Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 1, 2018

Bright Morning Song – Dan Zanes
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Back To The Land  – Hot Peas N Butter (Featuring Laurie Berkner, Peter Yarrow & Dan Zanes)
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Handle With Care  – Like Father Like Son
Dodgeball – Justin Roberts

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 28, 2018

Sea Of Stars - Dan Zanes
One Of These Days - Vance Joy
Chewy to Your Han - Recess Monkey
Watch Petunia Dance - Caspar Babypants
Press Play - Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Robert Broccoli - The Green Orbs
What Kind Of Fruit - Dean Jones

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

City Life Inspires Hopalong Andrew's Urban Tunes

How are you gonna keep a country boy down on the farm once he's seen the big city? More accurately, how are you gonna keep a boy from going country once he's home on the range? Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but it's not easy to find a cozy niche for Hopalong Andrew, New York City's urban cowpoke and former Park Ranger in hallowed Central Park. Once an indie rocker, Andrew Vladeck has found plenty of room to roam with his alter ego, now celebrating his debut CD, HOWDY DO!

While on duty in the park, Andrew combined his love of nature and music and became "the Singing Ranger," with a host of rewritten and original tunes. Hopalong Andrew soon found that his duties included representing the rangers at various functions around the city and its boroughs. The lone arranger lassoed a posse of collaborators, who helped craft "Back in the City Again" (also known as Gene Autry's 'Back in the Saddle Again') and "Thank God I'm a City Boy" (think John Denver's 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy').

In an astounding merging of fact and fun, Andrew takes 'The Old Chisolm Trail' and tells the true story of "Broadway Was a Native American Trail." I can see why the rangers were impressed enough to send Andrew on the road to share his enthusiasm for the great outdoors and the mother lode of stories that evolved into modern-day New York City. Speaking of the Great White Way, Guys and Dolls songwriter Frank Loesser's 'Jingle Jangle Jingle' becomes "Ice Cream Dude" as those coins buy summery treats.

'I've Been Everywhere' gets a New York-centric spin with 105 different neighborhoods getting shoutouts in less than three minutes. It was especially timely, considering we were in a car, traveling through several of them as we listened to HOWDY DO! "Buffalo, Buffalo," an original composition, has a magentic singalong chorus featuring  Amelia Robinson (Mil's Trills), Randy Kaplan, and Music for Aardvarks' David Weinstone.

Hopalong Andrew is a true anomaly. He's an urban cowboy who celebrates modern commuting. He uses the musical stylings of a different generation to sing the praises of city living. However his infectious and yet-familiar Ameri-can do spirit embody what draws people from all walks of life and from around the world to travel to New York City in the first place – its energy, its diversity, its community, its sense of possibility. HOWDY DO! might even make you want to trade your Tesla for a Mustang...the kind that eats oats, that is. So go ahead, pilgrims, mosey on down to Hopalong Andrew's website to see where the next hootenanny is happening.

HOWDY DO! is available on September 21 from Hopalong Andrew's website, and Amazon.

Here is the video for his song, "Tyrannosaurus (Night at the Museum)":

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Me And You – Caspar Babypants
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Hide & Seek – The Not-Its!
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Shine On – Dan Zanes
Outside – The Green Orbs
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones

English/Spanish Children's Music? ¡No Hay Problema!

In these politically correct times, it's sometimes difficult to phrase an adequate critique for fear of sounding somewhat racist. That also holds true in reviewing children's music, which doesn't have the backing of major studio money and public relations. Quality is oftentimes weighed against perspiration and years of fundraising and local fandom. Plus I've already gone on the record to say that my forte is not exactly world music. So I enter into this review with those caveats.

Hamlet Meneses is a multi-lingual performer who runs the "Be Bilungual Foundation," whose mission is to provide bilingual music concerts for children and families in underserved communities, and encourage diverse communities to come together through music. The new CD, HAPPY LAND IS TIERRA FELIZ, comes through his Mi Amigo Hamlet persona, with nearly an hour of English/Spanish tunes, from "Dias De La Semana" (days of the week) to "Cara Cabeza" (spanish body parts).

Hamlet's story is all about overcoming obstacles – from being raised by his grandmother in Guatemala, being hit by a car at 11, surviving gunfire as a teenage gang member, emigrating to the United States and breaking his back and needing to relearn how to walk. A more recent battle with cancer has only fortified Hamlet's desire to bring music to underprivileged families, especially with the overwhelmingly racist political climate in the United States.

Produced by kids uber-producer Dean Jones, HAPPY LAND IS TIERRA FELIZ is a gentle, genial sing-along of simple-to-understand concepts. Hamlet sees his "Happy Land" as an actual hamlet, or oasis, of diversity and learning. You don't need to overcome as many obstacles as him to see the virtue in that message.

HAPPY LAND IS TIERRA FELIZ is available from Hamlet's website, Soundcloud, and Amazon.

I had a little harder time with Evan and Vanessa's IN OUR WORLD, THERE ARE NO STRANGERS. Vanessa (from Ecuador) and Evan (from Toronto) met in Louisville, Kentucky and refined their children's music stylings. Evan's ability to play more than 20 instruments melds nicely with Vanessa's strong vocals. The concept behind IN OUR WORLD delivers the songs in English – then in Spanish (the CD cover even reverses to emphasize the point).

IN OUR WORLD is a sweet but curiously curated collection of tunes. "Somewhere Out There" will tug at the tear ducts of anyone who remembers the original Linda Rondstat/Aaron Neville version. "Sun Sun Sun" is Dido for the diaper set, with its innocence and head-swaying beat. But "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music is a head-scratcher. It's a show tune that many people mistake for an English version of a Swiss bedtime song. So you get it here in English – as well as Spanish.

The hidden message behind IN OUR WORLD is a love of nature, demonstrated with a selection of sounds of nature strewn throughout the tracks. Between those and the dreamy, ethereal arrangements, IN OUR WORLD is not an album to play if you're driving or operating heavy machinery. It's just the thing if you want to lull your children to sleep and give them some subliminal bilingual lessons at the same time.

IN OUR WORLD THERE ARE NO STRANGERS is available on September 27 from Evan and Vanessa's website, Bandcamp, and Amazon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Not-Its Ready to Rock Your Tots Out

Old punks don't go out to pasture, they regenerate. After they've procreated, when they feel that urge to create, they can't wait. There's no debate. It's never too late. And thus, it was just fate. Five such people bonded to form the children's band known as The Not-Its. From Seattle straight to your nearest streaming device or possibly to an actual piece of music-playing hardware, such as a CD/DVD player.

With their latest release, READY OR NOT!, the group heads seamlessly into their second decade of making kids mosh, whether they are (literally) ready or not. I witnessed that firsthand at New York's Madison Square Park earlier this summer. The quintet flew cross-country for a series of East Coast shows in scorching temperatures. When the average age of your listener is under-seven, their attention span is going to be gnat-sized as a starting point. Subtract one minute for ever degree over 80. Yet the Not-Its kept its audience rapt (with little rap) and completely under their control for 40 minutes.

The power pop sound of the Not-Its bursts forth from the opening chords of "Hide & Seek," the first track on READY OR NOT! and continues through "Little Bug," an ode to an insect. There's also "Tiger Moth" and "Daddy Long Legs" later on, so somebody's kid must have an arthropoda obsession. The highlight – from a parental supervision position – is "The Battle of Curriculum Night," which even drew a chuckle from my 80something mother on a long-distance listening drive:

You know there's gonna be a fight on curriculum night
Try to work it out but the budget is tight
We gotta work together to make things right

Bandmembers Sarah Shannon (former singer Sub Pop band Velocity Girl), Danny Adamson (rhythm guitar), Tom Baisden (lead guitar), Jennie Helman (bass player) and Michael Welke (former drummer of Harvey Danger) always take the time to craft a product (I hate to refer to music with that term, but it is) which contains appeal to all ages. One of the delights – from the stage or from the back of the crowd – is watching first-time concert-goers stand there in stunned silence, processing that a "grown-up" kinda band is singing about playing in the schoolyard ("Let the Games Begin") and challenging your friends ("Staring Contest"). And then the lightbulb goes off, and the child starts jumping up and down or following specific dance commands from the performers.

The Not-Its aren't looking to make any grand statements or pronouncements with READY OR NOT! The CD introduces the band to new audiences and reminds fans that the Not-Its are still a group of adults who put on their ties and tutus to take the stage and bask in the busy and boisterous business of being a kid.

READY OR NOT is available on September 21 from the Not-Its website, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and Amazon.

Here is a live video of the band performing the new song "Hide & Seek":

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Quick Hits: New SaulPaul Music, Sara Lovell Video

Texas' own SaulPaul returns with ALL-STAR ANTHEMS, just in time to pep up kids disgruntled about going back to school. The self-proclaimed "musician with a message" has been entertaining audiences over the world for more than a decade. The new CD is fun for all ages, with easy-to-rap-along positive messages featuring a collection of 12-and-under performers.

ALL-STAR ANTHEMS leaves no doubt about its intentions, starting up with "Hands in the Sky" and "Choose." There's music and a party, wherever you're from, in "Home," with 123 Andres.

There's a little bit of country in "Texas Two Step," but it's just a li'l bit. Mostly it's for the kids to sing the chorus. "Me, Gumby and My 6 String" is a rap folk tale of claymation legend Gumby accompanying SaulPaul on an interplanetary trip. And the disc ends with a new remixes of his most known works, "Rise" and "We Dream in 3D."

Every song has a dance and/or choreography that accompanies it. SaulPaul has the young people who helped create the songs make instructional videos that are released in conjunction with the music. ALL-STAR ANTHEMS won't make you stand and place your hand over your heart. But it stands out with plenty of heart.

ALL-STAR ANTHEMS is available from SaulPaul's website, iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon.

Sara Lovell takes children into the magic of nature. She has just released the video to the title track of her recent album, WILD IS EVERYWHERE. The album's 14 original songs journey through a landscape populated with flying children, misplaced animals of a certain size, and insects or flowers that turn up in the most unexpected places. The video features Sara's eight-year-old son, Gabe, exploring the wild side of the bay area (San Francisco).

Here is the video for "Wild Is Everywhere:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Quick Hits: Kids Imagine Nation, Tom Mason & the Blue Buccaneers

I may not be as young as I once was, but I got tired just listening to Kids Imagine Nation's new CD, TWO. Comprised of former members of to SoCal ska band Suburban Legends, the group demonstrates unlimited energy on tracks like "Monkey See Monkey Do" and "See the Sun." Not to mention taking things to another level with "Exercise," which lis literally jumping jacks and other calisthenics set to music.

Of course, the tracks themselves are pre-recorded and live performances are another thing. But the super-charged fun zone doesn't let up, and between parties and dancing (including "Luau," which is Hawaiian partying), KIN keeps audiences on their feet, even when they're heading off to "Dreamland." It's all positive, fast-moving power pop, and it's like a Disney Junior party coming from your sound system. If your kids are up for a party soundtrack, Kids Imagine Nation has TWO thoughts for you.

TWO is available on September 14 from Amazon and Apple Music.

Here is their video for the song, "The Pirate Neighbor":

Speaking of pirates, Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers don't just talk the talk, they walk the plank. Well, at least they sing about it. The group isn't just singing about the pirate life – they do an entire dress performance that mixes history lessons and cultural references into what defined pirates past the stereotypes that have come to define them.

IF YOU WANT TO BE A PIRATE is 10 tracks that demonstrate the lives and times of the buccaneer lifestyle. Of course, it's mostly sanitized for impressionable young minds. And the ecological message is strongly emphasized, with "Treasure Through the Trash" and "Treasure the Sea" essentially making the same point:

We brought our shipload of detritus to dispose of on dry land
But as we neared the shore we only saw more rubbish on the beach’s sand
There was paper and plastic and styrofoam
there where the swimmers should be
So we took out our rakes to correct the mistakes
of messy humanity

I'm going to steer clear of seagoing-related puns [mostly]. Judging a group strictly on their music is the task at hand. Mason and company are accomplishing a commendable achievement, in bringing the era of sea roving plundering and peril to life. IF YOU WANT TO BE A PIRATE offers a cautionary tale of blowhard-y nostalgia and equates it to treachery in the era of technology. Lest ye be warned, as the parrot flies.

IF YOU WANT TO BE A PIRATE is available from Tom Mason's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Talk Like A Pirate Day":

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Outside – The Green Orbs
If You Want To Sing Out – Frances England

Monday, September 10, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Carefree – Frances England
Lay It On Me – Vance Joy
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
I Feel Better – Caspar Babypants
People Watching – Dean Jones

Raffi Really Ready for Return to the Road

Raffi Cavoukian has become more than the "accidental children's musician."

In a career that spans more than four decades, Raffi has become a vocal critic of the Internet and social media in regard to influencing developing minds. His Child Honouring curriculum (and yes, he offers it to educators) stresses the need to provide healthy environments and set a solid foundation between teachers and students.

Raffi stepped away from recording to write, speak, and promote activism for children's causes. "Child Honouring was my focus for a good many years," he admitted. "But I still wrote material and filed away ideas for possible future songs."

In 2014, after more than a decade, Raffi returned with LOVE BUG, a CD with 16 songs for an entirely new generation of young listeners. "I enjoyed that experience so much, I recorded two more CDs," Raffi explained. In 2016, he released OWL SINGALONG and last month debuted DOG ON THE FLOOR. The cover of the new CD features his dog Luna, with three canine-centric tunes. But that's where the spotlight ends, as Raffi insists Luna will not be joining him on the road. "It's not practical, really," he added.

An ardent protector of children against the preponderance of social media, Raffi maintains an active Twitter presence. His account (@Raffi_RC) gives him an immediate platform to speak about governmental and social issues – including Canadian politics. For the uninitiated, it's not all warm-and-fuzzy family stuff. "I hear from many people who enjoy my engaged passion for democracy and civic duty," he said. "They also like the largely positive – and certainly civil – nature of my posts."

Raffi has embraced the advances in recording technology. Many musicians now record their material in their own homes, garages, or even their own barns (such as Red Yarn). "My three recent albums were recorded mostly in my living room," he said. "The dining room table becomes the recording and mixing space. Microphones get set up pretty quickly, and my engineer and I enjoy the ambiance in that relaxed setting."

In conjunction with recording material comes touring [upcoming shows here]. Original Raffi fans are now parents (and in some instances, grandparents) who bring their own progeny to concerts. These fans have been dubbed #BelugaGrads, after "Baby Beluga," one of his most beloved songs. "Beluga grads have been bringing their kids to my concerts for many years and love being acknowledged as #BelugaGrads," he affirmed. "They tell me my music was the soundtrack of their childhoods. When I meet families after the show, I see many grandparents. I’m fortunate that my music now has a multi-generational audience."

It's hard for Raffi to quantify who enjoys themselves more at his concerts, #BelugaGrads or their children. "They’re all very vocal, and maybe the adults sing louder," he said. "It's hard to say. But there are big smiles all around."

DOG ON THE FLOOR is available from Raffi's websiteAmazon, and Apple Music.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Green Orbs Champion Silly Music for Kids

The family band concept has existed forever. Most recently, the Oot 'n Oots feature four brothers and one of their daughters. Keeping in the sibling spirit is the brother and sister team The Green Orbs. Eddie RosenBerg III and Heather Hirshfield first decided to collaborate musically in 2015 for the YouTube Audio Library. Three years (and 50 songs) later, the duo have released their debut CD, THUMB WRESTLING CHAMPIONS.

While every family has their resident goofball, the Green Orbs divide the wackiness evenly. That way, Eddie can sing "Soup is the best food in the world" and Heather can belt the '60s Romper Room meets Shindig! romp, "The Suction Cup Shuffle."

There are a host of characters in the mix as well, including "Doug the Bug," "Ruby the Tooth Fairy," and "The Duck of Whistleburg." All teach some lesson, such as "don't litter." But there's enough silliness to counter-balance any lecturing, such as the song in search of a Broadway musical, "Twelve Steps to Eating Your Veggies":

Step 3
Hold your nose …what you can’t smell, you cannot taste
Step 4
Hum your favorite tune… and your veggies will vanish without a trace

While a genial, upbeat tune packed with a horn section, "A Flower in My Shower" makes the listener feel a little skeevy about the hygiene of the family whose bathroom has been invaded by plant life. Yes, it's an allegory about appreciating nature. However when you grow up with three younger brothers, it would not have a been a surprise to find sweat socks cultivating potatoes.

Looking at their bio, Ed seems to be bursting at the seams with his musical pursuits. Heather, while ensconced in suburban Marlton, New Jersey, has refined and expanded her instrumentation to cover piano, ukelele, trumpet, and baritone horn. Their mind-melded sensitivities give the Green Orbs a confident and friendly aura. THUMB WRESTLING CHAMPIONS lets kids witness the spectacle of a mummy grappling with a pickle. At the end of the day, isn't that what children's music is supposed to do best?

THUMB WRESTLING CHAMPIONS is available on September 7 from the Green Orbs' website, Amazon, Bandcamp, CDBABY, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for their song, "The Suction Cup Shuffle":

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 3, 2018

How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Superman – Bob and Luc Schneider
Can You Sing? – Dan Zanes
Over and Over and Over – Jack White
Have It All – Jason Mraz
Sounds of Summer – Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie