Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Shiny New Music from Danny Weinkauf and His Red Pants Band

This review is not about George Harrison. It's not even about Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads). But there is parallel between George Harrison and They Might Be Giants' bassist Danny Weinkauf. George was "given" about one track per Beatles album for his own material. Later, when he went solo, he surprised everyone with his prodigious output; even a TRIPLE album that is still listed as the most successful individual project from the esteemed group. When TMBG started their children's music CDs, Danny was granted a similar ration. And it just wasn't enough for him.

Danny Weinkauf and the Red Pants Band (Tina Kenny Jones, Russ Jones, and Steve Plesnarski) have released their third CD (and Danny's fourth solo effort), entitled INSIDE I SHINE. A generous frontman, many of the 15 tunes feature Tina on lead vocals, including the title track and the groovin' "Dozen Good Reason."

A prodigious songwriter and producer, Danny makes sure that INSIDE I SHINE is crammed full of pop appeal and preteen zeal. "We Love to Verb" gives a vocabulary-building lesson without rubbing your kid's nose in the educational aspect. And do you think pumpkins are vegetables because they grow on vines? Let the band set you straight on the SiriusXM Kids Place Live "13 Under 13" chart-topper "Pumpkins Are My Favorite Fruit."

Much like the Beatles, TMBG never set out to intentionally make music for children. After 20 years in the business, though, tunes like "Dr. Worm" just lent themselves to that genre. Danny and his band have the opposite in mind. "Dozen Good Reasons" could be a simple, traditional love song, except in this context it's generational, from mother (or an older relative) to child. With songs like "Teddy Bear" and "Tricycle" the listener is back in the standard "independent children's music band" zone.

The song structure on INSIDE I SHINE also detours from the typical kid's CD, placing "Good Morning to You" as track 13. Most children's musicians will open with an AM or "can't wait to play" song, and build like a rollercoaster with dance songs in the middle, before coasting to a stop with a lullaby. Danny closes INSIDE I SHINE with a piano version of "The Moon Is Made of Cheese," followed by show tune "Wiggle Wiggle" and a short piano blooper. I'd say he's subverting expectations, but that would be delusionally pompous and improper. The Red Pants Band just wants to have fun, and what's more fun that a good surprise or two?

INSIDE I SHINE is available from Danny Weinkauf's website, Amazon, Bandcamp, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the song, "Pumpkins Are My Favorite Fruit":

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 21, 2018

This Is How We Bring In The Sun – Justin Roberts
Staring Contest – The Not-Its!
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
Press Play – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Paradise – George Ezra
Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf

Quick Hits: Videos from Alphabet Rockers and Okee Dokee Brothers

Grammy nominees the Alphabet Rockers have released their new video, "Walls" with Sesame Street actor Emilio Delgado (Luis). The song is from their nominated CD, RISE SHINE #WOKE:

For your music-loving child, and just in time for the holidays, the Alphabet Rockers have launched a collection of T-shirts to give young change-makers and their parents a chance to wear what they believe. Designed by original Alphabet Rockers member Stefanie Liang Chung, the shirts feature song lyrics from their recent CD. T-shirt purchases from The Alphabet Rockers’ store on Bandcamp include unlimited streaming of a song through the free Bandcamp app.

Grammy winners the Okee Dokee Brothers continue the hype for their recent CD, WINTERLAND, with a video for "Snowpeople":

WINTERLAND follows nature through its voyage from autumn to spring, with secular winter music the entire family can enjoy while cozying up around the fire. Snuggle up with your little ones and enjoy the videos.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Music and Mindfulness from Lianne Bassin

Music and mindfulness go hand in hand. What quiets a fevered imagination? What provides a gentle metronomic beat and puts words to expressions and thoughts? Lianne Bassin's new CD, EVERYONE GROWS delivers a set of mindfulness exercises for children, sparing all the rock in favor of pianos and strings and all things feeling good.

