Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Quick Hits: Kids' CD from Howie D and Al d

The dictotomy between children's music as a vocation and children's music as a sideline could not have been more clear between the two CDs that passed my desk this week – Howie Dorough's WHICH ONE AM I? and A deCant's THIS LITTLE WORLD.

Howie D has been in the public spotlight for 20 years through his involvement as one of the Backstreet Boys. As the fame and fortunes of that quintet rose and fell, Howie looked for new opportunities and chose to offer musical reflections of his own childhood. WHICH ONE AM I? is the opening salvo that will result in a theater production, "Back in the Day," to open next year with him in the main role.

 WHICH ONE AM I? is professionally produced (by Tor Hyams) children's music, with many clever and personal songs, including the title track, plus "No Hablo Espanol" (video below), "The Me I'm Meant To Be," and a cover of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me." As you'd expect from a performer with extensive PR and recording experience, Howie has delivered a impressive, expressive debut.

 WHICH ONE AM I? is available on July 12 at Howie D's website, Apple Music, and Amazon

 Here is the video for Howie's song "No Hablo Espanol":


Al deCant, in contrast, had to do it all himself. Stick a broom up the back of his shirt and he'd clean up after his shows as well. A former elementary school principal, Al left his job to pursue a dream of becoming a full-time children's entertainer. He wrote "I couldn't be happier in my new career choice." And you can see his delight and hear the excitement as he connects with kids on his second CD, THIS LITTLE WORLD.

Al isn't looking to create a theatrical musical based on his childhood. He's looking to bring simple concepts with accessible messages to kids (mostly) in driving range of his community. His songs are self-explanatory: "Don't Wake Up the Baby," "Read To Me," and "I Don't Wanna Go To Bed." His motives are transparent. His enthusiasm is infectious.

 I'm not suggesting that Howie D is a better choice for your collection because he has name value. Nor am I suggesting that Al D is a more worthy addition due to his long-time dedication to children through his years in education. I would say the ultimate arbiter is who your kids decide they like – and who knows, they might chose both. That's a great thing about streaming music (if you're not a recording artist counting on play-clicks leading to tons of sales-clicks). It's a kindie democracy – picture Howie as the Mayor Pete in this scenario and Al as the Joe Biden. Just don't think too hard about it. It's almost naptime.

THIS LITTLE WORLD is available at Al deCant's website, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.

 Here is a YouTube video with the audio of the title track:


Monday, July 29, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
Buenos Dias – The Lucky Band
Even When.... – Ratboy Jr.
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Me And You – Caspar Babypants

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 29, 2019

Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could\

Monday, July 22, 2019

Quick Hits: Father Goose Video, Peppa Pig Debut CD

Ever since his days with Dan Zanes, Father Goose has been hard at work entertaining children and their families. As the self-proclaimed "King of the Dance Party," Goose is back with a new video for his rendition of "La Bamba," complete with puppets, percussionists, and lots of happy people.

Hosted by Valerie Leonhart Smalkin and Silly Hoose, the video features latin musician David Allen Rivera, singer Danni Ai, and Joshua Macrow's JJ Puppets. But the heart of the matter is the upbeat performance and lyrics that get you on your feet.

The song is available from Apple Music and Spotify.

Watch the video here:

My older son missed the Peppa Pig revolution but became a big (age-inappropriate fan). His younger brother thought the voices were funny and started imitating them. But he, too, soon aged out. Perhaps too soon, as the first CD from the British series is about to drop.

MY FIRST ALBUM from Peppa Pig has 16 songs that range from "Super Potato's Theme" to "Peppa's Lullaby." It's filled with voice characterizations about Peppa, a loveable, delicious (no don't go there) little piggy who lives with her little brother George, Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig.

MY FIRST ALBUM from Peppa Pig is available by pre-order.

Here is the video for the song, "Big Bong Zoo":


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, July 19, 2019

Clown Shoes – Ratboy Jr.
A Girl With Superpowers – Story Pirates
Peace Be To All – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Stumble Into You – Jack Forman
Taco Tuesday – The Lucky Band

Quick Hits: Sharon & Bram's Farewell Songs, SaulPaul's Park Rec 2 Step Video Contest

Twenty years is a long time to do anything, let alone children's music. But Canada's Sharon Hampson, Bram Morrison and Lois Lillenstein gained much fame and performed around the world. Josh Lovelace made sure to include a shout out to them as inspirations for his children's recordings.

After Lois retired from performing in 2000, Sharon and Bram kept going as a duo – and are now heading into their Retirement Tour after another 20 years on the road. To celebrate this milestone, they have released four new tunes, all written by Sharon's late husband, Joe. Now this is getting pretty downbeat but the songs themselves are mostly upbeat – "The Hug Song," "Different," a paean to diversity, and "The Colour Song," featuring Colin Mochrie of "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" fame.

The one real stunning message song is "Talk About Peace," which has as frank a discussion about politics as you're likely to hear directed at kids:

Well, they've got enough equipment to destroy the world and everything that's in it.
They way I've got it figured, it'll take a little while, about 25 or 30 minutes.
Seems funny to me that when you talk about peace, well, you might be suspected of crime.
And that the people trying hardest to save the world have lived here the shortest time.

Sharon & Bram are finishing up their final tour dates this week, but plan to continue to record new singles and be involved in more children's media projects.

Sharon & Bram's new songs are available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and Google Play.

He hasn't been around quite as long as Sharon & Bram, but SaulPaul has a contest for the month of July revolving around his song "Park Rec Two Step."In partnership with the National Recreation and Parks Association, SaulPaul is promoting the "Park Rec Two Step Challenge" to encourage kids to get out and about into the national parks this summer. Watch the video (below) for more information. Submit videos of your kids, their friends, and your summer campers or family visiting local parks or recreation centers and doing the Park Rec Two Step for a chance to win weekly prizes of $100 Amazon gift cards (well, there are prizes left on July 22 and July 29).

Send your videos here by July 29. Use the hashtags #ParkRecTwoStepChallenge and #GameOnJuly on social media (make sure the posts are marked public. Did I mention that the Grand Prize winner gets a $250 Amazon gift card and will appear in the official Park Rec Two Step video with SaulPaul? I guess I should have!

Here's the video where SaulPaul explains the Park Rec Two Step contest:

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Trump: A Racist Down to His Shin Spurs (Opinion)

Donald Trump lied this week (no surprise) and said he doesn't have a racist bone in his body.

Much like cancer, racism is tough to beat. You have to be committed to eradicating it from your body. And there's always the chance that it will return, when you least expect it.

I've been a racist. I've said racist things. Hell, I even won the opportunity to appear on the Howard Stern Show as part of their 2002 "Meanest Listener Contest" by intentionally using the N-word. Am I proud of that accomplishment? In retrospect, it's an experience I will always remember. But now there's an asterisk.

I don't consider myself a racist now. I didn't consider myself a racist then. Even when I was being bullied as a young teenager and switched from public school to a private school. That was when I actually had that "my best friend is a black guy" phase. But I didn't walk around boasting "black kids drove me out of my school but I don't hold it against them!!" The situation might have hampered my development as a member of society, teaching me to hate people who didn't look like me. But it didn't.

What has happened over the past 20 years? The culture changed. Standards changed. Social media happened. Activists culled through decades and centuries of institutional racism and called people on their shit. And you could either accept that racism existed – and adapt – or you could deny and bang your head against the wall.

That's what Donald Trump is doing. The Presidency is a mantle some people are not immediately worth of holding. They grow into it, by admitting that they've made mistakes and their previous views might be wrong for the nation. But that's not Trump. His position is that he never makes mistakes – any mistakes are made by people underneath him, or wrong information, or fake news, or (when he said there were airports in the 1800s) a busted TelePrompter.

Trump is 72 years old. He has not evolved. He refuses to evolve. He wants a nation of followers – a dictator with rallies of goose-stepping minions – who agree with his beliefs, in lockstep. Witness politicians like Steve Scalise baldly lying and saying the GOP never disrespected Obama the way the Democrats are "disrespecting" the current racist President. This is such a laughable claim, from the rep who screamed "you lie" during an Obama "State of the Union" speech to an open letter that Republicans wrote to Iran to say Obama didn't represent the United States (!) during nuclear negotiations.

Have a I completely changed? Am I a totally new person, never thinking or saying something that can be construed as racist? That's not for me to say. I'm different than I was five years ago, more different than 10 years ago, and definitely different than 30 years ago.

Trump? Not so much. He was a racist slumlord in the 1970s when he and his father (who attended a Nazi rally in Queens) settled a housing lawsuit with the FBI – refusing to admit any wrongdoing, of course. He was a racist in 2017 when he said there were good people "on both sides" at Charlottesville. To deny Trump's racism is to deny your own racism. See it, own it, grow from it. Trump will never do that. America must see that, own that, and grow with a post-Trump government.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants
Cement Dude – Story Pirates
Dirt – Ratboy Jr.
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
That's My Style – The Bazillions

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 15, 2019

Anything Can Be A Hat – Ratboy Jr.
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
The Great Wallaby Adventure – Story Pirates
(Laughing in the) Pizza Rain – The Shake Ups
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
Stick Up Stand Up – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Quick His: New Videos from Thunder & Sunshine and Ants Ants Ants

There's nothing worse than being stuck inside on a rain-soaked afternoon. Or is that just an over-reaction? The New York-based Thunder and Sunshine delivers an opposing viewpoint with their song (and video) celebrating the quiet pleasures of a "Rainy Day."

The brainchild of longtime area musician Esther Crow, the band's origins are simple –have a child, decide to create material for them. She surrounded herself with a group of like-minded performers and viola, a band was christened. You can buy their debut CD, THIS IS THUNDER AND SUNSHINE, from their website.

The band is playing in Union Square Park on Thursday, July 11 at 11 am.

Here is the titular tune in question. "Rainy Day" has a heavy '60s Mamas and Papas vibe to it, but the kids won't know that:

Ants Ants Ants continue the video output for their high concept release, THE ROBOT EP. You can buy the EP on July 19 from their website, Amazon, or Apple Music.

The band's performance "Live from the Rumpus Room" on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live is airing this weekend (July 12-14). Check the website for times.

Listen to the song on Spotify. Here is the kaleidoscope-delic video for the song, "Dance, Robot, Dance!"

Monday, July 08, 2019

Story Pirates Turn Bright Ideas Into Singalongs

Comedy and music go together like nails and wood. You hammer one into the other. Pound a little too hard and you can hurt yourself. Don't go "all in" and everything falls apart. Since 2004, kindie improv group The Story Pirates have donned their tool belts and entertained kids with skits and songs based on audience suggestions.

Over time, the Pirates have branched out from live performing into podcasts (all ideas still derived from submissions) and then into CDs – the second of which, BACKSTROKE RAPTOR, has been unleashed on an audience seeking new avenues of yuks and aw shucks.

The first single, "The Wizard Who Could Just Go Poof," was originally written by a five-year-old. There's a rap by Nimene Sierra Wureh (with Lin-Manuel Miranda guest-starring as the dragon), the song breezes by with the moral being "confidence and persistence pay off." And the backbeat is provided from Johann Pachelbel's Canon. Other tunes include "A Girl With Superpowers," about a lass who needs to defeat an enemy (another dragon) to graduate to superhero status and the frenetic and totally fictional "A Hamster's Workday."

The title track, "Backstroke Raptor" is a complete B-52s throwback, with dual female harmonies and a Fred Schneider-esque dinosaur interjecting his lines. "The Great Wallaby Adventure" is a calypso-themed geography homework lesson. Album closer "Dreaming Sheep" asks an age-old question, with a Lumineers call-out of "Bah hey":

What do dreaming sheep dream about
When the sun is gone and the stars come out
Sheep can dream about being in school
Writing with pencils like the children do

The power of good storytelling is in the retelling. Kids are notorious for wanting to hear and re-hear the same stories again and again, for reassurance and bonding. The Story Pirates have crafted a collection of 11 kid-inspired story-songs that sound as good the next time you hear them. And that's straight from the mouth of an eight-year-old.

BACKSTROKE RAPTOR is available from the Story Pirates' website, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the YouTube song video of the group's tune, "A Girl With Superpowers":

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, July 5, 2019

Backstroke Raptor – Story Pirates
Even When.... – Ratboy Jr.
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
It's A Wonderful Life – Kepi Ghoulie
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
Saturday Sun – Vance Joy

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Lean on Me – Howie D
Stumble Into You – Jack Forman
What's Done is Done – Jack White
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie

Monday, July 01, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 2, 2019

El Corazon – The Lucky Band
Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
#Goals – Jack Forman
The Me I'm Meant to Be – Howie D
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
You Can Get It If You Really Want – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Quick Hits: New Stuff from Suzi Shelton and Ants Ants Ants

Last year, I embarked on a new chapter in my reviewing – joining the staff of GeekDad. The first CD I chose to review was Suzi Shelton's HAND IN HAND. This was after I passed on two releases I felt were not "up to the standard" of what I should be recommending.

Now Suzi has released a video for the song "Raindrop" from the album. Directed by Bryan Berrios, the song features simulated rain and real smiling children.

You can download the song from Apple Music. And watch the video here:

Ants Ants Ants, the melodic duo (or trio) that hails from Oregon, have released the four-song THE ROBOT EP, which harkens back to concept albums of old. Titles of the tracks are 'Robot, Robot," "Dance, Robot, Dance!," a robot suite (think kindie ELO), and "Robot" reprise.

Antsters Johnny Clay, Dave Gulick and Nat Johnson were inspired by Schoolhouse Rock and Harry Nilsson and their influences and fingerprints are all over THE ROBOT EP. Their goal is to create and demystify the concept of robotry, from inventing an artificial individual in the opening track, wondering if he dreams, and celebrates his learning some dance steps. They boil it all down into less than 12 minutes – certainly less ponderous than a King Crimson or Genesis album from the 1970s.

It's always fun when you play "guess the reference" with a new release, then read the press materials and it's a match or even better. Ants Ants Ants likes the good stuff and in return, they craft some fun new music for their young audiences. Find your inner robot and dance along.

THE ROBOT EP is available on July 19 from Ants Ants Ants website, Apple Music, and Spotify.

Here is the video for the song, "Robot, Robot":