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":