"Can You Hear Your Body" typifies the message that Lianne wants to convey – "what if..." questions are answered by kids, with the refrain "Listen to your feelings, talking to you." You know exactly what you're getting with titles like "Quiet," "Be Free," "Dream," and "Kite." The rap-infused "Mr. Bear and Birdie Together Again" brings together two diverse animals who express their shared frustrations and techniques to deal with their emotions.

Lianne is on a mission to peacefully promote polite and pastoral pieces. EVERYONE GROWS is an earnest and soothing landscape of imagery and instrumentation for preteens, and it evens ends with a public service message (for that, you need to click through to hear what I'm talking about). Namaste and be well, all those under Lianne's tutelage.

EVERYONE GROWS: CHILDREN'S SONGS FOR MINDFULNESS is available on November 1 from Lianne's website, Soundcloud, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Lianne doesn't have many videos, so here's the Kickstarter video for the CD:

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Ben's Playlist - Friday, November 9, 2018

Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants
Day One – Tim Kubart
Feels Like Summer  – Weezer
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Going to the Library – Danny Weinkauf

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Okee Dokee Brothers Warm Up the Winter

The Okee Dokee Brothers and neither brothers nor named Okee Dokee, but that's alright. In fact, tall tales are part of the country's heritage. And since Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing are all about celebrating the great outdoors, they've earned the right to engage in a little Paul Bunyan-ing (especially after winning a Grammy award).

Their latest CD, WINTERLAND, delivers 16 original compositions themed loosely around being home for the holidays with the family. The album kicks off with "Blankets of Snow," which brings a familiar Okee Dokee trick, the turn of a phrase, "Ain’t it kinda funny how a cold day keeps you warm?" Joe and Justin continue their wordplay on "Slumberjack" with "See what ya saw and saw what you see." As a mnemonic device, it's especially easy in teaching kids how to sing the lyrics.

WINTERLAND demonstrates how to sing educational tunes about the great outdoors and nature without overwhelming the fun and singalong quality of the material. Joe and Justin even squeeze in a "song cycle" about the role winter plays in preparing children for death. WAIT COME BACK... It's all about the life of a tree and how a dead tree still has a place to help with wildlife in the spring. You can stop sweating and shaking now. Here's a sample of "Great Grandmother Tree":

In the backwoods of an old mighty forest
There’s a silver maple tree lyin’ on her side
She’s home to all kinds of life now
She doesn’t live but she’s still alive

Joe and Justin have dedicated WINTERLAND to their beloved and endangered winters, which are warming fast as a result of climate change. To help ensure their fans can enjoy a lifetime of snowy winter exploration, the Okee Dokees are donating 10% of all WINTERLAND CD sales to Askov Finlayson’s Keep the North Cold initiative, which supports leading-edge climate solutions in the North and across the country. Read more about their important mission here.

Once again, you can feel the steady producing hand of Dean Jones on the warm, welcoming songs like "Candle" and "You You You." The Okee Dokee Brothers sing about how nature was here before us, surrounds us, and how we can improve our relationship with the planet. WINTERLAND is deceptively complex and simply intoxicating at the same time. Come inside, make some hot chocolate, and sit a spell, while learning that we're all here for the world, not the other way around.

WINTERLAND is available from the Okee Dokee Brothers website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the duo's song, "Blankets of Snow":

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Justin Roberts, Naptime Players Rock Symphony Space

Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players returned for their (mostly) annual performance at Symphony Space on Saturday, November 3, part of the Just Kidding Kids series of weekly events for children and families. Now that Justin is a new father (really new, like less than one month new) it's going to be interesting to see how he adjusts his touring schedule in the future. Not to mention that he has diversified into books (two currently out with another pair on the horizon), so the release of another CD in the near future is a question mark.

Despite mild temperatures and an erroneous forecast of showers, it was an easy commute however we've definitely seen fuller, more boisterous audiences in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Luckily those in attendance did finally spark and begin to participate, as shown in the videos.

After nearly 20 years in the business, Justin and his band (Liam Davis, Gerald Dowd, Jacqueline Schimmel, and David Winer) have the patter and interaction down to a science. Yet it still appears fresh and fun, with the band seeming to genuinely enjoy the opportunity to entertain a tentative batch of hardened New York City kids.

As ever, setlist maven Ben remarked at which songs the band were not playing, as well as which ones he didn't recall the band playing at previous shows. Matt, on the other hand, reacted as if he was hearing some of these songs live for the first time – and admitted he did not remember seeing the band a few years back at the New Victory Theater. And that's why he tags along, to provide a fresh set of eyes to help me see every band. Justin signed off with a hopeful "We'll see you again," and we'll hold him to that promise.

Performances continue at Symphony Space every Saturday morning. Next up: Legend of the Banana Kid (Western Puppets on November 10) and Moona Luna (Spanish/English music on November 17).

Friday, November 02, 2018

Danny Weinkauf: Children's Music Shines Through

When you think about They Might Be Giants, you immediately think of the two-headed frontmen, the Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell). But the third tendril of that hydra should belong to bassist Danny Weinkauf, whose tenure with the band extends more than 20 years – and is the longest outside of the originators. TMBG just completed an international tour and Weinkauf was right there for every stop, although he's also excited about INSIDE I SHINE, the upcoming CD with his Red Pants Band.

"The recent tours with TMBG have been absolutely fantastic for many reasons," Danny explained. "On a world tour, we see so many great cities in Europe, Canada, San Juan, Puerto Rico... And next February we head to Australia!" Danny affirms it's amazing for TMBG to go to a place where the band has never played. "We find a whole new group of fans that know the music and sing along with such enthusiasm," he added.
Danny Weinkauf (sitting) and his Red Pants Band

Both Johns are hard-working and extremely prolific and last year brought back TMBG's "Dial-A-Song." Due to the volume of material that service goes through, in two of the past three years, they have released a new song every week of the year. "This is great for me as I get to record all these new songs and also play them in our live shows," Danny said. "TMBG is not a legacy act that just plays old songs."

In an interview with Marc Maron (you'll need to subscribe to his premium service to hear it), the Johns sounded off on the state of children's music and their decision to concentrate on adult ventures. "I don’t think there’s been an official departure for TMBG from children’s music, but the truth is they have a more than full career writing and performing their non-kids music, which takes priority for them," Danny said. "As for my children’s music, they are always 100% supportive of my projects. John F actually helps me promote my shows sometimes."

Considering Danny was on tour for most of the past several months, the release of INSIDE I SHINE seems to have taken some coordinated effort. "I bring a portable recording set-up on the road. I work on music for TV and commercials or write more children’s songs from hotels all over the world," he explained. "So writing and recording INSIDE I SHINE took about one year in total." Danny still records almost all of the music himself. "Then my wife Michelle and Tina Kenny Jones sing and that completes the sound of the band," he adds. "On this album, our live drummer Steve Plesnarski tracked a couple of tunes which was a treat for me, as I didn’t have to play ’em all myself!"

The band covers the Sesame Street classic "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" on this CD, a tune written by Jeff Moss. "That song is kind of part of the American fabric; my grown-up friends remember it from their childhoods and their children know it as well," Danny said. "I actually heard a beautiful version by Jess Penner, looked up the song, and found that many bands had done ballad versions of it. I thought it might be fun to create a Red Pants Band rock version and that’s what we put on the album."

The release of INSIDE I SHINE is being sandwiched in between upcoming tour dates for TMBG in Canada and Australia. "We have a couple of Red Pants Band shows to celebrate the release at the Long Island Children’s Museum, which is celebrating their 25th anniversary," Danny said. "We're playing shows on November 17 and 18. After the full TMBG tour ends next spring, I hope to bring the Red Pants Band to as many towns as will have us."

Click here to listen to Danny Weinkauf and the Red Pants Band sing "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon." Visit the band's website here.