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: