Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Setting Sun – Bears And Lions
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie
Buenos Dias-the Lucky Band  – The Lucky Band
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants
What Will I Be? – The Not-Its!

Pointed Man Band's New Age of Kid's Music

What if you woke up in a world where the Alan Parsons Project and King Crimson recorded children's music? Well, have no fear – Pointed Man Band (Dan Elliott) had the same vision and his latest release, AMONGST THE TALL TREES, delivers exactly that sort of perception, interwoven with childlike wonder and whimsy.

The TV series Twin Peaks showed that the Pacific Northwest is a region of profound mystery and hypnotic music. In that vein, Dan Elliott's music as Pointed Man Band celebrates the customs and culture of growing up, without sentimentality, conjuring up comparisons to the late Harry Nilsson's quick flirtation with children's music (essentially the soundtracks to The Point and Robert Altman's Popeye). 

Children's music has fragmented to where there are now whole categories – folk, rock, jazz, blues, World, and experimental new age (STEVENSTEVEN) and Pointed Man Band.  Elliott captures the sound of a daydreamer, sharing his vision on songs like "Pint Size," "Eagle Creek," and "Vs. People," which sounds like Brian Eno producing Yes. For the jaunty "Dark Divide," the title doesn't precisely jibe with the inner argument of nature versus nurture:

Oh! Hey! Hurray for the rain that will wash it all away!
For the rivers and streams and the nature of things
Who can remain unseen through the decades.
To the moss and the ferns and the moisture in turn
Amongst the tall trees and the pristine
Between the dew and the pines you find that animal minds
Go beyond what they may seem.

The artwork of AMONGST THE TALL TREES captures your attention as well. Portland illustrator Brooke Weeber delivers cover paintings that harken to Roger Dean's famed fantasy landscapes for Yes and Asia. The scope of Elliott's vision has also attracted performers such as Recess Monkey's Jack Forman and Johnny Clay (Ants Ants Ants) on tracks like the mostly instrumental "April Fools." The album is a singular, genial message of fun and exploration through "new age" music sensibilities. Your youngest may miss the forest, but they should still enjoy their time amongst the trees.

AMONGST THE TALL TRESS is available from Pointed Man Band's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the full Pointed Man Band performing their song "The Cardoons":

Monday, May 20, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Sounds of the Seasons – Nathalia
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
I Need Us Together  – Lissa Schneckenburger
Kitty Catchie – Alina Celeste
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants

Friday, May 17, 2019

Rymer Opens Umbrella Over A Big World

At its core, children's music is inclusive. Large categories of "adult music" are meant for rainy days, individual listening, and internalizing. Children's music, by contrast, is generally upbeat, sunlit, and built for a larger community.

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could (Claudia Mussen, Liz Queler, Seth Farber, Larry Eagle, Jeremy Chatzky, and Dan Myers) walk the walk, dance the dance, and celebrate the community on their 10th release, UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA.

Brady does tons of work with special needs children, which resulted in his 2011 CD, LOVE ME FOR WHO I AM. The band's latest release folds that student population into the bigger worldwide melting pot for a master class in inclusion, with songs such as "Different Is Beautiful (Yeah Yeah Yeah)" and "Different is Beautiful (Like A Rainbow)." And yes, those are two completely different tunes. Universal kindness is a key precept of Rymer's thesis, as every good deed counts as a "Drop In the Bucket":

So let’s fill it up with stars and love
Let’s fill it up to the top
Let’s fill it up with all we’re made of
‘cause it’s a drop (it’s a drop)
It’s a drop (it’s a drop)
in the bucket

There's an international flavor running throughout UMBRELLA. "With a Little Help From My Friends" features UK children's recording artist David Gibb. There's a bilingual duet with Sonia de los Santos on Woody Guthrie's "Don't You Push Me Down" and a cover of Jimmy Cliff's surprisingly malleable "You Can Get It If You Really Want." UMBRELLA also includes a previously-released sweet, horn-driven cover of the Diana Ross classic "I'm Coming Out," which lists a slew of children and their real-life "coming out" moments, such as "being a good friend" and "wanting to be a dancer."

My family has a long-standing relationship with Brady and Company, going back a decade to Kindiefest at Brooklyn's Jalopy in 2009 (and a video of "Jump Up!" with 3,000 views). Ben has gotten so immersed in performances that he joined Brady on the mic last summer – unprompted – at one local concert. UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA seeks to accomplish figuratively what the band did literally with my son – make him feel included and part of the musical community. Open or closed, there's always room under that umbrella.

UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA is available on May 17 from Brady Rymer's website, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the band's version of the Diana Ross classic, "I'm Coming Out":

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ratboy Jr. Remains Sincerely Silly

It takes a village to produce consistently entertaining children's music and Ratboy Jr. lives is such a village. Tim Sutton and Matt Senzatimore like raucous and ridiculous concepts, which makes their fourth CD, LUCKY FOOT AND SUNNY MOON, a delightful addition to their oeuvre.

Take "Rap Van Winkle," which is about exactly what we all think it is – a guy who slept for 20 years and wakes up rapping. "Play Us On the Radio" is the guys' version of "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and a plea to call SiriusXM Kids Place Live (and other outlets) to request their music. The proficient guiding hand of überproducer Dean Jones polishes such amusing gems as "Flexible Brain" and the hard-rocking (with tinkly toy piano) anthem about "Dirt."

Mark Twain once said that jokes are like frogs. You can dissect them, but then you've killed it. To that extent, it's best to accept Ratboy Jr.'s premises at face value. "Anything Can Be a Hat" indeed. And when life is like juggling in the circus, you want to put on your "Clown Shoes":

When you're down, you just gotta laugh a lot.
It's the only thing we have.
So let's go fix this circus.
It's like running uphill with your clown shoes on.

Artwork for LUCKY FOOT AND SUNNY MOON is by Anton Refreigier, a notable Works Progress Administration (WPA) muralist and sculptor whose last cover was for the Weavers in 1959. But he was also Tim's grandfather, so that was quite the door opener. His most famous work, "The History of California" is nothing less than that, chronicles in 27 panels in downtown San Francisco's Rincon Center. It took eight years to complete and is still on exhibit.

Recording songs is an intricate, mysterious process. It's like watching popcorn in a microwave oven – you never know quite when it's done. Tim and Matt took two years to assemble the enjoyable, voluble tracks on LUCKY FOOT AND SUNNY MOON. It may not be their master opus, but Ratboy Jr. are more inclined to make you rock out then to sit and think about dangerously serious stuff. Flip on your flexible brain and pull on your sock hat for the boys – glad to have you back!

LUCKY FOOT AND SUNNY MOON is available on May 17 from Ratboy Jr's website, CDBABY, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the band's song "Sponges:"

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Even When....  – Ratboy Jr.
That's My Style – The Bazillions
People Watching – Dean Jones
Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, May 10, 2019

Bright Morning Song – Dan Zanes
The Beautiful Dream – George Ezra
Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants
Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
Give You a Call – Jack Forman
You Can Get It If You Really Want – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Randy Kaplan Gently Shakes Those Delta Blues

It's been a long day's journey into the delta for Randy Kaplan. For more than a decade, Randy has mixed and merged humorous storytelling with an affection for traditional delta blues. That might not seem as delectable a snack combo as peanut butter and chocolate. But the distinctive Kaplan touch allows adults to snicker at references to Joan Didion while kids laugh at slide whistle sound effects (in a modernization of "Little Brown Jug," a song that dates back to 1869).

Randy's love of the blues is tangible, his persona is affable, and the results are laughable – for all ages – on SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT, his latest release. The educator in Kaplan (a much-credential teacher) can't resist giving deep background on the origins of his songs (giving shout-outs to Charlie Patton on the title track and Blind Blake of "Doing a Stretch").

Randy is flexible at adapting material for younger listeners. "Doing a Stretch" was originally about serving time in prison. In this new incarnation, narrator Kaplan does a series of body-contortion exercises, accompanied by the aforementioned sound effects. Blind Boy Fuller's "Been Your Dog" comes straight from the pooch's mouth – with a canine-voiced verse, to boot. It's an appropriate song to hear on a car ride from New Jersey to Queens – heading for the Long Island Expressway as you hear it described in song. Family dynamics are investigated in comic detail in "From Four Until Late," as Randy recounts spending weeks with his grandma when his parents would go away on seemingly endless trips. And the stripped-down version of the classic "Swinging on A Star" features singing donkeys and fish and a Google-worthy mention of Carol Dweck (I did it for you).

My folks were keen on introducing me to classical and folk music using TUBBY THE TUBA and WOODY GUTHRIE FOR KIDS. Randy follows through on this template for delta blues, renewing the works of Mississippi John Hurt ("Candy Man Blues") as well as the better-known John Lee Hooker. Part of the fun is trying to recall the original intent (and lyrics) that Kaplan appropriates to get across his versions. A six-minute "Little Brown Jug" closes the collection with a literal cavalcade of references that require the assistance of Siri, Alexa, or your friendly neighborhood scholar. And yes, an acknowledgement of Mance Lipscomb, who started recording delta blues in the 1960s.

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT is a throwback to early Kaplan releases like FIVE CENT PIECE, with sparse arrangements showcasing an acoustic guitar and vocals, and a stray harmonica solo offering counterpoint. Listeners get ample aural and entertainment value, plus a level-headed offering of information about why the delta blues remains so enticing to performers like Randy. And why the genre still has the ability to entrance a new generation of listeners.

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT is available on May 10 from Randy Kaplan's website, CDBABY, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for Randy's song "Crew Cut":

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, May 9, 2019

Go! – Pointed Man Band
Dirt – Ratboy Jr.
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
With a Little Help From My Friends – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could w/ David Gibb
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Ear's Sean McCollough, Tennessee Kid at Heart

Music is everywhere. No really just walk down a street and wait for cars with open windows to drive by if you don't believe me. Taking that one step further, children's music is everywhere. When I think "Tennessee," I generally think of Ben Rudnick's "Live in Lexington" CD, but he's from Massachusetts. If you want to go native, you have Knoxville's "Kidstuff" radio host Sean McCollough and his latest, EARWORM.

Now an actual earworm is a pretty disgusting thing, but in this context it's a song that you just can't get out of your head. Sean is joined by fellow music makers Molly Ledford (for the pleasing monument tune "Sunsphere") and Billy Jonas (the little kids's safety number, "Green Means Go").

Sean's tunes hit the sweet spot for the very young, with plenty of repeating choruses and singalong verses. He's got the confidence from seven years of hosting "Kidstuff" radio, a weekly recorded show of kids music with monthly live programming featuring guests.

EARWORM gives Sean the opportunity to share his concepts, including a pair of goat songs, "Her Name Was Lady" and "Don't Let 'Em Get Your Goat." He delivers a version of the "Kidstuff" theme song for non-listeners of the program and the sympathetic "Car Sick" for anyone whose ever suffered from motion sickness on a family drive.

Sean's music is decidedly off the cuff (perhaps those shirts got too close to the goats) and accessible for the little ones in your brood. How you feel about earworms in your home is entirely up to you, of course. Sean just wants to pass along some down home, easy listening folk music from East Tennessee.

EARWORM is available on May 11 from Sean McCollough's website, Amazon, Apple Music, Spotify, and CDBABY.

Here is the video of Sean McCollough and friends performing "The Rattlin' Bog":

Monday, May 06, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Get What You Get – Bears And Lions
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
Stick Up Stand Up – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Friday, May 03, 2019

Q&A: Underneath Brady Rymer's Inclusive Umbrella

Children's recording artist Brady Rymer is a perennial favorite around my home. His music has been a nearly constant presence in both my son's lives. We have seen Brady (and the Little Band That Could) in different counties and boroughs across the state of New York for the past decade and we've never heard a bad set. This month, Brady is releasing his 10th studio release, UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA, which serves as a melodious metaphor for inclusion, and recently discussed the evolution of this project.

Brady Rymer in his home studio
(Photo by Randee Daddona)
Which came first - recording children's music or your interactions with the special needs community?
They happened simultaneously. I began to explore the children’s music scene in the late '90s, writing songs and performing live. My friend Monica Osgood asked me to bring my guitar out to New Jersey and sing at Celebrate the Children, the summer camp she created for kids with special needs. We had a blast that day! The camp developed into the school, and I still return once or twice a year – performing and writing with the kids and teachers. That's when my relationship with the special needs community and my interest in working with them started.

In your experiences, are kids just kids as far as music goes? I.e., is music an equalizer?
Yeah, sounds good to me! Looking out from the stage I’ve seen it equalize – and energize – a room. That’s what I love about a rock band; songs and the concert experience as an art form. It allows everyone to feel, move, and interact as one. It can be very moving and bonding – bringing everyone together around a common beat, melody, or lyric. When we play something like "Love Train," everyone hops on, joins hands, and goes for the ride together.

You've already covered special needs with "Love Me For Who I Am." How did that message transform into inclusion (for "Under the Big Umbrella")?
I wrote UtBU for Lincoln Center’s Big Umbrellla Festival in 2018 – a celebration for families living with autism. This metaphor of "everyone is included and valued and recognized under the umbrella" spoke to me. I was reminded of the work that’s being done in schools these days – creating cultures of kindness, acceptance, and compassion. This, along with an amazing concert at a school which practices inclusion, inspired the rest of the songs for the new album.

I even asked the students for some lyrical ideas. They came back with "You Do You" and "Different is Beautiful." They fit into the theme perfectly, and I saw that the basic idea of acceptance and diversity is not only for the special needs community. These are ideas, concepts, and issues everyone is working with every day – in our schools and communities. Especially in these times when there’s a lot of divisiveness, it's an important message to sing about. I know it’s definitely on the minds and in the hearts of students at many, many schools.

You recorded with Sonia De Los Santos and David Gibb on "Umbrella." How did those collaborations come about? Do you see yourself doing more work with other artists in the future?
I love working with other artists. Yes, I hope to work with many more in the future! I’ve done things with Sonia and David in the past and I really connected with them as people, friends, and also with their music and with them as artists. I loved what we collaborated on. So I was excited as I worked on these tunes and imagined David’s and Sonia’s voices on these tracks. I love what they contributed, and I think they add so much to the tracks – Sonia singing Woody Guthrie's "Don’t You Push Me Down" message in Spanish is very empowering, and David taking the role of John and Paul, and me being Ringo, was a blast. It reinforces the idea fo friendship.

