Friday, October 30, 2015

This Record Belongs..... and a Free Halloween Tune

I learned an interesting thing about Golden Books a few years ago, when my younger son started attending "story time" at a local library. Although we had seen myriad titles in other children's libraries over the past decade, this particular one did not stock any. When we inquired as to why, the librarian sniffed, "They're generally a lower class type of book, and they don't hold up well in repeated borrowing."  In one way an insult, but in another, a tremendous compliment about the versatility of the format – and how kids clamored for the selections.

Another vestige from my childhood is vinyl. As digital technology (CDs and then MP3s) became ubitquitous, turntables became more specialized. Now vinyl has made a minor resurgence. But our turntable, escounced in a cabinet and covered with children's music CDs, is practically a non-factor. And our vinyl? A floor away in the basement, minimized next to a pair of CD towers. My wife's old portable turntable is in the attic, but has not been opened in decades. So we have the resources, but just don't have the motivation to put the pieces together.

Two companies, Seattle's Light In The Attic Records & Third Man Records (founded in Detroit by Jack White), have banded to produce THIS RECORD BELONGS TO ______. It's a throwback package to the 1970s, with a playlist of songs available on CD and digitally, but also on vinyl. There's also an illustrated book (by Jess Rotter) that tells a story of animals finding a vinyl record and trying to figure out what it is and what to do with it. And finally, there's a portable Jensen turntable, complete with USB input.

Most of the music in the collection dates back more than 25-30 years, such as Harry Nilsson's "Me and My Arrow" and Carole King's "One Was Johnny," a Maurice Sendak tale from her celebrated CD. Nothing from the compilation was composed specifically for its release (intriguing since it took two record labels of artists to mount this project). To that end, you may have heard the majority of these songs elsewhere, such as Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection." However, where else can you find Vashti Bunyan's "Diamond Day"?

As with any well-intentioned project, you wonder if this is a first installment or a one-off. You can buy the compilation separately, but it appears they really want kids to appreciate the uniqueness of vinyl, which would indicate future volumes at some point. THIS RECORD BELONGS TO _____ is a quirky curio with a number of revelations and a warm, nostalgic feel. Oh, did I mention that the bundle with the turntable is $95? As in those Saturday morning ads, I hasten to add, "Also sold separately."

THIS RECORD BELONGS TO _________ is available from Third Man Records and Amazon.

Mr. Whirly (aka Keith Wasserman) has released his new Halloween single "Bumps in the Night." If you sign up for his every-now-and-then newsletter, you can get it as a free download! How great is this? Music for nothing more than an email address! What are you waiting for? Come on, click through. I'll wait. Well no I won't, the kids have trick or treating to do. And I've got to be vigilant to make sure everything is safe for them to eat, or pass along to eat. You know what I mean, parents.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 30, 2015

All Around the Kitchen – Andy Z
Bad Haircut – The Bazillions
The Bright Side Of Me – Alastair Moock & Friends
Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Start Of The End – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
The Start of Things – Alison Faith Levy
Tomorrow's People  – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 29, 2015

All In A Day – Alastair Moock & Friends
Best Friend – In The Nick Of Time
Extraordinary – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Hello Goodbye – Caspar Babypants
Secret Fox – Gustafer Yellowgold
Super Hero Rock Band – The Bazillions
T.L.C. – Alison Faith Levy

Little Rockers Band and Greg Page Deck the Halls

It's that special time of the year. No, it's not the holiday season just yet – which means for reviewers, it means we receive all the upcoming holiday music. This year, I have received (to date) two new CDs. Of course, when I say "new," I generally mean "new to the very young," as the majority of the tunes have been covered by numerous musicians over the decades.

Locally, New Jersey's own Little Rockers Band is releasing YULE BE COOL. Technically Jessie and Chris Apple have concocted a Judeo-Christian compilation, complete with the brand-spanking new "Hanukkah Is Here!" and a reworked "Feliz Navidad" that includes a Hanukkah verse (no Kwanzaa, unless they throw that in during live shows).

Fun is a hallmark for the LRB. These crazy Apple kids (and guitarist Liam Moroney) seek an active engagement with their audiences. And even the toughest of hard cases crack when the holidays roll around. It's hard not to be happy around bubbly kids doing their darndest to put on a happy face to bluff Santa (or the designated spiritual behavior monitor) that they've been good all year and really, really deserve that [INSERT INSANELY UNLIKELY PRESENT].

Jessie delivers clear, cheerful vocals and Chris and Liam (and keyboardist Andy Letke and drummer Billy Papenberg) are a solid, spunky unit. "Frosty the Snowman" continues to delight audiences as do "Let It Snow" and "Jingle Bell Rock." And where else are you going to hear Madonna's "Holiday" re-appropriated as a kid's winter anthem?

