Monday, December 09, 2019

Holiday Hits: Joyful Videos from Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta and Duke Otherwise

There's no greater opportunity for wordplay than when a children's musician juxtaposes a word that works as an emotion and a name. Duke Otherwise's new video for “Joy’s a Grump” takes full advantage of kids with mismatched names and their teacher, Miss Nomer. Duke's niece once met a girl named Joy at a party and gave him the inspiration for the song, telling him “her name shouldn’t be Joy ‘cause she is grumpy." The CD is available for sale at Duke's website.


Holiday joy is another kind of making merry. And Denver's Katherine Dines and Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta celebrate with a video for their new song, "Joy":

Monday, December 02, 2019

An Upbeat Return for Dog on Fleas

The true Dean of children's music is Dean Jones – über-producer of many acts like Gustafer Yellowgold, Frances England, and the Lucky Band – as well as an individual performer and part of the three-man band, Dog On Fleas. The latter is returning after a five-year hiatus with their newest release, I'M AN OPTIMIST. The CD certainly wins a "truth in advertising" award, as it's one of the most unrelentingly sunny and upbeat things I've heard in quite some time.

"Wanna Be" is a call-and-response song about growing up and choosing to be original, different, and fulfilled. "In a world of talking, I wanna be a listener," Dean sings. "In a world of rangers, I wanna be a black bear." The nature ode "Sting Along" will spark joy among the young animal lovers in your midst, recounting how every creature has its own family, genus, and species within its taxonomy.

Dog On Fleas must have wanted to land a funky dance groove and they succeeded with "Village d'Ãtoile," which is french for "Star Village." That's also the entire extent of the lyrics for the song. "Doppelganger," based on a true story of misidentification, starts with its Alan Parsons Project vibe and changes personality a moment later. The anti-educational "It's a Miracle" takes the modern world at face value…

It's a miracle...that an airplane can fly up in the sky.
It's a miracle...that an apple tree comes from an apple seed.
It's a miracle...when you see ants work together, and how about the bees.
It's a miracle...that our heads don't pop off every time we sneeze.

Dog On Fleas is more than Dean Jones, surely. John Hughes (not the filmmaker) provides bass, guitar, and vocals. Chris Cullo sings and plays drums and percussion instruments. The trio spent the past year ensconced in upstate New York, fiendishly plotting their return. Hard to believe it's been half-a-decade, but Dean had other fish on his plate. And knowing Dean, that could have been a song right there.

It's almost retro for Dog On Fleas to come back as the 2010s are ending. The Fleas (or Dogmen or whatever you call them) sound as if they've always been a part of the children's music scene and never left. I'M AN OPTIMIST is best characterized on "A Little Hiccup," where the narrator could have become dejected by mistakes or adversity, but explains that life still went on and yours should, too. Time doesn't stand still and Dog On Fleas is optimistic that there will be more days to dance and celebrate in the future.

I'M AN OPTIMIST is available from Dog On Fleas' website, CDBABY, and Apple Music.

Here is their recent video for the song, "Doppelganger":

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Remembering the Music of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers) had a long and storied career and still-growing legacy. He has been celebrated with numerous awards and tributes, while alive and posthumously. There was an acclaimed documentary last year ("Won't You Be My Neighbor," now on HBO). This month debuts Tom Hanks in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

Musical producer Dennis Scott sought to secure the majesty of Fred Rogers' more than 200 songs with last year's collection, "Songs From the Neighborhood." Now he is returning to sip from that well with another compilation, THANK YOU, MISTER ROGERS. The 13 tracks on this release parallel the earlier CD, but that's because there are essential tunes in play, such as "Won't You Be My Neighbor," sung here by the Cowsills, the 1960s band that was the model for the TV series, The Partridge Family.

There should be a natural children's album in the songs of Fred Rogers. Yet these two releases skew towards adult contemporary artists such as Vanessa Williams on "Many Ways to Say I Love You," Christian vocalist Sandi Patty on "Please Don't Think It's Funny," country artists Kellie Pickler "It's Just a Good Feeling" and Lee Greenwood "When the Day Turns to Night." I found myself needing to explain who was singing every single track to my kids, and then apologizing that 90 seconds of gentle messaging was being turned into three-minute dirges. Off the top of my head, I could come up with a laundry list of currently-recording children's musical acts to pump some oxygen into the arrangements for this collection.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is available for streaming on PBS and Netflix, but THANK YOU, MISTER ROGERS is made for people who stop watching the show more than a generation ago. It's hard to fathom another reason Rita Wilson is attached to the project other than her relation to Tom Hanks and his upcoming film – she's not exactly a top tier performer in the children's music genre. The rationale is easier with Mickey Dolenz – the Monkees were at one point contemporaries of Mr. Rogers, and Mickey vocalizes the best selection, "Perfectly Beautiful Day," which doesn't overstay its welcome. If you want to share your memories of Mister Rogers, the website acts as a fan site as well. So give your thanks there, and find samples of the songs as well.

THANK YOU, MISTER ROGERS is available on the tribute's website, Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon.

Here is a short teaser video of the Cowsills singing "Won't You Be My Neighbor":

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Bring My Chimpy Home – Caspar Babypants
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
It's a Miracle – Dog On Fleas
Stumble Into You – Jack Forman
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Thank You For Being You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Monday, November 25, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Backstroke Raptor – Story Pirates
Everything Has A Song – Caspar Babypants
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
People Watching – Dean Jones
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
You Can Get It If You Really Want – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Quick Hits: New Koo Koo Kanga Roo Video, Jazzy Ash Mystery Book

The dynamic duo known as Koo Koo Kanga Roo continue to make catchy, amusing pop songs for children. Their latest video rocks and raps to the chorus of "It's too hot" for "Hot Sauce." You can grab a look and listen right here:

Family musician Ashli St. Armant (also known as Jazzy Ash) has released an Audible original in the style of a Nancy Drew book – "Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons" is told through the eyes of brave young black girl (enthusiastically narrated by Bahni Turpin). The book is free for Audible members through December 1. You can grab a sample of the book here. Or watch the trailer below:

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Quick Hits: Twinkle Takes NYC; Lincoln Center Jazz for Kids

The kindie version of Lady Gaga might very well be Twinkle Time (Alitzah Wiener-Dallas). Now the West Coast performer is packing her sparkly bags and bringing her stage show to New York's Lincoln Center on Monday, December 2 for the 20th annual Winter's Eve festival from 5:30-9:00 PM.

Twinkle has spent the past decade building a following from the ground up – including a YouTube channel where she spent a good chunk of the year teaching young viewers to "Learn That Letter" from A to Z. It now showcases her torchy version of "New York, New York" (first popularized by Frank Sinatra) in tribute of her upcoming visit to the Big Apple. You can stream the song at Spotify and watch the video here:



While I'm in the neighborhood, Jazz at Lincoln Center's Blue Engine Records has released JAZZ FOR KIDS, featuring Wynton Marsalis and an orchestra doing souped-up syncopated favorites such as "Old Macdonald," "Mah Na Mah MNa," and "Pop Goes the Weasel."

I've written previously that there's been an explosion of children's jazz recordings – from Jazzy Ash to Lucy Kalantari (2019 Grammy winner) to Diana Panton to Lori Henriques and many more. But none has the pedigree and longevity that Wynton Marsalis and his orchestra bring to the table. That's not an insult – that's recorded, undeniable fact. With JAZZ FOR KIDS as their testimony and evidence.

This collection is the real deal – fully imagined tunes that sometimes have little to do with the original concept past the title. "Wheels on the Bus," narrated by Today show host Hota Kotb, goes on for 10 minutes of inspired, polished improv. Not exactly for everybody's tastes – but this is a CD to help your kids cultivate that special taste bud.

You can get JAZZ FOR KIDS at Amazon and Apple Music.

You can hear "Baa Baa Black Sheep" here:



Thursday, November 14, 2019

Quick Hits: Jazzy Diana Panton, Mellow Again Again

Canadian jazz performer Diana Panton loves the classics and her second release for children, A CHEERFUL LITTLE EARFUL, is chock full of tunes many adults have either never heard or forgot a long, long time ago. It's a tranquil rainy day diversion, and a way to get children interested in the burgeoning field of jazz for juniors (if I may coin a phrase).

Panton covers such well-known composers as Hammerstein and Rodgers ("Happy Talk"), Sammy Cahn ("Pocketful of Miracles"), Cole Porter ("Experiment"), Ira Gershwin (the title track), among others. It's definitely a time warp for older listeners (although my eightysomething stepfather took a power nap as we all listened on a drive home from Connecticut). The kids were similarly amazed that I knew the lyrics to album-closer "Hush-a-bye Island," which has appeared on at least five Frank Sinatra compilations. There are also songs you "know" but were unfamiliar with the composers – "Sing a Rainbow" by Arthur Hamilton and "Red Red Robin" from Harry Woods, for instance.

Musicians Reg Schwager and Don Thompson fill the songs with gentle instrumentation and verve. Panton makes sure you don't miss any of the underlying emotion as she turns a phrase, even on such well-trod ground as Jeff Moss's "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon." As Ben pointed out "Ernie sings that!" If you're in the mood for vibraphone and singalongs, A CHEERFUL LITTLE EARFUL gives kids a wistful education of bygone days that a handful of musicians are striving to turn into a fanciful future.

A CHEERFUL LITTLE EARFUL is available from Diana Panton's website, Amazon, and Apple Music

Jennifer Cook and Anne Montone's LISTEN. LOVE. REPEAT. is both a coloring book and a children's CD. Both halves complete a collection they hope will help kids develop harmoniously in both heart and mind. The duo record as Again Again, a mnemonic that is both cute but also extraordinarily hard to search on Google. Their strongest Web presence is on Facebook (and the Soundcloud link was both broken and, when truncated, showed no songs to play).

LISTEN. LOVE. REPEAT. is a preschooler's collection of ambient, peppy tunes, from "The Kids Are Here (First Day of School)" through "Wrap Your Arms Around Your Family" to "Camping Song (Lullaby)." Their priorities are blended families, sharing, and being progressive. If I were conservative, I'd ask how much crunchy granola was served during the making of the CD. However I strive for inclusivity as well, so I admire their vision of serving up Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush for kids. Another influence, Bette Midler, on the other hand, might incorporate something with a more nuanced message for adults. Jennifer and Anne are also collaborating on an Again Again podcast about "adulting with children." I might just stick with Childish from Alison Rosen and comedian Greg Fitzsimmons. Again again, that's just a matter of tastes.

LISTEN. LOVE. REPEAT is available from CDBABY, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is their song "The Kids Are Here (First Day of School)" on YouTube:

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 12, 2019

Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf
Helicopter Leaves – Ants Ants Ants
I'm an Optimist – Dog On Fleas
It's A Most Unusual Day – Diana Panton
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
Noodles And Butter – Caspar Babypants
Peace Be To All – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Quick Hits: Video from Brady Rymer; Mista Cookie Jar Needs You

A Long Island-based favorite children's music artist, Brady Rymer is debuting a video for his song, "Drop In the Bucket." The song was inspired by Bucket Fillers, a Michigan-based elementary school initiative promoting kindness and compassion.

The video was conceived, produced, and directed by New Jersey's Jackson Liberty high school seniors Lianne Richards and Rebecca Chiafullo, assisted by teachers Ethan Nobel and Missy O'Keeffe. Completing their vision required more than 300 H.C. Johnson Elementary School students.

You can buy Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could's latest album, UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA, from Amazon. And here's the new video:



Ever feel that the only way to comfort someone – a child, family member, or friend – was to tell them how you valued them? Mista Cookie Jar feels your pain. And his new song, "All I Need Is You," is guaranteed to assuage that process:

Wanna feel all the feels with you
Cuz life’s a roller coaster ride, they say. 
And even if we’re less up than down,
If we’re together, we gonna be ok.

You can find the song online elsewhere, but wait – you can also find it right here!

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Quick Hits: Celtic (Kare Strong & Josh Goforth) and Spanish/English (Moozika) Kid's Music

Don't ever call children's music predictable because sometimes you will be surprised, astounded, or utterly impressed by elements of an unexpected release. However Kare Strong and Josh Goforth have produced an impeccably produced collected of Celtic songs aimed at kids, BENEATH THE CHERRY TREE, which is mostly what one would conjure – Kare's poetry about nature and plenty of Josh's Grammy-nominated fiddle playing.

BENEATH THE CHERRY TREE is wistful, imaginative, and perfect for the Celtic family that lives near you. There isn't a rocking guitar and rap verse anywhere on this CD, and if that spells musical heaven for you, then grab this collection from Kare and Josh's website, Amazon, or Apple Music.

If you're Jewish and you want to become a music educator, what other path is there to follow but to put out a Spanish-English children's music CD? That's the course that Brooklyn's Jesse Goldman has followed, taking his Moozika! program and shifting it sideways and putting it on disc. Jesse seeks to create an age-appropriate space for his curriculum, and if your little ones are indeed that – little ones – then Moozika could be something for you to consider. The program is highly ranked and listed as one of New York magazine's top three music classes for children.

