Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Remembering the Music of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 27, 2019

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, November 26, 2019

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can hear "Baa Baa Black Sheep" here:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Quick Hits: Jazzy Diana Panton, Mellow Again Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, November 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 07, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Hunk-Ta Bunk-Ta Sings a Mouthful of Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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