The LRB have broken the CD into two "album-esque" sections of rockers and ballads (think of it as heating up and cooling down the tykes). This makes it easy to determine a specific point of entry, but harder to put the CD on shuffle mode. In my experience, holiday CDs seem to get played-through until ennui sets in. For YULE BE COOL, the Apples give you just enough of a good thing. Realistically, that's all I want for the holidays this year.

YULE BE COOL is available November 6 from Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video for the band's song "Me & My Dog":

 Across the world, former Wiggle Greg Page has other ideas. Forced to retire in 2006 due to orthostatic intolerance, a form of dysautonomia, Greg's departure caused the Wiggles to have a tumultuous turnover (the firing of his replacement, Sam Moran, on his daughter's second birthday, is particularly galling). The quartet has rebranded with Emma, Lachy, and Simon joining founding Wiggle Anthony Field. And Page has not stayed on the sidelines, producing and starring on Butterscotch Playground for Australian TV.

After a decade-plus wearing the yellow jersey, Greg is eager to entertain (adults and children). Clearly he is managing his medical condition and wants to maintain his solo identity without the crushing schedule and physical mechanics of live touring around Australia and the world.

HERE COMES CHRISTMAS delivers 22 holiday tunes (many of which I've named from the Little Rockers' CD) in the unmistakable dulcet tones that both of my children enjoyed on TV, CD, DVD, and live in concert. Greg was clearly showing the strain, recovering from an arm injury at the Wiggles' New York appearance in 2004. The following year marked the original band's last trek across the globe. He has a sincere delivery and appears to be enjoying himself in the new videos.

Greg seems to have higher ambitions for his music for adults – whereas HERE COMES CHRISTMAS is a completely traditional collection, featuring nothing one wouldn't expect. Some of the songs were covered by the Wiggles, in fact, with Greg as the lead vocal, leading one to wonder if they were included simply as part of a master checklist. As for the four bonus tracks from Butterscotch's Playground, they are self-explanatory from their titles, "Everybody Dance," "At the Fire Station," Knead it," and "Get Down Low and Go, Go, Go." For Greg Page, children's time is now a Wiggly Party for One. Check the sound clips and proceed according to taste and whether your kids have access to the original Wiggles online.

HERE COMES CHRISTMAS is available on November 24 from Greg's website, Butterscotch's Playground, and iTunes.

Here is the title song and opening credits for Butterscotch's Playground:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 27, 2015

Archaeology – Danny Weinkauf
Cheese World – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Loving Cup – Cat Doorman
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
Rest Easy Now – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
That's Just Us (Playing Rock-n-Roll) – Hullabaloo
Yawn – Gustafer Yellowgold

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Free Ride Everyday – Lori Henriques
Future Days – Pearl Jam Lightning
I Can Still Say I Love You – Keith Munslow
Mi Chamocha (Wade In The Water) – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
She Looks So Perfect – 5 Seconds of Summer
Sourwood Mountain – Red Yarn

My 2015 Fids and Kamily Ballot

The 2015 Fids and Kamily Awards were recently announced. I culled my choices from more than 50 CDs reviewed over the past year. I can't believe I reviewed almost one CD per week, but it was a glut to celebrate, for sure.

A few CDs were either constantly being tracked by Ben (14) for his morning playlists or selected for rotation in our car. Those factored higher in the standings. His younger brother Matt (turning 5 in November) and their mother also had some comments on my "second round" choices of 22 recording artists.

My points were distributed among CDs that we either purchased or reviewed. For the first time, I did review all ten CDs listed in the "judges' final" tally. However several of those CDs did not make my personal ballot.

That being said, it's always an honor to be asked to participate in balloting of this kind. When I think back 9-10 years and our entry into the kindie music scene, I never anticipated I'd have to struggle to "rank" such talented individuals and ensembles. Congratulations to everyone who produced children's music in 2014!

  1. Recess Monkey – Hot Air
  2. Tim Kubart – Home
  3. Billy Kelly and Molly Ledford – Trees
  4. Lori Henriques – How Great Can THis Day Be
  5. Ratboy Jr – Hamster Pants
  6. Renee and Friends – Simpatico
  7. Josh and the Jamtones – Rocksteady
  8. Alison Faith Levy – The Start of Things
  9. Andrew and Polly – Odds and Ends
  10. Mil's Trills – Now That We're Friends

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 26, 2015

Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Forever Young – Andrew & Polly
Ghost Riders in the Sky – Andy Z
Mystery – Dean Jones
One After 909 – Caspar Babypants
Sons and Daughters  – The Bazillions
That Way  – Chibi Kodama

Friday, October 23, 2015

It's Rhyme Time for Lisa Loeb

There are people who perform children's music because it's their passion. There are people who perform children's music because it's the next phase of their career. Then there are people, or groups, who record children's music as an organic extension, or outreach, from what they've always done.

Unless a performer gets his or her start in children's music, they most commonly-heard phrase in their press release is "When I had my own kids..." followed by "Once I heard what children's musicians were doing..." I can list a countless number of artists (who run the gamut from great to well, not so great) who fall into that spectrum. Some of their turns were surprising. "Did you know the Verve Pipe has recorded two kids albums?" "What? Really!" "Hey, Lisa Loeb released her fourth children's CD." "Well, of course."

Well, of course?

Well, of course.

There's a generation that grew up listening to Lisa's folkie, sometimes funky guitar sound. Listen to the Coffeehouse on SiriusXM and you can hear her influence on many current recording stars. Her CDs chronicled (and still do) the lifepath of a woman. And while the placement of a lullaby for adults may be warranted under those circumstances, she clearly had other goals when she had her own kids. Once she heard what children's musicians were doing, it became the next phase of her career. Because recording children's music is an organic extension, or outreach, from what she's always done.

As mentioned, Lisa has now released NURSERY RHYME PARADE through Amazon Prime Music. I did a long spiel about the service earlier this month. Suffice to say, it's an interesting project and while the Pop-Ups preceded Lisa last month, there are no further announcements right now. If this is a long-term commitment, there should be some movement in the fourth quarter indicating Amazon's goals and possibly new artists for early 2016.

But that's not a knock against Lisa. She has taken the challenge of reinvigorating such simple tales as "This Old Man" and "The Farmer in the Dell." Not life-changing stuff, but you can never tell with two- and-three- year-olds. Lisa is not trying to reverse-engineer the wheel. If anything, parents get a refresher course on melodies and lyrics for these songs. Hey, I remember singing "Train in Vain" to my infant son many moons ago, when I blanked on the words to a more tyke-tacular tune.

One cannot write an article about Lisa Loeb's children's music without mentioning Elizabeth Mitchell. The two graduated from Brown University in 1990 and recorded two albums together, before their musical paths diverged. They reunited in 2004 for the children's CD, CATCH THE MOON. Perhaps seeing her college friend become a solid, popular recording artist of children's music eased the path for Lisa. Perhaps it was inevitable. Either way, it's given her a new generation to appeal to with her music. In fact, children's music gives her a new generation every 5-7 years.

Do not expect epic material – we're talking about 37 tracks, many that come and go in the blink of an eye, totaling 32 minutes. Will you be charmed? Depends on your affection for "Humpty Dumpty" before and after you watch a young child attempt to sing along or act it out. If you can enjoy that for half an hour, then NURSERY RHYME TIME has provided comfortable engagement. The children of the 90s are into the nostalgia of their own post-college times. This CD can take them back to the future while moving their own families forward. How's that for a mission statement for Lisa Loeb?

Well, of course.

NURSERY RHYME TIME is available through Lisa Loeb's website, which links you to Amazon Prime Music.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 23, 2015

Amnesia – 5 Seconds of Summer
Everybody Out There – Paul McCartney
If I Could Fly – Riff Rockit
Look, Think, Guess, Know – Tom Chapin
Right Side of the Bed – Ratboy Jr.
Take Me Away – Sunshine Collective

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dad Is Takin' a Nap – Keith Munslow
DJ All Day – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Grizzly Bear – Red Yarn
Hold On to Your Dreams – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
New  – Paul McCartney
Sunday Crafternoon (Featuring Drue Davis) – Tim Kubart

Ralph's Circus Maven & Andy's Halloween Videos

Ever wonder who concocted the three-ring circus? What about the circus train (made even more famous in The Little Engine That Could)? You can thank WC Coup, the man who helped P.T. Barnum craft "the greatest show on Earth."

Ralph Covert (Ralph's World) has not forgotten Coup; indeed he celebrates the man. On his new compilation, RALPH'S WORLD ROCKS AND READS! one of the new songs is "Sawdust and Spangles," based on a turn of the century book that has been turned into an animated picture book for kids as well.

Now there's even a video of the song, which Ralph originally conceived as a theatrical work. For your amusement and entertainment at this haunting, costumed time of year, presenting "Sawdust and Spangles":

Speaking of costumes, here's a flashback to Andy Z (aka Andreas Zamenes)'s "Punkin' Patch" video, featuring The Beeheads. This is a perennial favorite, so enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gettin' My Ya Ya's Out – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Kings & Queens – The Hipwaders
Summertime Santa – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
This Little Light Of Mine – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Uh Huh – Dean Jones
The Word – Caspar Babypants

Berkner's Faves a Double Treat

If there had never been a Laurie Berkner, somebody would have created one. There was a chasm in children's music; so huge that the Wikipedia entry for the genre skips from the 1970s straight to Disney movie soundtracks in the 1990s. To this new generation, it's mostly Berkner and Dan Zanes, with a tip of the hat to Raffi.

Berkner is now taking a victory lap of sorts with lullabies, greatest hits collections, even a Christmas album. Her latest release, LAURIE BERKNER'S FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS is almost too much of a good thing – more than two hours worth of tunes divided over two CDs. But wait, there's more! Each CD includes three of Berkner's original tunes that have become classroom favorites ("We Are the Dinosaurs" and "Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz) among them). But wait, there's even more – pre-order one CD through her website and get a second one for free (offer good until October 22)!

Berkner's career goes back to the early 90s, when she used these favorite tunes while "breaking in" her original compositions. Now the circle has closed, in that Berkner's own songs complete the anthology for children who consider her a modern classic.

If you're into your second consecutive decade of children's music (like I am) you have a head start with much of the catalog covered herein. But it would be precious to intimate that only "insiders" have a knowledge with the depth, scope, and breadth of the tracks of this compilation. It's almost like one of those virtual polls on Facebook asking people, "How many of these do YOU remember?" If you have a child in your home under the age of 10, there's a good chance you know the majority of them – from "I've Been Working on the Railroad" to "The Ants Go Marching" to "This Little Light of Mine."

The last track is significant, because bandmate Brady Rymer has also included "Little Light" in his set list with The Little Band That Could. Brady gets to duet with Berkner on "There's A Hole In The Bucket," which got my (younger) son to snap, "He is singing with her, is it his song?" How does one explain folk standards to a four-year-old? Drummer Bobby Golden is the latest addition to the growing Berkner Band, which is rounded out by longtime keyboard player Susie Lampert.

The curse in becoming ubiquitous is that you can be easily dismissed. Raffi has returned to recording new music (his second CD in two year, OWL SINGALONG, is coming in January 2016). Partially because he loves the genre but also to regain his relevance in the modern kindie marketplace. Berkner needs to avoid this same pitfall. FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS is a cornucopia of goodies. But it's time to put the classics aside and remind people why their kids consider Laurie Berkner the tertiary Modern Mother of Kindie.

LAURIE BERKNER'S FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS is available from her website, Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Froggie Went A Courtin'":

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Backyard – Riff Rockit
How Great Can This Day Be – Lori Henriques
Nose In A Book – The Not-Its!
Poofy – Ratboy Jr.
Tacky – Weird Al Yankovic
Unwind – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

Billy, Molly, Dean Branch Out at Symphony Space

"Two Trees, Old Friends" is a song on TREES, the CD from Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly. When they sang it live last Saturday, October 17 at Symphony Space, the audience (well, the adults anyway) listened intently to the lyrics:

Two trees that grew up together 
Two trees that lean on each other like old friends 
Like old friends
Two trees so close they almost look like one
Two trees

As Billy Kelly noted towards the close of the concert, that's the heart of this CD – a concept album about a very specific part of our natural environment, produced by the one and only Dean Jones. The trio are doing a limited tour to support TREES (and in turn, actual trees). Perhaps the only one more excited than my kids about the appearance was Symphony Space's kids program director Darren Critz. He referred to the performers as a "supergroup" and gauged the reactions of the crowd, song by song. Attendance was stunted by the sheer number of children's artists performing around the city and borough on the same day, including the Laurie Berkner Band and an all-day event in Madison Square Park. But those who trekked uptown got a treat, as Molly, Billy, and Dean swapped leads and instruments on virtually every song. "Is this the guitar I play on this one?" Billy asked at one point, momentarily confused by the set order.

My sons were eager to hear individual songs from their respective catalogs, including Molly's material from Lunch Money and Dean's Dog on Fleas tunes. I patiently (and repeatedly) gently indicated how that should be considered a bonus but not to expect it. In fact, they did not stray from TREES and everything was right with the world, at least to my kids.

Symphony Space has a history of booking artists from around the country. Darren stressed that he was initially earnest about geographic parity but said that has become less important for bookings over time. However a resurgence in one area, such as Boston/New England, may result in more than one artist from one locale getting a showcase in any given season. New Orleans-flavored Jazzy Ash is coming up for Halloween, followed by Chicago's Justin Roberts on November 14.

Symphony Space has been a performance haven since 1978. I had seen movies in what is now the Nimoy Theater (which gave me a few unnerving flashbacks by first couple of kid's shows in the room). But to us, it's always been there – first as a venue to take our (then) only son to see Dan Zanes and then as members for multiple shows despite weather or other obstacles. Now it's second nature for the kids to ask at home, "Who's next?" and I know exactly where they mean.

The "Just Kidding Club" is a great value for Upper West Side families (it was more challenging for us, coming from Queens mid-winter). We've seen Billy at the Long Island Children's Museum. In fact, when my older son asked, "Don't you remember me?" Billy replied, "I remember everyone who comes to my shows. You were wearing a red shirt." And my son stoically replied, "It was orange." We've also seen Lunch Money in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (aka the "main room") and at the lamented Kindiefest. The elusive holdout was Dean – we'd missed his solo and group shows at various venues. Although he did not sing lead on any number, he added solid (production) support and showed why so many musicians have entrusted him with their material.

Darren wrote a recent article about why live performances are important for children. Usually such lists are subject to much eyerolling. But I agreed with his four simple tips. In fact, my kids are the ones who usually push the boundaries, wanting to see more and more things when there is simply not enough time in the weekends. But I continue to make the effort, because as much as they enjoy the shows, I enjoy them as well. And I relax when I see how much they enjoy the music in the moment. As much as they are brothers, they are also two trees and it's a pleasure to see them so entwined by their mutual love of music.... two trees, so close they almost look like one.

The upcoming Just Kidding Club schedule is here.

You can find information about future performances by Billy, Molly, and Dean in support of TREES at their dedicated website.

Download the music from these videos (and the rest of the CD) from Bandcamp.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 19, 2015

Ahava – Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Best Day Ever – Rissi Palmer
Great Day – The Not-Its!
Gypsy Whale Waltz – Pointed Man Band
I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
My Heart Is Open – Maroon 5 Feat. Gwen Stefani
Start Of The End – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 16, 2015

Flannel Jammies – The Not-Its!
Germs – Joanie Leeds And The Nightlights
Groove – Lori Henriques
Hey Jude – Caspar Babypants
National Hiccup Day – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Sing in the Sun – The Harmonica Pocket
Stuff – The Pop Ups

Mista Cookie Jar's New Lullaby, Homemade Vid from Laurie Berkner Band

Something keeps Mista Cookie Jar up at night. It must be the funk in his soul. It comes out even when he's laying down beats in a lullaby, such as his new (and final) song of the month, "It's Only in Your Head."

A reassuring tune allegedly to calm the addled minds of overworked youngsters, CJ soothes with his groove. But at the same time, he just can't help himself. When the toes start tapping, is the kid really napping? But still he insists:

You're a smashing brilliant sensation.
Fill ya heart up. That is your floatation.
Row row your boat up to the starlight.
Let the love you found shine a far light.

As with his past compositions, this Mista Cookie Jar tune is available to just a buck. Find it here. And pleasant dreams!

We are knee-deep into the new CD from the Laurie Berkner Band, FAVORITE CLASSIC KIDS' SONGS (review to come). In the meantime, the band is getting its fanbase pumped with videos from the upcoming compendium (which weighs in at a metamorphic 129 minutes).

Now your family, down to the littlest fan, can watch the band (Laurie, keyboardist Susie Lampert, bassist Brady Rymer, and drummer Bob Golden) as they recorded "When the Saints Go Marching In" in the studio.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 15, 2015

Da Vinci – Weezer
Everything I Didn't Say – 5 Seconds of Summer
Ground Food – Ratboy Jr.
It's Only in Your Head – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Lightning Bolt  – Pearl Jam
On Air – The Pop Ups

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Baldy – Lloyd H. Miller
Best Friend – In The Nick Of Time
Favorite Book – The Bazillions
Great Pretenders Club (feat. HAERTS) – The Pop Ups
The Start of Things – Alison Faith Levy
Turned Out – Paul McCartney
When You're Gone – Mil's Trills

Inter-Boro Funk With the Pop-Ups, Raving With the Salamanders

Ever want to host a dance party for your kids but not want to hire a DJ? Here's a quick solution – subscribe to Amazon Prime Music and stream The Pop-Ups first digital release, THE GREAT PRETENDERS CLUB. Brooklyn's Jason Rabinowitz & Jacob Stein are futuristic guinea pigs for kindie music; boldly going where few artists have dared to travel. You can still purchase a physical CD, but the primary method of distribution for their fourth collection is the Internet giant's attempt to combat Spotify and Pandora.

Ask most adults and they'll tell you that pop-ups (meaning ads) are totally annoying. Ask most teenagers and they'll say pop-ups are for kids (meaning illustrated books with parts that protrude from the pages). Working against that inherent double standard, J & J take their electro-acoustic music and challenge your expectations. Bolstered by a packed video wall featuring tracks from across their recordings, The Pop-Ups want to amuse and work out your children. If the kids learn something in the process, that's they're own fault.

"Bird and Rhino" is kind of a fire prevention song. The primary rhino stomps out fires when he sees and smells them. Dancing is his secondary goal. The narrator of "On the Air" hosts his own imaginary radio program (not a podcast, incidentally), sings songs, and interviews the family dog. I can see my son Matt (approaching 5) graduating to that activity once he gets past re-enacting every live concert he's ever attended, in our living room. Are you and your kids forever losing things around the house? "Treasure Hunter" makes it an adventure. "Animal Birthday Party" disco-fies the typical "party with [insert critter]" concept:

You might say it smells a little unsavory
But I'll celebrate with every animal family
'cause I'm at an animal birthday party.

It's a brave new world for kindie music, with videos, streaming, DVDs, apps, as well as the traditional methods of CDs and LPs (I'm looking at you, Red Yarn). Those who do not embrace technology or at least try to keep in step with the bandwagon may not be here in 5-7 years for the next wave of their audiences. The Pop-Ups are making the leap. In fact, they are encouraging children and families to make the leap with them. Take a listen, embrace the pretend, and leap with eyes open.

THE GREAT PRETENDERS CLUB is available from Amazon Prime Music.

Here is the video for the song "Bird and Rhino" from the Pop-Ups:

Making children's music is serious music that requires serious attention and serious artistry. Yet some of the silliest stuff comes from these intensely serious people. The Salamanders' self-titled debut, THE SALAMANDERS, is chock full of silly. But once you get past that, there's some delightfully thought-out sentiment behind it.

Rambunctious toddlers are on the Salamanders' minds in the lead track, "Please Don't Eat My Guitar." Hands-on experience with a "Brand New Toy" gives the band the opportunity to jam out. The Salamanders make you think there's a thriving kindie music scene in Missoula, Montana – at least when they're making a commotion for audiences. "My Grandma Is a Spy" devolves into a full rave version of "Live and Let Die," which my son Ben (14) identified as a Billy Joel (!) song, mostly due to Joel's recent cover version on the ART OF McCARTNEY CD.

Bandmates Matthew Nord, Andrew Hunt, Brevy Walden, and Antonio Alvarez get to exercise their musical chops on the aptly named "Barefoot Booger Boogie." And the disc wraps with the shuffling "Chickens Go to Hawaii." And honestly, shouldn't every children's CD have a poultry-inspired travelogue? It's hard to grasp an amphibious salamander. These musical Salamanders are looking to grab hold of an audience and, in turn, have that audience declare its allegiance.

It's refreshing to receive children's music CDs from different parts of the country, hear the different perspectives, and share the collective joy. Montana is the fourth largest state but only the 44th in terms of population. Still, that's a lot of children and somebody has to entertain them. However, if the Salamanders seek to move from their natural environment and embark on a larger landscape, perhaps SiriusXM Kids Place is their next destination.

THE SALAMANDERS is available from the band's website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video from the band's song, "Please Don't Eat My Guitar":

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday October 13, 2015

Another Good Year  – Lori Henriques
Caught in the Screen – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Grizzly Bear – Red Yarn
Jelly Beans! – Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips
Motorcycle Mom – The Not-Its!
She Looks So Perfect – 5 Seconds of Summer

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 9, 2015

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
A Bushel And A Peck – Vivi Melody & Family
Get Happy – The Verve Pipe
Tomorrow's People  – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Uh Huh – Dean Jones
Voodoo Doll – 5 Seconds of Summer
Word Crimes – Weird Al Yankovic

Smiles Ahead and Much Love from Vivi Melody

Last week, Amazon Prime Music announced its new streaming service for children's music featuring the Pop-Ups and (upcoming) Lisa Loeb. This week, Mighty Mo Productions goes back to the future to release its first physical CD, a sampler of independent kindie music entitled SMILES AHEAD.

What a difference a week makes, hmmm? It's an era of Kickstarter and Indiegogo and other crowdfunding sites that children's artists (among others) use to scrounge resources to produce music. Are the two concepts diametrically opposed? I'm sure Amazon will embrace music produced independently. Many of the tracks on SMILES AHEAD have been released by the artists themselves, such as Brady Rymer's "Jump Up!" and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo's "You're It!" There is no shortage of exclamation points on this compilation, by the way.

Rissi Palmer brings a touch of soulful country to "Best Day Ever" (not the Spongebob kid's favorite) and local artist Katydid makes her spotlight debut with "The Together Song." Kira Willey's "Gotta Lotta Happy" makes a welcome re-appearance after its debut on her yoga CD earlier this year. As Matthew pointed out when we tracked SMILES AHEAD during dinner, SiriusXM's Kids Place played the song over the weekend. You also get Frances England, Caspar Babypants, and the Okee-Dokee Brothers, among others.

Jim "Mr. Stinky Feet" Cosgrove deserves credit for stepping into an arena where even Disney washed its hands and went back to its tween offerings. Mighty Mo is taking a different path – issuing compilations rather than fully-fleshed brand spanking new music. The Verve Pipe offered up their new anthem, "Get Happy."

SMILES AHEAD is available October 16 from Mighty Mo's website and Amazon.

Speaking of happy times, Vivi Melody and Family are ridiculously delirious. Or deliriously ridiculous. Their new CD, MORE LOVE, is 15 songs that practically club you into a cuddly coma. "All You Need Is Love" features her dad, Don "Poppy" Villemez, doing his best Willie Nelson-esque recital of the lyrics. An ancient favorite, "A Bushel and a Peck" emerges for the second time in a decade, after Randy Kaplan resurrected it for his shows.

As mentioned, MORE LOVE was a Kickstarter effort. Vivi, her family, and puppet (Goober) stay mostly in their Texas home base. But there's a universal appeal to her concept and whose family couldn't use more love nowadays?

Skewing towards the youngest youngsters (who would think "All You Need is Love" is an original composition), Vivi touches on "The Four Seasons" and includes the "Recycling Song" and a happy-everyone's-all-together singalong "Saturday."

There's a basic decency and clarity to MORE LOVE, without any undercurrent of sarcasm or pretense of adult asides. It's hard to promote a puppet through a CD (even Elmo is a tough sell if your kid doesn't see Sesame Street). But that's why Vivi has her YouTube channel.

MORE LOVE is available from Vivi Melody's website, CDBABY, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video from Vivi Melody's song "We Can Still Be Friends," featuring singer Billy David Millican:

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Ben' Playlist - Thursday, October 8, 2015

Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Mama Don't Allow – In The Nick Of Time
Odd Socks – Dean Jones
Oh, Won't You Sit Down – Alex & The Kaleidoscope
Super Hero Rock Band – The Bazillions
The Tale Of The Sun And The Moon – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
That Way  – Chibi Kodama

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 8, 2015

Cheese World – The Dirty Sock Funtime Band
Hey Jude  – Caspar Babypants
I'm Not the Sharpest Tool – Dean Jone
My Favorite Sneakers – In The Nick Of Time
Outside – Alex & The Kaleidoscope
Shake My Sillies Out – Andy Z
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama

Monday, October 05, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Forever Young – Andrew & Polly
Get On Board – Alex & The Kaleidoscope
Kings & Queens – The Hipwaders
My Teacher's An Alien – The Bazillions
Stay Up Late – Dean Jones

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 5, 2015

Bionic (feat. Shiz & Lady Asha) – Father Goose
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
Loving Cup – Cat Doorman
Sing in the Sun – The Harmonica Pocket
Snaggletooth – Dean Jones
Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran

Friday, October 02, 2015

New Stuff from Alex & Kaleidoscope, Joanie Leeds

September swept over me like a storm. In case you didn't notice, it was an epic month for children's CD and DVD releases. Just now, I am catching up and didn't want anyone to think they were lost overboard.

In our trips to Philadelphia, I've kept our eyes open in the local papers for appearances by Alex and the Kaleidoscope. But we've never seemed to be on the same page. Even when the group has appeared in Madison Square Park in Manhattan, the dates just don't work out. Now Alex Mitnick and company have released their new CD, GET ON BOARD! and we've got another reason to keep our eyes peeled.

A musician and educator, Alex combines the familiar mix of lesson songs ("Vegetable Kitchen Town" and "Recycle") with movement songs ("Oh Won't You Sit Down" and "Outside") and family-friendly fun ("Mama's in the Kitchen"). There's a sitar-infused tribute to bugs on "Insect Tourists" and an imagination-play anthem in "Dino Rangers."

Alex's songs cover the checklist of young childhood – from curiosity to nature to emotions. Now a parent of two, his observations are coming through an intimate prism rather than his teaching experiences. Mirroring his own kids' growth, the Kaleidoscope shows maturity and a deep sense of fun.

GET ON BOARD! is available through Alex's website, Amazon, and CDBABY.

Hey! Did I mention that Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights also appeared at Madison Square Park last year? Did I mention that they released the performance as a full-length DVD? Did I mention that you can purchase the entire show AND bonus selections right now?

I could make a host of semitic jokes but she is simply a mensch. Joanie wears her childhood on her sleeve, and not just because her baby left some spittle there. Over the course of her musical evolution, Joanie has blossomed from part-time chartreuse/folksinger into a genuine emerging kindie voice into a standout performer and bandleader. LIVE FROM MADISON SQUARK PARK documents one of the band's last pre-infant concerts, in front of a stellar kid-tastic audience.

As a special treat, I brought the DVD to the beach when we first got it. When the kids got to unwind with some much-needed downtime (confession: the adults needed it as much as the kids), I popped the disk into the player. To my surprise, the kids who had never heard or seen the Nightlights were as engaged as the ones who have heard "Hipster in the Making" dozens of times.

It remains to be seem if Joanie can continue with her CD-a-year pace now that she's got a baby demanding her attention and affection. If the release schedule slows down, at least now there's a winning document of the band at its child-free, child-friendly best.

LIVE FROM MADISON SQUARK PARK is available from Joanie's website.

Here is a video of Joanie Leeds and drummer hubby Dan Barman performing "Happy As a Clam" on the CBS local news:

Amazon Prime Music Slates New Kids Music – Pop-Ups and Lisa Loeb

Children's music (sometimes referred to as the "kindie" movement) has always been a mixed bag. Dan Zanes begat a number of folk artists suddenly recording their versions of Pete Seeger songs. Laurie Berkner inspired multiple moms with guitars to burn demos of their songs to CD to distribute at neighborhood events (and mail them to me in hopes of a positive review).

I don't mean to belittle, pick up, or single out Zanes and Berkner. Their contributions to the field have been immeasurable. I commiserated with the Dirty Sock Funtime Band in August after their performance at Kidstock in Port Washington. Here they were, a band that had national exposure on Nickelodeon, whose videos are still playing on YouTube. Yet they were performing less than a handful of shows a year. "If only Jack's Big Music Show had gotten renewed for a third season..."

Yes, kindie has perpetually been that kid on the carousel, hoping to grab the brass ring when it comes around, and just falling short. Maybe Nickelodeon could have broken more emerging artists. Maybe Disney could have been more supportive when they signed Ralph Covert (Ralph's World) and ran their abbreviated family music tour, instead of pushing their own channel's self-created tween artists.

However using the same contemporary standards, why didn't Columbia House put a sidebar of children's music in their monthly catalogs? Surely there was a market for family-friendly artists to a service that shipped albums across the country for decades. Simply put, either there was no interest, no great demand, or more likely, not enough research and education that demonstrated a significant financial return.

Even the Internet did not create monumental change in children's music. Yes, Eric Herman has 27 million views of The Elephant Song on his YouTube channel. But has that translated into international super-stardom? Ask a classroom of first graders who Eric Herman is (sorry to use you as an example, Eric). Go on, I'll wait.

Live performances and selling merch are the lifeblood of kindie music. Videos are great to grab eyeballs but you need to excite kids (and their parents) to WANT to share a communal experience. Teach a man to fish, bring a child to live music, it's one and the same concept. Streaming services pay such a fractional amount of money that several kindie artists such as Joanie Leeds and Alastair Moock took to Facebook to belittle their royalties for thousands and thousands of plays (through unnamed famous sites). When we saw Uncle Rock perform at Symphony Space a few years back, he ridiculed the pittance that services passed along to artists for their material. There was a fear of the future, as the center was clearly not holding and the failures of the past were a minefield of busted valises.

Amazon Prime is making the latest attempt to break from the pack. The company has announced its own original streaming children's music service (with physical CDs for some luddite reviewers such as I). The first two artists on the roster are New York natives The Pop-Ups (with their October release), THE GREAT PRETENDERS CLUB and Lisa Loeb (with her fourth children's CD, NURSERY RHYME PARADE).

There are those who should be jumping for joy – Amazon is a colossus and exposure through its distribution channel should be an amazing accomplishment. On the other hand, Amazon is such a colossus that I wonder how much attention and TLC such a niche venture as children's music will receive. Will Amazon attempt to compete with SiriusXM Kids Place and schedule concerts with their contracted artists? Will they help brand and market their performers when they're on tour? Will Amazon Music provide more than a clickable button on its Prime page and feature a monthly children's artist? Answers to these questions will quickly become apparent in the next quarter.

In the meantime, I welcome Amazon Prime to the table. At least they are making an effort to support a genre that has been woefully under-utilized not only during my children's lifetimes, but during MY lifetime. I remember seeing orchestral performances of The Magic Flute and Tubby the Tuba. I saw Marcel Marceau. I saw the Paper Bag Players. I do not have memories of children's musical acts. In fact, children's music is so segregated from its audience that the wikipedia entry jumps from "Puff the Magic Dragon," Peter Paul and Mary, and Sesame Street (1969) to Raffi in the late 1970s. To paraphrase the Pretenders, "My childhood was gone."

I am cautiously optimistic about this new venture from Amazon Prime. Even if it craters (fingers crossed), the service will no doubt invigorate the kindie movement, support deserving artists, and generate an exciting year for the industry. I can only imagine the conversations at KindieComm 2016. Not to mention the next batch of moms with guitars CDs coming my way.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 2, 2015

Carry a Tune – Recess Monkey
Free Ride Everyday – Lori Henriques
I've Had It Up To Here – Weezer
Let The Records Play – Pearl Jam
Mooshpie – The Whirlygigs
Sugar – Maroon 5