The debut CD, MOOVE TO THE MOOZIKA! (available October 25 from his website and Soundcloud) is 14 tracks of (mostly) English and (some) basic Spanish words, on tracks such as "Burro," "Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro," and "Limpia." Ozomatli's much funkier track. In the meantimes, viva la Goldman for his consistency and hasta luego for now, muchachos.  Hailing itself as city-based adventure songs, the CD covers elements of urban dwelling with "Brooklyn Baby" and "Roly-Poly Train." Then again, I haven't seen a "Moose on the Loose" in these parts.

Here is the video for "Moove to the Moozika":

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta Sings a Mouthful of Holidays

All cultures and religions have their own rituals, celebrations, and holidays. Longtime children's musician Katherine Dines and her Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta Band honor life's traditions with their latest release, “HUNK-TA-BUNK-TA HOLIDAYS: Stories and Songs that Celebrate Global Light.”

The album's concept goes deeper than a Christmas song here, and a Kwanzaa song there. Katherine and crew give a little background before every song, with surprise, mostly original material, some adapted from other sources (all credited in the liner notes and booklet). Katherine has traveled around the world and has listened to traditional music wherever she's been. The 13 tracks on HUNK-TA-BUNK-TA HOLIDAYS present an atlas through children's music.

 "Light Rises Over Darkness (Diwali)" gives insight into the celebrations of the Hindu culture. "Stars" and "Eight Little Candles in a Window" tell the story of Hanukkah. "The Friendly Beasts" is all about the animals in the manger as well as the ones who traveled to Bethlehem with gifts for the newborn Jesus. "The Sun Will Rise" discusses the Muslim tradition of Ramadan, with no eating from dawn to dusk. "Kwanzaa!" is about buying used cars. Wait a second – it's about what else? The song describes many of the terms behind the African-American holiday, such as "KiSawahili," for family, community, and history.

I'm just giving brush strokes here, but also a caution. If you want to save some songs from “HUNK-TA-BUNK-TA HOLIDAYS” without the introductions, you're going to need to editing software to snip those segments – they are embedded into each track. Otherwise, hunker down in your home and have a heaping helping of holiday cheer with the Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta Band.

HUNK-TA BUNK-TA HOLIDAYS is available from Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Light Rises Over Darkness":

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Doppelganger – Dog On Fleas
El Corazon – The Lucky Band
Harmony With You  – Jack Forman
I Love You – Monika Ryan
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
Window – Gustafer Yellowgold

Children Write the Tunes On Kid Pan Alley

For 20 years, Kid Pan Alley (KPA) has been engaging with school children to make original music of their creation. As founder Paul Reisler explains, "This program keeps children intensely engaged as they work together to write their own song – both music and lyrics."

Not every song gets the celebrity recording treatment. When you look at the numbers, only a fraction make the cut. To date, KPA has written more than 2,700 songs with over 65,000 children across the country from Virginia to Hawaii. To celebrate the anniversary, the organization has released its new CD, BEST FRIENDS, featuring 12 songs with a variety of topics and styles, each with a unique guest vocalist, including Lisa Loeb, Bill Harley, Randy Kaplan, the Not-Its, and Sonia De Los Santos.

Technology is at the forefront in "I Forgot To Charge My Phone Today" featuring Lea Morris. Robbie Schaefer takes lead in the hard rocking "My Shadow Leads a Double Life." And veteran storyteller Bill Harley discusses the lack of business for a youthful entrepreneur who has a "Sister For Sale." And it doesn't take Google Translate to understand the meaning of "La Vida Es Bella," the closing track with Sonia De Los Santos.

Bossy parents (versus bossy kids) highlights Silly Bus on "Who Decided." Lisa Loeb contributes her level-headed take on the fanciful "I've Got An Apple Pie in My Book Bag." And Vance Gilbert gives title track "Best Friends" a keen perspective, when written as only children can see friendship.

It's doubtful that modern children (or even kids from 20 years ago) would understand the "tin pan alley" origin of the name for the Kid Pan Alley project. But the goal remains the same and BEST FRIENDS delivers another solid collection of kid-friendly, kid-generated, and kid-centric songs from KPA.

BEST FRIENDS is available from Kid Pan Alley's page on CDBABY, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is a video for the project's song, "Life Is Good":

Monday, October 28, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Backstroke Raptor – Story Pirates
Buenos Dias-the Lucky Band – The Lucky Band
Did You See That Squirrel? – Dog On Fleas
Garden of Your Mind – Andrew & Polly
My Shadow Leads A Double Life – Robby Schaefer and Kid Pan Alley
People Watching – Dean Jones
Stick Up Stand Up – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 28, 2019

All Star – Andrew & Polly
Can Do Attitude – Dog On Fleas
Ducky Is The Name Of My Bike – Caspar Babypants
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
#Goals – Jack Forman
Move Your Feet – Michael & The Rockness Monsters
With a Little Help From My Friends – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Friday, October 25, 2019

My 2019 Fids and Kamily Awards

The 2019 (and final) Fids and Kamily Awards have been released. I was privileged to be a judge for most of the run. It ends a 13 (or 14) year run for the awards, which were not as prestigious as Parents Choice or other "major" plaudits, but still appreciated by musicians.

To be considered for MY voting, the artist had to either contact and send me the material directly (via CD or digital download) or through a PR person. Interestingly, Josh Lovelace (who came in second) contacted me directly about his first children's music release. For GROWING UP, he went through a PR person (which I'm sure was more expedient for him). Also, my sons each selected three of their favorites on my semi-final list of 20 releases. I did weigh their considerations into my voting.

Here is my top 10 ballot:

1. Growing Up – Josh Lovelace
2. Buenos Diaz – the Lucky Band
3. Building Blocks – Tim Kubart
4. Alegria! – Sonia de los Santos
5. Office Hours – Jack Forman
6. Under the Big Umbrella – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
7. Go For the Moon – Andrew and Polly
8. What Do You Wish – Lori Henriques
9. Winterland – Okee Dokee Brothers
10. Ageless – Jon Samson

Bubbling under (in no particular order):

The Love – Alphabet Rockers
Flying High – Caspar Babypants
Backstroke Raptor – Story Pirates
Lucky Foot and Sunny Moon – Ratboy Jr.
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf/Red Pants Band

Quick Hits: New Videos from Dog On Fleas and Father Goose

It's not that über producer Dean Jones works on every children's music release; it just appears that way sometimes. But when he sets his laser focus on his own material, Dean comes up with some pretty darn good stuff. There's a new Dog on Fleas (Dean's band) CD coming in the near future.

And in the meantime, there's a video for the brand new song "Doppelganger." Dean says he would be asked occasionally about his motorcycle, and he'd have to reply that he didn't have one. So the idea that he had a doppelganger (aka a lookalike) intrigued him. Assisted by Tim Sutton of Ratboy Jr (and a green screen) and guitarist Jacinta Bunnell, he set out to document his thesis, as kind of a tribute to the minimalist style of Kraftwerk as well:



Raffi is so concerned about the affects of social media, personal handheld devices, and interactive video games that he established the Child Honouring program to give them something positive that substituted for those options. Father Goose also had some of the same concerns. He and Danni Ai put those issues to music for the song "Kidzzz (Want to Be Free)," on their EP "I Can Make It," which is available on Soundcloud. It's tough to be yourself when "the world is mine in cyberspace." Here's the video:

Monday, October 21, 2019

Rockness Monsters Cover a Century of Music in 27 Minutes

Some people take music for granted. Others are constantly amazed at discovering new genres and performers as they grow older. Then there are the people who are fortunate to be "born into the life," with parents or relatives inside the industry. That happened with Michael Napolitano, frontman for Michael and the Rockness Monsters. His father, a professional drummer, turned their house into a homeschooling program filled with records and live concert experiences. Michael worked for 10 years with the Blue Man Group, then started his "Rockness Music" music education program. Ten years later, the curriculum is currently established at more than one dozen metropolitan locations in New York and New Jersey.

The Rockness Monsters themselves are busting out with a new collection of songs that was 100 years in the making. I guess Michael could have waited until January to release SEEING LIFE IN 2020, but here we are and here it is – a concept CD with 11 songs, each representing a decade from 1920 to present day. Chronologically, Michael and guest singer Lucy Kalantari duet on "Side by Side," re-popularized for kindie audiences in 2002 by Dan Zanes. That's the same year Elizabeth Mitchell released her version of "You Are My Sunshine," the selection for the 1930s. Here it's sung by Michael's daughters (Sienna and Emilia), but this Carter Family classic is the perfect "you can't spoil" song.

Novelty songs instead of big band and bland pop singers grab the 1940s and 1950s, with "Mairzy Doats" and "Choo'n Gum." My family has a personal connection to the Teresa Brewer tune, which was often sung to Ben by his grandfather when he was a toddler. As the country dealt with World War II and the Korean War, such tunes were necessary to distract the public and keep morale upbeat. Continuing that theme are The Beatles' "All Together Now" and the Pointer Sisters "Yes We Can Can," which move the groove into the modern era, featuring über producer Dean Jones on trombone.

Keyboards conquer guitars (who could really compare to Eddie Van Halen) on the 1980s hard rocking classic "Jump." And Randy Newman's "You've Got A Friend In Me" remains one of the most durable songs from the 1990s. Fun fact: The tune lost the Academy Award for Best Song to Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz's "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas. Newman got the last laugh - the tune has appeared in four films, as well as cover versions by Michael Bublé, Rex Orange County, and now the Rockness Monsters.

Junior Senior's dance floor favorite "Move Your Feet" gets us into the 2000s. For what it's worth, it's a more mellow version than Junior's or last year's cover by Josh and the Jamtones and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. A song from the TV series Nashville, "A Life That's Good," also featuring his daughters, sweetly closes the collection. Oh – and the title track leads off, with a "They Didn't Start the Fire/End of the World As We Know It" list of cultural milestones. It's hard to cram 100 years of music into a CD with a playing time of less than 30 minutes, but Michael is a monster on a mission. Therefore SEEING LIFE IN 2020 is his (pardon the pun) monster opus.

SEEING LIFE IN 2020 is available from the Rockness Monsters website, Amazon, CDBABY, and Apple Music.

Here is an animated video of the band performing "Woodpecker":

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 21, 2019

Always Home – Duke Otherwise
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Helicopter Leaves – Ants Ants Ants
Shine It Up – Caspar Babypants
You've Got A Friend In Me – Michael & The Rockness Monsters

Friday, October 18, 2019

Quick Hits: New Koo Koo Kanga Roo Video; Story Pirates Podcast

Life is full of freaky coincidences. I took the kids to see the Dreamworks' animated film ABOMINABLE this past weekend. Among the coming attractions was a sequel, TROLLS WORLD TOUR. The first film was a jukebox of popular music and the second film looks to continue the trend. But one character resonated when I saw the new video from Koo Koo Kango Roo – a newborn to a glittery troll who (incongruously) sings a hip-hop song about glitter. The boys' new video is for their song, "Glitter," and they've indeed beaten an entire movie studio to the punch!



The Story Pirates have launched season three of their podcast. Episode one features two new stories: “The Bear That Couldn’t Disco,” a synth pop tune about a boogieing bear and “The Slowest Elevator in the World,” recounting a truly extreme test of patience. The segments were based on submissions written by 7 year old Taylor from Rhode Island (Bear) and  8 year old Sam from California (Elevator). The first story stars Broadway leading man Alex Brightman (Beetlejuice) and more special guests are promised for upcoming installments.

Story Pirates Changemakers, the non-profit arm of the organization, have brought life-changing literacy programs to more than 500,000 students. Visit Storypirates.org to learn more.

And for the podcast itself, go here to directly download the show.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 17, 2019

Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Jump – Michael & The Rockness Monsters
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Who In The Circus Is Me? – Caspar Babypants

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Anything Can Be A Hat – Ratboy Jr.
Everything Has A Song – Caspar Babypants
School's Out! – The Not-Its and Kid Pan Alley
Side By Side (Featuring Lucy Kalantari) – Michael & The Rockness Monsters
Taco Tuesday  – The Lucky Band
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

No More Waiting: New Laurie Berkner Music

There are many factors that go into account for longevity – consistency, material, and audience retention being the most important. The last one is key, especially for children's musicians, who cycle through a listener base every 3-5 years. For a truly transcendent few, the first two elements have made the third a non-factor. Included on that short list is Laurie Berkner, the Queen of Children's Music.

In her second decade as one of the industry's gold standards, The Laurie Berkner Band has returned with her 13th release, WAITING FOR THE ELEVATOR. A frequent subject in kid's music is impatience, and the title track addresses it with tact and humor. "A Dollar" delivers a simple math message, "Did You Go To Ohio?" explores road trips, and "Do You Hear The Bells?" is a delightful real-life story with guest vocals by Broadway lead Gavin Creel (Waitress, Hair!, Hello Dolly):

I can hear the bells out my window
I can hear the way that they sing
And every time they chime
I can tell the time
I just count how many times they ring.

One size doesn't fit everyone anymore. A 50-minute album of acoustic guitar tunes doesn't remain in rotation very long. With that in mind, Laurie and company use rap, funk, acoustic, and sweet harmonies to make their points while keeping primary focus on entertainment. Family time is covered, with "I Love You Daddy" followed swiftly by "A hug From My Mama." Kids being proud of learning is the subject of "I Know How That Works." Laurie explains how to deal with negative emotions in a positive way on "I Am Angry (Yes I Am)." And the CD closes with a Spanish version of one of her most popular songs, "Somos Los Dinosaurios."

Laurie and veteran keyboard player Susie Lampert comprise the heart of the Berkner Band. Drummer Bobby Golden and bassist Brady Rymer (oh yeah, him!) ably complete the quartet, which looks to continue their genial domination of children's hearts and minds leading into 2020. For all she's accomplished with her past recordings, WAITING FOR THE ELEVATOR proves to be lucky number 13 for Laurie Berkner.

WAITING FOR THE ELEVATOR is available from Laurie Berkner's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is a recent "Fan-Tastic Friday" video post of Laurie singing "Googleheads":

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Quick Hits: Videos from Sara Lovell and the BanAnna Band

Sara Lovell's latest video, "The Dark Side of My Room," is from her last studio CD, which came out in 2018. Featuring her son, Gabe, the video shows what happens when your imagination goes wild after the sun goes down.



The BenAnna Band is brand new. As in, they just started uploading videos to YouTube. The duo (with friends who drop by) plays pop/throwback covers, traditional favorites, and original tunes based around developmental play and community-based learning, with an emphasis on the silly for very young listeners. Ben and Anna started with "Twist and Shout" and "La Bamba." For their latest installment, they cover Rebecca Frezza's "Music in My Heart":

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Quick Hits: Schwartz Comes Alive, New 23 Skidoo Halloween Song

What if children's music never evolved? What if you could stream – or slip in a CD – or spin a record – and the songs remained the same, as Led Zeppelin once remarked? You have that opportunity with DITTO KIDDO, the new release from Stephen Michael Schwartz that plays as if preserved in amber for the past 40 years.

On DITTO KIDDO, there's no conflict, no negativity, and all the kids want to do is play a good game of hopscotch (Incidentally, when the song played, I asked my eight-year-old if kids in his school played hopscotch and he had no idea what I was even talking about). Stephen has been involved in the children's music business for decades, so he's not exactly unaware of the world climate. He just wants to take the temperature of very insular young children without drawing attention to climate change, divisive politics, gender confusion, or even fights in the school lunchroom. DITTO KIDDO is all about love, family, and positive activities. For anything deeper than that, you can always turn on your TV (when you've set up the parental restrictions settings).

DITTO KIDDO is available from Stephen Michael Schwartz's website, CDBABY, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo combines his love of classical music with the spookiness of All Hallows Eve for his new song, "Ain't No Party Like Halloween." The song is a hip-hop rendition combining Edvard Greig's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" mixed with Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." Here is the video:

Friday, October 04, 2019

Quick Hits: Say Yellow to Gustafer Book and Purple Fox Halloween CD

Gustafer Yellowgold came from the sun. That was established nearly 15 years ago by musician Morgan Taylor. Now it's time for his origin story – and for that, Morgan has turned to Audible, where the music mixes with a full-length children's story, "The Minnesota Chronicles."

Following last year's "I'm From The Sun," part two leads off quite logically asking "What's a chronicle?" The whimsical tale lays out the perilous journey that Gustafer undertook to travel from the Sun to the Earth to seek a cure for his ultra-fare "Ice-Cream-Cone-Heart." Interspersed throughout the story are Morgan's inventive songs, produced on this occasion by über-producer Dean Jones.

Gustafer has evolved into a Taylor family business, as spouse Rachel Loshak and their kids (and Dean's) fill out vocal parts, on such sing-along tracks as "It's All Who You Know" and "He's Not All There." Some Gustafer favorites make return appearances to reintroduce characters, including "Pinecone Lovely" and "Pterodactyl Tuxedo." If you haven't jumped on the Gustafer wave, here's your opportunity. And you don't have the excuse of traveling from the Sun.

Sample "The Minnesota Chronicles" or download the entire story and songs here from Soundcloud.

Here is a video preview of "The Minnesota Chronicles":


Based in Silicon Valley, Josh Friedman's Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies debuts their new release, SOMETHING'S BREWING...IT'S HALLOWEEN! as the fall season rolls around. The psychedelic funkfest that is the Jeebies gives you a full 16 tracks of All Hallow's Eve fun, covering all the bases, from "I'm Just a Goblin Named Gary" to "Zombie Brain Freeze Tag."

A band with a name as complex as theirs, the Jeebies also has a roster that defies listing in its entirety. But their eyes are on the prize – a concept album covering all things spooky and special. Josh goes full Bob Dylan for "Old Zonkey Donkey," gives a bluesy groove to "Potion to Make the Perfect Tune," and visits East LA for the album-closing "Mi Zorrito Morado," which translates into... wait for it... my purple fox. So everything goes full circle, much like the seasons, which bring us back to Halloween every October.

SOMETHING'S BREWING...IT'S HALLOWEEN is available from Purple Fox's website, Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Music, CDBABY, and Amazon.

 Here is the video for the band's NPR Tiny Desk Concert featuring "The Manners Suite":

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 4, 2019

Bring My Chimpy Home – Caspar Babypants
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Garden of Your Mind – Andrew & Polly
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
In My Nintendo – Jack Forman
Thank You For Being You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 3, 2019

Ain't No Party Like Halloween – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Buenos Dias – The Lucky Band
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
Noodles And Butter – Caspar Babypants
People Watching – Dean Jones
That's My Style – The Bazillions

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Lori Henriques and the New Jazz Age of Kindie

Let's have some jazz hands all around for the renaissance of jazz-infused children's music. Not to make light of the development, but the surge can traced back to Lucy Kalantari winning a Grammy for her recordings. I'd say roughly three of the past six releases sent for review this summer were either jazz or jazz-adjacent. Now Lori Henriques, no jazz naif, returns with her entry, WHAT DO YOU WISH.

Herself a former Grammy nominee, Lori's latest collection is as close to Steely Dan for pre-teens as you're likely to hear. WHAT DO YOU WISH is as tight, coiled, and polished as any recording that Becker and Fagen ever put on disk. The horn arrangements, guitar solos, and backing vocals scream "soft jazz" and fill the air with ambient grooves.

Lori has remixed her song "Everlovin' Water" with help from keyboard player Aubrey Scarbrough, and given it a full funked-up arrangement. The tune is a literate "Schoolhouse Rock" explanation of the importance – and placement – of water, inside and outside of our bodies.

If anything, Lori is a little too ambitious. For instance, "Compassion" is a nice concept and the song strives to list people whose contributions make the world a better, more humane environment. But how many kids are going to take the time to Google (as I did) Simone Campbell, Cornell West, Krista Tippett, and Maria Popova, just to name a few? The gratitude theme works best on tracks like "I Like Myself," where she sings "I like myself, I do, and when I like myself, it's easy to like you," and the percussive "Life Is Yes," about the positivity of embracing experiences.

Let's all sit back, put on our best headphones, and revel in the New Jazz Age of children's music. Much like the other artists, Lori Henriques uses the form to celebrate the simple, everyday interactions between people. If anything, WHAT DO YOU WISH is a collection that answers its own question; what anyone would wish for is what they are hearing being lauded.

WHAT DO YOU WISH is available on Lori Henriques' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for "Everlovin' Water":

Friday, September 27, 2019

Quick Hits: Koo Koo Kanga Roo's Salad, Lucy Kalantari Halloween Tune

Koo Koo Kanga Roo are poised for a touring swing to support new music. The latest video to their song, "Salad," is just as amusing and clever as past favorites. View it below, and click through to their Web site for upcoming appearances.



Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari (and the Jazz Cats) have released a Halloween mini-set. You can grab the set list on Soundcloud.

Their brand now song, "Flick of My Wrist," is the story of a young witch who
goes a little too power-crazy, and learns that there are penalties for your misdeeds or wrong-headed thinking. The Jazz Cats provide ably backup, and the song even features a six-year-old cello (admittedly, her own son).

You can listen to "Flick of My Wrist" on Amazon and her website.

And here it is, now on YouTube:


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Andrew and Polly Go For the Moon

Andrew (Barkan) and Polly (Hall) know something that I don't. Which is why they record children's music and I write about it. Who would have though to turn Smashmouth's "All-Star" into a natural kid's tune? That's the lead track on their new CD, GO FOR THE MOON, and all I could say was "Well, of course it is." The sentiment comes from the famous speech by President John F. Kennedy, where he challenged America to win the space race. Smashmouth dropped the sound bite into their original 1999 track, and A&P have remixed it for maximum impact.

The popular Los Angeles duo have mind-melded with kids around the country over healthy snacks ("Grapes") and goopy phantoms ("Ghostbusters"). Their latest release stays the course and advances the cause, whether it's the inability to recall what to call a mommy friend ("Mom's Name" with SiriusXM favorite Mike Phirman), laughing your brass off with corny jokes ("Brass Chuckles"), or getting giddy about a field trip ("Aquarium," featuring frequent collaborator Mista Cookie Jar).

Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari (becoming a ubiquitous children's music presence these days) guests on the laconic sketch "Three Chartreuse Buzzards." And when I commented, "This sounds familiar," at the start of "Garden Of Your Mind," Ben promptly reminded me 'It's Mr. Rogers," which made me more happy than I ever imagined. When he was younger, PBS was showing episodes of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood twice a week. I recorded two months worth and burned them onto DVDs, which he watched with what I thought was tepid interest. But something did stick in his memory.

Andrew and Polly also host the musical podcast, "Ear Snacks" that teaches kids about the world. Each episode highlights music, science, art and culture in an all-inclusive, family-friendly environment for parents and their children. See below for a recent episode.

The duo have a propensity for sprinkling kindie dust on miscellaneous musical entrees and reimagining them for young listeners. Pete Townsend's "Let My Love Open The Door" was a 2018 revelation. GO FOR THE MOON's "All-Star" undergoes the same transformation. However, Roger Miller's "You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd" remains a tough chestnut to crack. Even so, GO FOR THE MOON is a mirthful, entertaining concoction of treats for developing senses, sensitivities, and sensibilities.

GO FOR THE MOON is available on September 27 from Andrew and Polly's website, CDBABY, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the Ear Snacks podcast, "Road Trip Mixtape 2019":

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 20, 2019

Backstroke Raptor – Story Pirates
Belching Fire – Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies
Clown Shoes – Ratboy Jr.
El Corazon – The Lucky Band
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Stumble Into You – Jack Forman
You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd – Andrew & Polly

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

All Star – Andrew & Polly
Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
The Man – Taylor Swift
Me And You – Caspar Babypants
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
People Watching – Dean Jones

A Royal Return for Duke Otherwise

What did people do before television? Well, there was radio. What did people do before radio? Well, there was music. For centuries. It's the most constant form of entertainment and it can be made by anyone. That doesn't mean that just anyone should make music, but that's another story. You can make music anywhere, using almost anything as your instrument. And in the dark and cold of winter, that's a delightful distraction from the possibility of frostbite and worse.

Which brings us to Wisconsin's Duke Otherwise, who recorded his third CD, KITH & KIN, in a lake cabin in the middle of a frigid winter. His name seems to indicate jazz roots (i.e., Ellington vs Otherwise), but Mr. Otherwise instead harkens back to folk traditions on tracks like "Yodeling Lament," which ends with a manic rap riff. Spoiler alert: Although Mr. Otherwise claims a proficiency in many vocations, the yodeling on this song was completed by a less yodeling-impaired performer.

Mr. Otherwise talks the talk for young audiences. When a third grader's fancy turns to their teachers, he delivers the wistful "Elementary Crush," where the protagonist imagines marriage will end his penmanship homework (except for carving their names in a tree). There's an interstitial saga of a mother passive-aggressively ordering her son Billy to put down his sister (no spoiler here). The siblings on "Twins" insist they are alike, while the lyrics say otherwise. "Eats Like You" spins some fanciful wordplay describing animals and their dining habits in comparison to a picky child:

I know a ferret who likes to eat carrots
A popcorn-poppin' parrot who never wants to share it
A muffin-eating puffin, a turkey who stuffs himself with stuffing
I know a turtle who loves to eat tufu
But I've never met anyone who eats like you

Sentimentally, Mr. Otherwise goes back to the genesis of music as original entertainment on KITH & KIN's closer, "Always Home." He sings about everyone living so far away and how cold it is outside (although it's ostensively about animals in their shells and burrows). The modern world has become a smaller place through social media and interconnectivity, but Mr. Otherwise shows that children (most of whom don't have Facebook accounts) are acutely aware of the enormity of our planet. He addresses their concerns with a deft touch, humor, and even a tap dance. It may not be a frigid night in a lakeside cabin, but KITH & KIN sounds like home anywhere.

KITH & KIN is available on Duke Otherwise's website, Amazon, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Here is a live performance of Duke singing "What Kind of Hairdo Do You Do?":

Friday, September 13, 2019

Quick Hits: New Music from ScribbleMonster and Uncle Dox

As the leaves begin to crinkle and brown, ready for their descent from the trees, children's music artists' focus turns as well. Indeed, I can report on new songs from Uncle Dox and the long-absent ScribbleMonster.

It's been a while since ScribbleJim and ScribbleJayne released new material, but the band has turned to children's books in the break (three to date), and continued their live performances. And apparently there's a Greatest Hits compilation coming in 2020. In the meantime, here's "Amazing Brain," their power-pop, positive-values ode to using your noodle and not taking yourself for granted.

Take a listen now at Soundcloud. And find their catalog now on Amazon Music

Uncle Dox has issued "Laser Beam Eyes," a 1980s rap throwback with sound effects that will satisfy all video game players (from two generations). And there's more to come in the near future.

You can find "Laser Beam Eyes" on SoundcloudSpotifyBandcamp, and Facebook.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Oran Etkin Speaks to Children Through World Music

Children's music and music education are not mutually exclusive. But organically fusing the two concepts is a risky proposition. Get too preachy and the kids won't go for it. Yet if you're too obtuse, you do your source material a disservice. Internationally acclaimed jazz clarinetist and composer Oran Etkin looked for a way to build deep musical connections across cultural boundaries. The initial result was the Timbalooloo method of introducing young children to music. The second – a resulting CD of musical selections – is now a reality, as FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME: A JOURNEY WITH CLARA NET.

Passing on the joy of music through generations is Oran's mission. To manifest his destiny, in 2005 he founded Timbalooloo, which re-imagines teaching children to become fluent in the language of music. Timbalooloo uses a creative alternative approach to music education, as well as concert performances, recordings and video content, engaging children around the world to speak an international language of music with the same fluency as their mother tongue.

FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME was recorded and filmed on location in Zimbabwe, Turkey, Czech Republic, Japan, and China with representatives of each country’s traditional music as well as instruments indigenous to that region. Oran uses the concept of his instrument (Clara Net the clarinet) as a method of communication (hence, speaking through song to the world). For instance, the song "Kutapira" was recorded with Musekiwa Chingodza, a Zimbabwean spiritual master of the mbira (thumb piano).  On other tracks, Clara and Oran interact with new instrument friends like the accordion, kopuz, balalaika, and shamisen. These instruments have individual personalities (discussed during introductory pieces before each song) that evoke a range of feelings, from joy and humor, to weariness and sadness.

There are lullabies, dancing songs, and fanciful tales of nature on FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME. You wouldn't think a two-string musical instrument could convey emotion. But that's what happens on the Japanese "Mo Li Hua." Oran merges his love for disparate cultures and bringing together children with the music native to those regions. His accomplishment is showcasing that music is indeed a language that expresses intense emotion for young children. FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME may inspire children to investigate in more depth than they're used to; music is indeed a worldwide adventure for Oran Etkin. Have clarinet, will travel.

FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME: A JOURNEY WITH CLARA NET is available from TimbaloolooApple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for Oran's song, "Kutapira":

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Quick Hits: From Jazz to Hip-Hop With Camille Harris, Father Goose

Jazz is making a comeback. Jazz fans may object to that wording and declare "jazz doesn't NEED to make a comeback, it's doing fine!" But they wouldn't argue that more jazz appreciation wouldn't be a bad thing. To wit, a resurgence of jazz-infused children's music, including defending Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari. Now Brooklyn's own Camille Harris resumes her so-called silly jazz contributions with her fourth CD, BABY ON THE SUBWAY.

A veteran of musical theater and stand-up comedy, Camille uses her quirky sense of humor and unique toolbox to bang new life into such chestnuts as "Muffin Man," "Old MacDonald," and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." The CD opens with “Jiggly Wiggly,” featuring a strong Latin accent and a trumpet solo by Wayne Tucker. The title track (see video below) brings to vivid life how cute infants unite everyone across a swath of cultural differences. Driving through Long Island, both my kids fell into a familiar, friendly singalong for "Wheels on the Bus" (how can you not?). I dared them to attempt Camille's "The Backwards Alphabet" and won that bet.

Camille uses her jazz to demonstrate that children's music has many forms. You don't need to walk a thin line between folk and funk. There are a bunch of other options, some right in your own backyard. Camille represents the growing number of independent-thinking, diverse, and reflective performers finding ways to introduce contemporary, classic genres to young audiences.

BABY ON THE SUBWAY is available on September 13 from Camille Harris's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the title track, "Baby on the Subway":



Father Goose returns with a new five-song EP, I CAN MAKE IT, filled with hip-hop powerful pop tunes. Goose and crew drop the following songs – "I Wanna Dan
ce With U," "Kidzzz (Want To Be Free)," "By The Beach," and the title track. Goose keeps the house party moving, through his force of nature personality, charisma, and natural ability to lead kids through dancing and call-and-response songs.

The Goose Trotters (an ever-expanding assemblage of East Coast performers) includes Vic Rosario, Danni Ai, Delilah Lady Delish Tollinchi, Steve A. Williams, and too many more to list here. But they all come together to provide solid beats and sound messages.

Grab I CAN MAKE IT from the Goose Hut or Bandcamp.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Quick Hits: Jon Samson Examines Differences, Drowsy Tunes from Monika Ryan

The day is drawing near, when children's music will become a thing of the past. It's mostly falling on the shoulders of my OLDER child who still enjoys the genre. His younger brother is beginning to request pop music more often. But his brother – with his teenage years dwindling – is happiest engaging with musicians, and nobody has been more appreciative than children's performers.

One of the first live musicians we saw was Brookyn's Jon Samson, a music therapist who knows how to connect with special needs kids. His latest collection, AGELESS, addresses the question: “How do we maintain our childlike spirit through the challenges, problems and predicaments we face in the world and within ourselves?”

AGELESS tackles ADD, frustration with everyday life, and how speaking to other people can be overwhelming. "Videogame," featuring youthful guest singers, talks about how life is like a game, with endless levels after levels. "Predicament" shows that it's okay to safely trigger emotions for healing purposes. You may think "Bye, Polar Bear" is about extinction, but it's really about differences between people:

So the penguin in me greets the polar bear in you
As we melt our polarities and make something new

AGELESS focuses on gentle messages for young minds, with "Love Is Not a Race" being at the forefront. It's part of the curriculum for his CoCreative music program. But it's also a lesson where everyone could use a refresher.

AGELESS is available August 30 from Jon Samson's website and Spotify.

Here is the world premiere video for Jon's song, "Predicament":



Think lullaby and you conjure "Twinkle Twinkle" and babies snuggled warmly into their beds. Jazz vocalist Monika Ryan decided to give them a twist – her new LULLABIES collection features vocals and ukulele. It's a stripped-down home studio batch of lovingly crafted sincere sentiments, for children as well as their (non-drowsy) parents.

Not technically a children's CD, Monika definitely sings for them, as on "Life Is A Mess":

Life is a mess, a great big hot mess, a dirty wet mess, if you're doing it right
Life is unkempt untangled and unfurled
Life is unmade unbridled, mixed up, and swirled

Designed as a tonic to reassure, recharge, and replenish, LULLABIES gives Monika a showcase for her lilting vocals, with only occasional strumming on the uke to change the key and move the tunes along. The CD is designed to refuel people burned out at the end of the day, when they are home and surrounded by their loved ones. Music gives us mental nutrients to reactivate and re-engage us with our families. And for everyone, music provides the potential for a good night.

LULLABIES is available from Monika Ryan's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Caspar Babypants Celebrates Sweet 16 (CDs)

It's hard to believe there was a time when Caspar Babypants wasn't a part of our children's music experience. And yet it's true; his first CD did not erupt until 2009. Since then, we're witnessed the music of Chris Ballew's alter ego firsthand (alas, before I started recording songs at live performances), viewed his amusing videos, and heard all of his releases, including his latest (an astronomical number 16), entitled FLYING HIGH!

This is the paragraph where I usually delve into the background of the musician and his cultural or personal relevance to me as a reviewer. Let's skip that part. Read about the metamorphosis of Caspar Babypants here. In short, Chris is a dad and a former alt-rocker who now uses his powers of creation for the younger set. More than once I've uttered, "That's just ridiculous!" while listening to a Babypants track, then found myself singing along a moment later, including the brand new "Shine It Up!"

The works of Caspar Babypants are often hard to explain. Chris brings forth characters and situations that exist in a realm between authentic and fantastic, such as "Roly Poly Buggy Ball," an ode to armadillidium members of the insect family. He exercises his Dr. Seussian muscles with "Rhymes With Orange" with four concoctions that my younger son thought might actually exist. "Google them," I suggested. Chris also delves into southern rock, giving "Ducky Is the Name of My Bike" an Allman Brothers guitar twang.

Chris has an obsession with taking traditional songs such as "London Bridge" and giving them a redo. FLYING HIGH! features "London Bridge Is Falling Apart," I've Been Asleep on The Railroad" (think "working on...") and "Sittin' In a High Chair" (a modernized version of the more than 100 year old plantation favorite, "Shortenin' Bread").

Chris says the inspiration for his foray into children's music was the artwork of his wife, Kate Endle. Together they have crafted a line of children's books (based on more original Babypants tunes) that can be found here.

FLYING HIGH! maintains the high standard of past Babypants releases. It's hard to believe that Chris has produced nearly 300 tunes (there are a couple of Beatles-themed CDs in his oeuvre). It's easy to believe that he's far from done producing effervescent, engaging Caspar Babypants' kids tunes.

FLYING HIGH is available on Caspar Babypants' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for his song, "Made For You This Little Song":


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Alphabet Rockers Share the Love

The children's music category for the Grammy Awards has been a blender of genres over the past decade – winners have included The Okee Dokee Brothers (American folk), Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (kid hop), and Lucy Kalantari (jazz). Oakland's Alphabet Rockers earned a nomination in 2018 for their transformative CD, RISE SHINE #WOKE. Co-founding duo Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Soulati Shepherd double down on their message of inclusion with their new release, THE LOVE.

Described as an intergenerational hip hop album, more than 60 guest artists help the Alphabet Rockers promote racial, gender, and class equality. "Until We're Free" features SaulPaul and 123 Andres joining in the refrain, "I'm not free/until you're free" in two languages.

THE LOVE also showcases interludes that explain the themes being discussed on the tracks, such as "They/Them" for preferred pronouns and "You" about how individuals see themselves, whether as parents, professionals, participants, or multiple designations.

Society is changing. Music culture is changing. The Alphabet Rockers envision THE LOVE as a tool to ease the learning curve that might confuse children and their families. Getting by is one thing; doing better is fundamentally more important, they insist. THE LOVE is a collection of power-pop-rap songs that pack a punch. "I Am Enough" features the "queer boy band" the Singing Bois, who recently called it quits:

I feel free in the skin that I'm in though I wonder when
I can wake up kick back walk through the world never thinking 'but why
You put limits on my body and tell me how to live my life
Listen I'm free, so free

The Alphabet Rockers understand that change is incremental; every generation having the choice what direction the compass will point in the future. Album closer "Someday" is a wistful ode to having "all the pieces and the knowledge and stepping back to acknowledge." Here's to acknowledging that the Alphabet Rockers are on the right track as well as the right side of history, musical and otherwise.

THE LOVE is available on the Alphabet Rockers' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the lyric video for their song, "We Royal":

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Pop Ups Rev Take a Jukebox Journey Through Time

My kids are more voracious listeners than voracious readers. Remarkably, they would prefer to hear music than play videogames – which means our Wii system has become horribly antiquated. Regardless, books are still a staple of their education. And audiobooks from musicians are an interesting new twist. The Pop Ups (Jacob Stein and Jason Rabinowitz) are the latest to embark on such an endeavor, with their JUKEBOX JOYRIDE launching on Audible a little while ago.


Unlike their CDs, which can be digested in under an hour, JUKEBOX JOYRIDE will take most of an afternoon, or several weeks if you go chapter-by-chapter at bedtime (like I did with my son). So I apologize for the delay between release of the audiobook and my review.

JUKEBOX JOYRIDE follows 12-year-old twins Jules and George as they travel through time to find their Uncle Bob, a renowned ethnomusicologist (the study of music). An avid concertgoer, Bob used a magic music box to pingpong through his favorite venues (such as New Orleans in the 1920s). But there's a villain, and a chase, and peril, etc. It's a jaunty, well thought-out adventure. If your child enjoys the "Magic Treehouse" series, just envision those books with a hefty musical component, courtesy of the Pop Ups.

In addition to the Pop Ups themselves, voice talent includes Noel MacNeal (Bear in the Big Blue House) and Carly Ciarrocchi (formerly of Sprout TV). It's a heady jaunt, so be prepared to answer many questions about different eras of history and specific genres of music.

JUKEBOX JOYRIDE is available from Audible (an Amazon company).

Here is the "making of" video for the audiobook:


Monday, August 12, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
Give You a Call – Jack Forman
London Bridge Is Falling Apart – Caspar Babypants
Lost And Loving It – Kepi Ghoulie
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
Taco Tuesday – The Lucky Band

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, August 12, 2019

Blow – Ed Sheeran Feat. Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars
Harmony With You – Jack Forman
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
The Me I'm Meant to Be – Howie D
Noodles And Butter – Caspar Babypants
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Thank You For Being You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could