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: