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

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Quick Hits: Oran Etkin Turkish Lullaby; New Grin Brigade CD

Oran Etkin made his mantra "Have clarinet, will travel" and turned it into a vision quest. His Timbalooloo music program promotes musical education through the playing of instruments rather than formal lessons. Oran brought his Timbalooloo methodology overseas for his upcoming project, FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME: A JOURNEY WITH CLARANET, with stops in Zimbabwe, Czech Republic, Turkey, and China.

The CD is coming later this month. In the meantime, here's a preview with the song "Dandini Dandini," a traditional turkish lullaby.

Here is the video explaining the Timbalooloo project:

What if you had a group of friends who wanted to make children's music when the inspiration hit them? That would be the concept behind Dave Kinnoin's Grin Brigade, which returns with their second CD, ALL I DO IS HOP and 29 tracks of childish mirth.

Dave is joined by his "Randy and Dave" partner Randy Sharp on many of the songs this go-round, including the country rocker "Just Like Magic" and the mouthful "Locomotivation." Every kid's value in the home marketplace is evaluated in "HIgh Paying Job" as the protagonist seeks gainful employment mowing lawns, walking dogs, and even filling cups of coffee.

With 29 songs, there's a lot being thrown at listeners. If one doesn't grab your kids, there's another dozen where that one came from. Even adults can join the grin brigade with "Dog Alphabet," a true canine aficionado's listing of different breeds and their activities.

ALL I DO IS HOP is available from Grin Brigade's website, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Let SiriusXM Know: Kids Place Live Should Stay on Channel 78

SiriusXM has announced that starting Thursday, August 15, Kids Place Live will move "down" the dial from Channel 78 to Channel 355. That means the majority of vehicles will no longer receive the station. It will be restricted to computers and devices with streaming audio.

I got bored with Sesame Street and the WIggles pretty early on when Ben was a toddler. Luckily there was SiriusXM's Kids Place Live, which was an oasis in the desert. We heard dozens, if not hundreds of new artists. And as soon as Ben was able to tell me his favorites, I was able to purchase and download specific songs and CDs (which generated revenue for those musicians).

By the time Ben was five, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the "standard" kids music stuff that was promoted by his education programs – including Sesame Street and Barney (shudder). But he would also break into songs that his friends and classmates didn't know. Every year, we'd compile CDs of original children's music and distribute it to his friends for his birthday. That became a quarterly occurrence with the amount of music he consumed.

SiriusXM ostensibly has THREE stations for children, but two of them don't really count. Kidz Bop is reworked versions of adult songs, with the lyrics "dumbed down." And Radio Disney is mostly the same pop tunes you can hear on dozens of their other channels, but with a heavier emphasis on artists discovered or signed to Disney labels.

Really, Kids Place Live is an oasis. SiriusXM bragged about adding "more than 100 streaming channels." But they are burying the only channel with original content for children. In my mind, that's SiriusXM practically admitting this is a shady move on their part. I'm certain that Kidz Bop isn't moving because Sirius must have a lucrative financial deal.

So what can we do to "save" Kids Place Live? Well, you can call them directly at (866) 635-5027. Or go to their HELP page and start a live chat. Or click to this page and file a complaint. However, if you do that, you'll only get a canned response that this move is being done because of "bandwidth limitations."

You should e-mail the top brass directly at Jim.meyer@siriusxm.com and scott.greenstein@siriusxm.com. Don't let SiriusXM get away with marginalizing children's music, which is an important part of their development and education. Make your voice heard for your children and the kids in your life.

Quick Hits: Autism-Friendly Tunes from Turtle Dance; New Song from Mista Cookie Jar & Little Miss Ann

When my son was Ben was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. Near the bottom – would he be able to enjoy things that neuro-typical children take for granted. For instance, what about music? Live performances, in particular. Those fears were allayed pretty early. And now Ben continually asks what's next – even before the lights have dimmed when we've just arrived at a concert venue.

For special needs children who need shows tailored to their specific needs, there are organizations such as Autism Friendly Shows and for kids, their partners at Turtle Dance Music, who do hour-long performances just for younger aged audiences. Turtle Dance has released their sixth CD, ADD TO THE WORLD, with songs revolving directly around math-based concepts. The ten songs include "Five Little Monkeys," "Jump and Count (Twist and Shout)," "I Only Sneeze in Threes," and a reading themed take on the Proclaimers with "500 Books."

Turtle Dance shows are accompanied by hands-on, visual, and sensory experiences designed to help kids learn and have fun at the same time. Kids play instruments, try out interactive music technology, and dance along through the whole show. Based in the Connecticut area, the program seeks to increase its educational component with ADD TO THE WORLD.

ADD TO THE WORLD is available through the group's website, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the group's song "Moon Landing":

The ever-prolific Mista Cookie Jar returns with another duet, this time with Little Miss Ann for the dessert-arrific "Halo-Halo." The song celebrates the Filipino treat of that name, which is concocted from coconut, mungo bean, shaved ice, corn, milk, and a scoop of ice cream. Did I lose you along the way? Trust me, it's more delicious than it sounds. Perhaps try it first and then ask for the ingredient list. As for the the finished product, just listen to how they wax prosaic:

Yum! “Ma sarap”
That’s Tagalog for tongue bliss.
“Halo-halo,” that’s Tagalog for mix mix.
Mix it up like a sweet cold gumbo
Fun for the soul. Make ya joy feel jumbo.

You can download "Halo-Halo" (all they ask if for 99 cents) from Bandcamp. Here's the link:

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, August 5, 2019

#Goals – Jack Forman
I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
Johnny Jackrabbit Jones – Caspar Babypants
People Watching – Dean Jones
Sea Of Stars – Dan Zanes
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, August 2, 2019

Can You Sing? – Dan Zanes
Helicopter Leaves – Ants Ants Ants
I Don't Care – Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber
Perfect Tuesday Afternoon – Frances England
Under the Big Umbrella – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants
Window – Gustafer Yellowgold

Growing Up Right With Josh Lovelace

If you want to know the difference between folk music and Americana, it's pretty simple – while all folk music qualifies as Americana, not everything Americana is folk music. While you play with that Rubik's Cube, consider Josh Lovelace, a prosaic provider of Americana whose children's works often drifts into the realm of folk music. But not all the time.

Josh's new CD, GROWING UP, paints a charming portrait of life in the southeast region of the country. The 12 songs grew organically from conversations with his wife and two children, through the course of their day-to-day interactions. Communication and bonding are prevalent themes on tracks like "You've Got Me and I've Got You" and "Forever My Friend." Frances England makes a welcome appearance on the bright and sprightly "Butterfly." Josh makes his agenda clear when he sings "Upside Down":

One thing makes us all the same
Everyone deserves to feel love everyday
We all have sickness, we have pain
Everybody needs a little shelter from the rain
We all want to be protected, understood, and feel accepted
Love is free so let's give it away
And together we can turn the whole world upside down.

"Hey It's a Good Day" has a Jack Johnson/John Mayer vibe with a dash of Michael Franti thrown in. "Goodbyes Are the Hardest Thing To Do" may be about when Josh goes on the road and has to leave his family to perform. Or it might be about dropping kids at school. "Even if we're miles apart, you've got a place here in my heart," is the refrain over a George Harrison guitar chord. Ultimately, it comes down to the album closer, "You Are Loved," which assures the listener, "You are enough... and you are loved." Who doesn't want to that simple comfort at the end of the day?

There are performers who want to make "good time music" and others who want to get kids to think. As a member of NEEDTOBREATHE, which originally came from the Christian rock movement, you could expect Josh to do some preaching. When those lessons do come, they're more from the Fred Rogers school of laid-back Presbyterian values. It's a "love thy neighbor" inclusion vibe. No one can accuse Josh of "pulling a Mike Pence/Fake christian" act. As long as Josh Lovelace forges ahead and his music evolves, it will be a pleasure to listen to him grow up.

GROWING UP is available from Josh Lovelace's website, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the song, "More Time With You":