Do your son and daughter show any interest in following your lead into music/children's advocacy?
My daughter plays music and sings. She’s more interested in communications, journalism, video production – that kinds of stuff – but she is an advocate! She participated in the Women’s March and has been active in school things down in Tulane University where she's a sophomore. My son has been a pro scooter rider for many years now – starting in junior high school. He did it all himself, built a fan base on YouTube and then toured, mentored, and became a popular sponsored rider. He eventually made it to the world finals. So I’m super proud of both of my kids and how they just go out there and do! They follow their hearts and pass along their passions.

UNDER THE BIG UMBRELLA is available on May 17 from Brady Rymer's websiteSpotifyApple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the sample of the new single from Brady Rymer's new CD, a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It If You Really Want":

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, April 19, 2019

Leaders Of The World – Renee & Friends
Doing a Stretch – Randy Kaplan
Clown Shoes – Ratboy Jr.
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
You Can Get It If You Really Want – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Can You Sing? – Dan Zanes
Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Curious Ecology of Ants on a Log

Music activism is a calling and a cause. Think of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Raffi. Wait a minute... Raffi? Yes, the beloved children's recording artist has spent the past 30 years building his "Child Honouring" program for educational purposes. Even Dan Zanes used his platform as a kindie visionary to promote community involvement and inclusion. Now Philly's Ants on a Long (Julie Beth and Anya Rose) have gone a step further and produced CURIOUS: THINK OUTSIDE THE PIPELINE!, a "climate musical" that is essentially a full-length episode of "Schoolhouse Rock."

First performed in 2016 as a theater piece (with a cast of 12), CURIOUS tells the story of sisters Clio and Taylor as they encounter pollution, inept government, and how to organize a community behind a cause. Their family moves to an industrial town where Taylor's chronic asthma is exacerbated and neighbors suffer from similar ailments. The old refinery wants to expand and they surmise these things are related ("Is This Normal?").  Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari guests as the "old wise woman" who clues them in that the Internet has some answers. They overhear two businessmen talk about changing rules (i.e., laws) to make money at the expense of people ("Make It Big!") and Google for answers ("Research"). This leads to writing letters, visiting City Hall, and using social media to engage the neighborhood.

CURIOUS covers all the bases, from kids wondering if they can enact change ("Anyone Can Write a Letter?") to frustration with the existing system ("The Man in Charge (Is Useless)") and ultimately a happy ending with big business and government acting in tandem (when does that happen?).

Anya and Julie continue to perform and educate, using their music as a platform for dissemination of information through entertainment and youth audience engagement. CURIOUS won't fix the world, but it just might open a few pairs of young eyes and get some kids to ask "How can I change something" other than the YouTube channel they're watching.

CURIOUS is available on April 19 on Ants on a Log's website and Amazon.

Here is the video for the duo's song, "Air and Space":

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Shine On – Dan Zanes
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
Anything Can Be A Hat – Ratboy Jr.
Super Fragile World – Renee & Friends
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Under the Big Umbrella – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, April 15, 2019

The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Smile For Me – David Tobocman
How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Harmony With You – Jack Forman
It Hurts Me Too (Sitting on Top of the World) – Randy Kaplan
El Sol Te Siga -the Lucky Band – The Lucky Band

Friday, April 12, 2019

Quick Hit: Angela James Delivers On Quiet Nights

In some ways, I miss the days when my kids napped. Because now, they are older and complain when I want to nap. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a good lullaby or point overwhelmed recent parents in the direction of such sweet netherworld whisperings. Chicago-based musician Angela James enters the calming fray with QUIET NIGHT, made for weary parents by weary parents.

By its definition, a lullaby is supposed to put a child to sleep. Weary adults, however, must pair off if one of them is going to attempt to stick the landing of taming a tantrumming child while operating a driving vehicle (sedan or SUV). James provides eight tunes, with the lilting and descriptive titles of "Goodnight, My Honey" and "Sweetest Bird," for those occasions when your little darling is acting like a sleep-deprived little monster.

QUIET NIGHT sprang forth from musical improvisation, instrumentation, and postpartum depression. Oh, what a dreamy triplex. And indeed, with collaboration from the experimental musical community, James found solace while raising her newborn daughter, Hattie. The mid-to-low range tunes deliver you to a stealthy dreamworld while opening the doors to imagination and classical music. Dreams are our nightly voyages into ourselves and there's nothing to fear, James coos into impressionable young minds. You will believe a crabby baby can sleep. As well as an even crabbier parent. Prepare for many a quiet night.

QUIET NIGHT is available from Angela James' website.

Here is the video for Angela's song, "Saling":

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, April 12, 2019

Watching You Grow – Frances England Boogie Chillen – Randy Kaplan Hey Face – Ratboy Jr. Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants Have Some Fun Out There – David Tobocman Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Renee & Friends Stay Kind and Collaborative

Renee Stahl Dektor has some pretty awesome friends. When they drop by and open their mouths, you'd better sit back and listen. They're totally apolitical and totally tuneful. Renee & Friends' new CD, KINDRED, features Grammy winners Lisa Loeb and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo among the hoi polloi.

It's the second release that started with 2016's SIMPATICO, a similarly-themed collection of family-oriented soft pop songs with a modern spin. KINDRED's "Leaders Of The World" features a rap break that name-drops Peter Yarrow and Frida Kahlo by Skidoo. Renee also reunited Loeb and Lisa's college roommate Elizabeth Mitchell to sing the classic "High Hopes."

Jeremy Toback and Renee began recording children's music more than a decade ago (as Renee & Jeremy). That collaboration morphed into "& Friends" as they brought in talented personnel to augment their song selection. These gentle, engaging ballads are seductively simple – the nostalgic duet ("Where Do The Children Play?") by Renee and Ziggy Marley reinvents Cat Stevens' original recording, which holds a secret message about society and freedom:

Will you make us laugh?
Will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live?
Will you tell us when to die?

I know we've come a long way.
We're changing day to day.
But tell me, where do the children play?

Most of all, KINDRED allows Renee to sing praises about her children (daughters Amelia and Isadora make their debuts on the CD). "Nothing And No One" affirms "everything is how it's supposed to be" for her family, while closer "How Did You Get So?" wistfully describes every parents' lament about the fleeting nature of childhood. Whether you're a parent, a future parent, or a parent adjacent, KINDRED should strike a genuine chord of recognition for its emphatic declaration of kindie-dependence.

KINDRED is available April 12 from Renee & Friends' website, Amazon, Apple Music, Soundcloud, and Spotify.

Here is the video for Renee & Friends' song, "You Were Meant to Be," featuring Glenn Phillips (from Toad the Wet Sprocket):

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Me And You – Caspar Babypants
Perfect Tuesday Afternoon – Frances England
El Corazon – The Lucky Band
Boogie Chillen – Randy Kaplan
Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf

Monday, April 01, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Shake It and Break It – Randy Kaplan
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Taco Tuesday – The Lucky Band
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
#Goals – Jack Forman
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones

The Lucky Band Says Buenos Diaz With New Music

Happiness is contagious. I write these words sitting with a housebound child getting over a cold. Hence, he too is contagious. But he'll get better soon (I hope I hope I hope) while Lucky Diaz will never, never stop being contagious. His music, I mean. Such is BUENOS DIAZ, the latest release from the newly-rebranded The Lucky Band.

Latin Grammy (and Emmy) winner Diaz, wife Alisha Gaddis, and a space-age flock of contributors (including Andrew & Polly and Nathalia) have produced a new collection of bilingual ballads and danceable ditties for children of many ages. BUENOS DIAZ opens with (naturally) "Buenos Dias," to greet newcomers and returning fans alike. "Wake Up" follows, ironically not the (eye) opening track on the CD. "Nacho Song" tells the totally true comic story of Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, the man who created serving nacho cheese over chips.

"Taco Tuesday" is bound to be a perennial favorite on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live and even ends with a riff from "Funkytown." The xylophonic "Zapatitos" delights in shoes, don't you know. "Como Se Dice?" is full of call-and-respond translations of basic English-Spanish words and phrases, such as "good morning" and "taco" (no big surprise there).

Xenophobic parents who are put off by song titles such as "El Corazon" and "El Sol Te Siga" (a cover of a Pianosaurus song) don't know what they're missing. Luckily, that's what audio samples are good for on streaming sites. For those of us who've met Lucky (in person or through his previous releases), these 11 songs generate multi-culture good will and good times. What else should you expect from über-producer Dean Jones (Dog On Fleas and dozens of other CDs)?

The world has finally got wise to The Lucky Band. Last year, the group added China to their touring checklist and they're headed to Tokyo and Shanghai in April. If they're not coming to your city any time soon, you can still say BUENOS DIAZ in two languages and enjoy their distinctive, upbeat música.

BUENOS DIAZ is available April 5 from the Lucky Band's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for their song, "Taco Tuesday":

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, April 1, 2019

The Longest Night (with Justin Roberts) – Gunnar Madsen
Candy Man Blues – Randy Kaplan
People Watching – Dean Jones
Give You a Call – Jack Forman
Buenos Dias-the Lucky Band – The Lucky Band
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie

Monday, March 18, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
No Tooting on the Dance Floor – Jack Forman
Solar Flares – Mo Phillips
Super Fragile World – Renee & Friends
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, March 18, 2019

I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
Kindness – Renee & Friends
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
Dodgeball – Justin Roberts
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, March 15, 2019

One Of These Days – Vance Joy
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
City of Sardines (with Frances England) – Gunnar Madsen
Tae Kwon Do – Bob and Luc Schneider

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Quick His: Taco Tuesday for the Lucky Band

Alisha and Lucky Diaz have rebranded the Family Jam Band as the Lucky Band and debuted the first video from their upcoming CD, BUENOS DIAZ!

"Pan Dulce" extols the virtues of sweetbreads. And it's got bilingual lyrics underneath for parents and children to choose to peruse. If you're familiar with the Lucky Band, you know what's in store – a bopping ditty with a catchy chorus. If you're unfamiliar with the Lucky Band, read the previous sentence.

BUENOS DIAZ! is coming April 5 and can be pre-ordered through Apple Music and Amazon. Here is the video for "Pan Dulce":

Another Cali performer, Twinkle Time, returns with the sixth webisode of "Learn the

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Beautiful Dream 4:30 George Ezra
Anything For You My Love 2:07 Caspar Babypants
Can You Sing? 2:34 Dan Zanes
Have Some Fun Out There 3:06 David Tobocman
I Am Your Food 3:26 Gunnar Madsen
03-In My Nintendo 3:30 Jack Forman
Bring Back My Cowgirl To Me 2:50 Hopalong Andrew

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Peace Be To All – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Me And You – Caspar Babypants
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Animal Land – Bears And Lions
People Watching – Dean Jones
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends

Monday, March 04, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Get What You Get – Bears And Lions
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants
Helicopter Leaves – Ants Ants Ants
Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Shazzbots Hot to Rock Tots

For a niche genre, there are a ton of local children's musical acts. The Shazzbots fell under my rader because, well, I don't live in Ohio, where they're based. And their first two CDs didn't reach my desk, unlike their latest release, LIGHTSPEED. By the way, as a Mel Brooks fan, I did a double-take for the cover art, which is a pretty blatant homage to "Spaceballs."

The Shazzbots is the passion project of Ian Hummel and bandmates Steve Frye, Mike Heslop, Josh Tully, and spouse Dianne Hummel. You know you're dealing with music for very young audiences when a rocking ode to being "On the Playground." The followup is a wacky tune about a third grader with a hereditary handlebar mustache ("Beauregard Oglilby Balderdash"). As far as lesson songs, you can choose between the peppy "Clean Plate Club" and "Read a Book Today." And would you believe there's a totally original song with the never-before-used title "Snow Day"?

The Shazzbots also decided to "save children's television" with a Kickstarter fundraiser for a show called "We're the Shazzbots," based around the crew's adventures in their space Winnebago. You can view the pilot episode, however it doesn't look like there's been much progress in getting to another galaxy.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the Shazzbots and their peppy, interactive brand of children's music. For someone who's heard similar material from regional – and international – acts, there's just nothing particularly distinctive about them. And how many six-year-olds are sophisticated enough to navigate to more sophisticated children's fare? For Ohioans and surrounding area residents, though, the Shazzbots may just be the cat's meow. So hitch your vehicle to their RV and prepare for a local dose of light-hearted kid's fare.

LIGHTSPEED is available on March 1 from the Shazzbots' website, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Milkshake":

Thursday, February 21, 2019

KB Whirly's Gentle Serenades and Lilting Lullabies

Parental love is a powerful, sometimes overwhelming emotion. It can cause you to lose inhibitions, tempers, even friends. But at its core is the most prime of sentiments – protecting the innocent and educating them about the world. Into this maelstrom comes KB Whirly (Keith Wasserman) and his CD of love songs and lullabies for his daughter, NOW THAT WE'RE HOME.

Everyone has encountered that parent who sits in the park, or the subway, or the local non-Schultz-owned coffee shop and regales all with tales of supervising youth; as if these sagas are newly-minted experiences that have never, ever been witnessed or recounted. What bonds us all together as a community is the knowledge that one day, even these parents shall join our ranks, and sit in the park, subway, or beverage shack, and realize "Ah yes, I remember it well."

I imagine that all color may have drained from Keith's face (if he hasn't passed out altogether) but all is not lost! NOW THAT WE'RE HOME is indeed about the organic expansion of the Whirly couple to the Whirly family. The nine songs on the disc, produced by the ever-capable Dean Jones, delve into more sophisticated matters of the heart. What can I do to challenge her without doing too much for her ("What Will You Do")? Will she grow to love nature ("Come Walk With Me")? Will she have an imagination ("Valley of Dreams")?

KB Whirly is (mostly) a one-man band, and the sweet, lyrical nature of NOW THAT WE'RE HOME bodes well for live performances, if young audiences can stay awake. Be forewarned that there's no peppy dance break or electric guitars or even drums on this release. Keith is enthusiastic and euphemistic with his pro-love agenda. NOW THAT WE'RE HOME is perfect for that late afternoon return drive from a far-off destination, where little passengers can drift off to slumberland with happy memories and a gentle serenade from Mr. Whirly.

NOW THAT WE'RE HOME is available on Friday, February 22 from KB Whirly's website, Amazon, CDBABY, and Apple Music. Keith will be performing a Facebook Live concert that evening to debut the CD.

Here is the video for Whirly's song, "Just Us Three":

Friday, February 15, 2019

Yoo-Hoo from the Bayou from Johnette and Scott

American music casts a big shadow. There are many regional accents and generational evolutions, from folk music to jazz. Down in the Louisiana bayou, the creole cooking percolated with R&B, zydeco, and dixieland. Johnette Downing and Scott Billington have taken 20 years of firsthand experience to produce SWAMP ROMP, a collection of 16 Nawlins'-infused tracks.

The couple's roots are suitably and organically synched with the territory – Johnette growing up in the area listening to her parents and siblings playing ragtime in the French Quarter. Scott performed in New England coffeehouses working on his sound before meeting Johnette at a New Orleans music conference, leading to their marriage in 2013. There's a bouillabaisse of musicians contributing to the selections on SWAMP ROMP, from members of the Dukes of Dixieland, ReBirth Brass Band, and Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and such interestingly named individuals as "Washboard Chaz" Leary and Lee Allen Zeno (to pick a few).

SWAMP ROMP took five years to bring to fruition. For their labor of love,
Johnette and Scott provide both a sonic recreation of New Orleans as well as an education of the culture. "J'ai Vu Le Loup, Le Renard Et La Belette" retells on old French dance tune. "Bamboula Rhythm" recounts the African freed slaves who gathered to socialize. "How To Dress A Po' Boy" and its accompanying video could find a place on a cooking show, with an entree of "Crawfish Etouffée."

SWAMP ROMP comes with a booklet (if you get the physical CD) with descriptions and photos for each song. But the real attraction is the authenticity and simplicity of the music produced by Johnette and Scott, recorded at home in the bayou with longtime collaborator Steve Reynolds as recording engineer, and delivered directly to young audiences.

SWAMP ROMP is available on February 15 from Johnette and Scott's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the brand new video for "Bamboula Rhythm":

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, February 15, 2019

I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
How Lucky We Are – Justin Roberts
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Solar Flares – Mo Phillips
People Watching – Dean Jones

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, February 14, 2019

Window – Gustafer Yellowgold
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Sea Of Stars – Dan Zanes
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie
This Cat (Will Eat Anything) – Jack Forman

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Shine On – Dan Zanes
Washington, Dc – The Not-Its!
Take On Me – Weezer
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could

Monday, February 11, 2019

Kids' Music Not Regular Office Hours for Jack Forman

We have entered the epicenter of the Forman renaissance. Or perhaps we should call it the Forman dynasty. Jack Forman has once again annexed his role in the popular children's music group Recess Monkey and perch as host of SiriusXM's Kids Place Live's "Live from the Monkey House." With his second solo CD, OFFICE HOURS, Jack maintains his status as a multi-talented multi-hyphenate for the preteen set.

Through his fictional press agent Chive, Jack points out, "Though I have kids of my own now and am surrounded by them on the radio and band shows, I think the childlike energy of these songs begins with the eight-year-old in me that never really ever went away... though let's be honest: much of his hair did."

Jack's music answers many questions, including the mystery of "This Cat (Will Eat Anything)" – the dealbreaker is Pop Tarts. You can just imagine what happened to inspire "No Tooting on the Dance Floor," although Jack metaphorically warns "you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube." Sticking with the professional theme, Jack urges listeners to have "#Goals," such as "be a bird – like a mascot for a hockey team." His Mister Rogers-esque tribute "Harmony With You" reminds kids that no matter how bad things appear, there's always someone in their corner. Jack's son Oscar duets (so to speak) to rebut Jack's claims on "When I Was Young":

When I was a kid, we only had three Star Wars movies. Can you even imagine that?
And my Gameboy didn't even work at night!
How long ago was this, Dad?
We're talking mid-to-late 1980s here.

This is all too much.

Jack has a casual but worrisome Star Wars obsession. Past solo and Recess Monkey tunes include "Chewie To Your Han" and "Yodeling Yoda." Jack now mines the rich tapestry of the George Lucas empire with 'These Droids," a return to Tatooine, the fictional world that now boasts its own Wikipedia page. Thus, proving once again that you can take a 40-year-old one-liner from a sci-fi film and turn it into musical comedy gold.

On OFFICE HOURS, Jack puts on his big boy adult clothes and demonstrates why he's still a force to be reckoned with in the ultra-hyper-mega competitive world of children's music. Well, the first two-thirds of that statement are true. And really that's all you need to know.

OFFICE HOURS is available on February 15 from Jack Forman's website and Amazon.

Here is the video for Jack Forman's song "Yodeling Yoda":

Monday, February 04, 2019

Brighter Days on UWS With Gustafer Yellowgold

There's a reason it's called the Gustafer Yellowgold Show. Creator Morgan Taylor leads a quartet of performers accompanied by videos that interact with him. With the lyrics on-screen, audiences can participate by singing any, or all of the songs – provided they're old enough to read.

Morgan brought his troupe back to New York's Symphony Space for the 14th year in a row, making him the titleholder (Tom Chapin used to hold that distinction) for consecutive appearances. An eager crowd seemed familiar with their favorites, and were amused at the newest songs, including "Hot Malt Eagle," from Gustafer's number one Audible.Com kid's audiobook, "I'M FROM THE SUN."

Our history with Gustafer dates back to 2007, when we made a trek to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. The draw was honestly old Pink Panther cartoon as well as the live Gustafer Yellowgold performance, which wound up being a turning point in seeking out live children's music around New York City, such as the Long Island Children's Museum and other venues. While we've returned to the AMMI, they have stuck with mostly recorded programming for kids and sunsetted live music.

Morgan is fiercely protective of his content, and rightly so. When your currency is self-produced videos, the last thing you want to see online are multiple copies of live performances, drawing away from your own material (which includes links to live shows and merchandise). For that reason, you'll need to click through to his YouTube page to see full videos.

The Peter Jay Sharp Theater remains a comfortable, relaxing place for family shows. While you always gamble on crying children and poopy babies, we seem to have hit a good patch at Symphony Space. Upcoming shows include a singalong to the Dick Van Dyke classic film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on Saturday, February 10 and 123 Andres on Saturday, February 17.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, February 1, 2019

Press Play – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones
No Time for Questions – Jack Forman
Always Ascending – Franz Ferdinand

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, January 31, 2019

Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Me And You – Caspar Babypants
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Helicopter Leaves – Ants Ants Ants
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Perfect Tuesday Afternoon – Frances England
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Stars – Ants Ants Ants
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants
Carefree – Frances England
Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf

Friday, January 25, 2019

New Music for Wintry Moods

Depressed by early sunsets and dark nights? Slick, cold streets got you down? Well, there's a few sunny new tunes to get you and the kids rocking this season. The "winter is fun" theme is clearly in play as Cowboy Andy and the Salamanders present "SNOW!" yes, with the exclamation mark.

There's even a disco dance break in the middle of the song, with an instructional snow dance for the kids. The band promises a new album, PUT YOUR ARMS IN THE AIR ! this May, as spring flowers are blooming. In the meantime, you can grab "SNOW!" and throw it to the kids (not at them) right here.

Mista Cookie Jar and Grammy winner Secret Agent 23 Skidoo have teamed up for "Rock This World," a power rap/pop positive values message. The song implores kids to go all in with their hearts and good intentions:

You're such a work of art
And I don't mean that
You are so beautiful.
You perfect jewel.
You nutty squirrel.
You rock our world!

CJ and 23 make a good team and have recorded before. "Rock This World" is another fine gem in their shared collection. Grab a listen here at Bandcamp.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, January 18, 2019

Can You Sing? – Dan Zanes
Animal Land – Bears And Lions
Peace Be To All – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf
Swamp Romp – Johnette Downing With Scott Billington
Carefree – Frances England

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, January 17, 2019

My Barn Door Is Open – Red Yarn
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son
Hide & Seek – The Not-Its!
Solar Flares – Mo Phillips

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Get What You Get – Bears And Lions
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Going to the Library – Danny Weinkauf
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Winter Wondering With the Okee Dokee Brothers in NYC

Simon and Garfunkel sang about the New York winters in "The Boxer." However, blame climate change or El Nino of whatever you want, it was mild temperatures that welcomed the Okee Dokee Brothers from Minnesota to Manhattan last Saturday, January 5.

Childhood friends Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing have made a name for themselves (and won a Grammy in the process) with their rustic, modern take on traditional American roots music. Their return to Symphony Space as part of the Just Kidding Kids series drew a near-full house of rapturous fans who seemed to know the words to their favorites, from "Slumberjack" to "Blankets of Snow."

The OG OD's avoid making audiences OD on messages. There is a gentle conservation theme through their material regarding the magnificence of nature. Videos played behind a few of the tracks also celebrate participation, whether it involves water and boats or boots and forest snowfalls. Like icicles slowly melting on a pine tree, the hour-long concert was over before most young observers realized. And back into the rain (although not the cold) they went.

Joe and Justin have dedicated the most recent CD, 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 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.

The Just Kidding Kids series continues with "Beats, Rhymes, and Breaking" (featuring breakdancing performances) on Saturday, January 12 at 11 AM and 2 PM (click here for tickets) and "Go Home Tiny Monster," a puppet play about a family of monsters on Saturday, January 19 at 11 AM and 2 PM (click here for tickets).

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, January 3, 2019

Me On The Map – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
Always Ascending – Franz Ferdinand
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Me And You – Caspar Babypants
Smile For Me – David Tobocman
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
What's Done is Done – Jack White
Dodgeball – Justin Roberts
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
Little Bit of Time – Like Father Like Son