strength through body/weight work, was my entry point."

Shortly thereafter, Josh entered a ninja gym and, eventually, a rock climbing gym. "I discovered that a bunch of pull-ups and push-ups mean nothing when you’re trying to hang and fly to and from obstacles," Josh confessed. But the first time out, he caught the bug and slowly made progress until this past year, when he decided to put in a submission to ANW. "Before then, when people would ask 'Are you going on ANW?!' I would laugh and say 'No! I'm just having fun training with awesome athletes,'" Josh said.

Like any competitive event, the vetting process for American Ninja Warrior started well in advance. "Step 1 was a massive questionnaire along with a submission video, three minutes max, telling your story and showing your ninja skills. There are no formal auditions," Josh explained. "I entered my submission in December and trained as if I was definitely getting the call."

The strategy worked in Josh's favor. "There are people who train year round, fly across the country to many gyms, and never get the call," he said. "You need to combine a good story with at least decent athletic competence." From the time submissions were due in December until the end of April when people received invitations, Josh trained like he was already accepted. "If I hadn’t trained my butt off, I would have only had a few weeks to prepare when I got the call," he said. "Instead we just assumed we were a go and went all out."

Josh was invited to Philadelphia to compete on ANW on May 11. "My whole fam came – mom, dad, my sister and bro with their families as well – and of course my wife and kids," Josh said. "They were my sideline team, so they came inside the gate and paced me as I ran the course." While having his family nearby was special, it also added a dimension of uneasiness. "They definitely looked horrified that I would fall," Josh added. "And my three-year-old was worried there were sharks in the water."

Josh Shriber in action on the ANW course.
Josh ran the course and placed in the top 50% of contestants. "It was freaking awesome," he recalled. "I sorta blacked out on my run but I remember bits and pieces. I gained a huge amount of confidence being on the biggest course the sport has to offer and outperforming my expectations."

The ANW set has a "no spoilers" policy. "No phones are allowed on the course and everyone is sworn to secrecy," Josh explained. "But try sending your kids off to pre-school, kindergarten, and second grade...with all their friends and teachers knowing they were just at a live taping of the show and trust them to not say anything? Good luck!"

The suspense was finally broken when last month's season premiere finally aired. "We had a viewing party and everything but I received no love when it came to air time," Josh sighed. "It would have been cool to see my run. But air time or not, it doesn’t change my experience in Philly."

While enduring a grueling training regime, Josh and the Jamtones also released their latest CD, WE ARE O-N-E. "Jamtones music has always been about positivity and getting kids and families moving their bodies," he said. "The American Ninja Warrior Nation is also super inclusive. In fact, the show thrives on just that…stories of overcoming great obstacles, not just on the course but in life."

According to Josh, when ninjas train and compete, there is an overwhelming feeling of support and community that he hasn't found in other competitive sports. "In our music, the Jamtones encourage kids to be their best, to love their friends and family, to be kind, active and strong," Josh said. "This experience has given me something like a megaphone to accelerate that message. I look forward to releasing some new music this year with exactly that premise."

Josh emphasized that the intensive training showed him what he could accomplish. "Our bodies and minds are capable of more than we box ourselves into," he said. "Two years ago, I would never commit to running across narrow bridges or jumping gaps, flying from one obstacle to the next. But now, when I see a new obstacle, I know it's within my ability and just go for it."

While season 10 of American Ninja Warrior is wrapping up, Josh can't wait to keep training, get stronger, and compete again. "I am more fired up than ever to enter again next year and attempt to hit that buzzer," he said.

WE ARE O-N-E is available from Josh and the Jamtones' websiteAmazonSoundcloud, and Apple Music.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, July 31, 2018

Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants
Science of Sleep – The Pop Ups
I'm Not Running – Vertical Horizon
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Over and Over and Over – Jack White
People Watching – Dean Jones

Kalantari and Jazz Cats Sound Out for Summer

What is it with children's recording artists and their dogs? The last three CDs I've reviewed have been chock full of impassioned declarations of affection for man's best friend. Raffi even put his dog Luna on the front cover of his new CD, DOG ON THE FLOOR. Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats continue the trend on their latest collection, ALL THE SOUNDS, with "Ain't No Dog Like Mister."

Young, impressionable minds are the perfect vessels to hear and interpret different genres of music. It's too late for me – world music makes me break out in hives. But my kids are still asking why I don't get any more CDs from Putumayo. So they clearly got a taste and wondered why that particular gravy train stopped. On the bebop and blues front, Lucy and crew dutifully direct a dozen ditties for your preteen brethren on ALL THE SOUNDS.

Speaking of passion, the Jazz Cats have taken on this purely American music form as their mission. The 10 tracks on ALL THE SOUNDS show the range of jazz stylings, from the bilingual "La Cosecha" to the swing of "Sounds of Summer" to the rep break by Grammy winner Secret Agent 23 Skidoo on "Are You Afraid of the Dark?"

Lucy has an affinity for the holidays (um, she released an EP called IT'S THE HOLIDAYS!). The Halloween-themed "Howl to the Moon" would have been right at home on that disc. And who couldn't use a little classical (for me, it has to be very little). Lucy's son Darius (5 1/2) contributes some cello on "I Know A Little Fellow."

ALL THE SOUNDS is a breezy, cheerful sprint through the jazzy reveries of your children's minds. New York (and Brooklyn, Lucy's home base) will never pass for New Orleans. But if you feel it's high time for ragtime and your kids are ready to dip their toes into Dixieland, ALL THE SOUNDS is an engaging gateway.

You can see Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats at Lollapalooza in Chicago this week! Thursday, August 2 at noon and Friday, August 3 at 1:30 pm. Click here for information.

ALL THE SOUNDS is available on August 3 from Lucy Kalantari's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the song, "Our Garden":

Monday, July 30, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 31, 2018

My Barn Door Is Open – Red Yarn
Countin' On Me (Bison vers) – The Okee Dokee Brothers
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
Meadow – Stone Temple Pilots
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 30, 2018

Lay It On Me – Vance Joy
Superman – Bob and Luc Schneider
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
That's My Style – The Bazillions

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Raffi Returns, Doggedly Relevant After Four Decades

I had a very nice start to my secondary career reviewing kid's music. Occasionally, parents (and other people – yes, there are grown-ups without children) would say "Oh, you mean like Raffi?" So omnipresent was a figure like Raffi that even after he paused recording and releasing new material, his very name represented the entirety of "children's music."

During Raffi's hiatus, others such as Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner filled the void, as I've written before. But then an interesting thing happened. Raffi awoke, and has now released his third CD, DOG ON THE FLOOR, in a four-year span. For the first five years of reviewing, I was able to tell people "I've written about everyone under the sun – except for Raffi." Now the reverse is true. In the past five years, there are have been few performers more proficient in releasing new material than 70-year-old Raffi Cavoukian.

DOG ON THE FLOOR tranquilly expands the Raffi catalog, with three songs inspired by Luna, his recent puppy acquisition. There are also plenty of other animals, from "Mary Had A Little Lamb" to "Listen To The Horses." And both of my sons instantly identified "Here Comes the Sun" from the first guitar strum. But the central theme behind any Raffi release is the ever-present notion that every child is deserving of love, as in "Love Grows Love":

Everybody knows what I'm talking about
Everybody knows it's true
Love grows brains and love grows hearts
Love grows me and you

The resurgence of Raffi has been intriguing, to say the least. He certainly has more than music on his plate. Specifically, he is readying a September debut of an online version of his Child Honoring program, which envisions restructuring teaching methodologies as part of a global movement to create sustainable, peacemaking societies. His fall tour is a shoutout to #BelugaGrads – parents who grew up on his music and are now sharing it with a new generation.

On DOG ON THE FLOOR, Raffi flexes his muscle as the world's best-selling children's entertainer. With four-plus decades spent evolving from local personality to worldwide phenomenon, Raffi sounds genial and comforting on DOG ON THE FLOOR. It's hard to imagine a world of children's music without Raffi. Luckily, there's still songs to be sung and children to be honored.

DOG ON THE FLOOR is available on July 27 from Raffi's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Enter "Raffi videos" in a search engine and you get an amalgam of curiosities and concert recordings. Here is one of his more recent works, "Owl Singalong":

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Randy and Dave Submerge Expectations with 'Snorkel!'

The age range for people producing music for children is certainly diverse. If you're skeptical, remember that a collection featuring unreleased Ella Jenkins (93 years old) songs came out last year. Then there are groups that feature kids – most recent, the Oot 'N Oots (four brothers and one daughter). In between, there are musicians with young children, college-aged children, children who perform on their parents' CDs and live shows, and even multi-generational groups (Like Father Like Son).

The result to this situation is that there is no equivalence between the age of the performers and the relevance to their audience. I'll be reviewing a new Raffi CD in the near future, and certainly nobody would dare call Raffi obsolete with all his charitable children's projects. Occasionally a CD comes out that sounds like "your father's children's music," which is to say, the songs sound like they were designed to appeal to kids but somehow miss the mark.

Randy Sharp and Dave Kinnoin have released their third collaboration for kids, SNORKEL! While it has some bright spots, I felt it hit some wrong chords as well. Not too many kids in the Ariana Grande generation have any idea what "Funny Papers" are, yet there's an entire song based on that premise. With the country divided politically, "Everybody's Ignorant" breaks it down to brass tacks – nobody can know everything, so why even try to be an expert on one thing. Their response to climate change – and the prospect that water levels will rise and flood cities like Miami – is addressed by the fears of the protagonist on the title track, who decides to wear a snorkel everywhere he goes, just in case. And with migrant families being forcibly separated – some never to be reunited – this is just the wrong time in history to release a fanciful kid's ode called "I Should Have Been Born in Mexico."

"Squirrel" is the stock "it wasn't me/blame a fantasy animal intruder for trashing the house" song. For the Google-savvy, the duo discuss some historical figures and their accomplishments in "Oh Wait, That Wasn't Me":

Twice I made a solo flight 
Where none had flown before. 
First Atlantic, then Pacific Oceans shore to shore. 
“Fly, Amelia, fly,” they cried, “Into history!” 
I got to meet the chief of state. 
Oh wait, that wasn’t me.

"Why Not" is a deceptively simple argument about challenging authority. At first, I thought Randy and Dave were singing from the perspective of a child trying to question a parent. But "Why Not" is a more general-application, growing-up, STEM-applicable mantra. On SNORKEL!, Randy and Dave present a genteel, middle American form of children's music that would not feel out of place in the 1980s or the 1960s. SNORKEL! is a remarkably sanitized, bubble-wrapped portrait of children's music from two genial, accomplished musicians.

SNORKEL! is available on July 27 from Randy and Dave's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Photo Finish for Recess Monkey on 14th Family Album

After more than a decade (mostly) together, Recess Monkey reached a turning point in 2016 – their Amazon Music exclusive release, NOVELTIES, received the band's first Grammy nomination for Best Children's Recording. It was a bittersweet moment for the trio; after all, it had taken 13 CDs to achieve that milestone. Then there was silence as the group went on hiatus after a promotional tour. Jack Forman remained a presence with his show on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live and released a solo CD, LIVE FROM THE MONKEY HOUSE. But the sturdy simian sweatshop had definitely lost its momentum. The question was, would the mojo ever return?

it turns out the fellows (Jack, Drew Holloway, and Korum Bischoff) needed a mature time-out to recharge their batteries. Their 14th CD, FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM, has dropped with 15 choice selections, led by the sneak-previewed "Chewy To Your Han" ode to friendship and "That Laugh" on Star Wars Day (May 4).

Every Recess Monkey CD has its own theme, from THE FINAL FUNKTIER (2009) to WIRED (2014). FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM relates each song as a snapshot of family and friend relationships. Perhaps this concept occurred organically as the band reconnected earlier this year in the studio with producer Johnny Bregar. As Jack noted, "This particular moment in time seems to be in need of building community more than ever. Fundamentally, that sense of family is the overriding reason that the band made this album."

The monk-sicians courageously share some real family photos of their own on the sleeve of the CD. It's enlightening to see (and hear) how some of their bright-eyed innocence shines through decades later, on tracks such as "Wake Up," about spending a lazy summer/weekend day with friends and "Together," which examines how every activity is more fun when it's accomplished by more than one person. Imagination is on full display as Drew and his pal Leo shovel all the way through the planet on "Digging A Hole."

My own "family photo" incident happened – thankfully – decades prior to social media, when a few college friends visited my house and absconded with a distinctly ghastly school photo that my mother had framed for public consumption. Imagine my stupefaction when I arrived on campus the next day to see that picture on numerous flyers hanging around the student union building. After methodically destroying every flyer, I tracked down the possessor and retrieved said photo. It never returned to the previous place of prominence, lest it get re-abducted.

After 14 collections, Recess Monkey deserves an opportunity to bask on their laurels. There's no evidence of coasting on FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM. Songs like the anti-bedtime anthem "Just One More Thing" and the soloing of improvisator-anarchist Mister Noodles on "Make It Up As You Go" are as whimsical and inventive as anything in their existing catalog. The band remains one of the top family acts and it's a pleasure that they're still around making joyful sounds. With FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM, Recess Monkey opens desk drawers and attic boxes and turns it all into a boisterous omnibus of the less obvious.

FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM is available on July 20 from Recess Monkey's website, SpotifyAmazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Wind Up Robot":

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Quick Hits: New Vid from Kira Willey, New Music from Father Goose and Mista CJ & Uncle Dox

"King of the Dance Party" Father Goose returns with his new self-proclaimed CD this week. It's a baker's dozen tracks featuring a bevy of special guests, including Dan Zanes, Josh (of the Jamtones), Aaron Nigel Smith, Danni Ai, and many more.

The music celebrates family, inclusion, and a multicultural world. Key tracks include the evergreen "Monkey Man," "Wanna Love U," and "Father Goose Time," the latter with Dan Zanes.

Father Goose manages to work in many styles to his musings, from sea shanties to English Music Hall, soul, North American and West Indian folk. Jamaican born Danni Ai, who toured with Shabbas Ranks and the Fugees, provides guest vocals on several songs.

You can find KING OF THE DANCE PARTY here to preview tracks or buy the CD.

Children's recording artist/mindfulness advocate Kira Willey has released a new video to promote her recent CD, EVERY VOICE.

The video for "Community" was created by multi-Emmy-award and winner Maciek Albrecht (also honored with a Peabody Award) and his company, MaGiKWorld Animation, in partnership with ArtsQuest. Much of the art was created during a collaborative arts project at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania's Southside Arts Festival.

Kira is part of the festival's music program in August (Aug 10), which also includes performances from Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke (Aug 3), Mil's Trills (Aug 9), Brady Rymer (Aug 11), and Joanie Leeds (Aug 12).

Here is the video for "Community":

Mista Cookie Jar brings the West Coast to the Midwest with Minnesota's Uncle Dox, on a new summer song, "Chillin'." It's a slow groove with some acoustic guitars and beats. What else do you want on a hot day in July? Find the song here:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, July 18, 2018

True Illusion – Vertical Horizon
Popsicle – Bob and Luc Schneider
Story/Tellers – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Can't Stop – Dave Matthews Band
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions

Monday, July 16, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I'm Not Running – Vertical Horizon
The Art of Letting Go – Stone Temple Pilots
Dreaming Again – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Solar Flares – Mo Phillips
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
Saturday's a Sadder Day – The Oot 'n Oots

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 16, 2018

It's A Beautiful World – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Breeze Off the Pond – Justin Timberlake
Red Hot Lava – Purple Fox and the Heebie-Jeebies
Magnetic – Phillip Phillips
Stickin  Right by You – Recess Monkey
Electric Jellyfish Boogaloo – The Oot 'n Oots

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Steve Elci and Friends Provide Joyful Puddle-Jumpng

American roots music is self-explanatory – a group of musicians playing infectious good-time pop tunes. Long Island has been gifted with Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could. But there are other acts on the East Coast – and around the country – who accomplish the same outcome. In Connecticut, Steve Elci and Friends have filled this niche since 2009. Their fourth CD, JUMP IN THE PUDDLES, showers young listeners with an array of basic concepts and declarations, such as "We're not so different or far apart."

Steve followed his father (a musician in big bands for 50 years) into the family business. Steve certainly doesn't lack in confidence, as his bio describes his outstanding characteristics as "charisma, leadership, and compassion." The comparison to Brady is fitting, though, as I became aware of the Little Band That Could around the same time that Steve Elci began his children's recording enterprise. While listening to JUMP IN THE PUDDLES, I kept picturing Brady's voice singing this collection of songs – and wondering what Steve would sound like singing Rymer compositions. Maybe a summit/kindie convergence is in order at some future festival.

"Shine On" draws parallels to Rymer perennial "Shine A Little Light." "Supersonic" has the similar harmonies and singalong power of "Who Wants to Wear Shoes." It's a little bit of a stretch, but "The Three Chord Song" falls into the same camp as "One Day By the Riverside." Okay, enough of the comparisons. The question remains, do Steve Elci and Friends succeed on their own merits?

The answer, most assuredly, is with charisma, leadership, and compassion. One can almost envision Steve and bandmates imploring kids to bat "Balloons" around in the air during their live shows. "Hello Song" was so thoroughly agreeable that both kids began singing "konichiwa" and "bon jour" almost instinctively (Or maybe because I started singing along before they did). The CD does have its tender moments, with "Teddy Bear" and "Baby Get Up" aimed directly at the under-three set. But "The Three Chord Song" rocks out like Bon Jovi Junior, a sentiment Ben (a hard rock concert vet) affirmed.

JUMP IN THE PUDDLES is the first of Steve's CDs to reach my desk, which is almost surprising considering I've been at this for almost as long as he has. Now that I've encountered his music, it will be interesting to see if Steve Elci and Friends become more of a live presence in this region. I have a few precious live kid's music years left in me, and JUMP IN THE PUDDLES offers a tantalizing taste of what the band offers in concert.

JUMP IN THE PUDDLES is available on July 13 from Steve's website, Amazon, Apple Music, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for the song, "Good Morning," featuring Mista Cooke Jar:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fun Is the Flavor for Jelly of the Month Club

The most people I've ever seen onstage during one performance was at Kindiefest 2013, when the Dirty Sock Funtime Band (DSFB) engaged at least 15 people for "Dino-Soaring." In retrospect, that was almost a swan song for the band, who now operate sporadically (including last summer as a trio at Kidstock sans Mr. Clown).

Families who loved the noisy, goofy, inside baseball nature of the DSFB will kvell and swoon for their SoCal brethren, the Jelly of the Month Club, and their second CD, ENJOY THE SHOW. The Jelly fellows divide the chaos between the four main members, Mic Dangerously, Bert Susanka, Mr. Crumb, and the deceptively-named Todd Forman.

On ENJOY THE SHOW, the band introduces outlandish characters like "Charlie the Polliwog," with a definite
Cab Calloway/Minnie the Moocher vibe, a Borscht Belt-infused "Boris the Butcher," and a "Shelfish Elf" who reports back to a lactose-intolerant Santa on your child's behavior. "Food Fight" is a delightful, messy number with overtones of Madness. Speaking of the early '80s, "Fun Facts for Kids" is rollicking rockabilly that'll teach ya something (my son also yelped "That's Mr. Sandman," making me beam with parental pride).

What outfit with members hailing from Chicago doesn't want to celebrate the World Series victory of their beloved Cubbies? "Cubs Cubs Cubs" references so many major league references that kids will be googling for hours and viewing clips – with a Harry Caray game call at the fade-out. Got a math geek in your clan? "Pi" quotes to the 26th place and then delivers a pop quiz:

Is it 90210?
No that's a 90 show.
25 or 6 to 4?
No that's Chicago
Is it 867-5309?
What no that's Tommy Tutone
Is it 562-321-4365?
No that's my cell phone number
Please nobody call me

Jelly of the Month Club is a high energy, high concept ensemble with members using children's music as an outlet from their day jobs in other bands - such as Sublime. ENJOY THE SHOW immediately turns any routine drive into a singalong and panel discussion. It's been four years since they raised the curtain on new material, so let's give them a hand. Put some Jelly in your rotation; it won't rot your kids' teeth or their minds.

ENJOY THE SHOW is available on Jelly of the Month's website, Soundcloud, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for Jelly of the Month's song, "Cubs Cubs Cubs":

Friday, July 06, 2018

Splash and Bubbles: Reef Music for Tots

Splash and Bubbles debuted in 2016 on PBS Kids.

My younger son stopped watching PBS Kids in 2015.

I just missed this one.

The series was created by John Tartaglia, a Muppets legend who joined the Sesame Street puppet squad full-time at age 18. After exploring performance post-Sesame, Tartaglia has returned to the Jim Henson Company to helm Splash and Bubbles and its interstitial series, "Get Your Feet Wet." The soundtrack CD, RHYTHM OF THE REEF: SONGS FROM SEASON ONE has just been released.

Without the Henson and Tartaglia pedigrees, Splash and Bubbles could be seen as an attempt to piggyback on the success of FINDING DORY. However it was undoubtably several years in development, and Tartaglia did create an Off-Broadway show called "ImaginOcean" with characters named Ripple and Bubbles (Dorsel or Tank have been rebranded as Splash for marketing purposes, I guess).

In any event, you will recognize several familiar Henson performers from their more famous Sesame Street creations. And the songs are generally inoffensive, and probably catnip to the kids who have been devouring these episodes since they debuted last winter. So RHYTHM OF THE REEF is no doubt a slam-dunk for many listeners. Splash and Bubbles and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood may be the shows to carry PBS Kids for the next 3-5 years. I wish them well. I'm out of that loop and moving on to growing pains.

RHYTHM OF THE REEF: SONGS FROM SEASON ONE is available from Amazon and iTunes.

Here is the "Get Your Feet Wet" segment on horseshoe crabs:

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, July 6, 2018

I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
Lost And Loving It – Kepi Ghoulie
Here For you – Spaghetti Eddie
My Barn Door Is Open – Red Yarn
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Soar  – Mo Phillips
Finally – Franz Ferdinand

Hot Peas 'N Butter Back to Land With 8th Kids' CD

In the Old West, there were homesteaders – people who staked a claim to previously-uninhabited land to raise their families. In children's music, there are also homesteaders – performers who stake a claim to previously-uninhabited genres for people raising their families.

American roots music holds a fascination for many artists. Alan Lomax turned his passion into an obsession, making many recordings of the folk music of the early 20th century. Seventy years of Lomax tapes were acquired by the Library of Congress to augment their collection. One of the leading children's musicians mining the deep folk vein is Red Yarn (Andy Ferguson), following the example of pioneering Dan Zanes (with last year's LEAD BELLY, BABY!).

Hot Peas 'N Butter (HPNB) are now entering the frayed overalls fray with their eighth CD, BACK TO THE LAND. The title track pretty much delivers the mission statement:

There's so much more we have to grow
Back to the land
'Cause it gives back the love that we sow
Back to the land
And between us
It will flow
Back to the land.

The point is hammered home with guest appearances on "Back to the Land" by Dan Zanes, Peter Yarrow, and Laurie Berkner, who also duets of "Big World Kid," about children being comfortable and at home wherever they live – the city, mountains, or in a small town. And since my family is familiar with Alex and the Kaleidoscope's "I'm So Glad," we already know the song it originally sprang from, "Funga Alafia," here given a sprightly Liberian HPNB spin.

Five albums of roots tunes from Red Yarn have predisposed me to hear "Little Fox" and naturally assume it's a cover song. Nope. It's an original genre number by bandmates Danny Lapidus and Steve Jabas. After dedicating the first half of BACK TO THE LAND to folk music, HPNB get back to their bread and tomato with Caribbean beats and handclaps on "Come To My Kitchen" and "Ven Conmigo Para Esta Tierra." The latter translates to "Come with Me For This Earth," affirming the CD's affinity with affection for the world we live in.

HPNB wrap up their multi-cultural environmental theme with "Somos El Barco," or "We are the boat" that carries civilization, built by many hands and touching many lands. It's a laudable "we are the world" message aimed at children in a post-9/11 and zero tolerance culture. On BACK TO THE LAND, Hot Peas 'N Butter literally go in many directions, from the Old West to South of the border, as well as back to another time when indoor plumbing was a novelty. In trying to connect so many dots, the CD is a bit of a structural mess. But ultimately it's children who will be the arbiters of whether or not BACK TO THE LAND sticks the landing and effectively and mellifluously delivers its verdict.

BACK TO THE LAND is available on July 6 from Hot Peas 'N Butter's website, SpotifySoundcloudAmazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video trailer for the CD:

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, July 5, 2018

How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Holy Mountain – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
The Beautiful Dream – George Ezra
Shadow – The Pop Ups
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Josh Lovelace Pulls No Punches for Young Folk

I have a deeply personal connection to vinyl. It's an experience about which most young audiences have no concept. My kids, sure, but that's because every home I've ever resided in came with a working turntable and a bookcase full of records in the living room. This week, I acquired my first NEW piece of vinyl (as opposed to found at a rummage sale or charity shop) in 20 years. I renewed my faith that vinyl is a tradition worth pursuing, thanks to Josh Lovelace and Friends Present: YOUNG FOLK.

If you want to go over Josh's bio and credits, he's got a neat Wikipedia page that fills in all the blanks. He's a nice guy. Family man. Solid citizen. Bandmate. But like many of us, Josh has a soft spot for something that wrecked him as a kid – a form of music that would not go of him. And Josh was able to capitalize on his opportunities and good fortune and share that form of music with listeners; in modern formats as well as vinyl. YOUNG FOLK delves into the culture of the second generation of folk music. This is not your grandfather's Woody Guthrie collection, it's your parents' Sharon, Lois, and Bram records.

As you might expect from an inaugural release, Josh sets his parameters on the basic notions of family, playtime, and imagination. "Eat Your Vegetables" fills in the blanks for some category of nourishment that every child avoids at some point. "Your Love Is On My Heart" is a sweet ballad to banish the most fearful bedroom apparition. "More Time With You," featuring Nashville singer/songwriter Ellie Holcomb, is a wistful reminiscence delighting in all that's right in the world about parenting.

Paraphasing HL Mencken, "nobody ever got rich singing children's music," which is one reason you've heard of only a handful of performers. Pursuing music as a vocation indicates character. Pursuing children's music as a career indicates you're a character. On the other side of the picket fence, I've seen Grammy nominated artists attempt to crossover, only to flounder or look ridiculous. Josh, however, "has been in training to be a children's music artist his whole life," according to Rolling Stone contributing writer Rob Tannenbaum, on the back cover notes (back cover notes!!!) for the record.

YOUNG FOLK is a family affair, with Josh being joined on vocals by son Henry (and infant Margo) and wife Whitney, who also provides flute on "You're My Very Best Friend." You get a full-throated glorious chorus singing "I believe in a brand new day" as the refrain on "Climb A Tree." And if you're looking for gospel, there's a twangy sincerity to hometown boy Josh singing "Going to Knoxville" with the Spirit Family ReunionBen Rector provides vocals for the seriously silly "A Bear in the Woods (Ate My Underwear)" and Sharon and Bram guest on the weepy "Sing a Song for Me":

Daddy won't you sing a sing for me
You take the lead and I'll take the harmony
I've been waiting for you to come back home
So grab your guitar, strum along
Daddy won't you sing a song for me

In a world that struggles to celebrate diversity while the most vulnerable are persecuted, I ponder the future for YOUNG FOLK. Josh has a full schedule on his plate, with his day job in  NEEDTOBREATHE and its upcoming tour. It's also tough to advocate for continuing his passion project without the backing of much more than SiriusXM Kids Place Live and a host of outlier radio programs and podcasts devoted to children's music. Once again, the bottom line comes from the mouths of babes. Whenever I find myself on the other side of that picket fence, I am reminded that this music is not primarily for me. Yes, I derive the "purchasing power." But true parenting comes from sitting – in the front seat or in the living room – and listening to actual young folk enjoying a record like YOUNG FOLK. Since I've pursued reviewing children's music as a secondary vocation, that indicates I'm a character. Do you have enough character to schedule a playdate with YOUNG FOLK?

YOUNG FOLK is available from Josh Lovelace's website, Amazon, Apple Music, and Spotify.

Here is the video for the song, "Eat Your Vegetables":

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo Lives the Dream

Sometimes winning a Grammy can be a career-defining moment – cementing a longstanding reputation, demonstrating that a performer has won over peers, or accomplishing a significant goal with their work. Other times, major awards trap artists, who constantly revisit the same ground, lest they disappoint critics and fans alike.

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo earned a reputation as an experimental musician before he won a Grammy for Best Children's Recording for his CD, INFINITY PLUS ONE. And he hasn't stopped jump-starting imaginations with his Amazon Music release, WAKE UP THE DREAM. The new CD stresses the importance of taking chances and being an original thinker (a sentiment that harkens back to his breakout hit "Gotta Be Me"). The difference on WAKE UP THE DREAM is the fully fleshed-out breadth of Skidoo's vision. It's a masterful concept, although much of it may be lost on younger listeners.

Intermingled with the 10 songs are radio breaks from station WREM (get it) cohosted by the unconscious and subconscious minds. There are also interludes that are part classical, part jazz, and part Raymond Scott (Looney Tunes). After kicking off with the title track, Skidoo hip-hops into "Where Did the Magic Go," with a sampling from Del Shannon's "Runaway" and guest vocals from his daughter, Saki (aka MC Fireworks). "Dreaming Again" is a a harmonic, distaff version of "I Only Have Eyes for You." A pirate sings about his relationship with a mermaid on "You Caught My Eye," an inter-species take on "When A Man Loves a Woman." And you won't sit can't sit don't sit dance it with the mega-funked "Makeship Spaceship."

Breaking boundaries and playing mix and match with classic styles and genres is a hallmark of a 23 Skidoo CD. WAKE UP THE DREAM is no exception, as "Black and White Squares" incorporates a Herb Alpert trumpet and "Broken Dreams" serves as a modern day Bobby Darin sock hop favorite with a tinkling toy piano. And Skidoo channels Parliament-Funkadelic on the spiffy "Tomorrow's Yesterday." The disc ultimately reaches its "final lesson" on "Story/Tellers," reinforcing the perception that every child has the ability to write their own personal saga, no matter how fantastical.

We've been following Secret Agent 23 Skidoo since his earliest days on the kindie scene, hailing back nearly a decade. He has consistently pushed back against the impression that "kid hop" has to be limited to easily-digestible music and sophomoric wordplay. To Skidoo, a Grammy was a nice "attaboy" but it hasn't diminished his appetite for freedom of expression, for himself or his audience. WAKE UP THE DREAM is both Skidoo's testimony and a clarion call to kids of all ages. When I was in high school, there was a controversial musical that pitched "Don't dream it, be it." Through the magic of space and time, Skidoo has become the living embodiment of that sentiment.

WAKE UP THE DREAM is available exclusively on June 29 from Amazon Music.

Here is the first single, "Where Did the Magic Go":

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Quick Hits: Lucy Kalantari, Mista Cookie Jar & Father Goose, Hot Peas 'N Butter

Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats are back with a new album next month. Pre-order the first song, "Sounds of Summer," on Amazon. As you might expect, it's got horns a'plenty as well as a bouncy bebop beat. And puts you right in the toe-tapping mod for the release of ALL THE SOUNDS on July 27.

It's a meeting of mic mastery when Mista Cookie Jar and Father Goose team up on "Free Bubbles." You can hear it for free at Bandcamp (or buy it while you're at it). There's a little scat singing in the meeting of Goose and Cookie:

It's like Peter Potter poo Shibe Dee Shibe Dee doo.
It's Father Goose with a lot of love for you.
Mista Cookie Jar is never too far
sharing the love all the way to the stars.
From shore to shore.
From coast to coast.
You know how the story goes!
From California to New York City.
Wow! Bubbles looks so pretty.

Hot Peas N Butter are back with their new CD, BACK TO THE LAND, on July 25. The band sets the tone with the lyric video to the song, "Rainbow In Your Eyes":

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Music and Imagination as Easy as 4-5-6 for Margot Bevington

Oh Ms. Margot. Such gossamer vocal overdubs. Such wistful sentiments. Such is her new CD, I AM 4, 5, 6, the followup to (wait for it) ONE AND TWO IS THREE. And as you might imagine, the songs are age-specific for children in those groups. Maryland performer Margot Bevington has taught music education for more than a decade. While her concepts are nothing new, that's not a knock. Kids at this age are just developing their palette and Ms. Margot is here to teach them to paint outside the lines.

I AM 4, 5, 6 is a song cycle for families. Starting with "From There to Here," Margot uses rhymes from children's literature to show how books vividly describe the real world and the realms of creativity. Parents who ever had a child "swear" there was a creature buzzing around the backyard will relate to "I Saw a Fairy." And logic-loving "serious" kids are the subject of "Sense To Me."

I am currently living through the phenomenon related in "Storytime," as the father of a seven-year-old realizing that he can read most of the words in his books. He still wants and desires reading with me at bedtime. He is capable of doing more at this stage but it's more of a bonding experience and less about the words on the page. One of the book series we got through was Junie B. Jones – so slowly that my first grader made it to second grade before the protagonist. Junie had a "Make Believe Zoo" and now Margot sings about the joys and pleasures of designing ones own personal home menagerie.

The most heartbreaking, personal track, "Swinging," depicts a child and mother in the playground – one seeking to swing up (i.e., get older) and the other seeking to enjoy the moment (i.e., stay young). My divorce hit me pretty hard, mentally and physically, and "Swinging" brought back a flood of memories about spending time with my younger son. We would go to the nearby playground and he would desperately want to swing on my lap. I had lost so much body weight through stress and anxiety that it was at times a painful struggle to fulfill his wish. But I willed it to happen, not wanting to deny either of us the chance to build that memory, short-term for him and long-term for me:

I wonder why I like to go swing with the trees
I see the babies and it jogs sweet memories
My mother's lap
Her arms to nap
And sway in
I'm bigger now
But she taught me how

With sunshiny soprano vocals (overdubbed with clear harmonies), Margot makes I AM 4, 5, 6 an easy primer for next-step advancement of discovery, self-actualization, and having fun with imagination. And now, listeners outside the Maryland area get to discover and have fun with Ms. Margot.

I AM 4, 5, 6 is available from Margot Bevington's website, Soundcloud, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for Margot's song, "Heart, Pencils, and Crayons":

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, June 22, 2018

I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
The Beautiful Dream – George Ezra
What's Done is Done – Jack White
All These Years – Camila Cabello
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Lost And Loving It  – Kepi Ghoulie
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 21, 2018

Over and Over and Over – Jack White
Keep On Reaching – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Higher Higher  – Justin Timberlake
Saviour – George Ezra
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones

Positive Pop is Kira Willey's Position

Yoga used to carry a pretentious preconception – a pencil-thin woman carrying a yoga mat would pass the train station and eyes would roll. A few decades and a sea change of cultural transformation later, there's no eye-rolling at the number of yoga outfits and yoga mats walking around any given neighborhood. Kira Willey teaches music, yoga movement, and mindfulness for children – mixing all the concepts on four prior CDs as well as her newest release, EVERY VOICE.

There's a ton of empowerment behind the dozen songs on EVERY VOICE, from the gossamer anthem title track, to "The Leader In Me" and "Community." Kira and company (including producers Zak Rizvi and Dave Padrutt) believe in putting the foot to the pedal as well as crossing the legs in a lotus position.

It's truly important for Kira (a mother of three) to promote kid power – not girl power, although that sentiment is the topic of the CD's first video, "Real Girl," featuring numerous authentic adolescents (see below). Kindness is an over-riding theme, from the closing "Kindness Mantra," to "Come On In," where "kindness always wins" and "Hello Hope" with the line "Fill the world up with kindness and love and joy." Children's music icon Laurie Berkner guests on "Dream It Up," helping harmonize on the sweet-tempered reveries:

If you're chilly paint the sun
If you're lonely paint someone
If you're sleepy paint a bed to cuddle up in
Close your eyes and dream it up
In your mind imagine it and see
What it can be

Kira's airy vocals are sometimes doubled and tripled to create a hypnotic wall of sound that accompanies the mostly acoustic arrangements. That doesn't mean EVERY VOICE isn't a dance party. With the possible exception of piano ballad "Hello Hope," it's inevitable that young impressionable minds will command little feet to do some cavorting and gamboling. And in a final Bharadvaja's Twist, that could be the most empowering act that Kira gives your kids.

EVERY VOICE is available on June 15 from Kira Willey's website, Amazon, Apple Music, CDBABY, and Soundcloud.

Here is the video for "Real Girl":

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Barn Door Is Open – Red Yarn
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Meadow – Stone Temple Pilots
Saturday Sun – Vance Joy
Breeze Off the Pond – Justin Timberlake
Electric Jellyfish Boogaloo – The Oot 'n Oots

Monday, June 18, 2018

Quick Hits: Mista Cookie Jar, Jeanie Bratschie & Laurie Berkner

Mista Cookie Jar is back with new music. "Let's Get a Dog" starts with a shot of 1980s synth a la A Flock of Seagulls. It settles into the tale of how an outing to a pet store turns lands a kid a new best friend. The song debuted on the Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl and you can get the podcast here. You can also get it at Bandcamp.

Mister Cookie Jar promises more sunny songs for a summer day are coming soon. So stay tuned and I'll try to keep more up to date as they are released.

Chicago's Jeanie Bratschie has released two CDs for your listening pleasure – I LOVE MUSIC and COME TOGETHER. Jeanie has more than 15 years of performing as a children's artist to her credit. Her career as a recording artist began when her three-year-old began asking her to concoct songs from his ideas at bedtime. Before long, she was lining up a band, laying down tracks, and hitting the road.

There's a sprintly country feel to the songs on the discs, with a decidedly seasonal feel to I LOVE MUSIC, with "Lady Liberty," "Summer Is Sunshine," and "Hop On Pop." Jeanie doesn't sing down to kids, she engages and wants the whole family to sing along. There are a few teachable moments mixed in, with "Build A Better World" (construction standing in for humanistic values) and "M-O-M" for the most important woman in any child's early development. You can get Jeanie's CDs at her website and CDBABY.

I'm waaaay behind the curve on this last item, but the Laurie Berkner Band released a Fathers' Day song – "I Love You Daddy" and a video along with it. The video has nothing to do with the shelved Louis CK movie of the same title, so if you found this article via Google search, buzz off. Anyway, here's the video:

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 18, 2018

Smile For Me – David Tobocman
Paradise – George Ezra
Sun Is a Star – Like Father Like Son
The Good Parts – Andy Grammer
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Hypermisophoniac – Jack White

Friday, June 15, 2018

Get Yer Ya-Yas and Ha-Has Out for the Oot n' Oots

There's something in the water in Austin, Texas and British Columbia, Canada. And it's something good – nothing like what's poisoning people in Flint, Michigan. Much like Austin's Jarebear has rediscovered and reconnected with their inner 70s starchild, Canada's The Oot n' Oots is partying like it's 1969 on their second CD, ELECTRIC JELLYFISH BOOGALOO.

The throwback feel is only part of the appeal, as The Oot n'Oots are a family deal. Eleven-year-old singer Ruth Cipes joins her father (Ezra) and uncles Ari, Gabe, and Matthew. They're like Hansen with extra parts, if one of those parts was a "funny uncle." That's sometimes funny ha-ha but also sometimes funny strange, as on "I Like It Saucy."

Kids bands are generally about dancing, having fun, and teachable moments. I can honestly report that I learned perhaps not one thing from ELECTRIC JELLYFISH BOOGALOO and my life is just fine, thanks for asking."Tomato Jungle" is maybe about gardening but also hide and seek. "Where the Purple Geese Fly" slows down Santana's "Black Magic Woman" with a series of progressively ridiculously-colored birds.

Ari takes the helm for tunes like "Dust Pan," singing about the importance of being neat and clean around the house, and the hyperbolic "Yam Fries," overselling the pleasures and value of sweet potatoes:

You know they’re packed with betacarotene
Vitamin A to make you feel keen
They keep digestion regular and right
They put your tummy in the limelight

The Oot n' Oots may be Canadian, but their mission statement is pure sunny San Francisco 1969 – talkin' about "Look at Those Bees" (sung by Ezra) and "Fermented Foods." In place of free love, there's "Pure Love," closing the CD with Ezra voicing a simple truth about what really matters in life – "We’re all that’s real/We become each other/We become nothing/Pure love." If not for the presence of songs for younger audiences, such as "Little Sammy Davis" and "Animal Sounds," one could mistake ELECTRIC JELLYFISH BOOGALOO as a side project from Blues Traveler or the Spin Doctors... genial, quirky, reassuring, border-crossing but not boundary-crossing children's music.

ELECTRIC JELLYFISH BOOGALOO is available from The Oot n' Oots' website, Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp.

Here is the video for "Dust Pan":

Monday, June 11, 2018

Gunnar Madsen Sets the Table After 10 Years

Skipping a decade can be detrimental to a musician (or group)'s career; R.E.M. may have broken up in 2011 and I've been waiting in vain to hear about Michael Stipe doing anything substantial musically. On the children's music front, Raffi took 14 years off but then released two CDs in 14 months. The latest to fill in the blanks is Gunnar Madsen, re-entering the fray with I AM YOUR FOOD, a collection of culinary-based chorales.

I'm blowing the significance of the recording gap way out of proportion – Gunnar has been busy with other musical pursuits, including work for the Los Angeles Theater Company, the Minnesota Opera, and National Public Radio. Along the way he recorded the 13 songs (and 3 bonus tracks available through a Bandcamp pre-order) that range from straightforward to curious to tributary ("Riders on the Storm" remade as "Egg Salad in the Sun").

A foodie residing in the little-known hamlet of Berkeley, California, Gunnar announces his intentions right out of the bread basket, rustling up an appetite in "10,000 Pancakes." If you've ever wondered what a cow might sing, "Divine Bovine" answers that question with a whistling shuffle. Three guest stars deliver numbers solidly within their pantheon – Bill Harley with the giggly, icky "Liver," Frances England on the fanciful, fictional "City of Sardines," and Justin Roberts gets the last word relating a holiday tale, "The Longest Night," about a big Thanksgiving family dinner.

Gunnar reaches Tower of Power territory with the brassy, snazzy "Food Too Fast" and channels Redbone and Randy Newman for the forlorn "Lunch Is in a Paper Bag," as a student dreams of an actual lunch box. "Shelf Life" uses food expiration to serve as a parable to living life to the fullest before you "go to waste." Perhaps the most fanciful track, however, is the ethereal "City of Sardines," with its saga of a rainfall of fish that saves a starving Japanese province.

Full disclosure: I am unfamiliar with Gunnar's earlier children's work. He took a break just as I was getting into the medium as a reviewer. For those waiting for him to return, the CD may play as a continuation of his preceding discography. I AM YOUR FOOD stands apart from most of this year's releases, on its own merits, as one of the most intriguing (and aurally edible) of 2018. Bon appetit!

I AM YOUR FOOD is available on June 15 from Gunnar Madsen's website, SoundcloudAmazon, Bandcamp, and iTunes.

Here is the video for Gunnar's song, "10,000 Pancakes":

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 11, 2018

To Raise a Barn – Red Yarn
Say Something – Justin Timberlake
Popsicle – Bob and Luc Schneider
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
We're Going Home – Vance Joy
Have Some Fun Out There – David Tobocman

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Home – Spaghetti Eddie
Lost And Loving It  – Kepi Ghoulie
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Space Adventure – The Pop Ups
People Watching – Dean Jones

A Perennial Evolves With Highlights Hangout!

Who doesn't remember Highlights For Children? The magazine has been around for 70 years, so even I read issues (mostly in pediatrician offices, as I recall). It's evolved into a website as well, and starting this month, there's even a podcast, Highlights Hangout!, from the creators of NPR's Wow in the World.

The monthly Highlights Hangout! is co-hosted by Grammy award-winning children's recording artist Tim Kubart and Juanita Anderson (from Barrel of Monkeys). The podcast attempts to recreate the magazine (which they should really move away from, so it turns into its own standalone product) with the stories, characters, puzzles, and jokes that have entertained kids for decades.

The premiere episode “Hang Ten” debuted June 4 and introduced listeners to a new way to “play the Highlights way” – with Hidden Sound, a new twist on the classic Highlights’ Hidden Picture Game. Many Hidden Sounds pop up throughout the episode. Other Highlights favorites include  “Goofus and Gallant,” “Ask Arizona,” listener-submitted "HangMail" featuring jokes, tongue twisters, poems, and science questions answered by Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz from Wow in the World!

Download the first episode of Highlights Hangout! from Soundcloud and Apple podcasts.