Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ben's Final 2016 Playlist - Friday, December 30, 2016

Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Fresh Spokes (Featuring Susan Lapidus) – Hot Peas 'n Butter
Groove – Lori Henriques
How Can You Tell If It's Going to Rain? – Andrew & Polly
Loving Cup –  Cat Doorman
Tae Kwon Do – Bob and Luc Schneider

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Drifting on the Edges With Mo Phillips

Long ago, Mo Phillips came to Earth on the back of a ginormous intergalactic leatherback turtle that deposited him into the mountains of Colorado. He ultimately landed in Portland, Oregon where he embarked on many careers, including that of a children's recording artist. His latest CD, SPECTACULAR DAYDREAM, serves many purposes as well, including a ukelele primer for beginners.

Indeed, you can visit Mo's home page (or go directly to his YouTube channel) and view instructional videos for many of the songs on the new disc, including the title track, "Five Blankets On," and "Moonboots." The CD is a departure from the generally genial Phillips, adding an almost ethereal quality with the gentle uke leads.

The enclosed booklet (I'd advise purchasing that rather than a straight MP3 download) contain lyrics as well as chord changes for all 12 tracks. You also get guest appearances from fellow Portland artists Red Yarn, Little Sea, and Lincoln Crockett. What does the album concern itself with? Mostly flights of fancy like "Jump Inside a Book" and "Ode to Bed." As far as "Moonboots," did you know that they're made out of french toast? True story:

Got me a new pair of moonboots.
And I'm gonna fly.
Cause that's what I wanna do.

got you a silver pair too.
And you're gonna fly.
Cause that's what you wanna do.

These boots are made outta french toast.
The moon is made outta french toast.
This song is made outta french toast.
Your ears are made outta french toast.

Mo is ably assisted by a bevy of musicians, including a different Zac Brown (we discussed it). There's a gentle timelessness to the music, principally due to the absence of guitars. The fanciful illustrations are by Lynsee Sardell (check out her artwork). SPECTACULAR DAYDREAM is a rainy day tranquility antidote, for when you'd rather roll than rock. There are not many lessons to be learned here, unless you yearn to uke. But you will be entertained by the wistful, otherworldly nature of the tunes.

You can buy SPECTACULAR DAYDREAM through Mo Phillips' website, Amazon, or iTunes.

Here is the instructional video for "Moonboots":

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, December 22, 2016

Alligator Get-Together – Key Wilde And Mr. Clarke
Banana Bread – Caspar Babypants
Brain Freeze – The Not-Its!
Christmas Eve on the Woodstock Green – Ratboy Jr.
People Watching – Dean Jones
The Ultimate Frisbee – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Junie B. Jones the Musical – CD for Girls and Boys

It's tough to get boys to read. Comic books used to stem the tide but they were overtaken by videogames more than a decade ago. Graphic novels hold only a fraction of the male audience that previously read Batman and Spider-Man. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID caused a sensation (and a slew of imitators) but my younger son Matt is not in that demographic yet.

In the meantime, I was stunned when Matt expressed interest in the Junie B. Jones series of books. We were passed along a copy of the 17th book, where the character graduates from kindergarten. This was at the same time that he was moving up to first grade as well. With his birthday fast approaching, he asked for more books in the series. I see Matt advancing past the books at some point, but there are many more in the series – and now a live-action musical.

JUNIE B. JONES: THE MUSICAL CAST ALBUM, written by the team of Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, is being released next month. The production is being performed around the country by different companies and a "junior" production for school kids is also in the works.

For the uninitiated, Junie B. Jones is a rambunctious first-grader (in line with an older Ramona Quimby). She has a mother and father, a baby brother, and a host of supporting friends and family members. The stories are simple – Junie becomes a first grader, must make new friends, and deals with having to get glasses. Author Barbara Park (and illustrator Denise Brunkus) allow Junie to explain her actions, even when she is clearly being manipulative, spiteful, or just plain wrong. And there is generally a happy resolution to every story.

JUNIE B. JONES THE MUSICAL tackles several storylines from the first grade books, including a kickball tournament. Kids theater productions generally run one hour and the CD is 30 minutes, so newcomers may want to read a few of the books or see the stage show. I was able to fill in the blanks in my head, but younger listeners may need another medium to accomplish that task.

The Goldrich and Heisler production is friendly and breezy and the vocals (principally Lori Casteel as Junie) are winning and earnest, with nary a hint of world-weariness or sarcasm. I could tell that Matt was enjoying the CD when we left the car and he continued to sing the opening track, "Top Secret Personal Beeswax." His older brother also sang along, but he just likes to provide harmony.

We're a musically-based family and I appreciate the synergy between theater and music. When the primary mechanism is reading, it's a pleasant bonus. Literacy is a key component of Matt's curriculum. Usually music is an incentive to get him to read. In the case of JUNIE B. JONES, he's already into the books and the musical is an added surprise. I'll be on the lookout for a production in our area in 2017.

JUNIE B. JONES THE MUSICAL CAST ALBUM will be available on January 13 from Amazon and other etailers. Follow the Facebook page or Ticketmaster to find out where the production is being performed.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, December 16, 2016

Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Clap Your Hands – Red Yarn & Mo Phillips
Eyes on the Prize – Cat Doorman
I Don’t Wanna Live Forever – Taylor Swift, Zayn Malik
I Dreamed I Could Fly – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Must Be This Tall – Justin Roberts
Thank You (feat. R. City) – Meghan Trainor

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ring in the Holidays at LICM With Leeds & Nightlights

As the holidays boil to their inevitable eruption point, it's good to have the kids blow off some steam in a somewhat controlled environment. Such a space is the Long Island Children's Museum. Such an occasion is this weekend's holiday party featuring Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights.

An award-winning songwriter and performer, Joanie has also recorded secular music (translation = religion-specific) for Jewish children, some for the PJ Library. Her song "Family Tree" with Jonatha Brooke was honored as top children's song by the USA Songwriting Competition in 2013 (note to USA site - you need a clear link to past winners).

The LICM concert venue is small and welcoming. Kids can sit in a close-up "low" section or at a comfortable (not so) distance. Check my YouTube channel for performances there by Brady Rymer and Billy Kelly in past December visits.

The concert is almost a bonus, as your kids can also peruse the exhibits at the LICM, such as Bricks & Sticks (investigate, build, and shape a three-dimensional world using a variety of building blocks and interactive software), Building Boom with KEVA Planks, Feasts for Beasts (explore the amazing ways animals find and eat their food), and ToolBox (construct your own creations at the carpentry bench with hammers, nails, pliers, and more).

Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights present “Holiday Parties” Saturday, December 17 at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Fee: $9 per seat with museum admission ($7 per seat for LICM members), $12 theater only.

Here's a video of Joanie performing solo in Union Square Park this past summer:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

All In A Day – Alastair Moock & Friends
Frozen Penguin – Caspar Babypants
Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
Only One You – Danny Weinkauf
That Way – Chibi Kodama
What Kind Of Fruit – Dean Jones

Justin, Not Naptime Players Entertain in NYC

One of the benefits of having a child with almost total recall is being able to ask a question with the confidence of receiving an absolute answer. When I asked Ben how many times we had seen Justin Roberts, there was a split-second of calculation (I don't remember the exact number, but it was impressive). Just counting venues, there's Symphony Space and New Victory Theater as well as World Cafe in Philly.

We returned to Symphony Space on Saturday, December 10 for a performance by Justin and the Not Ready for Naptime Players. The last time Justin played there (November 2015), it was a stripped-down three-man show with Liam Davis and Gerald Dowd. Going further back (April 2015) was our last show with the full band. So we were stoked and ready to see full-band versions of songs from the latest CD, LEMONADE.

The band brought out some rarely-played songs, such as their ballad "Wishing You A Holiday" and a rocking "Jingle Bells." Since it was coincidentally Justin's birthday, "It's Your Birthday" drew special significance from the crowd.

I would normally shoot 3-4 videos from the one-hour show. That's been my procedure at this venue and other facilities for the last 10+ years. However midway through my third recording, I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Excuse me, sir..." This has happened before. The ensuing conversation can go two ways, either "You're blocking my child's view" or in this case, a staffer informing me that "house management prohibits videos except of your own child enjoying the show."

I don't know who instructed him to shut me down but I didn't protest. I matter-of-factedly stated I've recorded songs before – for my blog – including this performer and this venue. Then I turned off the camcorder and enjoyed the rest of the performance. Which was very entertaining.

