Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Me And You – Caspar Babypants
Perfect Tuesday Afternoon – Frances England
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Funga Alafia – Hot Peas 'n Butter
People Watching – Dean Jones

Tim Kubart Builds Uplifting, Empowering Environment

The irrepressible, effervescent Tim Kubart is back to engage youthful audiences with his new CD, BUILDING BLOCKS. As with his past releases, it's a homogenous mix of dancing, sweat, and tears (the latter mostly for parents). It's hard to believe that Tim is a youthful 57, except I made that part up. The title is a double entendré of the tender kind, first as literal "building blocks" that children play with, and also for community outreach (i.e., growing your children and their neighborhood).

One of Tim's specialties is songs about childhood firsts – "Hold On" fits into that category on BUILDING BLOCKS, dealing with the elation of learning to ride a bike without training wheels. "Ready For You" is about developing enough maturity to deal with caring for a family pet, in this case a dog. "Day One" tackles taking the school bus, and the realization that the child/parent relationship evolves when full-day school starts.

There's a fine line between sentimental and maudlin and Tim likes to dance right on the razor's edge. Surefire weepers include "We Are Growing," "Day One," and "A Good Friend's Hard to Find," which features violins, so you know it's practically expected that you're gonna bawl full-faucet in front of the kids:

Don't always win even when I do my best
Sometimes my thoughts and feelings feel like such a mess
But you listen whether I laugh or cry
Oh a good friend's hard to find.

A roster of talent from Tim's (and kindie's) past and present contribute to the boisterous bounciness. Blue's Clues (and STEVENSTEVEN frontman) Steve Burns duets on "It's Going Up," about the excitement kids unearth with the discovery of local excavations and construction sites. "Block Party" wraps BUILDING BLOCKS with a full-force explanation/dance explosion with guests Carly Ciarrocchi (From Sprout's Sunny Side Up), Genevieve Goings (formerly from Choo-Choo Soul on Disney Kids), and rapper Drue Davis. The smallest celebrities are the kids from Woodward Parkway Elementary School (his alma mater in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York) who provide the chorus on "We Are Growing."

Tim has come a long way from sharing his spotlight with a tiny yellow hand puppet (Chica). With a Grammy under his belt, he now cohosts Highlights Hangout and flies across the globe (recently in Nigeria) spreading his mirthful, musical message. In his own way, Tim's BUILDING BLOCKS is only one avenue he's traveling on the path to teach and educate a new generation.

BUILDING BLOCKS is available from Tim Kubart's website, Amazon, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Here is the video I shot at September's Kidstock of Tim performing the new song, "We Are Growing":

Friday, October 12, 2018

New Videos from Suzi Shelton & Tim Kubart and The Oot n' Oots

I was part of the inaugural "MTV Generation," where suddenly every song became more important and exciting if there was an amazing video that accompanied it. Bands like Duran Duran are remembered by people "my age" as much for the music as the iconic imagery for "Rio" and "Hungry Like the Wolf."

Smash-cut to 30 years later and kids are more sophisticated at a younger age. The kids from my generation now have their own kids. And the musicians are coming up with more strategies to energize their videos.

Suzi Shelton and Tim Kubart have chosen the "live plus animation" route for the video of their song, "The Grass Is Always Greener," from Suzi's most recent CD, HAND IN HAND.  Ostensibly a "green screen video," it features Tim and Suzi with her bandmates/producers Greg Mayo and Dan Weiner. The artwork was created by her husband Dave Mitri, who originally drew the backgrounds as part of an upcoming coloring book. Anyway here it is, for your enjoyment:

Canada's The Oot n' Oots are a wacky pack of brothers. If you missed their CD, ELECTRIC JELLYFISH BOOGALOO, then you just weren't paying attention to children's music this year.

The band has crafted a kitchen-set video for their song, "I Like It Saucy," featuring Ezra Cipes, his 11-year-old daughter Ruth, and his three brothers Cipes brothers and an extremely odd chef (Dean Bareham, artistic director of Calgary's Green Fools Theater). Be prepared; the recipes are not for the faint of heart:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 12, 2018

It's A Beautiful World – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Say Something – Justin Timberlake
Better With You – Jason Mraz
Big World Kid (Featuring Laurie Berkner) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Paradise – George Ezra

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Mister G Captures the Magic of Childhood Days on 'Firefles'

Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G) is a living contradiction. The Jewish Latin Grammy winner has released his new children's music CD, FIREFLIES. This release does not promote multi-lingualism or multiculturalism. Instead, it's a straightforward, plain-spoken, old-fashioned folkie/kindie release. After a wave of "woke" or "important" releases, it's nice to see an artist belting tunes about everyday topics without glancing at the headlines.

If there's any theme to FIREFLIES, it's the sense of childhood wonder at the great outdoors, nighttime, and being surrounded by the majesty of nature. It all starts with the title track, relating to "sweet summer breezes passing through the trees" while holding his sister's hand.

"Not a worry in the world," G sings in "Sweet Summertime," building further along on "Me and You" and "Big Old World," stopping for a snack with "S'Mores." If there's a more consistent children's music producer than Dean Jones, I'd like to hear the evidence, as there's a natural progression and flow to FIREFLIES, with neither a false notion or odd instrumentation. Lucy Kalantari ably provides vocal support, among others. And when you just need somebody to listen, there's a "Four-Footed Friend":

There are times when the world gets rough
Had enough of the human stuff
She's always there for me
She sees the forest for the trees.

In these troubling, tumultuous times, there are few things that everyone can agree about. Music is one of those areas – well, except if you were a Texas Trump supporter AND Willie Nelson fan this past month. Nonetheless, Mister G can sing about "Together As One" and people from distant lands taking each other's hands and truly mean it. May there be better times ahead, with more open-mindedness and sing-alongs. And fireflies. And Mister G.

FIREFLIES is available from Mister G's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for Mister G's song "Green World":

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Holy Mountain – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake
The Art of Letting Go – Stone Temple Pilots
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants

Quick Hits: New Music from Sukey Molloy and Annie Lynn

Okay I'm going to speak right to all the two- and three-year-olds who are regular readers of my review. No I haven't lost my mind, I'm going to shake my keys to get their attention and then speak in a funny voice to the melody of "I've Been Working On the Railroad." Come to think of it, that's one of the easy-to-sing-along songs on Sukey Molloy's fifth CD, FIVE LITTLE OYSTERS!

Under the direction of Grammy-winning producer Larry Alexander (remember a guy named Springsteen? Bon Jovi? Bowie? Mozart, okay not him), Sukey goes full-toddler, from "It's Raining It's Pouring" to "The Ants Go Marching" to "This Old Man." In between are some contemplative floor playtime tunes, "If I Were A Cat" and "Kitten Dance," and it all wraps up in less than 40 minutes.

The only theme here is programming youngsters that these traditional favorites were here long before they were. And that there's nothing wrong with sharing music, snacks, toys, pets, and even friends. Sukey's got her act together and she's taking it on the road with FIVE LITTLE OYSTERS to delight and teach under-fives just what the score is. And by score, I mean musical score. Okay, I'll stop shaking my keys now.

FIVE LITTLE OYSTERS is available from Sukey Molloy's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Annie Lynn started writing songs as a teenager and wound up on television. With such an auspicious start, it's no wonder she kept going. You could call her a "social justice warrior," as he material covers bullying prevention, tolerance and acceptance of others, identity and self-worth, and determination and motivation.

Recorded before the current (and always ongoing) Washington brouhaha, Annie's sing "Go Out and Vote," urges everyone of voting age to do their civic duty. You can even find a karaoke version to sing for yourself. And remember, it takes less than two minutes to register to vote and voting for November 2018 has already started! Click her to register or to check your registration!

"Go Out And Vote" is available in regular and karaoke versions at Annie Lynn's website and Soundcloud.

Here is the video for Annie Lynn's song, "No Time For Hate":

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Quick Hits: New Music from Rainbow Rock Band and Mr. Singer's Sharp Cookies

To some people, children's music is a natural progression. As they become parents or educators, they seek to share concepts and emotions. Dr. Kate Moran studied for her doctorate in special education while earning "merit badges" along the way in her musical pursuits, with her own ensemble as well as the Rainbow Rock Band for kids. Their new EP, TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE RAINBOW, arrives in time for the fall semester.

Since 2012, the Rainbow Rock Band has entertained audiences in the Washington, DC region, performing as many as 120 shows each year. That's a lot of energy put into captivating youngsters as well as a reciprocal amount of fan devotion. TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE RAINBOW won't teach school-aged kids anything new, but tunes like "Samuel The Zookeeper" give preschoolers the chance to shout out animal sounds. "Sparkle Fairy" gives a mythical weather lesson. "Crazy Cakes" is a combination dancing/counting tutorial. 

What the Rainbow Rock Band does is not unique. For instance, Charity and the Jam Band serve the same function in San Francisco and Milkshake keeps the Maryland/Virginia kids in their dancing shoes. But they all deliver a valuable, essential element to children's lives – showing them the awesome potential and bonding experience of live music. On that score, the Rainbow Rock Band earns high-fives and gold stars.

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE RAINBOW is available October 5 from the Rainbow Rock Band's website, Amazon, Shazam, and iTunes Music.

Seven songs in 22 minutes makes an EP. Mr. Singer and the Sharp Cookies pack 14 spooky tunes into 31 minutes on their new CD, HAPPY HAUNTED HALLOWEEN. The group thoroughly mines the holiday with "How Many Pieces Of Candy?" and the rollicking rockabilly "Ain't Scared Of Nuthin'."

"Grandpa's Ghost" gets suitably morbid, singing about how grandpa's melodies stay alive with his family. It may induce a tactful conversation about whether or not the dead really live in our closets or musical instruments.

"Insane Scientist Victory Blitz" gives the bad guys the opportunity to celebrate. "She Writes Frankenstein" attempts to chronicle 19-year-old Mary Shelley's creation in a mere 95 seconds. "Who U Spoze 2 B?" is a smug rejoinder to adults questioning what exactly kids are dressed as for the holiday. "If I hear another mother asking me, who u spoke to B?"

Mr. Singer (Neil Firstenleit) and his Sharp Cookies (Kerry Firstenleit and Michael Massett) are suitably costumed to resume festivities for this time of year. If you want a trippy, zippy, and spooky little walk on the mild side of Creepytown, the Sharp Cookies offer a lurching roadmap.

HAPPY HAUNTED HALLOWEEN is available October 5 from Mr. Singer and the Sharp Cookies' website, Amazon, iTunes Music, and Spotify.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Extraordinary Kerry Appleberry":

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Quick Hits: Nobel Nobel-Inspired Tunes, Songs for Pete's Sake

There's a "new jazz" movement inside children's music. Unlike rock and folk, which have a stranglehold on most radio formats, jazz requires a more concentrated education. It's not all scat singing and celebratory horns; sometimes it depends upon a child's ability to sit still and listen. That level of commitment harkens an exceptional student.

Into that forum enters the Lori Henriques Quintet and their prize-based LEGION OF PEACE: SONGS INSPIRED BY NOBEL LAUREATES. This is a real, serious, instructional CD with eight songs based on the lives and accomplishments of noted figures including Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu, Malala Yousafzai, and President Jimmy Carter. The performers, such as pianist Joey Alexander, all have remarkable achievements. Alexander was an 11-year-old prodigy, complete with an appearance on 60 Minutes. Yunus founded Grameen Bank and more than 50 companies in Bangladesh and has received 112 awards from 26 countries (whew).

Sing for Hope, the organization behind the Legion of Peace project, is notable for its good works as well. In 2018, Sing for Hope placed decorated pianos throughout the five boroughs, making New York host to more street pianos than any other city in the world. But their musical contributions have global reach as well.

The songs themselves tell Stories (as opposed to Harry Chapin's little "story songs"). "Brave As a Girl" tells Malala's tale of courage in the face of intolerance and small-minded cultural limitations. "A Human Is a Human" recounts Tutu's efforts to end apartheid. "A Kinder Way" urges listeners to follow Carter's path of gentle community-building, including a marching/hammer-into-nail-driving Habitat With Humanity-esque beat. "When you give you get it back," sings Henriques, and you can believe she means it.

LEGION OF PEACE: SONGS INSPIRED BY NOBEL LAUREATES is available from Sing for Hope, Amazon, and Apple Music.

On the other side of the spectrum comes Tony Pete (Tony Halchak) and his debut CD, WHEN I GROW UP. A cross between Randy Kaplan and Billy Kelly (one of his friends), Tony performs his songs with a straightforward, sincere "this is how kids talk" delivery.

The first single, "The Backwards Alphabet Song" gets right to the point – here's another way to look at the 26 letters and Tony's gonna sing it that way all day, if you let him. "Kazoo Crew" seems like a natural live performance rave. Take a roomful of kids, hand them kazoos, and what's gonna happen? An instant cacophony of exploration and music-making.

There's a bit of predicability to the format, as the CD closes with "Time to Put Our Toys Away" into "Sleep Loved." But that's the organic flow I've experienced in many a first-time release. The best performers realize that their audiences can grow with them, and don't need reminders to wind down just because the sun begins to set. The chorus delivers a sweet sentiment with resounding clarity: "Sleep loved, little darlings, you are." Every parent likes to feel that there child has potential and that concept holds true for Tony Pete as well – that guy's got potential.

WHEN I GROW UP is available from Tony's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 1, 2018

Bright Morning Song – Dan Zanes
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Back To The Land  – Hot Peas N Butter (Featuring Laurie Berkner, Peter Yarrow & Dan Zanes)
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Handle With Care  – Like Father Like Son
Dodgeball – Justin Roberts

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 28, 2018

Sea Of Stars - Dan Zanes
One Of These Days - Vance Joy
Chewy to Your Han - Recess Monkey
Watch Petunia Dance - Caspar Babypants
Press Play - Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Robert Broccoli - The Green Orbs
What Kind Of Fruit - Dean Jones

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

City Life Inspires Hopalong Andrew's Urban Tunes

How are you gonna keep a country boy down on the farm once he's seen the big city? More accurately, how are you gonna keep a boy from going country once he's home on the range? Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but it's not easy to find a cozy niche for Hopalong Andrew, New York City's urban cowpoke and former Park Ranger in hallowed Central Park. Once an indie rocker, Andrew Vladeck has found plenty of room to roam with his alter ego, now celebrating his debut CD, HOWDY DO!

While on duty in the park, Andrew combined his love of nature and music and became "the Singing Ranger," with a host of rewritten and original tunes. Hopalong Andrew soon found that his duties included representing the rangers at various functions around the city and its boroughs. The lone arranger lassoed a posse of collaborators, who helped craft "Back in the City Again" (also known as Gene Autry's 'Back in the Saddle Again') and "Thank God I'm a City Boy" (think John Denver's 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy').

In an astounding merging of fact and fun, Andrew takes 'The Old Chisolm Trail' and tells the true story of "Broadway Was a Native American Trail." I can see why the rangers were impressed enough to send Andrew on the road to share his enthusiasm for the great outdoors and the mother lode of stories that evolved into modern-day New York City. Speaking of the Great White Way, Guys and Dolls songwriter Frank Loesser's 'Jingle Jangle Jingle' becomes "Ice Cream Dude" as those coins buy summery treats.

'I've Been Everywhere' gets a New York-centric spin with 105 different neighborhoods getting shoutouts in less than three minutes. It was especially timely, considering we were in a car, traveling through several of them as we listened to HOWDY DO! "Buffalo, Buffalo," an original composition, has a magentic singalong chorus featuring  Amelia Robinson (Mil's Trills), Randy Kaplan, and Music for Aardvarks' David Weinstone.

Hopalong Andrew is a true anomaly. He's an urban cowboy who celebrates modern commuting. He uses the musical stylings of a different generation to sing the praises of city living. However his infectious and yet-familiar Ameri-can do spirit embody what draws people from all walks of life and from around the world to travel to New York City in the first place – its energy, its diversity, its community, its sense of possibility. HOWDY DO! might even make you want to trade your Tesla for a Mustang...the kind that eats oats, that is. So go ahead, pilgrims, mosey on down to Hopalong Andrew's website to see where the next hootenanny is happening.

HOWDY DO! is available on September 21 from Hopalong Andrew's website, and Amazon.

Here is the video for his song, "Tyrannosaurus (Night at the Museum)":

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Me And You – Caspar Babypants
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Hide & Seek – The Not-Its!
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Shine On – Dan Zanes
Outside – The Green Orbs
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones

English/Spanish Children's Music? ¡No Hay Problema!

In these politically correct times, it's sometimes difficult to phrase an adequate critique for fear of sounding somewhat racist. That also holds true in reviewing children's music, which doesn't have the backing of major studio money and public relations. Quality is oftentimes weighed against perspiration and years of fundraising and local fandom. Plus I've already gone on the record to say that my forte is not exactly world music. So I enter into this review with those caveats.

Hamlet Meneses is a multi-lingual performer who runs the "Be Bilungual Foundation," whose mission is to provide bilingual music concerts for children and families in underserved communities, and encourage diverse communities to come together through music. The new CD, HAPPY LAND IS TIERRA FELIZ, comes through his Mi Amigo Hamlet persona, with nearly an hour of English/Spanish tunes, from "Dias De La Semana" (days of the week) to "Cara Cabeza" (spanish body parts).

Hamlet's story is all about overcoming obstacles – from being raised by his grandmother in Guatemala, being hit by a car at 11, surviving gunfire as a teenage gang member, emigrating to the United States and breaking his back and needing to relearn how to walk. A more recent battle with cancer has only fortified Hamlet's desire to bring music to underprivileged families, especially with the overwhelmingly racist political climate in the United States.

Produced by kids uber-producer Dean Jones, HAPPY LAND IS TIERRA FELIZ is a gentle, genial sing-along of simple-to-understand concepts. Hamlet sees his "Happy Land" as an actual hamlet, or oasis, of diversity and learning. You don't need to overcome as many obstacles as him to see the virtue in that message.

HAPPY LAND IS TIERRA FELIZ is available from Hamlet's website, Soundcloud, and Amazon.

I had a little harder time with Evan and Vanessa's IN OUR WORLD, THERE ARE NO STRANGERS. Vanessa (from Ecuador) and Evan (from Toronto) met in Louisville, Kentucky and refined their children's music stylings. Evan's ability to play more than 20 instruments melds nicely with Vanessa's strong vocals. The concept behind IN OUR WORLD delivers the songs in English – then in Spanish (the CD cover even reverses to emphasize the point).

IN OUR WORLD is a sweet but curiously curated collection of tunes. "Somewhere Out There" will tug at the tear ducts of anyone who remembers the original Linda Rondstat/Aaron Neville version. "Sun Sun Sun" is Dido for the diaper set, with its innocence and head-swaying beat. But "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music is a head-scratcher. It's a show tune that many people mistake for an English version of a Swiss bedtime song. So you get it here in English – as well as Spanish.

The hidden message behind IN OUR WORLD is a love of nature, demonstrated with a selection of sounds of nature strewn throughout the tracks. Between those and the dreamy, ethereal arrangements, IN OUR WORLD is not an album to play if you're driving or operating heavy machinery. It's just the thing if you want to lull your children to sleep and give them some subliminal bilingual lessons at the same time.

IN OUR WORLD THERE ARE NO STRANGERS is available on September 27 from Evan and Vanessa's website, Bandcamp, and Amazon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Not-Its Ready to Rock Your Tots Out

Old punks don't go out to pasture, they regenerate. After they've procreated, when they feel that urge to create, they can't wait. There's no debate. It's never too late. And thus, it was just fate. Five such people bonded to form the children's band known as The Not-Its. From Seattle straight to your nearest streaming device or possibly to an actual piece of music-playing hardware, such as a CD/DVD player.

With their latest release, READY OR NOT!, the group heads seamlessly into their second decade of making kids mosh, whether they are (literally) ready or not. I witnessed that firsthand at New York's Madison Square Park earlier this summer. The quintet flew cross-country for a series of East Coast shows in scorching temperatures. When the average age of your listener is under-seven, their attention span is going to be gnat-sized as a starting point. Subtract one minute for ever degree over 80. Yet the Not-Its kept its audience rapt (with little rap) and completely under their control for 40 minutes.

The power pop sound of the Not-Its bursts forth from the opening chords of "Hide & Seek," the first track on READY OR NOT! and continues through "Little Bug," an ode to an insect. There's also "Tiger Moth" and "Daddy Long Legs" later on, so somebody's kid must have an arthropoda obsession. The highlight – from a parental supervision position – is "The Battle of Curriculum Night," which even drew a chuckle from my 80something mother on a long-distance listening drive:

You know there's gonna be a fight on curriculum night
Try to work it out but the budget is tight
We gotta work together to make things right

Bandmembers 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) always take the time to craft a product (I hate to refer to music with that term, but it is) which contains appeal to all ages. One of the delights – from the stage or from the back of the crowd – is watching first-time concert-goers stand there in stunned silence, processing that a "grown-up" kinda band is singing about playing in the schoolyard ("Let the Games Begin") and challenging your friends ("Staring Contest"). And then the lightbulb goes off, and the child starts jumping up and down or following specific dance commands from the performers.

The Not-Its aren't looking to make any grand statements or pronouncements with READY OR NOT! The CD introduces the band to new audiences and reminds fans that the Not-Its are still a group of adults who put on their ties and tutus to take the stage and bask in the busy and boisterous business of being a kid.

READY OR NOT is available on September 21 from the Not-Its website, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and Amazon.

Here is a live video of the band performing the new song "Hide & Seek":

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Quick Hits: New SaulPaul Music, Sara Lovell Video

Texas' own SaulPaul returns with ALL-STAR ANTHEMS, just in time to pep up kids disgruntled about going back to school. The self-proclaimed "musician with a message" has been entertaining audiences over the world for more than a decade. The new CD is fun for all ages, with easy-to-rap-along positive messages featuring a collection of 12-and-under performers.

ALL-STAR ANTHEMS leaves no doubt about its intentions, starting up with "Hands in the Sky" and "Choose." There's music and a party, wherever you're from, in "Home," with 123 Andres.

There's a little bit of country in "Texas Two Step," but it's just a li'l bit. Mostly it's for the kids to sing the chorus. "Me, Gumby and My 6 String" is a rap folk tale of claymation legend Gumby accompanying SaulPaul on an interplanetary trip. And the disc ends with a new remixes of his most known works, "Rise" and "We Dream in 3D."

Every song has a dance and/or choreography that accompanies it. SaulPaul has the young people who helped create the songs make instructional videos that are released in conjunction with the music. ALL-STAR ANTHEMS won't make you stand and place your hand over your heart. But it stands out with plenty of heart.

ALL-STAR ANTHEMS is available from SaulPaul's website, iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon.

Sara Lovell takes children into the magic of nature. She has just released the video to the title track of her recent album, WILD IS EVERYWHERE. The album's 14 original songs journey through a landscape populated with flying children, misplaced animals of a certain size, and insects or flowers that turn up in the most unexpected places. The video features Sara's eight-year-old son, Gabe, exploring the wild side of the bay area (San Francisco).

Here is the video for "Wild Is Everywhere:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Quick Hits: Kids Imagine Nation, Tom Mason & the Blue Buccaneers

I may not be as young as I once was, but I got tired just listening to Kids Imagine Nation's new CD, TWO. Comprised of former members of to SoCal ska band Suburban Legends, the group demonstrates unlimited energy on tracks like "Monkey See Monkey Do" and "See the Sun." Not to mention taking things to another level with "Exercise," which lis literally jumping jacks and other calisthenics set to music.

Of course, the tracks themselves are pre-recorded and live performances are another thing. But the super-charged fun zone doesn't let up, and between parties and dancing (including "Luau," which is Hawaiian partying), KIN keeps audiences on their feet, even when they're heading off to "Dreamland." It's all positive, fast-moving power pop, and it's like a Disney Junior party coming from your sound system. If your kids are up for a party soundtrack, Kids Imagine Nation has TWO thoughts for you.

TWO is available on September 14 from Amazon and Apple Music.

Here is their video for the song, "The Pirate Neighbor":

Speaking of pirates, Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers don't just talk the talk, they walk the plank. Well, at least they sing about it. The group isn't just singing about the pirate life – they do an entire dress performance that mixes history lessons and cultural references into what defined pirates past the stereotypes that have come to define them.

IF YOU WANT TO BE A PIRATE is 10 tracks that demonstrate the lives and times of the buccaneer lifestyle. Of course, it's mostly sanitized for impressionable young minds. And the ecological message is strongly emphasized, with "Treasure Through the Trash" and "Treasure the Sea" essentially making the same point:

We brought our shipload of detritus to dispose of on dry land
But as we neared the shore we only saw more rubbish on the beach’s sand
There was paper and plastic and styrofoam
there where the swimmers should be
So we took out our rakes to correct the mistakes
of messy humanity

I'm going to steer clear of seagoing-related puns [mostly]. Judging a group strictly on their music is the task at hand. Mason and company are accomplishing a commendable achievement, in bringing the era of sea roving plundering and peril to life. IF YOU WANT TO BE A PIRATE offers a cautionary tale of blowhard-y nostalgia and equates it to treachery in the era of technology. Lest ye be warned, as the parrot flies.

IF YOU WANT TO BE A PIRATE is available from Tom Mason's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Talk Like A Pirate Day":

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Outside – The Green Orbs
If You Want To Sing Out – Frances England

Monday, September 10, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Carefree – Frances England
Lay It On Me – Vance Joy
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
People Watching – Dean Jones

Raffi Really Ready for Return to the Road

Raffi Cavoukian has become more than the "accidental children's musician."

In a career that spans more than four decades, Raffi has become a vocal critic of the Internet and social media in regard to influencing developing minds. His Child Honouring curriculum (and yes, he offers it to educators) stresses the need to provide healthy environments and set a solid foundation between teachers and students.

Raffi stepped away from recording to write, speak, and promote activism for children's causes. "Child Honouring was my focus for a good many years," he admitted. "But I still wrote material and filed away ideas for possible future songs."

In 2014, after more than a decade, Raffi returned with LOVE BUG, a CD with 16 songs for an entirely new generation of young listeners. "I enjoyed that experience so much, I recorded two more CDs," Raffi explained. In 2016, he released OWL SINGALONG and last month debuted DOG ON THE FLOOR. The cover of the new CD features his dog Luna, with three canine-centric tunes. But that's where the spotlight ends, as Raffi insists Luna will not be joining him on the road. "It's not practical, really," he added.

An ardent protector of children against the preponderance of social media, Raffi maintains an active Twitter presence. His account (@Raffi_RC) gives him an immediate platform to speak about governmental and social issues – including Canadian politics. For the uninitiated, it's not all warm-and-fuzzy family stuff. "I hear from many people who enjoy my engaged passion for democracy and civic duty," he said. "They also like the largely positive – and certainly civil – nature of my posts."

Raffi has embraced the advances in recording technology. Many musicians now record their material in their own homes, garages, or even their own barns (such as Red Yarn). "My three recent albums were recorded mostly in my living room," he said. "The dining room table becomes the recording and mixing space. Microphones get set up pretty quickly, and my engineer and I enjoy the ambiance in that relaxed setting."

In conjunction with recording material comes touring [upcoming shows here]. Original Raffi fans are now parents (and in some instances, grandparents) who bring their own progeny to concerts. These fans have been dubbed #BelugaGrads, after "Baby Beluga," one of his most beloved songs. "Beluga grads have been bringing their kids to my concerts for many years and love being acknowledged as #BelugaGrads," he affirmed. "They tell me my music was the soundtrack of their childhoods. When I meet families after the show, I see many grandparents. I’m fortunate that my music now has a multi-generational audience."

It's hard for Raffi to quantify who enjoys themselves more at his concerts, #BelugaGrads or their children. "They’re all very vocal, and maybe the adults sing louder," he said. "It's hard to say. But there are big smiles all around."

DOG ON THE FLOOR is available from Raffi's websiteAmazon, and Apple Music.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Green Orbs Champion Silly Music for Kids

The family band concept has existed forever. Most recently, the Oot 'n Oots feature four brothers and one of their daughters. Keeping in the sibling spirit is the brother and sister team The Green Orbs. Eddie RosenBerg III and Heather Hirshfield first decided to collaborate musically in 2015 for the YouTube Audio Library. Three years (and 50 songs) later, the duo have released their debut CD, THUMB WRESTLING CHAMPIONS.

While every family has their resident goofball, the Green Orbs divide the wackiness evenly. That way, Eddie can sing "Soup is the best food in the world" and Heather can belt the '60s Romper Room meets Shindig! romp, "The Suction Cup Shuffle."

There are a host of characters in the mix as well, including "Doug the Bug," "Ruby the Tooth Fairy," and "The Duck of Whistleburg." All teach some lesson, such as "don't litter." But there's enough silliness to counter-balance any lecturing, such as the song in search of a Broadway musical, "Twelve Steps to Eating Your Veggies":

Step 3
Hold your nose …what you can’t smell, you cannot taste
Step 4
Hum your favorite tune… and your veggies will vanish without a trace

While a genial, upbeat tune packed with a horn section, "A Flower in My Shower" makes the listener feel a little skeevy about the hygiene of the family whose bathroom has been invaded by plant life. Yes, it's an allegory about appreciating nature. However when you grow up with three younger brothers, it would not have a been a surprise to find sweat socks cultivating potatoes.

Looking at their bio, Ed seems to be bursting at the seams with his musical pursuits. Heather, while ensconced in suburban Marlton, New Jersey, has refined and expanded her instrumentation to cover piano, ukelele, trumpet, and baritone horn. Their mind-melded sensitivities give the Green Orbs a confident and friendly aura. THUMB WRESTLING CHAMPIONS lets kids witness the spectacle of a mummy grappling with a pickle. At the end of the day, isn't that what children's music is supposed to do best?

THUMB WRESTLING CHAMPIONS is available on September 7 from the Green Orbs' website, Amazon, Bandcamp, CDBABY, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for their song, "The Suction Cup Shuffle":

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 3, 2018

How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Superman – Bob and Luc Schneider
Can You Sing? – Dan Zanes
Over and Over and Over – Jack White
Have It All – Jason Mraz
Sounds of Summer – Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Gunnar Madsen 'Food Too Fast' Video Premiere

Gunnar Madsen insists he doesn't have a problem with fast food. "We all know the phrase is meant to connote the speed of delivery. But what if the food itself were fast?" he explains. "In the hunter-gatherer days, you had to chase it before you could eat it."  That thought – combined with vivid memories of the film Super Size Me, inspired the song, "Food Too Fast," on his recent CD, I AM YOUR FOOD.

 For the video, Madsen pictured a roasted chicken riding a skateboard, with him running after it. "I rigged up a mount for my iPhone to my bicycle to get footage from a roasted-chicken-on-a-skateboard-eye's view," he disclosed. When the bicycle proved too bumpy, he rigged a mount to the back of his wife's van, and drove around town during the day and at night. Success!

The next step was finding a motorized skateboard to film his roasted chicken traveling all over town. "Fake roasted chickens are expensive!" Madsen laughed. Doll-sized chickens proved more affordable, and a trek to eBay pulled back the veil on other doll-sized things, such as cars. "That led me to Barbie and Ken, and in turn to Barbie and various guys, which led me to Elvis and Barbie," he continued. "That girl gets around."

Elvis n' Barbie combos were very affordable. "And a dinged-up Barbie Ferrari with a missing windshield – perfect for my purposes – cost mere chump change," Madsen said. Barbie never made it out of her cardboard box, but as the video shoot evolved, Elvis began to take center stage. "The animation program I use (Moho Pro) recently came up with a cool way to animate faces from still photos," he added. "So I took a close-up of Elvis' face and began goofing around. Viola! Doll Elvis became the star of the video, leaving me to hanker after the roasted chicken I never cooked."

Here is the end result, Gunnar Madsen's new video, "Food Too Fast," from the album I AM YOUR FOOD:

Kids, Comedy, Live from New York

"What are you, kid? Some kind of comedian?"

"Yes... yes I am."

That exchange, usually intoned as part of some smart alec-y sitcom dialogue, is now possible in real-life thanks to Kids 'N Comedy, a program that teaches standup performance to children, ages 10-17. Before Kids 'N Comedy, getting stage time was nearly impossible, since comedy clubs are primarily bars and therefore off-limits to teens. This program helps nurture aspiring young talents, as well as giving them the opportunity to perform before audiences. So yes, in addition to training and mentoring, your little comedian can actually learn if they can deliver the goods in real-time.

Kids 'N Comedy started as a talent show for kids in 1996. The BBC filmed a documentary and demand spiked among kids wishing to perform. Artistic Director Jo Ann Grossman and her husband Stu Morden established Kids 'N Comedy to serve budding comics, through classes and an intensive summer comedy camp. Both are taught by a rotating staff of professional comedians. The performance series moved to Gotham Comedy Club in 2000. "There's a 10 year ramp-up to a comedy career and stage time is essential to becoming a good performer," notes Grossman.

Kids ’N Comedy classes teach kids 10-18 how to creatively write comedy. "We allow young adults to find their own voice and express themselves at an age where they might find it difficult to clearly communicate their thoughts and observations," Grossman explains. "The class philosophy of always thinking, refining, and seein” the world for inspiration helps develop important life skills that can surely benefit any child, not just an aspiring comedian."

Students also develop self-confidence as they hone their craft, another much welcome perk for any teen. Participants also get to make local friends with similar interests, building their own comedy circle. Kids ’N Comedy instructors are a mix of professional comedians and former and present students who help newcomers by providing guidelines – but no rules; welcoming each student’s individually and encouraging them to support one another. Each 8 or 9 week session ends with a graduation show where students perform a show at Gotham Comedy Club.

Kids ’N Comedy monthly public comedy shows consist of the school’s best comedians, with ages from 12-18, performing "clean" for audiences (ages 9 + up), families, and the general public. Young audience members will appreciate the camaraderie and perspective from their peers, plus they’ll get an idea of what they are in for if they are considering taking the classes as well.

Space is limited and interested parents and students are encouraged to visit the website sooner rather than later. Limited partial scholarships are available.

Saturday classes begin September 15 for 9 weeks (Ages 10-13: 11:30 AM -1:30 PM / Ages 14-18: 2-4 PM). Sunday classes begin September 16 for 9 weeks (Ages 10-18: 10:30 AM -12:30 PM). For more information, visit Kids 'N Comedy's website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram account.

Here is a short clip introducing the program:

Monday, August 27, 2018

Hold Tight Shine Bright Supports Detained Children

I vividly recall my last sleepless night. The country had learned – only days earlier – of the devastating results of the Trump administration's efforts to separate  immigrant children from their families. ProPublica acquired a tape of children who had been separated from their parents. Crying, screaming, gasping children. And Spanish-speaking border and ICE agents laughing and joking "We have an orchestra here." Villains still, "Just following orders." There was no sleep that night. Just donations, several donations, attempting to right a wrong that will never be completely corrected.

I could get into how there was no backup plan to reunite families, but they had quietly done away with access to the ports for legal sanctuary, ended legal services for children provided by the U.S., and curbed the policy to keep families together on their own recognizance – a policy ended because it wasn't 100% effective... only 99%.

But moving forward, there are still the children. While there are other organizations, the most recognized has become the Refugees and Immigration Center for Education Legal Services (RAICES). And in support of RAICES is the The Hold Tight Shine Bright Project and their charity CD, HOLD TIGHT SHINE BRIGHT.

There are 27 tracks on the CD, most of them unreleased by a host of artists, including Andrew & Polly, Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, Mista Cookie Jar, the Sugar-Free Allstars, Joanie Leeds, Brady Rymer, the Alphabet Rockers, the Okee Dokee Brothers, Vered, and Frances England. I don't promote stuff in this space, I review stuff. But my opinion is inconsequential to the human rights violations being committed on these children. You can make a difference and reward your own family with original, uplifting music that reminds us all that children are individuals, but they look to adults for love, support, and protection from evil. Help make that possible for the most vulnerable by backing HOLD TIGHT SHINE BRIGHT.

The CD is currently available for pre-order and will be released on August 31. You can hear the first track, "Shine Your Light," here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Dan Zanes Helps Train Sensory Friendly Audiences

The career of Dan Zanes is hard to encapsulate. Over the past three-plus decades, he has evolved from rock musician to children's recording artist to kindie pioneer to multi-lingual enthusiast to sensory-friendly folk opera author. Dan collaborated with his wife Claudia Eliaza, on NIGHT TRAIN 57, commissioned in part by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and VSA, an international disabilities program. The CD component – the 22nd from Zanes' Festival Five music – delivers the now-familiar gentle acoustic sounds that parents expect from Dan Zanes and friends.

"Sensory friendly" is best interpreted as ways to make live performances better suited for audiences on the autistic spectrum. Facilities make venues less dark and keep the volume at a lower level. As for the music itself, the lyrics are simpler and more welcoming for those with language issues. Pretty much every song has a catchy chorus like "Bright Morning Sun" and "Can You Sing?" so everyone can join in.

There is a story through-line for NIGHT TRAIN 57, although you need the liner notes to delve into its intricacies. Dan and Claudia spend an evening in their backyard with neighbor Yuriana Sobrino learning about the mysterious Night Train 57 with the help of a magic lantern, a shimmering map, and a book of rhymes. They learn that "Songs Are Everywhere" and that the train has "A Seat for One And All" (if you really needed the inclusion message spelled out any more clearly).

By this point in his recording career, it's almost as if Dan Zanes organically produces kindie music – wake up, have a cup of locally sourced coffee, and knock out a tune about the colors in the rainbow. But that's a bit disingenuous. There's more going on with NIGHT TRAIN 57, requiring the participation of Roger Ideishi, a professor at Temple University, who advises the Kennedy Center and works to provide community access and opportunity for children with diverse sensory and cognitive abilities.

There's little new ground being traveled here for fan of Dan's earlier works. My son Ben even asked "Is this like CATCH THAT TRAIN?" referencing a Zanes' CD from more than 10 years ago. NIGHT TRAIN 57 is on a different plane. But like a plane, it's an altogether different method to transport sensory-sensitive audiences. Even without the in-person theatrical execution, NIGHT TRAIN 57 offers music that uplifts and offers inclusion for young listeners. That's one ticket every parent wants to get punched.

NIGHT TRAIN 57 is available from Dan Zanes website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is a video of Dan and Claudia singing "Rock Island Line" with Pauline Jean:

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

There's No Harm to Fear, Animal Farm In Your Ears

Sometimes the teaching doesn't stop when the school bell rings. Among the children's music acts comprised of former or active schoolteachers is Chicago-based Animal Farm, who have released their second CD, WE ARE ONE.

The band played live for several years in the Boston area, only to see founding member Seth Adams move to Chicago in 2012. Cofounder David Ladon found himself in the Windy City the following year, fortuitously allowing the band to reform, regroup, and re-strategize with new management. With savvy boardwork by renowned producer Mike Hagler (Wilco), Animal Farm roams free range with its genre-jumping brand of kid's music.

Animal Farm's musical stylings cannot be criticized too harshly (their target audience tops out at 9 years old) and they are laser-focused on merging the concepts of fun, music, and animals. It's the third factor that gives them an individual identity but also pigeonholes Animal Farm – they are the kids' band that sings animal songs. Nice concept for a CD or two, but can they consistently generate engaging, affable, original music?

WE ARE ONE checks off all the boxes – creatures of all persuasions make their way the CD's 14 tracks. "Snow Bird" is about a traveling penguin. "Awesome Possum" is pretty self-explanatory. And the Broadway show tune "It Always Could Be Worse" opines "Don't complain about a sore throat, you could be a giraffe."

There are a few head-scratchers, although perhaps they work better during their live show. "Two-Headed Tortoise" is the odd tale of Pat and Mort, who learn(s?) to cooperate in less than three minutes of song. "Ear Worm" uses an actual shiver-inducing creature and turns it into a song, literally:

I woke up with a tickle in my ear
A squirmy melody that would not disappear 
And that itch won't be denied
I couldn't scratch it if I tried
I'll sing it for a day or three or four forever more

In these troubling times, our government threatens to devolve into an actual living, breathing animal farm. This more genial Animal Farm pledges to bring together man and mammal, vertebrates and inveterate MAGA hat-wearers. WE ARE ONE declares "we are part of one community, reaching far and wide." They may not want to admit it, but Animal Farm is tilling for democracy on WE ARE ONE.

WE ARE ONE is available on August 24 from Animal Farm's website, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Slow Down":

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 Ă¼ber-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.