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:

Swimming wild and free
Eats her zucchini and her broccoli
She's so strong
She's so strong

"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:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

O-N-E Wonderful Rock Out With Josh & Jamtones

Josh (Shriber) and the Jamtones make you cry "uncle" by turning up the funk to 11 on their new children's music CD, WE ARE O-N-E!

The Boston-area musician/music educator breaks open a whole new box of crayons to paint some positivity and unity with ska tracks like "1 Of a Kind" and "Fun!" Guest stars come out for a cover of "Why Can't We Be Friends" (featuring Mista Cookie Jar) and "Move UR Feet" (with Secret Agent 23 Skidoo).

Josh and the Js judicial use of cover songs allows them to reinvent such relics as "Build the World a Home" (already a top hit on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live), Bob Marley's "Is This Love," and Paul Simon's "Me and Julio (Down By the Schoolyard)." Considering it's been a generation (or two) since those songs were first hits, Josh gets props for track selection and putting a (mostly)
new spin on the songs.

The Jamtones go back to their hebrew roots for the final two tracks, "Oseh Shalom" and "Mamaweyah," the latter repurposed from their 2014 CD, JAMMIN' WITH JEW VOL. 2. Like a Pied Piper Matisyahu, Josh will bring your kids kicking and screaming to the rhythm as well as the rock and redeemer. If you like your religion old school, there's a high-stepping gospel "Amen" mid-CD as well.

We Are O-N-E plays as a family party CD (Josh and I share a niece, so this is actual and factual). If you're ready to spare the reggae and kick out the jams, Josh and Jamtones have been waiting for you to groove.

WE ARE O-N-E is available from Josh and the Jamtones' website, Amazon, Soundcloud, and iTunes.

Here is "Build the World a Home" from the new CD:

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, March 9, 2018

Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Free Couch – Caspar Babypants
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Smile For Me – David Tobocman
Breeze Off the Pond –  Justin Timberlake
Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
Mystery – Dean Jones

Ruth & Emilia's Spaceship Plays Best in the Backyard

The concept of the "family band" goes way back in time before the era of the Partridge Family. I'm not even referencing the Jackson Five, the Osmonds, the Cowsills, or any number of modern performers including the Nields. There are also famous patriarchs and matriarchs who usher their offspring into the musical realm – witness the Chapin Sisters, Rufus Wainwright, and many others (more famous) who would only distract or change the subject at hand...children's music.

Ruth Weber and Emilia Lopez-Yañez have known each other quite a long time (since before birth, actually). Emilia was featured on her mother Ruth's CD, ME AND THE KIDS, when she was three years old. They have reteamed, much later, for the new concept CD, THE SPACESHIP THAT FELL IN MY BACKYARD. It's the busy story of URR, an alien from the planet Goodpa, who crash-lands on Earth and captivates a girl named Emilia (the part sung by Emilia).

The jauntily-paced story is energetic, to say the least, with earnest guitar and keyboard riffs that scream "positive reinforcement" for young listeners. Emilia's strong singing voice keeps the story moving, despite some detours in the cutesy with "Everything Is Better With Some Bubbles" (a bathing song) and preachy "Repair the World" (yes, you heard that correctly...the world). SPACESHIP... works best when it sticks to the parameters of the main characters and the life of a girl (and her visiting alien friend). For instance, "Just Inside This Classroom" and "Dancing In Our PJs":

When morning comes we’ll start our day
But other kids real far away
Will brush their teeth to go to bed
But just before good night is said
They’ll be dancing in our PJs

Ruth and Emilia have created a small world filled with quirky characters they want to share. Their family band may not have the level of notoriety of many that I've listed, but they certainly have made an earnest effort. For parents whose young tykes have active imaginations and an interest in extra-terrestrial life, THE SPACESHIP THAT FELL IN MY BACKYARD delivers a thoughtful playtime diversion.

THE SPACESHIP THAT FELL IN MY BACKYARD is available March 23 from Ruth and Emilia's website and Amazon. One dollar from every purchase goes to Ronald McDonald House.

Here is the video of the title track:

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, March 8, 2018

Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Peace Be To All – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Hey Jude  – Caspar Babypants
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Say Something – Justin Timberlake
People Watching – Dean Jones

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song) (Featuring Sonia De Los Santos, Elena Moon Park, & José Joaquin Garcia) – Dan Zanes & Friends
I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
Thank You for the Box – Andrew & Polly
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones
Into The Wild – Phillip Phillips
Higher Higher – Justin Timberlake

Siama and Auntie Dallas Travel Back to Africa

Siama Matuzungidi's story is an immigrant's tale – fleeing Zaire as a young man with his guitar strapped to his back. Due to political unrest, he and his band relocated in Uganda and became a favorite of dictator Idi Amin, who would routinely wave his hand for them to continue to play. The musicians wore sunglasses to avoid eye contact because Amin's soldiers would beat their band leader for trying to avoid performing for him. Amin once even made a surprise visit to the band's home, wanting to hang out. When he left, the neighbors demanded the band move, fearing what Amin could do if he became a regular visitor.

Siama's song, "Sisili," became a hit for the legendary African performer Moni Mambo. Ultimately, Siama relocated to Minnesota and long story short has released THE LAND OF YANGALELE with children's music educator "Auntie" Dallas Johnson. The album introduces kids to African culture and rhythms.

The disc works as companion piece to Putamayo's African compilations. But Siama is also a master technician in the field of African music stylings, which allows him to work in different languages, such as Swahili, Lingala, and Kikongo. His harmonies and warm byplay with Auntie Dallas also differentiate their music from traditional "third world" artists. But that should be expected, since Dallas hails originally from North Dakota, not exactly a dark continent.

THE LAND OF YANGALELE demonstrates why Siama has ably showcased his talents in Minnesota since the 1990s. Perhaps 2018 is his opportunity to truly go worldwide and influence a new generation with his music and story.

THE LAND OF YANGALELE is available on March 23 from Papa Siama's website and Amazon.

Here is a video of Papa Siama and Auntie Dallas singing "Vicky Shama Shama":

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Quick Hits: Cathy & Marcy; Fancy Pants & Mista Cookie Jar

The most frustrating designation for any recording artist is to be deemed a "one-hit wonder." Many musicians may spend a lifetime in the studio and on the road, only to be constantly reminded of a singular accomplishment at one point in their career. Hy Zaret experienced that peak in 1955 when he collaborated with Alex North on the song "Unchained Melody."

But Zaret also wrote educational songs with Lou Singer – and now Cathy & Marcy are devoting a new CD to reviving those tunes – ZOOM A LITTLE ZOOM (coming later this month). In the meantime, here's the animated video to the title track from the CD:

It's been a quiet few weeks, so that means it's time for another collaboration for the eponymous Mista Cookie Jar. This time, he has teamed with Amy Hersey (Fancy Pants) on the undeniably bouncy and beat-filled "Disco Dancing Mama," which espouses:

A little carpool karaoke action.
The little ways to make the most of traffic.
This mama she be disco dashin’
all tha way through tha day.

Mark White (Spin Doctors bassist) provides backup on the track, which is now available from MIsta Cookie Jar's Bandcamp page. Drop by for a listen, before he gets busy and starts dropping beats on his next joint project.