Sunday, June 17, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 18, 2018

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

Friday, June 15, 2018

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the video for "Dust Pan":

Monday, June 11, 2018

Gunnar Madsen Sets the Table After 10 Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, June 11, 2018

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

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 7, 2018

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

A Perennial Evolves With Highlights Hangout!

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

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

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

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

Tim Seston Sings About How Kids' Lives Roll On Despite Challenges

Not all children are created equal. But they all have the same goals and expectations. Massachusetts teacher and musician Tim Seston explores those dimensions on his new CD, ON A ROLL. A father of three, Tim's son Luke was born with cerebral palsy. Regardless of disability, Luke is credited as tambourine player on the CD and features prominently in the artwork. The title track itself is a double entendré (of the least risqué kind) for a freewheeling child living with mental or physical impairment.

ON A ROLL is a CD with high expectations and a low age range (for listeners). The acoustic arrangements are augmented by violin, trombone, kazoo, clarinet, saxophone, tuba, mandolin, banjolin, dobro, trumpet, but seldom an electric instrument. Don't look for sophisticated synthesizers and keyboards – Tim may sing about "DNA," but it's as far from The Pop-Ups GIANTS OF SCIENCE as you can get when dealing with the same basic scientific premises.

Tim has more than a decade of experience as an educator and performing musician. He is well-versed in the demands made on parents and acutely aware of what happens when one of the children commands more attention due to special needs. As far as I'm concerned, Tim is preaching to the converted on that narrative. Conveying those points without talking down to his audience is the overriding concern of ON A ROLL. On songs such as "In Walked James," Tim deals with hyperactivity and exuberant imagination. I explained "Canker Sore"  to my kids, only to double back when I realized Tim was co-opting the term and applying it to a terrible, awful, no-good day. I found it a bit off-putting that "Rhymenocerous" is essentially a country song featuring hip-hop, beat-boxing animals – although Tim's website notes the song is really about how it feels to be excluded.

Once you've been introduced to the world of special needs, you never go back through the Looking Glass. It's a constant reminder that some children lack equivalent capabilities, but that all children should be capable of the same goals and expectations. ON A ROLL brings those fears and frustrations to the forefront in a folksy, genial manner. A tambourine may not be a guitar, but it's good enough to allow Luke Seston to be part of his father's world of music. And ON A ROLL provides an introduction for the rest of us.

ON A ROLL is available on June 8 from Tim Seston's website, AmazoniTunes, and CDBaby.

Here is a recent video of Tim performing "Wake the Imagination":

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake
Shadow – The Pop Ups
14 Like Father Like Son – Like Father Like Son

Monday, June 04, 2018

Generations Collaborate, Celebrate Like Father Like Son

When it comes to nature versus nurture, children's music is intrinsically taught by one generation to the next. You don't see many two-year-olds in NYC crawling off on their own to catch the 6 train to concerts. Now stop thinking about that image. Focus. That's better.

Like Father Like Son takes the "family music" concept one step further on their debut CD, SUN IS A STAR. Lou Gallo literally followed in the footsteps of Laurie Berkner, succeeding her as a music teacher at the Rockefeller University’s Child and Family Center. He started recording children's music when his son Frank was two years old. In that way, Frank Gallo was born into the family business. Frank got to witness firsthand as his dad toured with Lou Gallo and the Very Hungry Band. When Frank turned from acting to music, he formed Rolie Polie Guacamole, a kid's band which shares a similar gastronomic affinity.

Lou and Frank tossed around a few joint recording possibilities before deciding on Like Father Like Son. SUN IS A STAR brings in Grammy-winning über-producer Dean Jones for a guiding hand. Long Island kindie legacy Brady Rymer steps in for two songs, including a rocking cover of "Handle With Care" from the Traveling Wilburys. Fun fact: That supergroup got its name from the studio nickname for flubs ("We'll bury it in the mix"). Trivia tip o' the hat to Dana Gould. Katie (Mullins) Ha-Ha-Ha provides some bountiful harmonies. And if the other Gallo-Rymer tune, "Little Bit of Time" doesn't open tear ducts, then you've got an Infinity Stone for a heart:

There is just a little bit of time we share
When you are small, and you are mine
You run and play
The days away
I watch and say
There's nothing I wouldn't do
To keep this moment here with you
Like that river that must flow I know

SUN IS A STAR yo-yos from songs for the very young ("Sharks and Dinosaurs" and "Shake Shake Shake") to the sentimental ("Like My Dad") to the offbeat ("I Got a Beard" and "Tennis Racket Song"). Lou goes to the folklore well for "Day-O" and Frank reels off a fountain of famous kid's TV and film figures on "Halloween Night." I found the latter tune sounded like a slowed-down version of "Stray Cat Strut," but it grew on me, especially when Matt (7) started singing along to the refrain of the chorus.

The CD ends with "Like Father Like Son," a poppy reaffirmation that Lou and Frank Gallo were genetically pre-programmed to record together. The back-and-forth lyrics exchange cadence and sentiment, thought and emotion, pride and pleasure, in a gentle, relatable manner. All things that you really should teach your children.

SUN IS A STAR is available on June 8 from Bandcamp, CDBaby, iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the CD's title track, "Sun is a Star":

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Green Day for Jersey's Jumpin' Jamie

Children's music sounds so simple yet conversely it can be frustratingly difficult. As They Might Be Giants opined on Marc Maron's podcast recently, there's a lot of stuff out there that's not very good. Let me therefore state that Jumpin' Jamie has managed to traverse the difficult pathway between simple and difficult. His debut CD, KOOKIE, delivers power-pop, parody, and positivity in equal measure.


Jamie uses Green Day's iconic DOOKIE as a jumping-off point, with lots of hard rock guitars behind songs like "Back to the Future" (a recap of the film), "Words," and "A Ghost in My House." Contemporary pop artists utilize different co-writers and production teams behind virtually every track on their CDs. Somehow, Jamie has employed a similar technique on KOOKIE, with five producers, including Danny Weinkauf and Marty Bellar (TMBG).

There are also a stunning 40 (!) guest stars listed on the CD, although the vast majority appear on "I Wanna Be Healthy," such as Peter Tork (The Monkees), Patricia Quinn (Rocky Horror Picture Show), and a bevy of kid's music stars I won't offend by offering a partial listing. Yes, there's a dino song as well, "The Rise and Fall of Argentinosaurus" (put that one in your spell-check).

Children's music has the ability to offer messages about adults while winking at their kids. I've seen this done countless times in my decade-plus by too many artists to mention. Jamie attempts it as well, with mixed returns. "I Wanna Be Healthy" rests at the top end of the spectrum, while "Coffee" lands with a thunk:

Why do adults drink coffee?
They watch football and they place their bets.

They do unhealthy things like smoke cigarettes.
They loves taxes and more things that are bland.
I guess some things I just don't understand.

"Coffee" comes off more as a scold that an amusing fable. As the protagonist's parents smoke and gamble, the only thing they don't mix some booze in with their caffeine. Given a choice, I would recommend "The Coffee Song" by Ralph's World. Okay, point successfully beaten into the ground.

Jamie Theurich's "day job" is as dinosaur troubadour (yes, it's a thing) at New Jersey's popular Field Station: Dinosaurs theme park. As such, he's intimately familiar with what works in front of audiences comprised of, well, who knows what, for any given performance. That's not a bad jumping-off point. And Jamie is certainly jumpin' for greener pastures with KOOKIE.

KOOKIE is available on June 1 from Jumpin' Jamie's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for Jamie's song, "Back to the Future":

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, May 25, 2018

I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
People Watching – Dean Jones
10,000 Pancakes – Gunnar Madsen
09 Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Kicking Up Dust – Hullabaloo

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
Astronauts Love –  Jumpin' Jamie
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
Kid Of The Week – The Not-Its!
Chewy to Your Han – Recess Monkey
Science of Sleep – The Pop Ups

Jarebear Goes Full 70s With Giant Jelly Bean

Concept CDs can go either way. When everything works, you wind up with a masterpiece like The Who's rock opera, TOMMY. When nothing works, you get, well, the opposite of TOMMY. Come on, guys, work with me here. It's all a matter of personal taste and perception. Even John Lennon did an interview and badmouthed Sgt. Pepper. Even rarer is the conceptual kid's CD. A nifty recent example would be Recess Monkey's HOT AIR.

New to the scene is Austin, Texas garage band Jarebear, with their entry into the fray, THE JOURNEY FOR THE GIANT JELLY BEAN. Minus a press release or any substantive biographical info, what I can say is that Jarebear goes gently down that concept road, taking a right at the fork where King Crimson splits from Pater Gabriel-era Genesis.

GIANT JELLY BEAN follows a boy named Otis, who learns about a mythical giant jelly bean that's supposed to solve all the world's problems. He and his team go on a quest that turns into a voyage of self-discovery, naturally. I'm not giving away too much of the story with that information.

As with any concept CD, the sum is greater than the parts. And THE GIANT JELLY BEAN is certainly no exception. Out of context, the lyrics appear to be two parts The Wiggles, one part Spin Doctors:

We’re meeting new people, we’re trying new food
New courses of action are being pursued
The sky is so blue, the trees are so pretty
It’s really quite different from our dear old city
Here we go, Here we go
Here we go, so don’t be slow

If you've got a hankering for old-fashioned prog rock (look it up) and your kids are in the mood to engage their imaginations, THE GIANT JELLY BEAN could really make your scene, man. Jarebear has targeted its sights on a selective demographic. Doth thee wisheth to maketh the trek, perchance? Or does the idea just give you a mightieth headache? Check the samples on Bandcamp below and free your mind.

JOURNEY FOR THE GIANT JELLY BEAN is available from Jarebear's website, Burger RecordsBandcamp, Amazon, and iTunes.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, May 21, 2018

Sun Is a Star – Like Father Like Son
Dodgeball – Justin Roberts
Goodbye – Hullabaloo
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Soar  – Mo Phillips
That Laugh – Recess Monkey
The Man Who Built The Moon – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Raise Your Kids' IQ (and Dance Ratio) With the Pop-Ups

The boys are back! If Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake got together to make a children's music CD with an informative theme, I'd bet it would sound a lot like The Pop-Ups' GIANTS OF SCIENCE. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is one of those hot trending educational topics (Why do I seem to be leading with that sentiment so often recently). Brooklyn musicians Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein continue their successful collaboration by getting PhDiggy with it.

When i went to college, I took a lot of notes. It's a definite 180 from learning from The Pop-Ups – it's really difficult to juggle a notebook while you're dancing. Light refraction is the subject for album-opener "Shadow." Guest star Secret Agent 23 Skidoo is on board to encourage listeners to "catch the light."

There's finger-snapping fun with "Time," which informs that "time is not so straight and narrow" with a slight reggae tinge. "Inventors" includes a shout-out to CRISPR. That's a first in any form of music I've heard, including children's music.

"Synthesizer" is self-explanatory, and as Ben put it, "sounds like Devo." As the boys ask, "Are we not synthesized men? Perhaps the most scientifically-grounded tune, "Cave of Wonders," is the furthest stretch, as they bring a "mica disco ball" into play.

I could visually almost imagine the choreography for "How Do We Know," about all the intriguing, sometimes off-color questions that children often ask. An "actual scientist," no really, Dr. Amanda Simson from the University of New Haven, provides a fact break (as opposed to a rap break). "The Science of Sleep" helps inquisitive young minds drift off to sleep (as every dance must come to an end). But when it slumber happens, it's one small step for little minds, one excellent freestyle boogie for the Pop-Ups.

GIANTS OF SCIENCE is available on May 18 from The Pop-Ups' website, Amazon, iTunes, Soundcloud, and Spotify.

Here is the Sesame Street video "Magic Letter Elevator" featuring music by the Pop-Ups:

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

All in the Family for Vered

I don't remember when my first little brother arrived. I was just under two years old. Same story with the next one. My mother wrote an anecdote in my "baby book" that she passed along a few years ago – After my THIRD baby brother joined the gang, at some point I asked, "When is the next baby coming home?" to which she replied, "That's the last one."

Vered examines the dynamics of family with her new CD, SONGS FOR SISTERS AND BROTHERS. "One Family" delivers the inclusive all-world message, but the other tracks delve into the interpersonal aspects, from excitement upon hearing your family is growing ("You're Gonna Be") to the soulful, bluesy longing for one-on-one contact ("Like It Once Was"). Walter Martin humorously duets on "It'll Be" with insults and wistful enthusiasm, such as "I'll help you blow out all your candles 'cause by then there'll be millions of them" before declaring "It'll be so good to be grown up with you." A kids chorus sings (and whistles) about how everyone's a narcissist sometimes in "Brothers and Sisters."

There's also a view from the parental side. In "Pr Agent," Vered gives a first-person account of succeeding because of – and sometimes despite – her kids. And how those same kids bring moments of pure joy and frustration, just like in every parent-child relationship.

The recent movie "Tully" examines the mental and physical toll of being a full-time, stay-at-home mother. Vered recognizes that after the first child, it's almost impossible to lavish the same amount of attention on all the kids. At which point, it becomes almost astounding when the youngest one suddenly discovers and develops skillsets. As she relates in the song, "Little Bird":

You learn to touch the sky all my yourself
When no one's watching
It's really something.
My little bird, it's like you just need a nest
For when you want to rest.

There are a bunch of special participants on SONGS FOR SISTERS AND BROTHERS, and Vered even credits them as the "Dream Team" on the CD inner sleeve. It's an impressive list of vocalists and instrumentalists who collaborated on a smart, friendly collection of tunes. My brothers may be a little too old to appreciate the sentiments, but my younger son isn't. And maybe even his older brother.

SONGS FOR SISTERS AND BROTHERS is available on May 18 from Vered's website (BabyInTune), iTunes, Amazon, and CDBABY.

Here is Vered and the Babes performing "Hello":

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, May 11, 2018

Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
Supermoon – Hullabaloo
Smile For Me – David Tobocman
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie
Say Something – Justin Timberlake

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, June 10, 2018

Higher Higher – Justin Timberlake
We're Going Home– Vance Joy
What's Done is Done– Jack White
Cloud Skateboard– Mo Phillips
Chewy to Your Han– Recess Monkey
Countin' On Me (Bison vers)– The Okee Dokee Brothers

Ants Ants Ants Come Marching In

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is one of those hot trending educational topics (Why do I seem to be leading with that sentiment so often recently). Ants Ants Ants take that theme, throw in an appreciation of the Beatles, Harry Nilsson, and the Alan Parsons Project and blend everything into their debut CD, WHY WHY WHY?

Multi-hyphenates Johnny Clay (The Dimes) and Dave Gulick (Derby) have made their mark in the Portland, Oregon and surrounding area, including national commercials, etc. I've written before about how this country houses pockets of darn good children's music that oftentimes burns so fiercely that the recordings permeate the ozone layer and make it back to my corner of the sky. WHY WHY WHY? is one of those discs.

WHY WHY WHY? features a craftsman's dozen (as opposed to a baker's dozen) nature-centric songs, including the Parsonsesque, twangy "I Spy." "Helicopter Leaves" could be Jeff Lynne's idea of an ELO tune for tykes, and isn't even about aircraft – it's about fronds that descend in a circular motion from their plant of origin. The peppy "Ants" is as close to a title track as you're going to get. "Where Does the Moon Go?" has an infectious chorus that dares you not to sing along, in almost-Traveling Wilburys way:

Where do the stars go in the daytime?
Where do they come from every night?
How do they find their way to the same place in the sky?

Ants Ants Ants are not re-inventing the wheel here. Smart, catchy kids pop never goes out of style and is always welcome in my living room (and car). The answer to WHY WHY WHY? is just because because because they can.

WHY WHY WHY? is available on May 18 from Ants Ants Ants website, Soundcloud, iTunes, and Amazon.

Here is the video of their song, "Blue":

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, June 9, 2018

I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake
Over and Over and Over – Jack White
My Barn Door Is Open – Red Yarn
Always Ascending – Franz Ferdinand
Keep On Reaching – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Monday, May 07, 2018

You Gotta Hand It to Suzi Shelton

Suzi Shelton wants to be your mom's cool friend. You know, the one who plans the sleepovers and makes up games and brings her guitar to the cookout so everyone can sing together. On her new CD, HAND IN HAND, Suzi delivers her final thesis and presents the remaining evidence so listeners can agree – all hail cool mom.

In addition to recording and live performances, Suzi maintains a busy interactive schedule with "Sing With Suzi," her YouTube channel (15,000 subscribers). And for an even more personal experience, her website lists "Skype With Suzi," which is a good reason the kids shouldn't have access to credit cards (or your Venmo account).

HAND IN HAND continues the Shelton mix of easy-to-understand lyrics and toe-taping arrangements. It's also the rare exception where there is no direct title track. HAND IN HAND serves more as an overall theme to the nine songs, from "Put Your Hands in the Air" to CD-closer "We Shall Walk," written by her daughter, Emma. Instead of simple parental declarations of adoration, HAND IN HAND urges kids to learn, grow, develop individual personalities, and embrace what makes them truly special. "Can You Feel the Power" is a preteen-Parkland motivational song:

Live your life with passion and fire
If you don't feel it now then go get inspired
Don't wait and don't hesitate
Hate we can devour, that's your superpower

Special guests on HAND IN HAND include Grammy winner Tim Kubart, Vered Ronson (whose own CD is coming next week), and Amelia Robinson (Mil's Trills). But HAND IN HAND is more about kid power than star power. A few of the songs, such as "The Grass Is Always Greener" (Tim's song) skew notably towards toddlers. But current Kids Place Live single "Raindrop" is a definite age-defying earwig. The power of positivity grows in every child and Suzi encourages you to embrace and meet that challenge, hand in hand.

HAND IN HAND is available on May 11 from Suzi's website, Soundcloud, Spotify, Amazon, and iTunes In the meantime, you can attend the free Facebook Live debut of the CD on Thursday, May 10. Here's the link.

Here is the video for the song, "Raindrop":

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, May 7, 2018

Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Smoke Clears – Andy Grammer
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Tae Kwon Do – Bob and Luc Schneider
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Never Be The Same (Radio Edit) – Camila Cabello

Friday, May 04, 2018

Quick Hits: New Pop-Ups & Recess Monkey; Suzi Shelton Books Facebook Live

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is one of those hot trending educational topics (You saw this lede yesterday). The Pop-Ups are jumping into STEM head-first with their new CD, GIANTS OF SCIENCE (coming next week). If you can't wait that long, however, the first track is available for download on iTunes. Grab "How Do We Know" right now if you want danceable science facts and fun. Otherwise, hold your breath until next week and see what happens.

Another new CD (also hailing from Brooklyn) is Suzi Shelton's HAND IN HAND. I'm busy assembling my review for next week. In the meantime, you can attend the free Facebook Live debut of the CD on Thursday, May 10. Here's the link. Now scoot.

Recess Monkey is back! After a hiatus, during which Jack Forman released a solo CD, the trio have released a throwback double-sided single. The timing of May 4 is concurrent with "Star Wars Day," explaining the A-side, "Chewy To Your Han." The B-side is typical Monkeyana, "That Laugh," extolling how friendship and humor go han-in-hand (yeah it's a pun). And how everyone has a distinctive laugh, which is part of their personality. You can find the songs on Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Kidz STEM Songz Promote Science Education

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is one of those hot trending educational topics. Especially women in STEM. There are some kids who "get it" and other kids who need a gateway. To that ends comes KidzMusic and their new release, Kidz STEM Songs.

The packaging actually repurposes CONCOCTIONS, a 2016 EP by Dan Crow, karoake tracks to the same five songs, and a DVD with videos for those five songs. There's also a 16-track CD featuring repurposed science-related songs from a bevy of artists, including Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, Danny Weinkauf and the Red Pants Band, Hap Palmer, and Roger Day.

Dan Crow sings very clearly about "Science Science Science" and "Technology" as fundamental underpinnings of the planet. "Franklin D. Dime and Abraham Penny" instructs kids that the word "change" can be a double entendre they can bank on. I initially mistook the name of the EP as "Connections," which would have been appropriate as well. CONCOCTIONS is all about tangibly helping create a future and that's what kids are all about. At least when they're not being stubborn. I noted in 2016 that while I prefer They Might Be Giants' song "Seven" to the one of the same name here, there's a fun and practical purpose to "You're An Engineer." There's more than one kind, you know, as I reminded my train-engaged youngster.

The "making science fun through music" CD runs the gamut with artists who have been recording children's music since almost the beginning of time (almost). My teen was stunned to hear a "new" Hap Palmer song after more than a decade. There were also a few pretty insufferable tunes that they've both aged out of, which were quickly skipped after the first play-through. But that comes with the territory – children's music isn't always parent-appreciated.

If I had one main quibble, it would be with the packaging itself. Ending words (or wordz) with a Z to make them seem edgy and hip is something that went out of style a long time ago. And using it twice in the three words of the title (KIDZ STERM SONGZ) makes it more of a faux pas. Plus the cover (see above) looks like the first draft of a cut-and-paste suggestion. It totally undercuts the value of the product. Bottom line, don't judge KIDZ STEM SONGZ by its cover. There's some good stuff going on; you just need to open the CD jacket.

KIDZ STEM SONGZ is available on May 4 from the KidzMusic website, Amazon, and CDBaby.

Here is the video for Dan Crow's song, "Technology":

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Cheri Magill's Guide to Parental Love

The childless children's music performer is a rarity. If I want to freak people out or boggle their minds, I inform them that Raffi doesn't have children. That seems to break most people's mental hard drive processors. On the other hand, just because a performer HAS children doesn't mean they have to make their music all about their children. That's the main distraction on Cheri Magill's otherwise fine and dandy CD, TOUR GUIDE.

Then again, TOUR GUIDE is a concept album of children's material sung from the perspective of a parent to their young child. "Crazy" is not the Willie Nelson-penned song made famous by Patsy Cline. Rather, it's about how a hyperactive child frazzles parental nerves, but gosh, there's nobody else I'd rather suffer for and with. The very next track, "Brave" is not the Sara Bareilles song. Rather, it's about how a tentative child pushes and inspires a parent, but gosh, there's nobody else I'd rather plan adventures for and with:

You are my biggest adventure
You are my first shooting star
You are my strong tidal wave
And you make me brave.

Similar thoughts permeate the remaining tracks – "Unconditionally" is about unconditional love. "Better" is about how a child's love is better that so, so many things. "Don't You Forget" reminds a child that mommy always love them. Okay are we clear about about the concept of TOUR GUIDE?

TOUR GUIDE is similar to last month's dreamy STRAWBERRY WIND from Jessie Baylin – both CDs from mothers who had recorded "adult" music and are now turning to children's music. Baylin celebrated parenthood by mining the wonders of childhood merged with swirling 1960s arrangements. Magill has chosen a much shallower mine to investigate, with the exception of a reinvented "Chopsticks Lullaby" that closes the CD. Fortunately, TOUR GUIDE is Magill's first entry into children's music. Appropriately, these are baby steps. And she can only grow from here.

TOUR GUIDE is available on May 4 from Cheri Magill's website, Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify.

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

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, April 27, 2018

Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
One Of These Days – Vance Joy
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Saviour – George Ezra, First Aid Kit
People Watching – Dean Jones

Red Yarn Raises the Roof On A New Barn

Children's music has acts that stress danceable tunes. It also has groups that want to rock and roll. But there's only one kids' performer who wants to party like it's 1925 – that would be Red Yarn (Andy Furgeson). Andy takes the wholesome, fulsome sound of the pre-Great Depression Dust Bowl and brings it back to three-dimensional, full-color life, as on his fifth CD, RED YARN'S OLD BARN. And hey, his videos have puppets, too.

Conceived post-Trump 2016 Election Night, Andy dreamed of "a barn with doors open wide" for all to enter. Over the next 18 months he built that barn, with assistance from producer Dean Jones (you know that guy) and engineer Adam Selzer. OLD BARN features Andy's mix of repurposed traditional songs with a batch of new numbers that snugly fit into his previously-released milieu.

Red Yarn delivers an appealing "corncob and critters" sound, this time married to the concept of a hootenanny at the local farm. It helps that, to most children without a discerning ear, Andy's vocals come with a sui generis lack of regional accent. Adults with a lack of empathy for this kind of material may start to meander after "Old Barn," "Barn Dance," "Barn Fire," and finally "To Raise a Barn."

Andy covers "Sally Ann," an Appalachian folk song captured by Alan Lomax, dedicating it to his new baby daughter. "Barn Dance" is an updated version of an 1880's cowboy dance also memorialized by Lomax. Jazzy Ash drops by to duet on a lively rendition of Ella Jenkins' "Did You Feed My Cow?"

I've alternately been asked by people "What's the point of children's music?" and "What children's music do you point to?" Red Yarn provides an affirmative, living answer to both questions. Andy exhibits the concept that if you play music from previous generations as if it's brand new, children will never, ever realize it's "old." Nonwithstanding its title, RED YARN'S OLD BARN proves the hills, valleys, ranches, and farms are still alive.

RED YARN'S OLD BARN is available April 27 from Red Yarn's website, Amazon, iTunes, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp.

Here is the video for the CD's title track:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

To Raise a Barn – Red Yarn
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
Saturday Sun – Vance Joy
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie
Feels Like Summer – Weezer
Washington, DC – The Not-Its!

20 Hullabaloo Songs Raise Awareness for Childhood Illness

The circle of life includes death. When a child faces a life-threatening illness, an "all hands on deck" approach generally attempts to spin the situation into an affirmation of embracing life while you can lead it. One of the organizations tasked to meet that challenge is Happy Star Melodies. they seek to bring love, laughter, happiness, and healing through musical melodies to terminally ill children. Happy Star puts musical instruments in the hands of young minds to foster creativity, positive energy, and give comfort in often cold, lonely hospital rooms.


Inspired by the good works of Happy Star, Steve Denyes of Hullabaloo decided to augment their efforts. He solicited donations for the charity, with the caveat that he would honor 20 randomly-selected contributors with a song that matched a title or theme they submitted with their check or digital money order. The result is 20 SONGS IN 20 DAYS, Hullabaloo's 14th CD.

The "one song a day" concept has been done before. In fact, there have been instances where entire CDs have been produced in even less time. Most notably, John Mellencamp claims to have recorded one of his albums in less than two weeks – but that was with a producer and full studio staff. In a similar vein, Paul McCartney recorded his Fireman Project CDs as "one song a day," however the recording period was spread out for close to one year, whenever he had the time. So Denyes stalls tall with 20 SONGS IN 20 DAYS, accepting and meeting the challenge with a Jack Johnson-ish "Go Surfing" and the autobiographical "My Music Teacher," which comes full circle of life with his reflections on becoming a music teacher himself.

"Let's Play Telephone" is a modern-day Sun Studio version of an Elvis/Johnny Cash raver. And what are the odds of reviewing two CDs in a row – coming out the same day – that both have songs entitled "Supermoon"? Jessie Baylin's version on her CD, STRAWBERRY WIND, is a dreamy 1960s throwback. Hullabaloo's take is a slower, acoustic ode to summer stargazing:

Like a million sweet reminders sent from up above,
Cherish what we've got and hug the ones we love.
And I thank my lucky stars for just being here with you.
Here in our backyard, beneath the Supermoon.

Hullabaloo originated from the since-kindergarten friendship of Steve Denyes and Brendan Kremer. Decades later, they return to those halcyon days of childhood for "Bubble Gum Blues" and "Penguin in My Bed." Their songs relate the experiences of being silly or serious, lonely or surrounded by family. 20 SONGS IN 20 DAYS brings a pointed empathy to the struggles of challenged children with a gentle guitar strumming a friendly tune.

20 SONGS IN 20 DAYS is available from Hullabaloo's website, HearNow, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes. You can donate directly to Happy Star Melodies.

Here is their video for the song, "Worm With Wings":

Monday, April 23, 2018

Matt's Playlist - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
ABC – Jackson 5
Shrimp – Recess Monkey
Yellow Bus –  Justin Roberts
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Dog Park –  Jack Forman
I Like – Lard Dog & The Band Of Shy

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, April 23, 2018

The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
Happy – Spaghetti Eddie
The Start of Things – Alison Faith Levy
That's My Style – The Bazillions
The Beautiful Dream – George Ezra
Mystery – Dean Jones

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Jessie Baylin's Dreamy Throwback 'Strawberry Wind'

I've always said that parents are jugglers. It takes a remarkable skillset to hold down jobs while taking care of a family. To say that musicians with kids have it "easier" is a fallacy; the creation process may be the same, but try telling a touring musician that their life is "easy."

With that in mind, mother of one (expecting her second) Jessie Baylin is releasing STRAWBERRY WIND, her debut children's CD. And if you think it may be difficult to tour with two kids, imagine the juggling that goes on between her and husband Nathan Followill (of the band Kings of Leon).

STRAWBERRY WIND is a lush throwback to the 1960s sound of Shirley Bassey and Lulu. Picture Twiggy or Dusty Springfield on the set of some Technicolor variety show and you get the idea. Songs like "Supermoon" and "Dream Catcher" present a vibrant, imperial view of the world that's fully attune to what a youngster might picture. And the video for "Dream Catcher" should definitely be seen (below).

"Same Old Tune" could be a cover of a Boyce/Hart Monkees' song. "Sparkle Shoelaces" would not be out of place in the background of an episode of "Room 222." And the ethereal "We Need Each Other" is less of an anthem than a wistful plea along the lines of Buffy St. Marie. If these references seem cribbed from a '60s website, well, you get the picture.

More than anything, STRAWBERRY WIND feels less like a children's CD than a curio from another time. Baylin is offering selling vinyl copies through her own imprint, which adds to the mythology behind the music. Akin to Amy Lee's 20116 CD, DREAM TOO MUCH, Baylin's hyper-focus hits the bullseye, but you wonder will it also reach the audience it deserves? That should be one of the more interesting questions in kid's music in 2018.

STRAWBERRY WIND is available exclusively for pre-order through Amazon Music. The CD comes out April 27.

Here is the video for the song, "Dream Catcher":

Friday, April 13, 2018

Mr. Singer & Sharp Cookies Prepare to Party

Children's music is a "specialty" genre. Unlike pop and other mainstream formats, most consumers have to know what they're looking for. Sometimes an artist is so regional that their material isn't on Amazon and their website happens to be down (because the performer hosts it on his laptop and accidentally closed it).

When listening to local artists – those who send me their CDs or links to digital material – I am often reminded of two very disparate anecdotes. I was re-introduced to a college acquaintance at a party with the opener, "Jeff is reviewing kid's music now. Jim, aren't you RECORDING kid's music now?" Jim began to tell me that he and another dad wrote a dozen original tunes, played them as entertainment for their children's birthday parties, and suddenly were asked to perform at other parties. Then even recorded their songs for posterity on a limited print run. I explained that I knew of several venues that might widen their exposure and even a website they could use to book live gigs. Jim's response was to shrug and say, "Thanks but there's no money in kid's music."

The second anecdote happened in the backyard of my brother's house more than a decade ago. His (then) wife was describing how her brother, a music educator, had put together a band and independently recorded their own CD. Again, I explained my meager connections. Her response was slightly different, "He's not ready to release the CD." Smash-cut to present day…that musician and group are Josh and the Jamtones. Perhaps you've heard of them.

Local artists are plentiful and don't necessarily "do it" for the money. Many make their living in education or related services. For some, the shift to children's music occurred when their own kids were born, as they segued from bar bands covering "What I Like About You" to writing original songs. And for every Justin Roberts and Frances England, who seem to come from nowhere to gain a national spotlight, there are dozens that toil in their region, build and maintain a dedicated audience, yet never catch fire.

So much for prologue - this all brings me to Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies, a fine ensemble hailing from (and proudly singing about "C-H-I-C-A-G-O" on their third CD, GOING TO A PARTY! Mr. Singer himself operates from LeftHaus Studios providing music and art lessons and running personalized children's parties. But their passion is the music – perfectly fine songs like "Gonna Ride My Bike" and "Ramble On Children."

I was a bit disillusioned recently hearing They Might Be Giants' John and John on Marc Maron's podcast disparaging (without naming names) a number of children's musicians. Their take is that many performers are attracted to children's music because it's easy or formulaic. "Kids love dinosaurs, write a song about dinosaurs," they commented. While that might be true of some local artists, fortunately I have either not stumbled onto them (or they onto me). Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies do not fall into this category, let me stress. And they've got added street cred with an appearance by another Chicago-area artist who has gained the national spotlight, Ralph Covert.

More than anything, GOIN' TO A PARTY! is a collection of simply-crafted and lovingly-produced children's songs. Whether or not the CD breaks into a wider public consciousness will be determined by a combination of luck and ambition. Either way, Mr. Singer will continue to teach and perform. Like most local artists involved with children's music, the goal is reaching an audience. The financial motivation is there, of course. But first come the smiles and juice boxes.

GOIN' TO A PARTY! is available from Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for their song, "Just For Fun":

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, April 13, 2018

Smile For Me – David Tobocman
Get What You Get – Bears And Lions
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Paradise – George Ezra
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand

Quick Hits: New Stuff from Ben Rudnick, Vered, and Red Yarn

Weird Al Yankovic has decided to eschew the process of waiting 2-3 years to compile enough material for a CD and is releasing digital singles. That blueprint has worked successfully for a number of children's recording artists, including Mista Cookie Jar, LARD Dog, and now Ben Rudnick and Friends. Their new single, "Little Bitty Critter" debuts this week with a video on YouTube. Rudnick promises more new music will follow...later this year!



Vered Benhorin is Kickstarting her upcoming release, SONGS FOR SISTERS AND BROTHERS. The launch was on National Siblings Day, so I missed the date, ironically due to being involved with my family. You can listen to the debut single, "Little Bit Tough" on CDBABY and Soundcloud. It's a bit Joni Mitchell and very amiable, with production by Jon Samson and a host of performers including drummer Marty Bellar.

Red Yarn (Andy Furgeson) returns to mine the sounds of rustic traditional American song with his fifth CD, RED YARN'S OLD BARN, later this month. In the meantime, the fuzzy bearded Portland resident teases its release with the first story video, the title track "Old Barn" (filmed in a REAL old barn):

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thank You for the Box – Andrew & Polly
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Setting Sun – Bears And Lions
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Don't Matter Now – George Ezra
Look At Those Clouds – Danny Weinkauf

Journey to Nighttime Luna With 123 Andrés

Few parents willingly volunteers that they don't know something. Which is why I was mildly confounded by the new 123 Andres CD, LA LUNA. A genial and melodious fellow with genuinely good intentions and a clear singing voice, Andrés Salguero (and wife Christina Sanabria) have produced several award-winning Spanish (and English) children's music CDs.

Emphasis must be placed on Spanish first – which is why I was mildly confounded by the all-Spanish album jacket and had to quietly visit the website for English lyrics. Songs like "Un Elefante" are easy enough to figure out. But I needed a quick cheat sheet to determine that "La Pequeña Pilar" told the story of "Little Pilar," who only wants to grow up and have his own adventures.

