Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Joanie Leeds: All the Ladies Lead the Way

A lot can happen in three years. Between her two most recent releases, BROOKLYN BABY and ALL THE LADIES, New York City's Joanie Leeds became a single mother, a solo recording artist, a change-maker for gender equality inside the children's music community, and now an online festival promoter.

Joanie is celebrating her upcoming album with the All The Ladies Music Festival (click the link) on Friday, April 3, featuring a lineup of 14 female artists including Lisa Loeb, Lori Henriques, Suzi Shelton, and more. All of the performers are featured on ALL THE LADIES (out the same day) and perform 15-minute sets, from 12:30 PM-4 PM, when Joanie wraps up the show.

Recording artist Joanie Leeds
As early as 2018, Joanie thought about creating an all-female produced and performed album. "Before any song was written, I knew I wanted a female producer, engineer, mixer, and master engineer, even before I made a list of instrumentalists and vocalists – which of course also had to all-female," she explained. "Last year, the ideas began to come to me and I started writing songs with this concept in mind."

New York's musical community comes together at coincidental intervals, and fortuitous timing played a part in Joanie connecting with Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari. "It felt relevant to engage a female producer and I was burning to start this album," she recalled. Joanie took her daughter to see Red Yarn (Andy Ferguson) at Symphony Space and Lucy was there with her son, Darius. "After the concert, we all went out for lunch and I whispered my idea to her about an all-female album," Joanie continued. "Lucy seemed interested. She'd been wanting to produce someone else’s album for some time and connected with the idea. So we were off and running."

Joanie had a long list of "women to work with," mostly singers, but trimmed it for logistical reasons. "I would have loved to have even more women involved," she sighed. "Ultimately, it was a large, amazing ensemble. Lucy found all of the instrumentalists and recorded most of them in her home studio. She really took the reins – I wasn't even there for most of those sessions!"

ALL THE LADIES tackles mature themes, including divorce, gender inequality, and even miscarriages. "Kids today are exposed to way more than I was in my Gen-X upbringing," Joanie said. "My four-year-old knows more about death, racism, and sexism than I did in middle school. I wanted to musically include important themes in an accessible and appropriate way for all ages and genders."

Over the course of 20 years, Joanie's career has evolved from "adult" solo performer to bandleader of the popular Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights, back to solo – as part of the adult duo Joanie and Matt (with Matt Check) as well as playing for younger audiences. "I have always written all my own songs and brought the tunes to the band to arrange," Joanie said. "The finances for making an album, publicity, marketing and paying musicians per show, that all falls to me."

Organically, her shows remain "Joanie Leeds" with rotating backup musicians. "The process isn’t much different now, except I am trying to consciously hire more women, something I'm guilty of not doing in the past," she confessed. Joanie recently came to terms with the all-male structure of the Nightlights. If one of her band members was unavailable for a gig, they would recommended a friend as a substitute. "It was problematic that I never questioned all of their recommendations being male," she continued. "I was usually in such a hurry to find a replacement, there wasn’t time to be picky. My thinking has evolved. I'd like to serve as an example for other bandleaders by hiring more women."

Joanie had planned a big release party for ALL THE LADIES, but the real world rudely intruded. Her online All The Ladies Music Festival provides an alternative that even allows more participation by the musicians. "Before everyone knew the devastating impact of Covid-19, my environmentalist brother told me what the economic impact would be and that I should stop traveling and prepare," Joanie said. "But I didn’t believe him until my album launch concert at the Childrens Museum of Manhattan was canceled."

Joanie's brother pressed her to find a way to create income immediately. As a single mother without a full-time salaried spouse, Joanie knew she had to take action right away. "I didn’t really have time to sit, wait, and see what happened," she said. "I felt panicked at the start. Once my tour was canceled, more than half of my income evaporated. I had to act quickly."