The show wrapped with the band doing an encore. "We're from Chicago and we're quite happy with how the baseball season ended," Justin said. Then the band launched into a spirited rendition of "Pop Fly." A reminder that as we prepare for winter, spring training is just around the corner. And summer music and sunny songs are just a playlist click away.

Purchase Justin's latest CD, LEMONADE, from his website.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

All the Pretty Horses – Cat Doorman
DJ All Day – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Every Day's A Holiday – Alastair Moock & Friends
Here Comes The Sun – Andrew & Polly
Look At Those Clouds – Danny Weinkauf
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Wind in Our Sail – Weezer

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Monday, December 12, 2016

Bop Bodiop! – Cat Doorman
Have You Ever Been Real – Dean Jones
Jersey Dinosaurs – Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
King of the World – Weezer
Love You Always – Lucy Kalantari
Rattlesnake – Caspar Babypants
The Start of Things – Alison Faith Levy

Monday, December 05, 2016

Justin Roberts: New Kangaroo Video and Tour Dates

It might be December but the sun is still shining warmly on Justin Roberts. With multiple awards, a second children's book coming in January, and an acclaimed new CD (his 13th), the vaunted recording artist is keeping busy.

Justin recently received plaudits as one of the "top 10 kid's CDs" for 2016 from Ohio's School Library Journal. The rarified air on the list includes Lisa Loeb, Frances England, Recess Monkey, the Okee Dokee Brothers, among others (but not Secret Agent 23 Skidoo).

To support his latest CD, LEMONADE, Justin has released a new video for the song "Me and My Kangaroo" (viewable below). It's a speculative discourse between a fantasy marsupial and his daydreaming mammal manufacturer.

Justin has embarked on a winter tour that will bring him to New York's Symphony Space on Saturday, December 10 and the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School in Pennsylvania on Sunday, December 11. Further out, Justin and his Not Ready for Naptime Players will trek to Malibu, Des Moines, and Birmingham. Click here for more tour dates.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Ben's Playlist - Friday, December 2, 2016

Big Things – Lucy Kalantari
Calling All the Kids to the Yard – Cat Doorman
Crazy Mountain Road – Eric Herman And The Invisible Band
Don't Fence Me In – Andy Z
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
My Magic Helicopter – Danny Weinkauf
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
20 More Dollars – Chibi Kodama

Dan Zanes' Holiday Show, Reflecting on Civil Rights

Families are all about traditions.

Dan Zanes and his extended family of musical friends will return to City Winery this Sunday, December 4 (11 am) for his 6th Annual Dan Zanes & Friends Holiday Sing-A-Long. This year's edition features special guests and a multicultural selection of holiday songs.

During his tenure in children's music, Dan has constantly redefined his role. He's been called a folkie, an archivist, and a storyteller. If I had to describe Dan Zanes as a musician, I wouldn't call him a self-made man, I'd call him a handmade man. Now he's rebranded himself as "21st Century All Ages Music," as per his website. Dan's world is a house party, just don't expect to hear "House Party" at every show.

The Holiday Sing-A-Long is a sensory friendly show, with a comfortable environment for all children. Much thought has been given to those with special needs, meaning there will be a manageable degree of stimuli and a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere.

The holidays are the perfect time to introduce a child to live music – they are bombarded with traditional favorites as well as contemporary remixes. Why not take the opportunity and open a door to a world of possibilities?

People who don't feel comfortable singing or dancing need not worry about being coerced. And all families will receive songbooks when they arrive, so they may participate in the concert.

Click here for information about tickets to Dan Zanes & Friends Holiday Sing-A-Long at City Winery.

Here's a lead I thought I'd never write:

The Lincoln Financial Group ha underwritten an audio anthology for children, WE STOOD UP: REFLECTIONS ON THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. The album is free for download for teachers, libraries, and community groups. And that's exactly where it belongs. This is an earnest collection of spoken word histories and recollections on the battle for desegregation in the United States. Maya Angelou's great-granddaughter Caylin Johnson does a reading of "Caged Bird." The late Julian Bond makes his points, as does Congressman John Lewis.

Is this a perfect holiday gift. No. Is it a stocking stuffer? No. But Lincoln Financial believes (rightly so) that these are important stories, songs, and poems to share with new generations. And this CD, released as part of its Lincoln's Legacy initiative, is a linchpin during the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment.

WE STOOD UP: REFLECTIONS ON THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT is available for download through this link.