Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Okee Dokee Bros Bring Winter to NYC

The self-named rustic duo the Okee-Dokee Brothers bring their high altitude (from Colorado) ecological euphoria to Symphony Space on Saturday, January 5. Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing are touring in support of their latest CD, WINTERLAND.

WINTERLAND features 16 original compositions themed loosely around being home for the holidays with the family. Their return as part of the Just Kidding Club series has an 11 AM start time in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater ($17 tickets for non-members).

As I wrote in my review of WINTERLAND way back in November, the album "demonstrates how to sing educational tunes about the great outdoors and nature without overwhelming the fun and singalong quality of the material." They will also perform songs from the rest of their catalog, including the Grammy-award winning CAN YOU CANOE?

Joe and Justin have dedicated WINTERLAND to their beloved and endangered winters, which are warming fast as a result of climate change. To help ensure their fans can enjoy a lifetime of snowy winter exploration, the Okee Dokees are donating 10% of all WINTERLAND CD sales to Askov Finlayson’s Keep the North Cold initiative, which supports leading-edge climate solutions in the North and across the country. Read more about their important mission here.

You can purchase tickets for the Okee Dokee Brothers' show at Symphony Space on Saturday, January 5, 2019 at 11 am by going here.

Here is the video for their song, "Blankets of Snow":

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, December 21, 2018

I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
Home On The Town – Hopalong Andrew
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Grilled Cheese – Danny Weinkauf
Have Some Fun Out There – David Tobocman
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones

Gustafer Yellowgold Books a New Trip From the Sun

Is there life elsewhere in the galaxy? From the perspective of somebody under four feet tall, the answer might be "yes, on the sun." That makes complete illogical sense if they are familiar with Gustafer Yellowgold, the creation of New York-based musician/performer/illustrator Morgan Taylor.

Created wayback in 2004 in a fit of whimsy, the little "sunling" fell to Earth and began having adventures (with his pet eel, among others) in a series of enchanting multimedia shows (one of which we witnessed at the Museum of the Moving Image in 2007). What was not to like about fanciful children's music accompanied by lyrics-subtitled videos? Ben (then 6) was singing "I'm From the Sun" pretty much the entire drive home.

From there, Morgan produced a series of CD/DVD releases, a 2017 Grammy-nominated CD (BRIGHTER SIDE), and now an Audible exclusive children's audiobook, an origin tale entitled "I'M FROM THE SUN." The nearly-four-hour story also includes all the songs (13 brand new ones and three reprises, produced by Wilco's Pat Sansone), which serves as a separate entity altogether.

Judging the music by itself, Gustafer Yellowgold has remained a perennial favorite of Ben's (it's perfectly coincidental that Gustafer's older brother is also named Ben). Despite the age gap between Ben and his younger brother, the kids are both looking forward to bonding over Morgan's creation at his February 2 performance at Symphony Space (tickets on sale here). The tunes on I'M FROM THE SUN include the title track as well as the War-soundalike "Low Rider" inspired "Hot Malt Eagle," the trippy "Ellen Lemon," and the anthemic closer "Feel Your Shine."

It took my younger son Matt and I quite a while to wade through I'M FROM THE SUN. Thirteen chapters (at one chapter a night, on average) broken up over several weeks, even at 1.25x speed, took some time. The story is a prequel to the "Gustafer on Earth" material, centering on the Yellowgold family's tenuous finances running a raisin carvery, Gustafer's secret dislike of raisins, and a climactic race as part of the Tiger Face holiday festival. Along the way, Morgan delivers messages about finding your own voice, bullying, and personal responsibility.

To this point in time, Gustafer Yellowgold has been a one-man operation. While that works well in a stage setting, it was initially challenging to separate the distinct voices of the many characters – all voiced by Morgan. But the story is engaging, the puns are tolerable, and we even listened to the final race and aftermath in one setting, at Matt's request. So I'M FROM THE SUN clearly hit its demographic in that regard.

Morgan gives himself at "out," as the audiobook ends with a cliffhanger that will segue into another DVD/CD or a second audiobook. Either way, Gustafer Yellowgold lives to see another day, another incarnation, and to jump on more cakes (it would take too long to explain). The sun has yet to set on the Yellowgold empire and youthful audiences should be prepared for more post-ecliptic epics.

I'M FROM THE SUN is available exclusively from Audible. You can get tickets for The Gustafer Yellowgold Show at Symphony Space on Saturday, February 2 from Symphony Space

Here is the video for "Hot Malt Eagle" from the new Gustafer Yellowgold audiobook, I'M FROM THE SUN:

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
Hey Mr. Bus Driver – Danny Weinkauf
People Watching – Dean Jones
Paradise – George Ezra
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie

Quick Hits: When Flor Met Kitty (video)

Peruvian-born musician Flor Bromley first saw a-ha's influential music video for their song, "Take On Me" when it hit MTV in 1985. In the back of her mind, Flor knew that someday, she would pay it forward how much the animation technique meant to her. That day has come, with the release of her video "Kitty," from her bilingual children's music album, CHIQUI BOOM BOOM.

The video finds Flor in a diner, where she is drawn into an animated adventure with a friendly kitten. Much like the a-ha song that inspired it, "Kitty" cuts back and forth from live action to hand-drawn characters. There is even a happy ending – although not to the degree that a-ha ripped off from the seminal 1980 Ken Russell movie Altered States. "Kitty" was directed by Jesse Judy from Genesius Studios and animated by Tommy Cha.

You can purchase CHIQUI BOOM BOOM from Apple Music or Amazon

Here is the video for "Kitty":

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, December 14, 2018

Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
Peace Be To All – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Tricycle – Danny Weinkauf
I've Been Everywhere In New York City – Hopalong Andrew
Handle With Care  – Like Father Like Son
Higher Higher  – Justin Timberlake

Have A Heaping Holiday Helping of Matt Heaton

Boston's Matt Heaton is a throwback to the 1970s style of children's music – a singer-songwriter backed (on his recordings) by a bevy of total professionals. His new winter/holiday CD, SNOW DAY! features a lot of rockabilly guitar but also a touch of flutes.

I've lost count of the number of songs titled "Snow Day," but Matt attempts to put his own stamp on the burgeoning sub-genre. Other than the title track, the rest of the CD covers the festive gamut of staying up for Santa ("The Sneak") to a twangy "Can't Judge a Gift" that's only missing a cut-in ad break from a local sponsor.

Nostalgia continues to evolve, however, as witnessed in "Christmas Movies," where Matt reminisces how in our pre-TiVo and Netflix days, you had to peruse the TV schedule to determine when and where your favorite specials were airing in REAL TIME. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" gets a bossa nova tune-up and "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" goes surfing with a Dick Dale picking style. And Matt's "Hanukkah O Hannukah" has never made the token ethnic tune sound so welcoming. "Winter Wonderland" needs no introduction, and in Matt's version, it's merely a laid-back instrumental.

You either have an affinity for holiday music or you don't. Matt uses SNOW DAY as an opportunity to deliver some seasonal chestnuts with flavor and passion.

SNOW DAY is available from Matt's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here's the terribly unseasonal video for "Don't Drink the Water":

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, December 13, 2018

Me And You – Caspar Babypants
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
What Will I Be? – The Not-Its!
Teddy Bear – Danny Weinkauf
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Kids Imagine Nation Rocks the Halls for Xmas

The best recent joke I've heard about the holiday season is: Anyone who says they don't hate Christmas music has never worked retail.

Having completely spoiled the mood, I'm now going to review a children's music release devoted to that topic. Kids Imagine Nation is the high energy trio that make
the Wiggles look sleepy (and not just original Wiggle Jeff). CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE is their aptly-named third CD and it's chock full of, well, power pop anthems.

"Up On the Housetop" strips the paint off the old standard and rebuilds it as a full-throttled raver. "Frosty the Snowman" gets an EDM dance beat and "Go frosty go" refrains. "Jingle Bells" sounds like it came right from the Thanksgiving Day parade and "Deck the Halls" features singing dogs (and cats). KIN's closing selection of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" is not to be played for toddler at bedtime. In fact, I'd recommend it as a wake-up song or something for mom to play as she cuts through traffic to get the kids to school on a wintry day.

CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE is available from Amazon and Apple Music.

You can find Kids Imagine Nation on their YouTube channel as well. Here's a recent episode featuring "Santa's Workshop":

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, December 10, 2018

Animal Land – Bears And Lions
One Of These Days – Vance Joy
We Love to Verb – Danny Weinkauf
Runaway Bike – The Not-Its!
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Meadow – Stone Temple Pilots

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, December 7, 2018

How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Sea Of Stars – Dan Zanes
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
What's Done is Done – Jack White
Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, December 6, 2018

Can You Sing? – Dan Zanes
Always Ascending – Franz Ferdinand
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants
People Watching – Dean Jones
Over and Under – Danny Weinkauf

Holiday Music Playlist, Johnette Downing's "How To Dress a Po'Boy" Video

Sugar Mountain PR, which represents a scary good number of children's musical artists, has released its 2018 holiday music playlist. It's available on Soundcloud and contains the following performers – 123 Andrés, Alphabet Rockers (with Genevieve Goings), Ants Ants Ants, Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, Tim Kubart, Lisa Loeb, The Not-Its!, the Okee Dokee Brothers, Raffi, Ralph's World, Justin Roberts, Brady Rymer, Suzi Shelton, Trout Fishing in America, Key Wilde & Mr Clarke, and Kira Willey. It's live on Soundcloud, so go grab it!

Johnette Downing has gone cajun. For her 11th children's music CD, SWAMP ROMP (coming next February), Johnette spent five years in writing the material for the CD, the first recorded with her husband/producer Scott Billington, in New Orleans.

And if you're going down the bayou, you might as well bring along a bunch of top-notch supporting players. Guest artists on SWAMP ROMP include Irma Thomas, Roddie Romero, Joel Savoy, James Singleton, Doug Belote, Lee Allen Zeno, Matt Perrine, Wilson Savoy, Jake Eckert, C.R. Gruver, "Washboard Chaz" Leary, players in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Roger Lewis, Kevin Harris and Kirk Joseph), the Dukes of Dixieland (Kevin Clark, Craig Klein and Tim Laughlin), the McCrary Sisters, and some of the ReBirth Brass Band (Keith Frazier and Derrick Tabb).

The first video from SWAMP ROMP comes with animation from the picture book of the same name, "How to Dress a Po'Boy":

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Shiny New Music from Danny Weinkauf and His Red Pants Band

This review is not about George Harrison. It's not even about Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads). But there is parallel between George Harrison and They Might Be Giants' bassist Danny Weinkauf. George was "given" about one track per Beatles album for his own material. Later, when he went solo, he surprised everyone with his prodigious output; even a TRIPLE album that is still listed as the most successful individual project from the esteemed group. When TMBG started their children's music CDs, Danny was granted a similar ration. And it just wasn't enough for him.

Danny Weinkauf and the Red Pants Band (Tina Kenny Jones, Russ Jones, and Steve Plesnarski) have released their third CD (and Danny's fourth solo effort), entitled INSIDE I SHINE. A generous frontman, many of the 15 tunes feature Tina on lead vocals, including the title track and the groovin' "Dozen Good Reason."

A prodigious songwriter and producer, Danny makes sure that INSIDE I SHINE is crammed full of pop appeal and preteen zeal. "We Love to Verb" gives a vocabulary-building lesson without rubbing your kid's nose in the educational aspect. And do you think pumpkins are vegetables because they grow on vines? Let the band set you straight on the SiriusXM Kids Place Live "13 Under 13" chart-topper "Pumpkins Are My Favorite Fruit."

Much like the Beatles, TMBG never set out to intentionally make music for children. After 20 years in the business, though, tunes like "Dr. Worm" just lent themselves to that genre. Danny and his band have the opposite in mind. "Dozen Good Reasons" could be a simple, traditional love song, except in this context it's generational, from mother (or an older relative) to child. With songs like "Teddy Bear" and "Tricycle" the listener is back in the standard "independent children's music band" zone.

The song structure on INSIDE I SHINE also detours from the typical kid's CD, placing "Good Morning to You" as track 13. Most children's musicians will open with an AM or "can't wait to play" song, and build like a rollercoaster with dance songs in the middle, before coasting to a stop with a lullaby. Danny closes INSIDE I SHINE with a piano version of "The Moon Is Made of Cheese," followed by show tune "Wiggle Wiggle" and a short piano blooper. I'd say he's subverting expectations, but that would be delusionally pompous and improper. The Red Pants Band just wants to have fun, and what's more fun that a good surprise or two?

INSIDE I SHINE is available from Danny Weinkauf's website, Amazon, Bandcamp, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the song, "Pumpkins Are My Favorite Fruit":

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 21, 2018

This Is How We Bring In The Sun – Justin Roberts
Staring Contest – The Not-Its!
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
Press Play – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Paradise – George Ezra
Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf

Quick Hits: Videos from Alphabet Rockers and Okee Dokee Brothers

Grammy nominees the Alphabet Rockers have released their new video, "Walls" with Sesame Street actor Emilio Delgado (Luis). The song is from their nominated CD, RISE SHINE #WOKE:

For your music-loving child, and just in time for the holidays, the Alphabet Rockers have launched a collection of T-shirts to give young change-makers and their parents a chance to wear what they believe. Designed by original Alphabet Rockers member Stefanie Liang Chung, the shirts feature song lyrics from their recent CD. T-shirt purchases from The Alphabet Rockers’ store on Bandcamp include unlimited streaming of a song through the free Bandcamp app.

Grammy winners the Okee Dokee Brothers continue the hype for their recent CD, WINTERLAND, with a video for "Snowpeople":

WINTERLAND follows nature through its voyage from autumn to spring, with secular winter music the entire family can enjoy while cozying up around the fire. Snuggle up with your little ones and enjoy the videos.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Music and Mindfulness from Lianne Bassin

Music and mindfulness go hand in hand. What quiets a fevered imagination? What provides a gentle metronomic beat and puts words to expressions and thoughts? Lianne Bassin's new CD, EVERYONE GROWS delivers a set of mindfulness exercises for children, sparing all the rock in favor of pianos and strings and all things feeling good.

"Can You Hear Your Body" typifies the message that Lianne wants to convey – "what if..." questions are answered by kids, with the refrain "Listen to your feelings, talking to you." You know exactly what you're getting with titles like "Quiet," "Be Free," "Dream," and "Kite." The rap-infused "Mr. Bear and Birdie Together Again" brings together two diverse animals who express their shared frustrations and techniques to deal with their emotions.

Lianne is on a mission to peacefully promote polite and pastoral pieces. EVERYONE GROWS is an earnest and soothing landscape of imagery and instrumentation for preteens, and it evens ends with a public service message (for that, you need to click through to hear what I'm talking about). Namaste and be well, all those under Lianne's tutelage.

EVERYONE GROWS: CHILDREN'S SONGS FOR MINDFULNESS is available on November 1 from Lianne's website, Soundcloud, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Lianne doesn't have many videos, so here's the Kickstarter video for the CD:

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, November 9, 2018

Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants
Day One – Tim Kubart
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Going to the Library – Danny Weinkauf

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Okee Dokee Brothers Warm Up the Winter

The Okee Dokee Brothers and neither brothers nor named Okee Dokee, but that's alright. In fact, tall tales are part of the country's heritage. And since Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing are all about celebrating the great outdoors, they've earned the right to engage in a little Paul Bunyan-ing (especially after winning a Grammy award).

Their latest CD, WINTERLAND, delivers 16 original compositions themed loosely around being home for the holidays with the family. The album kicks off with "Blankets of Snow," which brings a familiar Okee Dokee trick, the turn of a phrase, "Ain’t it kinda funny how a cold day keeps you warm?" Joe and Justin continue their wordplay on "Slumberjack" with "See what ya saw and saw what you see." As a mnemonic device, it's especially easy in teaching kids how to sing the lyrics.

WINTERLAND demonstrates how to sing educational tunes about the great outdoors and nature without overwhelming the fun and singalong quality of the material. Joe and Justin even squeeze in a "song cycle" about the role winter plays in preparing children for death. WAIT COME BACK... It's all about the life of a tree and how a dead tree still has a place to help with wildlife in the spring. You can stop sweating and shaking now. Here's a sample of "Great Grandmother Tree":

In the backwoods of an old mighty forest
There’s a silver maple tree lyin’ on her side
She’s home to all kinds of life now
She doesn’t live but she’s still alive

Joe and Justin have dedicated WINTERLAND to their beloved and endangered winters, which are warming fast as a result of climate change. To help ensure their fans can enjoy a lifetime of snowy winter exploration, the Okee Dokees are donating 10% of all WINTERLAND CD sales to Askov Finlayson’s Keep the North Cold initiative, which supports leading-edge climate solutions in the North and across the country. Read more about their important mission here.

Once again, you can feel the steady producing hand of Dean Jones on the warm, welcoming songs like "Candle" and "You You You." The Okee Dokee Brothers sing about how nature was here before us, surrounds us, and how we can improve our relationship with the planet. WINTERLAND is deceptively complex and simply intoxicating at the same time. Come inside, make some hot chocolate, and sit a spell, while learning that we're all here for the world, not the other way around.

WINTERLAND is available from the Okee Dokee Brothers website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the duo's song, "Blankets of Snow":

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Justin Roberts, Naptime Players Rock Symphony Space

Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players returned for their (mostly) annual performance at Symphony Space on Saturday, November 3, part of the Just Kidding Kids series of weekly events for children and families. Now that Justin is a new father (really new, like less than one month new) it's going to be interesting to see how he adjusts his touring schedule in the future. Not to mention that he has diversified into books (two currently out with another pair on the horizon), so the release of another CD in the near future is a question mark.

Despite mild temperatures and an erroneous forecast of showers, it was an easy commute however we've definitely seen fuller, more boisterous audiences in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Luckily those in attendance did finally spark and begin to participate, as shown in the videos.

After nearly 20 years in the business, Justin and his band (Liam Davis, Gerald Dowd, Jacqueline Schimmel, and David Winer) have the patter and interaction down to a science. Yet it still appears fresh and fun, with the band seeming to genuinely enjoy the opportunity to entertain a tentative batch of hardened New York City kids.

As ever, setlist maven Ben remarked at which songs the band were not playing, as well as which ones he didn't recall the band playing at previous shows. Matt, on the other hand, reacted as if he was hearing some of these songs live for the first time – and admitted he did not remember seeing the band a few years back at the New Victory Theater. And that's why he tags along, to provide a fresh set of eyes to help me see every band. Justin signed off with a hopeful "We'll see you again," and we'll hold him to that promise.

Performances continue at Symphony Space every Saturday morning. Next up: Legend of the Banana Kid (Western Puppets on November 10) and Moona Luna (Spanish/English music on November 17).

Friday, November 02, 2018

Danny Weinkauf: Children's Music Shines Through

When you think about They Might Be Giants, you immediately think of the two-headed frontmen, the Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell). But the third tendril of that hydra should belong to bassist Danny Weinkauf, whose tenure with the band extends more than 20 years – and is the longest outside of the originators. TMBG just completed an international tour and Weinkauf was right there for every stop, although he's also excited about INSIDE I SHINE, the upcoming CD with his Red Pants Band.

"The recent tours with TMBG have been absolutely fantastic for many reasons," Danny explained. "On a world tour, we see so many great cities in Europe, Canada, San Juan, Puerto Rico... And next February we head to Australia!" Danny affirms it's amazing for TMBG to go to a place where the band has never played. "We find a whole new group of fans that know the music and sing along with such enthusiasm," he added.
Danny Weinkauf (sitting) and his Red Pants Band

Both Johns are hard-working and extremely prolific and last year brought back TMBG's "Dial-A-Song." Due to the volume of material that service goes through, in two of the past three years, they have released a new song every week of the year. "This is great for me as I get to record all these new songs and also play them in our live shows," Danny said. "TMBG is not a legacy act that just plays old songs."

In an interview with Marc Maron (you'll need to subscribe to his premium service to hear it), the Johns sounded off on the state of children's music and their decision to concentrate on adult ventures. "I don’t think there’s been an official departure for TMBG from children’s music, but the truth is they have a more than full career writing and performing their non-kids music, which takes priority for them," Danny said. "As for my children’s music, they are always 100% supportive of my projects. John F actually helps me promote my shows sometimes."

Considering Danny was on tour for most of the past several months, the release of INSIDE I SHINE seems to have taken some coordinated effort. "I bring a portable recording set-up on the road. I work on music for TV and commercials or write more children’s songs from hotels all over the world," he explained. "So writing and recording INSIDE I SHINE took about one year in total." Danny still records almost all of the music himself. "Then my wife Michelle and Tina Kenny Jones sing and that completes the sound of the band," he adds. "On this album, our live drummer Steve Plesnarski tracked a couple of tunes which was a treat for me, as I didn’t have to play ’em all myself!"

The band covers the Sesame Street classic "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" on this CD, a tune written by Jeff Moss. "That song is kind of part of the American fabric; my grown-up friends remember it from their childhoods and their children know it as well," Danny said. "I actually heard a beautiful version by Jess Penner, looked up the song, and found that many bands had done ballad versions of it. I thought it might be fun to create a Red Pants Band rock version and that’s what we put on the album."

The release of INSIDE I SHINE is being sandwiched in between upcoming tour dates for TMBG in Canada and Australia. "We have a couple of Red Pants Band shows to celebrate the release at the Long Island Children’s Museum, which is celebrating their 25th anniversary," Danny said. "We're playing shows on November 17 and 18. After the full TMBG tour ends next spring, I hope to bring the Red Pants Band to as many towns as will have us."

Click here to listen to Danny Weinkauf and the Red Pants Band sing "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon." Visit the band's website here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Quick Hits: Justin Roberts Back in NYC, New Music from Mista Cookie Jar

Children's music favorite (and new father) Justin Roberts returns to Symphony Space in New York on Saturday, November 3 with a show (11 am). I've written plenty about Mr. Roberts and his engaging, amusing catalog. But with a new baby in the mix, there are going to be fewer opportunities in the short-term to see him in concert. So make an effort to get out the door and see him this go-round. Buy your tickets with a 10% discount ($17 each for non-members) using code Kidding10  (case-sensitive) here.

Here's Justin and the Not Ready for Naptime Players performing "Lemonade," the title track from his Grammy-nominated album:

Once your kids have calmed down and need a little rewinding, Mista Cookie Jar's got his groove back and it's in the song "Spirit Animal." Shocking that CJ might be feeling a little midlife crisis, but he's marveling at the fabulous little person sharing a residence with him:

How do you barely have
any life experience
and you’re already a zen master?
I don’t get it.
You are...the coolest.

Find "Spirit Animal" at Mista Cookie Jar's Bandcamp page as well as his website.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 26, 2018

Watching You Grow – Frances England
Might As Well Dance – Jason Mraz
Rainbow In Your Eyes – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Musical ¡Alegria! from Sonia de los Santos

You'd think removing politics from children's music would be easy. These days, though, there are many variables and minefields to avoid. I thought a major misstep was Randy and Dave's "I Should Have Been Born in Mexico" earlier this year, which was released at the height of the separation of immigrant children from their parents. Children's music can address sorrow and other negative emotions, but at its core it's built from hope and optimism. Sonia de los Santos's second CD, ¡ALEGRIA! abounds with those qualities. "These days it feels more important than ever to find reasons to be happy and stay grateful," Sonia writes in her liner notes, dedicating the music to those who are struggling to find a reason to smile.

"Alegria" translates literally into "joy," and Sonia certainly conveys that sentiment with her clear, friendly vocals. The title track will dig into your skull like a warm, fuzzy earwig. Highlights include the street-strutting, horn-heavy "La Maraca" and "Mariposa Montuna" (Mariposa Mountain) with rich Columbian flutes and vocals from Nilko Andreas Guarin.

Sonia includes a few English songs – "Hey Little Bunny!" a bouncy animal pals tune "Daisy Mae," a balled with Elizabeth Mitchell, and "Songs for the People," a folkie anthem with Dan Zanes and Claudia Eliaza. Ordinarily they be a welcome break for non-Spanish speakers. Instead, it's almost a distraction from all the good done on the other tracks by Sonia and company. Closer "Donde TuEstes (Wherever You Go)" with Cathy and Marcy gets the mix just right, however:

When you can button up your shirt
And brush off your own dust and dirt
When you can spell and write your name
I will love you just the same.

While there is power in happiness, ¡ALEGRIA! also celebrates the resiliency of happiness. Whether it's monarch butterflies ("Mariposa Montuna") or rabbits ("Hey Little Bunny") or the unending love of parents ("Wherever You Go"), the sheer endurance of these things offer hope and inspiration every day. Sonia asserts that our differences should bring us together as a community, not divide us. Basically, that would result in alegria for all.

¡ALEGRIA! is available from Sonia de los Santos's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the title track of the CD:

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Smile For Me – David Tobocman
Setting Sun – Bears And Lions
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Paradise – George Ezra
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions

Rockness Monsters Welcome Fall With a Ball

Michael and the Rockness Monsters are releasing their third CD, MONSTER'S BALL, right before Halloween. The title is a misnomer as this is not a spooky album of children's songs, even if there is are songs about robots and a fish named Dog.

Michael Napolitano earned his musical chops through breeding – his father Tony was a drummer for decades. But Michael went in his own direction, founding the Rockness Music program for children's music education. He is now celebrating 10 years of making music in various forms for kids with the new CD, which he co-produced with Dean Jones (sounds familiar, where do I know that name).

MONSTER'S BALL contains the usual suspects of themes and notions, from "Party Train" to "When I'm Jumpin'" to "Truck Day." What Michael brings to the table is his authenticity and enthusiasm. Who else would attempt an English-French album closer ("Les Lumières De Paris/Nights In Paris") outside of Putumayo Music? Animation seems to be a big feature of the Rockness experience, as "Growing Bigger" is a second jumping song, manufactured around the conceit of getting older but ostensively just another occasion to get young concert-goers on their feet and quaking with the beat.

Songs from the Rockness Monsters tend to linger in your subconscious until you're humming them without realizing it. In that regard, "Woodpecker" follows in the pattern of "Squirrel Fight." Speaking of a Parisian vibe, "Mona Lisa" explains the body/mind connection between hearing music and engaging our bodies to move, dance, and smile mysteriously.

MONSTER'S BALL delves into family dynamics as well, with "A Fish Named Dog" telling the tale of a child making the most of the parental edict, "No dogs allowed!" I guess the proximity to Halloween is basically to let children know that the Rockness Monsters are more about treats all year round and keeping the tricks on the down-low. For younger listeners, MONSTER'S BALL is this fall's first informal cotillion. Come and celebrate with cider, pumpkins, and dancing robots.

MONSTER'S BALL is available on October 26 from Michael and the Rockness Monsters' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the song, "A Fish Named Dog":

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.