Monday, July 16, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I'm Not Running – Vertical Horizon
The Art of Letting Go – Stone Temple Pilots
Dreaming Again – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Solar Flares – Mo Phillips
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
Saturday's a Sadder Day – The Oot 'n Oots

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 16, 2018

It's A Beautiful World – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Breeze Off the Pond – Justin Timberlake
Red Hot Lava – Purple Fox and the Heebie-Jeebies
Magnetic – Phillip Phillips
Stickin  Right by You – Recess Monkey
Electric Jellyfish Boogaloo – The Oot 'n Oots

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Steve Elci and Friends Provide Joyful Puddle-Jumpng

American roots music is self-explanatory – a group of musicians playing infectious good-time pop tunes. Long Island has been gifted with Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could. But there are other acts on the East Coast – and around the country – who accomplish the same outcome. In Connecticut, Steve Elci and Friends have filled this niche since 2009. Their fourth CD, JUMP IN THE PUDDLES, showers young listeners with an array of basic concepts and declarations, such as "We're not so different or far apart."

Steve followed his father (a musician in big bands for 50 years) into the family business. Steve certainly doesn't lack in confidence, as his bio describes his outstanding characteristics as "charisma, leadership, and compassion." The comparison to Brady is fitting, though, as I became aware of the Little Band That Could around the same time that Steve Elci began his children's recording enterprise. While listening to JUMP IN THE PUDDLES, I kept picturing Brady's voice singing this collection of songs – and wondering what Steve would sound like singing Rymer compositions. Maybe a summit/kindie convergence is in order at some future festival.

"Shine On" draws parallels to Rymer perennial "Shine A Little Light." "Supersonic" has the similar harmonies and singalong power of "Who Wants to Wear Shoes." It's a little bit of a stretch, but "The Three Chord Song" falls into the same camp as "One Day By the Riverside." Okay, enough of the comparisons. The question remains, do Steve Elci and Friends succeed on their own merits?

The answer, most assuredly, is with charisma, leadership, and compassion. One can almost envision Steve and bandmates imploring kids to bat "Balloons" around in the air during their live shows. "Hello Song" was so thoroughly agreeable that both kids began singing "konichiwa" and "bon jour" almost instinctively (Or maybe because I started singing along before they did). The CD does have its tender moments, with "Teddy Bear" and "Baby Get Up" aimed directly at the under-three set. But "The Three Chord Song" rocks out like Bon Jovi Junior, a sentiment Ben (a hard rock concert vet) affirmed.

JUMP IN THE PUDDLES is the first of Steve's CDs to reach my desk, which is almost surprising considering I've been at this for almost as long as he has. Now that I've encountered his music, it will be interesting to see if Steve Elci and Friends become more of a live presence in this region. I have a few precious live kid's music years left in me, and JUMP IN THE PUDDLES offers a tantalizing taste of what the band offers in concert.

JUMP IN THE PUDDLES is available on July 13 from Steve's website, Amazon, Apple Music, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for the song, "Good Morning," featuring Mista Cooke Jar:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fun Is the Flavor for Jelly of the Month Club

The most people I've ever seen onstage during one performance was at Kindiefest 2013, when the Dirty Sock Funtime Band (DSFB) engaged at least 15 people for "Dino-Soaring." In retrospect, that was almost a swan song for the band, who now operate sporadically (including last summer as a trio at Kidstock sans Mr. Clown).

Families who loved the noisy, goofy, inside baseball nature of the DSFB will kvell and swoon for their SoCal brethren, the Jelly of the Month Club, and their second CD, ENJOY THE SHOW. The Jelly fellows divide the chaos between the four main members, Mic Dangerously, Bert Susanka, Mr. Crumb, and the deceptively-named Todd Forman.

On ENJOY THE SHOW, the band introduces outlandish characters like "Charlie the Polliwog," with a definite
Cab Calloway/Minnie the Moocher vibe, a Borscht Belt-infused "Boris the Butcher," and a "Shelfish Elf" who reports back to a lactose-intolerant Santa on your child's behavior. "Food Fight" is a delightful, messy number with overtones of Madness. Speaking of the early '80s, "Fun Facts for Kids" is rollicking rockabilly that'll teach ya something (my son also yelped "That's Mr. Sandman," making me beam with parental pride).

What outfit with members hailing from Chicago doesn't want to celebrate the World Series victory of their beloved Cubbies? "Cubs Cubs Cubs" references so many major league references that kids will be googling for hours and viewing clips – with a Harry Caray game call at the fade-out. Got a math geek in your clan? "Pi" quotes to the 26th place and then delivers a pop quiz:

Is it 90210?
No that's a 90 show.
25 or 6 to 4?
No that's Chicago
Is it 867-5309?
What no that's Tommy Tutone
Is it 562-321-4365?
No that's my cell phone number
Please nobody call me

Jelly of the Month Club is a high energy, high concept ensemble with members using children's music as an outlet from their day jobs in other bands - such as Sublime. ENJOY THE SHOW immediately turns any routine drive into a singalong and panel discussion. It's been four years since they raised the curtain on new material, so let's give them a hand. Put some Jelly in your rotation; it won't rot your kids' teeth or their minds.

ENJOY THE SHOW is available on Jelly of the Month's website, Soundcloud, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for Jelly of the Month's song, "Cubs Cubs Cubs":

Friday, July 06, 2018

Splash and Bubbles: Reef Music for Tots

Splash and Bubbles debuted in 2016 on PBS Kids.

My younger son stopped watching PBS Kids in 2015.

I just missed this one.

The series was created by John Tartaglia, a Muppets legend who joined the Sesame Street puppet squad full-time at age 18. After exploring performance post-Sesame, Tartaglia has returned to the Jim Henson Company to helm Splash and Bubbles and its interstitial series, "Get Your Feet Wet." The soundtrack CD, RHYTHM OF THE REEF: SONGS FROM SEASON ONE has just been released.

Without the Henson and Tartaglia pedigrees, Splash and Bubbles could be seen as an attempt to piggyback on the success of FINDING DORY. However it was undoubtably several years in development, and Tartaglia did create an Off-Broadway show called "ImaginOcean" with characters named Ripple and Bubbles (Dorsel or Tank have been rebranded as Splash for marketing purposes, I guess).

In any event, you will recognize several familiar Henson performers from their more famous Sesame Street creations. And the songs are generally inoffensive, and probably catnip to the kids who have been devouring these episodes since they debuted last winter. So RHYTHM OF THE REEF is no doubt a slam-dunk for many listeners. Splash and Bubbles and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood may be the shows to carry PBS Kids for the next 3-5 years. I wish them well. I'm out of that loop and moving on to growing pains.

RHYTHM OF THE REEF: SONGS FROM SEASON ONE is available from Amazon and iTunes.

Here is the "Get Your Feet Wet" segment on horseshoe crabs:

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, July 6, 2018

I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
Lost And Loving It – Kepi Ghoulie
Here For you – Spaghetti Eddie
My Barn Door Is Open – Red Yarn
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Soar  – Mo Phillips
Finally – Franz Ferdinand

Hot Peas 'N Butter Back to Land With 8th Kids' CD

In the Old West, there were homesteaders – people who staked a claim to previously-uninhabited land to raise their families. In children's music, there are also homesteaders – performers who stake a claim to previously-uninhabited genres for people raising their families.

American roots music holds a fascination for many artists. Alan Lomax turned his passion into an obsession, making many recordings of the folk music of the early 20th century. Seventy years of Lomax tapes were acquired by the Library of Congress to augment their collection. One of the leading children's musicians mining the deep folk vein is Red Yarn (Andy Ferguson), following the example of pioneering Dan Zanes (with last year's LEAD BELLY, BABY!).

Hot Peas 'N Butter (HPNB) are now entering the frayed overalls fray with their eighth CD, BACK TO THE LAND. The title track pretty much delivers the mission statement:

There's so much more we have to grow
Back to the land
'Cause it gives back the love that we sow
Back to the land
And between us
It will flow
Back to the land.

The point is hammered home with guest appearances on "Back to the Land" by Dan Zanes, Peter Yarrow, and Laurie Berkner, who also duets of "Big World Kid," about children being comfortable and at home wherever they live – the city, mountains, or in a small town. And since my family is familiar with Alex and the Kaleidoscope's "I'm So Glad," we already know the song it originally sprang from, "Funga Alafia," here given a sprightly Liberian HPNB spin.

Five albums of roots tunes from Red Yarn have predisposed me to hear "Little Fox" and naturally assume it's a cover song. Nope. It's an original genre number by bandmates Danny Lapidus and Steve Jabas. After dedicating the first half of BACK TO THE LAND to folk music, HPNB get back to their bread and tomato with Caribbean beats and handclaps on "Come To My Kitchen" and "Ven Conmigo Para Esta Tierra." The latter translates to "Come with Me For This Earth," affirming the CD's affinity with affection for the world we live in.

HPNB wrap up their multi-cultural environmental theme with "Somos El Barco," or "We are the boat" that carries civilization, built by many hands and touching many lands. It's a laudable "we are the world" message aimed at children in a post-9/11 and zero tolerance culture. On BACK TO THE LAND, Hot Peas 'N Butter literally go in many directions, from the Old West to South of the border, as well as back to another time when indoor plumbing was a novelty. In trying to connect so many dots, the CD is a bit of a structural mess. But ultimately it's children who will be the arbiters of whether or not BACK TO THE LAND sticks the landing and effectively and mellifluously delivers its verdict.

BACK TO THE LAND is available on July 6 from Hot Peas 'N Butter's website, SpotifySoundcloudAmazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video trailer for the CD:

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, July 5, 2018

How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Holy Mountain – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
The Beautiful Dream – George Ezra
Shadow – The Pop Ups
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Josh Lovelace Pulls No Punches for Young Folk

I have a deeply personal connection to vinyl. It's an experience about which most young audiences have no concept. My kids, sure, but that's because every home I've ever resided in came with a working turntable and a bookcase full of records in the living room. This week, I acquired my first NEW piece of vinyl (as opposed to found at a rummage sale or charity shop) in 20 years. I renewed my faith that vinyl is a tradition worth pursuing, thanks to Josh Lovelace and Friends Present: YOUNG FOLK.

If you want to go over Josh's bio and credits, he's got a neat Wikipedia page that fills in all the blanks. He's a nice guy. Family man. Solid citizen. Bandmate. But like many of us, Josh has a soft spot for something that wrecked him as a kid – a form of music that would not go of him. And Josh was able to capitalize on his opportunities and good fortune and share that form of music with listeners; in modern formats as well as vinyl. YOUNG FOLK delves into the culture of the second generation of folk music. This is not your grandfather's Woody Guthrie collection, it's your parents' Sharon, Lois, and Bram records.

As you might expect from an inaugural release, Josh sets his parameters on the basic notions of family, playtime, and imagination. "Eat Your Vegetables" fills in the blanks for some category of nourishment that every child avoids at some point. "Your Love Is On My Heart" is a sweet ballad to banish the most fearful bedroom apparition. "More Time With You," featuring Nashville singer/songwriter Ellie Holcomb, is a wistful reminiscence delighting in all that's right in the world about parenting.

Paraphasing HL Mencken, "nobody ever got rich singing children's music," which is one reason you've heard of only a handful of performers. Pursuing music as a vocation indicates character. Pursuing children's music as a career indicates you're a character. On the other side of the picket fence, I've seen Grammy nominated artists attempt to crossover, only to flounder or look ridiculous. Josh, however, "has been in training to be a children's music artist his whole life," according to Rolling Stone contributing writer Rob Tannenbaum, on the back cover notes (back cover notes!!!) for the record.

YOUNG FOLK is a family affair, with Josh being joined on vocals by son Henry (and infant Margo) and wife Whitney, who also provides flute on "You're My Very Best Friend." You get a full-throated glorious chorus singing "I believe in a brand new day" as the refrain on "Climb A Tree." And if you're looking for gospel, there's a twangy sincerity to hometown boy Josh singing "Going to Knoxville" with the Spirit Family ReunionBen Rector provides vocals for the seriously silly "A Bear in the Woods (Ate My Underwear)" and Sharon and Bram guest on the weepy "Sing a Song for Me":

Daddy won't you sing a sing for me
You take the lead and I'll take the harmony
I've been waiting for you to come back home
So grab your guitar, strum along
Daddy won't you sing a song for me

In a world that struggles to celebrate diversity while the most vulnerable are persecuted, I ponder the future for YOUNG FOLK. Josh has a full schedule on his plate, with his day job in  NEEDTOBREATHE and its upcoming tour. It's also tough to advocate for continuing his passion project without the backing of much more than SiriusXM Kids Place Live and a host of outlier radio programs and podcasts devoted to children's music. Once again, the bottom line comes from the mouths of babes. Whenever I find myself on the other side of that picket fence, I am reminded that this music is not primarily for me. Yes, I derive the "purchasing power." But true parenting comes from sitting – in the front seat or in the living room – and listening to actual young folk enjoying a record like YOUNG FOLK. Since I've pursued reviewing children's music as a secondary vocation, that indicates I'm a character. Do you have enough character to schedule a playdate with YOUNG FOLK?

YOUNG FOLK is available from Josh Lovelace's website, Amazon, Apple Music, and Spotify.

Here is the video for the song, "Eat Your Vegetables":