With its accordion, "Benjamin" sounds almost French, which is why I was mildly confounded in explaining it my own son, Benjamin. Although the lyrics did almost quite describe him:

If you’d like to help him,
Have a dictionary handy,
And look for new words,
Just like Benjamin

A portion of the proceeds from LA LUNA benefit the Greater DC Diaper Bank, which aids families living below the poverty line. You can perform a good deed and put your kids to sleep at the same time – to use a third language, such a mitzvah. An English version of LA LUNA is planned for later this year. Depending on your level of fluency and the bilingual nature of your household, that may be innecesario. LA LUNA is a tranquil collection of bedtime-relatable songs that (with ego-saving web intervention) should entertain and fascinate inquisitive, tired toddlers.

LA LUNA is available April 13 from 123 Andres' website, Amazon, iTunes, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and  CDBABY.

Here is a video for several of Andres' songs:

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
Soar – Mo Phillips
Home – Spaghetti Eddie
Higher Higher – Justin Timberlake
Benjamin – 123 Andres
Kid Of The Week – The Not-Its!

Thursday, April 05, 2018

New Elevating Music from Laurie Berkner Band

The world of children's music constantly welcomes new performers and celebrates the contributions of legends. Sometimes a newcomer releases material that harkens back to a different era while the established artist seeks to carve out new ground. Other times, the songs feel like comfort food – exactly what you expect, happily ready for immediate consumption by young consumers.

Children's music standard bearer Laurie Berkner has released a new song, "Waiting for the Elevator," and you can see how it fits snugly into her pantheon of previous hits. It's a song about travel and patience and anticipation, all at the same time. And there's a chorus of chirpy youngsters, to boot.

To purchase the song, visit this page with links to iTunes, Amazon, etc.

Here is the video:

Two New Brady Rymer Singles for Autism Awareness Month

In commemoration of Autism Awareness Month, Long Island's own Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could have released two singles – a party mix of their inclusion anthem, "Love Me For Who I Am" and a brand-new cover of the Diana Ross classic, "I'm Coming Out."

"Love Me For Who I Am" was the title track of Brady's 2011 CD, which stemmed from a conversation with a special needs student (story is here). Longtime proponents of rights for disabled children, Brady and company have always stressed the point that music is a hallmark of inclusion.

Personally, my family has a decade-long history with the Rymers, starting at Kidstock in Brooklyn many years ago and continuing through 2018. Brady and Bridget graciously moved over so me and my kids could sit together at January's "Best of Childrens Music" Grammy showcase at Symphony Space. Long may they rock!

Hear "I'm Coming Out" on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Hear "Love Me For Who I Am" on Apple Music, Amazon, and Spotify.

Watch the video for "I'm Coming Out":

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Reserve Your Bunk as Camp Andyland Returns

Andreas Zamenes (Andy Z) understands that children's music is best served with a certain level of camp appeal. That could explain why his latest CD, CAMP ANDYLAND, compiles songs from his previous three "Andyland" releases.

One of the most basic tenants of reviewing children's music is to keep reminding myself "this is not necessarily to amuse you; it's for children." That mantra came in especially handy with songs such as "Cecil (the Serpentine Dragon)" and "La Araña Pequenita," which feature characters not built for anyone over the age of 8.

CAMP ANDYLAND is pretty self-explanatory – a collection of tunes ranging from shopworn traditionals (this is the second consecutive CD I've reviewed with a version of "Row Row Row Your Boat") and originals "Sticky Bubble Gum." For me, the most engaging song was the 60s pop / Wonders (from That Thing You Do) feel of "I Love You Because You're You."

Andy Z has won a host of awards and produced a slew of kid-friendly material. CAMP ANDYLAND could be seen as either a "greatest hits" effort to memorialize songs that always generate a positive reaction in concert or a way to introduce tunes from CDs that may no longer be available from retail and online vendors. Either way, Andy Z is looking for early enrollment for youngsters and hoping that parents are eagerly counting down the days when camptime is a reality.

CAMP ANDYLAND is available on March 30 from Andy Z's website, Spotify, AmazonBandcamp, and iTunes.

The video for "Pirate Song" is here:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bears and Lions Navigate Friendship

One of my most memorable concert experiences in 2017 was seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live at Forest Hills Stadium in July. Although it was the third time I'd see the band, a decade had passed since the last time. Plus Petty was billing the shows as their 40th and final tour. Prophetically, he was dead less than a month later. Another memorable live 2017 experience occurred in January at Jalopy where I witnessed Bears & Lions performing live as part of Hootenanny III. The connection between these disparate acts? Both hail from Gainesville, Florida, a hotbed of musical diffusion and confusion.

Bears & Lions have returned to make Gainesville proud with their sophomore CD, NAVIGATE. The band alerts us that the animals (including Gorilla, Moose, Giraffe, Bison, and Zebra) have escaped from the circus and have set out to break the rules and create music to inspire everyone to be more tolerant and free in everyday life. That's a tall order for a [SPOILER ALERT] bunch of guys in funky costumes. But don't tell that to the kids.

A loosely-themed concept album, NAVIGATE finds our menagerie virtually lost at sea as they attempt to save "Jonas the Whale" from captivity in Saudi Arabia. Along the way there are pirates, a "Merman Named Jim," and some lessons about friendship and nature. Some of this was explained in the accompanying press release – documentation that might help parents explain the adventure better to children who get the CD or download the tracks online.

Bears & Lions is more about the fun than anything else. That's what you should expect from a kid's group led by a bear with six-pack abs. "Pirate Pete" recounts the band's encounter with some sour scallywags as they embark on their voyage. "Lighthouse" is a pop-folk/Blues Traveler-esque ode that draws the parallel between a lighthouse on the ocean and a nightlight in a child's bedroom. With its horn section and singalong chorus, the track "Hercules" sounds like a throwback tribute to the Wiggles:

Hercules
Swimming wild and free
Eats her zucchini and her broccoli
She's so strong
She's so strong
S-T-R-O-N-G

"Merman Named Jim" is a nautical rap track about the underwater denizen who finally leads the band to their ultimate destination. By golly, for a band from Gainesville, one wonders why there isn't there a gator in the mix. Perhaps one will stumble out of the woods for the group's next adventure. In the end, NAVIGATE lands our gang to "Animal Land," where everyone is a member of the same tribe, with the refrain "We all are one." If that means being one with bears and lions (and tigers, oh my?), I'm fine with it. And so should the junior members of your pride.

NAVIGATE is available on Bears and Lions' website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video for Bears and Lions' groundbreaking song, "Pancakes":

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, March 26, 2018

Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
Why Does the Sun Shine? – Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer
Always Ascending – Franz Ferdinand
Popsicle – Bob and Luc Schneider
Why Can't We Be Friends – Josh and the Jamtones
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, March 23, 2018

People Watching – Dean Jones
This Is How We Bring In The Sun – Justin Roberts
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Done With The Science Fair – The Not-Its!
Lay It On Me – Vance Joy
Too Good At Goodbyes – Sam Smith

Mitchell, Paz Plant Spanish Flowers for Children

The world is a messed-up beautiful place. And the American President is a very divisive figure; to the extent that I resent including him in any discussion about children's music. But music is a gateway to real-world issues for many children. Music is a way to gently show youthful listeners that evil can be overcome through unity.

Smithsonian Folkways has tasked Elizabeth Mitchell and Suni Paz with a mission to display this musical unity with grace, charm, and simplicity. Their CD, TU ERES MI FLOR echoes the name of Mitchell's website "You Are My Flower." The 17 songs are primarily in Spanish, although hints of other cultures stream through, including on Dan Zanes' "Hello."

I'll leave the CD's mission statement to Suni Paz, who emigrated to the United States from Argentina in 1965: "This recording is now – more than ever before – a necessity. We are living in an historic time, in which Latinos, Hispanics, and all immigrants are being disrespected and vilified, so honoring their language in songs is much needed."

Songs like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and Renee and Jeremy's "It's A Big World" take on whole new secondary meanings when performed in another language. Guest artists such as Sonia de los Santos enliven tracks like Paz's "Love and Care." Bob Marley's eternal "Three Little Birds" transcends language. For the inquisitive, TU ERES MI FLOR comes with a "reversible" bilingual booklet with lyrics and liner notes.

In its 70th year, Smithsonian Folkways makes nearly 60,000 tracks available in physical and digital format as the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, reaching 80 million people per year. While not explicitly part of its mission, TU ERES MI FLOR accomplishes its mission – using song to show the connection between Spanish and American folk music. Elizabeth Mitchell and Suni Paz demonstrate that sometimes a message doesn't have to be chanted at rallies or walked about on placards. Sometimes a song can provide hope for blue clouds or peace like a river. Sometimes a song is enough.

TU ERES MI FLOR is available on April 6 from Elizbeth Mitchell's website, Smithsonian Folkways' website, and iTunes.

Here is the video for Elizabeth Mitchell's song, "Sleep Eye":

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, March 22, 2018

Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Move UR Feet – Josh and the Jamtones
Lost And Loving It – Kepi Ghoulie
The Nut Tree – Shawn Colvin
I Am Here – P!nk

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
The Huntsman – Shawn Colvin
Have Some Fun Out There – David Tobocman
Es Un Mundo Grande (It's A Big World) – Elizabeth Mitchell
Dodgeball – Justin Roberts
The Art of Letting Go – Stone Temple Pilots
Where We Go – P!nk

Cathy & Marcy Zoom With STEM Songs

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

Who among us with children has not heard that term? Yet it was a revolutionary thought in 1961 to record children's music examining those concepts. It took Hy Zaret and his partner, Lou Singer, to record "Ballads for the Age of Science," a six-record series. Decades later, the most notable reboot was a campy "Why Does the Sun Shine?" by They Might Be Giants. Until now, that is, with Cathy & Marcy bringing forth a new CD to revive those tunes – ZOOM A LITTLE ZOOM.

Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer buzz through the best of Zaret, including "Constellation Jig," "Bobo the Bear (The Hibernation Song)," "Vibration," and "Snowflake, Snowflake" (featuring midwest neighbor Justin Roberts). You can also download a PDF full of fun facts and experiments conceived by Lynn Baum, formerly of the Boston Museum of Science. The musical stylings include bluegrass, klezmer, classic rock, and 1950s old-school rock.

Zaret and Singer first experienced the civic responsibility that goes along with educational music in 1947 when they wrote a set of radio jingles about civil rights. Yes, in 1947. This is one of the more amazing footnotes in Zaret's career, which normally would have been thought to have peaked in 1955 when he collaborated with Alex North on the song "Unchained Melody."

Cathy & Marcy are trailblazers pioneers of children's and family music, with a career spanning more than 35 years. Their awards include two Grammys and others too numerous to mention. They were struck by the timeliness of the Zaret/Singer science songs, more than 50 years after their debut. And with the increased emphasis on STEM, as well as women in science, the results were a no-brainer. Or perhaps a double-brainer. ZOOM A LITTLE ZOOM won't make your children smarter. But they certainly won't squirm as much as they would from a full-on science lecture. Achieve a quiet victory at home, for zoom it may concern.

ZOOM A LITTLE ZOOM is available on March 30 from Cathy & Marcy's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here's the animated video to the title track from the CD:




Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, March 19, 2018

Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
What About Us – P!nk
No Peace – Sam Smith
Is This Love – Josh and the Jamtones
Let's Get This Over With – They Might Be Giants
Meadow – Stone Temple Pilots

Friday, March 16, 2018

Colvin's Longform STARLIGHTER Video Debuts

Singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin has released a 24-minute animated short feature based on her interpretation of THE STARLIGHTER (based on LULLABIES AND NIGHT SONGS, by Maurice Sendak and lyricist Alec Wilder).

The music videos were created by the Manchester, UK/Los Angeles-based motion design studio WeFail. Each scene contains more than one hundred layered illustrations, and every element in the video was drawn using a digital tablet before being animated by hand. Colvin’s character in the videos consists of 30 individual hand-drawn pieces, each digitally painted before motion design was applied to create the complete figure.

You can view the video on Amazon Prime (free 30-day trials are available) or see the title track here: