Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Quick Hits: Justin Roberts Back in NYC, New Music from Mista Cookie Jar

Children's music favorite (and new father) Justin Roberts returns to Symphony Space in New York on Saturday, November 3 with a show (11 am). I've written plenty about Mr. Roberts and his engaging, amusing catalog. But with a new baby in the mix, there are going to be fewer opportunities in the short-term to see him in concert. So make an effort to get out the door and see him this go-round. Buy your tickets with a 10% discount ($17 each for non-members) using code Kidding10  (case-sensitive) here.

Here's Justin and the Not Ready for Naptime Players performing "Lemonade," the title track from his Grammy-nominated album:

Once your kids have calmed down and need a little rewinding, Mista Cookie Jar's got his groove back and it's in the song "Spirit Animal." Shocking that CJ might be feeling a little midlife crisis, but he's marveling at the fabulous little person sharing a residence with him:

How do you barely have
any life experience
and you’re already a zen master?
I don’t get it.
You are...the coolest.

Find "Spirit Animal" at Mista Cookie Jar's Bandcamp page as well as his website.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 26, 2018

Watching You Grow – Frances England
Might As Well Dance – Jason Mraz
Rainbow In Your Eyes – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Musical ¡Alegria! from Sonia de los Santos

You'd think removing politics from children's music would be easy. These days, though, there are many variables and minefields to avoid. I thought a major misstep was Randy and Dave's "I Should Have Been Born in Mexico" earlier this year, which was released at the height of the separation of immigrant children from their parents. Children's music can address sorrow and other negative emotions, but at its core it's built from hope and optimism. Sonia de los Santos's second CD, ¡ALEGRIA! abounds with those qualities. "These days it feels more important than ever to find reasons to be happy and stay grateful," Sonia writes in her liner notes, dedicating the music to those who are struggling to find a reason to smile.

"Alegria" translates literally into "joy," and Sonia certainly conveys that sentiment with her clear, friendly vocals. The title track will dig into your skull like a warm, fuzzy earwig. Highlights include the street-strutting, horn-heavy "La Maraca" and "Mariposa Montuna" (Mariposa Mountain) with rich Columbian flutes and vocals from Nilko Andreas Guarin.

Sonia includes a few English songs – "Hey Little Bunny!" a bouncy animal pals tune "Daisy Mae," a balled with Elizabeth Mitchell, and "Songs for the People," a folkie anthem with Dan Zanes and Claudia Eliaza. Ordinarily they be a welcome break for non-Spanish speakers. Instead, it's almost a distraction from all the good done on the other tracks by Sonia and company. Closer "Donde TuEstes (Wherever You Go)" with Cathy and Marcy gets the mix just right, however:

When you can button up your shirt
And brush off your own dust and dirt
When you can spell and write your name
I will love you just the same.

While there is power in happiness, ¡ALEGRIA! also celebrates the resiliency of happiness. Whether it's monarch butterflies ("Mariposa Montuna") or rabbits ("Hey Little Bunny") or the unending love of parents ("Wherever You Go"), the sheer endurance of these things offer hope and inspiration every day. Sonia asserts that our differences should bring us together as a community, not divide us. Basically, that would result in alegria for all.

¡ALEGRIA! is available from Sonia de los Santos's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the title track of the CD:

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Smile For Me – David Tobocman
Setting Sun – Bears And Lions
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Paradise – George Ezra
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions

Rockness Monsters Welcome Fall With a Ball

Michael and the Rockness Monsters are releasing their third CD, MONSTER'S BALL, right before Halloween. The title is a misnomer as this is not a spooky album of children's songs, even if there is are songs about robots and a fish named Dog.

Michael Napolitano earned his musical chops through breeding – his father Tony was a drummer for decades. But Michael went in his own direction, founding the Rockness Music program for children's music education. He is now celebrating 10 years of making music in various forms for kids with the new CD, which he co-produced with Dean Jones (sounds familiar, where do I know that name).

MONSTER'S BALL contains the usual suspects of themes and notions, from "Party Train" to "When I'm Jumpin'" to "Truck Day." What Michael brings to the table is his authenticity and enthusiasm. Who else would attempt an English-French album closer ("Les Lumières De Paris/Nights In Paris") outside of Putumayo Music? Animation seems to be a big feature of the Rockness experience, as "Growing Bigger" is a second jumping song, manufactured around the conceit of getting older but ostensively just another occasion to get young concert-goers on their feet and quaking with the beat.

Songs from the Rockness Monsters tend to linger in your subconscious until you're humming them without realizing it. In that regard, "Woodpecker" follows in the pattern of "Squirrel Fight." Speaking of a Parisian vibe, "Mona Lisa" explains the body/mind connection between hearing music and engaging our bodies to move, dance, and smile mysteriously.

MONSTER'S BALL delves into family dynamics as well, with "A Fish Named Dog" telling the tale of a child making the most of the parental edict, "No dogs allowed!" I guess the proximity to Halloween is basically to let children know that the Rockness Monsters are more about treats all year round and keeping the tricks on the down-low. For younger listeners, MONSTER'S BALL is this fall's first informal cotillion. Come and celebrate with cider, pumpkins, and dancing robots.

MONSTER'S BALL is available on October 26 from Michael and the Rockness Monsters' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the song, "A Fish Named Dog":

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Me And You – Caspar Babypants
Perfect Tuesday Afternoon – Frances England
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Funga Alafia – Hot Peas 'n Butter
People Watching – Dean Jones

Tim Kubart Builds Uplifting, Empowering Environment

The irrepressible, effervescent Tim Kubart is back to engage youthful audiences with his new CD, BUILDING BLOCKS. As with his past releases, it's a homogenous mix of dancing, sweat, and tears (the latter mostly for parents). It's hard to believe that Tim is a youthful 57, except I made that part up. The title is a double entendré of the tender kind, first as literal "building blocks" that children play with, and also for community outreach (i.e., growing your children and their neighborhood).

One of Tim's specialties is songs about childhood firsts – "Hold On" fits into that category on BUILDING BLOCKS, dealing with the elation of learning to ride a bike without training wheels. "Ready For You" is about developing enough maturity to deal with caring for a family pet, in this case a dog. "Day One" tackles taking the school bus, and the realization that the child/parent relationship evolves when full-day school starts.

There's a fine line between sentimental and maudlin and Tim likes to dance right on the razor's edge. Surefire weepers include "We Are Growing," "Day One," and "A Good Friend's Hard to Find," which features violins, so you know it's practically expected that you're gonna bawl full-faucet in front of the kids:

Don't always win even when I do my best
Sometimes my thoughts and feelings feel like such a mess
But you listen whether I laugh or cry
Oh a good friend's hard to find.

A roster of talent from Tim's (and kindie's) past and present contribute to the boisterous bounciness. Blue's Clues (and STEVENSTEVEN frontman) Steve Burns duets on "It's Going Up," about the excitement kids unearth with the discovery of local excavations and construction sites. "Block Party" wraps BUILDING BLOCKS with a full-force explanation/dance explosion with guests Carly Ciarrocchi (From Sprout's Sunny Side Up), Genevieve Goings (formerly from Choo-Choo Soul on Disney Kids), and rapper Drue Davis. The smallest celebrities are the kids from Woodward Parkway Elementary School (his alma mater in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York) who provide the chorus on "We Are Growing."

Tim has come a long way from sharing his spotlight with a tiny yellow hand puppet (Chica). With a Grammy under his belt, he now cohosts Highlights Hangout and flies across the globe (recently in Nigeria) spreading his mirthful, musical message. In his own way, Tim's BUILDING BLOCKS is only one avenue he's traveling on the path to teach and educate a new generation.

BUILDING BLOCKS is available from Tim Kubart's website, Amazon, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Here is the video I shot at September's Kidstock of Tim performing the new song, "We Are Growing":

Friday, October 12, 2018

New Videos from Suzi Shelton & Tim Kubart and The Oot n' Oots

I was part of the inaugural "MTV Generation," where suddenly every song became more important and exciting if there was an amazing video that accompanied it. Bands like Duran Duran are remembered by people "my age" as much for the music as the iconic imagery for "Rio" and "Hungry Like the Wolf."

Smash-cut to 30 years later and kids are more sophisticated at a younger age. The kids from my generation now have their own kids. And the musicians are coming up with more strategies to energize their videos.

Suzi Shelton and Tim Kubart have chosen the "live plus animation" route for the video of their song, "The Grass Is Always Greener," from Suzi's most recent CD, HAND IN HAND.  Ostensibly a "green screen video," it features Tim and Suzi with her bandmates/producers Greg Mayo and Dan Weiner. The artwork was created by her husband Dave Mitri, who originally drew the backgrounds as part of an upcoming coloring book. Anyway here it is, for your enjoyment:

Canada's The Oot n' Oots are a wacky pack of brothers. If you missed their CD, ELECTRIC JELLYFISH BOOGALOO, then you just weren't paying attention to children's music this year.

The band has crafted a kitchen-set video for their song, "I Like It Saucy," featuring Ezra Cipes, his 11-year-old daughter Ruth, and his three brothers Cipes brothers and an extremely odd chef (Dean Bareham, artistic director of Calgary's Green Fools Theater). Be prepared; the recipes are not for the faint of heart:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 12, 2018

It's A Beautiful World – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Say Something – Justin Timberlake
Better With You – Jason Mraz
Big World Kid (Featuring Laurie Berkner) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Paradise – George Ezra

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Mister G Captures the Magic of Childhood Days on 'Firefles'

Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G) is a living contradiction. The Jewish Latin Grammy winner has released his new children's music CD, FIREFLIES. This release does not promote multi-lingualism or multiculturalism. Instead, it's a straightforward, plain-spoken, old-fashioned folkie/kindie release. After a wave of "woke" or "important" releases, it's nice to see an artist belting tunes about everyday topics without glancing at the headlines.

If there's any theme to FIREFLIES, it's the sense of childhood wonder at the great outdoors, nighttime, and being surrounded by the majesty of nature. It all starts with the title track, relating to "sweet summer breezes passing through the trees" while holding his sister's hand.

"Not a worry in the world," G sings in "Sweet Summertime," building further along on "Me and You" and "Big Old World," stopping for a snack with "S'Mores." If there's a more consistent children's music producer than Dean Jones, I'd like to hear the evidence, as there's a natural progression and flow to FIREFLIES, with neither a false notion or odd instrumentation. Lucy Kalantari ably provides vocal support, among others. And when you just need somebody to listen, there's a "Four-Footed Friend":

There are times when the world gets rough
Had enough of the human stuff
She's always there for me
She sees the forest for the trees.

In these troubling, tumultuous times, there are few things that everyone can agree about. Music is one of those areas – well, except if you were a Texas Trump supporter AND Willie Nelson fan this past month. Nonetheless, Mister G can sing about "Together As One" and people from distant lands taking each other's hands and truly mean it. May there be better times ahead, with more open-mindedness and sing-alongs. And fireflies. And Mister G.

FIREFLIES is available from Mister G's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for Mister G's song "Green World":

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Holy Mountain – Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake
The Art of Letting Go – Stone Temple Pilots
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants

Quick Hits: New Music from Sukey Molloy and Annie Lynn

Okay I'm going to speak right to all the two- and three-year-olds who are regular readers of my review. No I haven't lost my mind, I'm going to shake my keys to get their attention and then speak in a funny voice to the melody of "I've Been Working On the Railroad." Come to think of it, that's one of the easy-to-sing-along songs on Sukey Molloy's fifth CD, FIVE LITTLE OYSTERS!

Under the direction of Grammy-winning producer Larry Alexander (remember a guy named Springsteen? Bon Jovi? Bowie? Mozart, okay not him), Sukey goes full-toddler, from "It's Raining It's Pouring" to "The Ants Go Marching" to "This Old Man." In between are some contemplative floor playtime tunes, "If I Were A Cat" and "Kitten Dance," and it all wraps up in less than 40 minutes.

The only theme here is programming youngsters that these traditional favorites were here long before they were. And that there's nothing wrong with sharing music, snacks, toys, pets, and even friends. Sukey's got her act together and she's taking it on the road with FIVE LITTLE OYSTERS to delight and teach under-fives just what the score is. And by score, I mean musical score. Okay, I'll stop shaking my keys now.

FIVE LITTLE OYSTERS is available from Sukey Molloy's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Annie Lynn started writing songs as a teenager and wound up on television. With such an auspicious start, it's no wonder she kept going. You could call her a "social justice warrior," as he material covers bullying prevention, tolerance and acceptance of others, identity and self-worth, and determination and motivation.

Recorded before the current (and always ongoing) Washington brouhaha, Annie's sing "Go Out and Vote," urges everyone of voting age to do their civic duty. You can even find a karaoke version to sing for yourself. And remember, it takes less than two minutes to register to vote and voting for November 2018 has already started! Click her to register or to check your registration!

"Go Out And Vote" is available in regular and karaoke versions at Annie Lynn's website and Soundcloud.

Here is the video for Annie Lynn's song, "No Time For Hate":

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Quick Hits: New Music from Rainbow Rock Band and Mr. Singer's Sharp Cookies

To some people, children's music is a natural progression. As they become parents or educators, they seek to share concepts and emotions. Dr. Kate Moran studied for her doctorate in special education while earning "merit badges" along the way in her musical pursuits, with her own ensemble as well as the Rainbow Rock Band for kids. Their new EP, TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE RAINBOW, arrives in time for the fall semester.

Since 2012, the Rainbow Rock Band has entertained audiences in the Washington, DC region, performing as many as 120 shows each year. That's a lot of energy put into captivating youngsters as well as a reciprocal amount of fan devotion. TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE RAINBOW won't teach school-aged kids anything new, but tunes like "Samuel The Zookeeper" give preschoolers the chance to shout out animal sounds. "Sparkle Fairy" gives a mythical weather lesson. "Crazy Cakes" is a combination dancing/counting tutorial. 

What the Rainbow Rock Band does is not unique. For instance, Charity and the Jam Band serve the same function in San Francisco and Milkshake keeps the Maryland/Virginia kids in their dancing shoes. But they all deliver a valuable, essential element to children's lives – showing them the awesome potential and bonding experience of live music. On that score, the Rainbow Rock Band earns high-fives and gold stars.

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE RAINBOW is available October 5 from the Rainbow Rock Band's website, Amazon, Shazam, and iTunes Music.

Seven songs in 22 minutes makes an EP. Mr. Singer and the Sharp Cookies pack 14 spooky tunes into 31 minutes on their new CD, HAPPY HAUNTED HALLOWEEN. The group thoroughly mines the holiday with "How Many Pieces Of Candy?" and the rollicking rockabilly "Ain't Scared Of Nuthin'."

"Grandpa's Ghost" gets suitably morbid, singing about how grandpa's melodies stay alive with his family. It may induce a tactful conversation about whether or not the dead really live in our closets or musical instruments.

"Insane Scientist Victory Blitz" gives the bad guys the opportunity to celebrate. "She Writes Frankenstein" attempts to chronicle 19-year-old Mary Shelley's creation in a mere 95 seconds. "Who U Spoze 2 B?" is a smug rejoinder to adults questioning what exactly kids are dressed as for the holiday. "If I hear another mother asking me, who u spoke to B?"

Mr. Singer (Neil Firstenleit) and his Sharp Cookies (Kerry Firstenleit and Michael Massett) are suitably costumed to resume festivities for this time of year. If you want a trippy, zippy, and spooky little walk on the mild side of Creepytown, the Sharp Cookies offer a lurching roadmap.

HAPPY HAUNTED HALLOWEEN is available October 5 from Mr. Singer and the Sharp Cookies' website, Amazon, iTunes Music, and Spotify.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Extraordinary Kerry Appleberry":

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Quick Hits: Nobel Nobel-Inspired Tunes, Songs for Pete's Sake

There's a "new jazz" movement inside children's music. Unlike rock and folk, which have a stranglehold on most radio formats, jazz requires a more concentrated education. It's not all scat singing and celebratory horns; sometimes it depends upon a child's ability to sit still and listen. That level of commitment harkens an exceptional student.

Into that forum enters the Lori Henriques Quintet and their prize-based LEGION OF PEACE: SONGS INSPIRED BY NOBEL LAUREATES. This is a real, serious, instructional CD with eight songs based on the lives and accomplishments of noted figures including Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu, Malala Yousafzai, and President Jimmy Carter. The performers, such as pianist Joey Alexander, all have remarkable achievements. Alexander was an 11-year-old prodigy, complete with an appearance on 60 Minutes. Yunus founded Grameen Bank and more than 50 companies in Bangladesh and has received 112 awards from 26 countries (whew).

Sing for Hope, the organization behind the Legion of Peace project, is notable for its good works as well. In 2018, Sing for Hope placed decorated pianos throughout the five boroughs, making New York host to more street pianos than any other city in the world. But their musical contributions have global reach as well.

The songs themselves tell Stories (as opposed to Harry Chapin's little "story songs"). "Brave As a Girl" tells Malala's tale of courage in the face of intolerance and small-minded cultural limitations. "A Human Is a Human" recounts Tutu's efforts to end apartheid. "A Kinder Way" urges listeners to follow Carter's path of gentle community-building, including a marching/hammer-into-nail-driving Habitat With Humanity-esque beat. "When you give you get it back," sings Henriques, and you can believe she means it.

LEGION OF PEACE: SONGS INSPIRED BY NOBEL LAUREATES is available from Sing for Hope, Amazon, and Apple Music.

On the other side of the spectrum comes Tony Pete (Tony Halchak) and his debut CD, WHEN I GROW UP. A cross between Randy Kaplan and Billy Kelly (one of his friends), Tony performs his songs with a straightforward, sincere "this is how kids talk" delivery.

The first single, "The Backwards Alphabet Song" gets right to the point – here's another way to look at the 26 letters and Tony's gonna sing it that way all day, if you let him. "Kazoo Crew" seems like a natural live performance rave. Take a roomful of kids, hand them kazoos, and what's gonna happen? An instant cacophony of exploration and music-making.

There's a bit of predicability to the format, as the CD closes with "Time to Put Our Toys Away" into "Sleep Loved." But that's the organic flow I've experienced in many a first-time release. The best performers realize that their audiences can grow with them, and don't need reminders to wind down just because the sun begins to set. The chorus delivers a sweet sentiment with resounding clarity: "Sleep loved, little darlings, you are." Every parent likes to feel that there child has potential and that concept holds true for Tony Pete as well – that guy's got potential.

WHEN I GROW UP is available from Tony's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.