In response, Joanie started a subscription service called Quarantine Kids Concerts (on Facebook). "I was one of the first children's musicians to offer this sort of program for children, which initially translated into an influx of members," she explained, "but signups tapered off, as more performers jumped into the marketplace. The insulting government payout amount isn’t going to cut it for most freelancers, especially city dwellers with large rents and overhead. Plus it's not going to arrive until May."

Joanie conceived of the Quarantine Kids Concerts the evening of Wednesday, March 11. "The idea kept me awake all night," she laughed. "By Thursday afternoon the next day, my business plan was finished and I started with social media outreach." Timing was paramount – a day or two later, a sizable number of kindie folks began offering similar services. "Whether they're free, or donation-based, or through a subscription service, we are all trying to find a healthy balance of what feels good, what our family's specific needs are, and what we offer to the community," she added.

ALL THE LADIES hold special significance because it's the first recording where Joanie's daughter was an active, willing participant. "I don’t have much choice in the matter now," Joanie said. "She asked to be on the album and I was happy to include her." Joanie's daughter's voice appears on the songs “Anything” and “RBG.” "I’m thrilled to have this recording for posterity," she added. "Years down the road, she can look back and hear her sassy four-year-old self! As a mom, that is really special."

Click on the link for more information on the All The Ladies Music Festival on Friday, April 3, from 12:30 PM-4 PM, when Joanie wraps up the show. ALL THE LADIES is available the same day from Amazon and Apple Music

Here is the video for the title track, "All The Ladies":

Monday, March 30, 2020

Quick Hits: Okee Dokee and Mista Cookie Jar Music for CoronaVille

Are you trapped in the house? Trapped in an apartment? Trapped in a trailer park? Trapped on a luxury boat? Okay, maybe the last one is kind of a stretch. No matter what, children's music is here for you. Okee Dokee Brother Joe Mailander and his son Hap recorded a video singing "If We Ever Needed Love Before," and it's so cute you need to see it by clicking on the image:

Mista Cookie Jar and Dean Jones teamed up for a cover version of the Dog on Fleas' front man's "Just Another Finger." It's the story of a thumb, told from the perspective of a thumb. Yes, that's what it's about:

Ok. I'm the kinda finger
that you wouldn't put a ring on
Not rilly, unless the ring was kinda silly.

Mister CJ is plotting his next CD for later this year. Will this track make the cut? Who knows. You can buy it for a buck or just hear it here at Bandcamp:

Comedy for Kids With Billy Kelly; Flor Bromley's Superhero Single

What if there were more to life then just being a children's music performer? I know, it's hard to wrap your head around the concept. But Billy Kelly decided it might be possible. To that end, he minimized the window of his music recordings (a computer joke) while opening a new window into the world of family-friendly comedy.

We saw him do his thing live a few years ago in support of his first comedy CD. Now he's back with an Audible Original standup comedy special for parents and kids – the perfect antidote (don't sue me) for Corona virus. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to leave your house. But in lieu of all that, here's a one-hour comedy special that's perfect for the whole self-quarantined family. Find it online at Billy Kelly's website or at Audible.

Bilingual children's recording artist Flor Bromley is prepping for the release of next month's FIESTA GLOBAL with the release of the bonus English-language single, "Superhero." The song appears in Spanish as "Superhéroe" on the CD. Flor perused a plethora of different musical styles throughout her upbringing, and "Superhero" is an upbeat rocker, reminiscent of early Green Day.

A native of Peru, Flor enlisted a litany of latin talents for FIESTA GLOBAL, her second release. Guest artists include 123 Andrés, Noemi Gasparini, DamarisClaudio Vega, and Jazzy Ash.

Listen or download "Superhero" here.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Ben's #NewYorkTough Playlist - Friday, March 27 2020

Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Doppelganger – Dog On Fleas
Dozen Good Reasons – Danny Weinkauf
Ducky Is The Name Of My Bike – Caspar Babypants
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Planting Seeds (Featuring Sean Staples) – Alastair Moock
Summer's Here – The Bazillions

Alastair Moock Brings a Gentle Pain

Environment breeds music. Slaves sang spirituals (despite what Blazing Saddles portrayed), impoverished Okies sang folk tunes, British mods inspired Quadrophenia. The groundbreaking Free To Be: You and Me injected social commentary into children's music in the early 1970s, and demonstrated that young minds could multi-task just as well as teens and adults.

In the intervening decades, social justice has not only gained a name, but a game strategy as well. Crowdsourcing allows musicians to band together like-minded people who celebrate, educate, and course correct. Alastair Moock has taken that tactic with his newest release, BE A PAIN. The title mockingly refers to such people as Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Billie Jean King ("She was a King who was also a pain," he insists).

When society's norms are stretched, or abused, to their limits, children's music gets more insightful as the songwriters and performers stress the importance of personal freedom, family, and individuality. Activism reacts like a rubber band. [POLITICAL WARNING] Right now, we are cursed with an American Cancer in the White House and a government not for the people, but for a handful of privileged families whose wealth dwarves the majority of our population. The venal narcissism and lack of empathy of this existential Voldemort is a black stain on our history, and will hopefully start to be washed away come this November. In the meantime, Alastair and his collaborators know this is the time to "Get To Work" on making that happen. [END OF WARNING]

The messages on BE A PAIN are forthright and brutally honest, from an adult perspective. But they also trend as first-rate kid's motivational songs, such as "Kids Can Do Great Things" (with Kris Delmhorst), "What Is A Leader?" (featuring Rani Arbo), and the conquering hate anthem, "Lead With Love" (with Melanie DeMore). If pressed for a representative track, I would highlight "No Wall (Ninguana Pared)," sang in English and Spanish by Alastair with Sol y Canto and Alisa Amador:

There's no wall between an ending and a start
There's no wall between the sunshine and the dark
There's no us, there's no them
All walls fall down in the end
There's no wall that keeps us all apart

Alastair heard the clarion call of activism not long after embarking on his career as a children's musician a decade ago, including a remarkable CD dedicated to his young daughter's fight with pediatric cancer, SINGING OUR WAY THROUGH. That led to ALL KINDS OF ME AND YOU, about gender roles, ethnicity, and identity. With his band of merry mini-influencers, Alastair seeks to stem injustice and preach to the warmness of each human soul.

Alastair Moock and the change-makers on BE A PAIN lean more towards heartwarming then heartbreaking. Bringing about change requires more than nickels and dimes. Isn't a childhood worth more than that? Alastair strives to bring his message to more underserved communities, which suffer from cuts to arts funding. To that end, BE A PAIN was funded by a campaign that guarantees a free enrichment program to a school or Head Start program for every $1000 raised during this campaign. It's still going – here's the link again. The closing song, "What We Tell Our Children," includes a list of common refrains, ending with "Remember to share." Including music? Well, who wouldn't.

BE A PAIN is available on April 3 from Alastair's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for Alastair's song "Be A Pain":

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Ben's #Homeschooling Playlist - Friday, March 20, 2020

Backstroke Raptor – Story Pirates
Clown Shoes – Ratboy Jr.
Harmony With You – Jack Forman
If I Had A Hammer (Featuring Clio Moock) – Alastair Moock
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Ben's #ShelterAtHome Playlist - Thursday, March 19, 2020

Anything Can Be A Hat – Ratboy Jr.
Everyday Life – Coldplay
Everything Has A Song – Caspar Babypants
#Goals – Jack Forman
One Foot / Lead With Love (Featuring Crys Matthews) – Alastair Moock
Under the Big Umbrella – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Ben's COVID19 Playlist - Wednesday, March 18, 2020

All Star – Andrew & Polly
Be A Pain – Alastair Moock
Champion Of The World – Coldplay
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
In My Nintendo – Jack Forman
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
Shine It Up – Caspar Babypants

Monday, March 16, 2020

Ruth & Emilia and the Three Rs; Berkner Band Jumps and Pumps

Mother and daughter children's music performers Ruth Weber and Emilia Lopez-Yañez have returned with their new CD, KOKOWANDA BAY, with a message of ecology and the three R's (recycle, reduce, and reuse). The alien acquaintance URR (from their previous CD) transports the duo on a mini-vacation where they teach children how nature can only do so much.
We must do more to help save the planet. In the end, who knows? But it's up to younger citizens to do their part, and Ruth & Emilia are being proactive with their peppy, interactive tunes.

You can find Ruth & Emilia at their website, Amazon, and Apple Music

The Laurie Berkner Band has a new video for their song, "Chipmunk at the Gas Pump." It's about jumping and pumping. Comes complete with an eco-friendly reference to e-charging station. It's always a fun jaunt with the Queen of Kindie music... Here's the video:

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Quick Hit: Okee Dokees Say Don't Touch Your Face!

With the novel Corona virus taking the world by storm (literally), the Okee Dokee Brothers have recorded a quick PSA for kids called "Don't Touch Your Face." You can listen, just don't... okay, you get it.... and dry those hands, too! Click on the pic to get to the video!

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Ben's Playlist - Friday, March 6, 2020

Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
It's a Miracle – Dog On Fleas
Orphans – Coldplay
Stumble Into You – Jack Forman
That's My Style – The Bazillions
Who In The Circus Is Me? –  Caspar Babypants

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, March 5, 2020

Bring My Chimpy Home – Caspar Babypants
Even When.... – Ratboy Jr.
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Under the Big Umbrella – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Word Association – Dog On Fleas

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Noodles And Butter – Caspar Babypants
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Childhood Tames Justin Roberts on 'Wild Life'

Growing up is tough. That's why Peter Pan refused to do it. Suspended adolescence is one of the primary charming enticements in becoming a children's musician: You get to continually relive your childhood experiences through the eyes of an attentive, appreciative audience. Raffi never had children of his own over the course of a 40-year career. Others embark on "late" parenthood, when they're established themselves and the timing is right. That's the case with Justin Roberts, who released his first kid's music CD, GREAT BIG SUN, in 1997. And released his first child in 2019 – more than 20 years later.

Roberts' latest release, WILD LIFE, chronicles the delights, trials, and tribulations of new parenthood. It falls well within the bounds of his last effort, LEMONADE, as well as an earlier effort, LULLABY. The songs are acoustic, with keyboards and harmonica on "Hide And Seek," which is about "how there ain't nobody who doesn't want to be found" more than the kid's game. The CD also contains a few shout-outs to God, on this track as well as "Wild Life." Put that information into your non-secular folder when you compile your musical shopping list.

Produced by "Not Ready For Naptime" bandmate Liam Davis, WILD LIFE is a deeply personal effort for Roberts. Newborns are more prone to tantrums during loud music, resulting in an absence of ravers and audience participation tunes. WILD LIFE instead relies on a group of instrumentalists that includes fellow bandmate/percussionist Gerald Dowd, pianist Lisa Kaplan, baroque cellist Anna Steinhoff (incidentally Mrs. Roberts), and vocalist Nora O’Connor (who has sung with the Decemberists).

Roberts welcomes his firstborn with wonder on the song, "Glad You're Here":

We don't know if you descended from some far-off distant star
But you landed in our laps now we happy are
Now we'll dance with you and sing to you while we're spinning on this sphere
So you don't forget the world is full of love, and we're glad that you're here

Title track "Wild Life," perhaps the most evocative song on the CD, is a life lesson written by longtime Roberts' friend, playwright Craig Wright, with a chorus urging kids to "cut their own path through this wild life." The liveliest song, "I've Got the World (For You)" almost gets the kids up and dancing. I said almost. On WILD LIFE, children's music bridges the space between parents and kids; sharing the spectacle of modern life, and taking baby steps until everyone – no matter what age – is confident as an individual, special person. And ready to walk on their own.

WILD LIFE is available February 28 from Justin Roberts' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for Justin Roberts' new song, "Glad You're Here":