Monday, October 21, 2019

Rockness Monsters Cover a Century of Music in 27 Minutes

Some people take music for granted. Others are constantly amazed at discovering new genres and performers as they grow older. Then there are the people who are fortunate to be "born into the life," with parents or relatives inside the industry. That happened with Michael Napolitano, frontman for Michael and the Rockness Monsters. His father, a professional drummer, turned their house into a homeschooling program filled with records and live concert experiences. Michael worked for 10 years with the Blue Man Group, then started his "Rockness Music" music education program. Ten years later, the curriculum is currently established at more than one dozen metropolitan locations in New York and New Jersey.

The Rockness Monsters themselves are busting out with a new collection of songs that was 100 years in the making. I guess Michael could have waited until January to release SEEING LIFE IN 2020, but here we are and here it is – a concept CD with 11 songs, each representing a decade from 1920 to present day. Chronologically, Michael and guest singer Lucy Kalantari duet on "Side by Side," re-popularized for kindie audiences in 2002 by Dan Zanes. That's the same year Elizabeth Mitchell released her version of "You Are My Sunshine," the selection for the 1930s. Here it's sung by Michael's daughters (Sienna and Emilia), but this Carter Family classic is the perfect "you can't spoil" song.

Novelty songs instead of big band and bland pop singers grab the 1940s and 1950s, with "Mairzy Doats" and "Choo'n Gum." My family has a personal connection to the Teresa Brewer tune, which was often sung to Ben by his grandfather when he was a toddler. As the country dealt with World War II and the Korean War, such tunes were necessary to distract the public and keep morale upbeat. Continuing that theme are The Beatles' "All Together Now" and the Pointer Sisters "Yes We Can Can," which move the groove into the modern era, featuring über producer Dean Jones on trombone.

Keyboards conquer guitars (who could really compare to Eddie Van Halen) on the 1980s hard rocking classic "Jump." And Randy Newman's "You've Got A Friend In Me" remains one of the most durable songs from the 1990s. Fun fact: The tune lost the Academy Award for Best Song to Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz's "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas. Newman got the last laugh - the tune has appeared in four films, as well as cover versions by Michael Bublé, Rex Orange County, and now the Rockness Monsters.

Junior Senior's dance floor favorite "Move Your Feet" gets us into the 2000s. For what it's worth, it's a more mellow version than Junior's or last year's cover by Josh and the Jamtones and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. A song from the TV series Nashville, "A Life That's Good," also featuring his daughters, sweetly closes the collection. Oh – and the title track leads off, with a "They Didn't Start the Fire/End of the World As We Know It" list of cultural milestones. It's hard to cram 100 years of music into a CD with a playing time of less than 30 minutes, but Michael is a monster on a mission. Therefore SEEING LIFE IN 2020 is his (pardon the pun) monster opus.

SEEING LIFE IN 2020 is available from the Rockness Monsters website, Amazon, CDBABY, and Apple Music.

Here is an animated video of the band performing "Woodpecker":

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, October 21, 2019

Always Home – Duke Otherwise
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Helicopter Leaves – Ants Ants Ants
Shine It Up – Caspar Babypants
You've Got A Friend In Me – Michael & The Rockness Monsters

Friday, October 18, 2019

Quick Hits: New Koo Koo Kanga Roo Video; Story Pirates Podcast

Life is full of freaky coincidences. I took the kids to see the Dreamworks' animated film ABOMINABLE this past weekend. Among the coming attractions was a sequel, TROLLS WORLD TOUR. The first film was a jukebox of popular music and the second film looks to continue the trend. But one character resonated when I saw the new video from Koo Koo Kango Roo – a newborn to a glittery troll who (incongruously) sings a hip-hop song about glitter. The boys' new video is for their song, "Glitter," and they've indeed beaten an entire movie studio to the punch!



The Story Pirates have launched season three of their podcast. Episode one features two new stories: “The Bear That Couldn’t Disco,” a synth pop tune about a boogieing bear and “The Slowest Elevator in the World,” recounting a truly extreme test of patience. The segments were based on submissions written by 7 year old Taylor from Rhode Island (Bear) and  8 year old Sam from California (Elevator). The first story stars Broadway leading man Alex Brightman (Beetlejuice) and more special guests are promised for upcoming installments.

Story Pirates Changemakers, the non-profit arm of the organization, have brought life-changing literacy programs to more than 500,000 students. Visit Storypirates.org to learn more.

And for the podcast itself, go here to directly download the show.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 17, 2019

Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Jump – Michael & The Rockness Monsters
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Who In The Circus Is Me? – Caspar Babypants

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Anything Can Be A Hat – Ratboy Jr.
Everything Has A Song – Caspar Babypants
School's Out! – The Not-Its and Kid Pan Alley
Side By Side (Featuring Lucy Kalantari) – Michael & The Rockness Monsters
Taco Tuesday  – The Lucky Band
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

No More Waiting: New Laurie Berkner Music

There are many factors that go into account for longevity – consistency, material, and audience retention being the most important. The last one is key, especially for children's musicians, who cycle through a listener base every 3-5 years. For a truly transcendent few, the first two elements have made the third a non-factor. Included on that short list is Laurie Berkner, the Queen of Children's Music.

In her second decade as one of the industry's gold standards, The Laurie Berkner Band has returned with her 13th release, WAITING FOR THE ELEVATOR. A frequent subject in kid's music is impatience, and the title track addresses it with tact and humor. "A Dollar" delivers a simple math message, "Did You Go To Ohio?" explores road trips, and "Do You Hear The Bells?" is a delightful real-life story with guest vocals by Broadway lead Gavin Creel (Waitress, Hair!, Hello Dolly):

I can hear the bells out my window
I can hear the way that they sing
And every time they chime
I can tell the time
I just count how many times they ring.

One size doesn't fit everyone anymore. A 50-minute album of acoustic guitar tunes doesn't remain in rotation very long. With that in mind, Laurie and company use rap, funk, acoustic, and sweet harmonies to make their points while keeping primary focus on entertainment. Family time is covered, with "I Love You Daddy" followed swiftly by "A hug From My Mama." Kids being proud of learning is the subject of "I Know How That Works." Laurie explains how to deal with negative emotions in a positive way on "I Am Angry (Yes I Am)." And the CD closes with a Spanish version of one of her most popular songs, "Somos Los Dinosaurios."

Laurie and veteran keyboard player Susie Lampert comprise the heart of the Berkner Band. Drummer Bobby Golden and bassist Brady Rymer (oh yeah, him!) ably complete the quartet, which looks to continue their genial domination of children's hearts and minds leading into 2020. For all she's accomplished with her past recordings, WAITING FOR THE ELEVATOR proves to be lucky number 13 for Laurie Berkner.

WAITING FOR THE ELEVATOR is available from Laurie Berkner's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is a recent "Fan-Tastic Friday" video post of Laurie singing "Googleheads":

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Quick Hits: Videos from Sara Lovell and the BanAnna Band

Sara Lovell's latest video, "The Dark Side of My Room," is from her last studio CD, which came out in 2018. Featuring her son, Gabe, the video shows what happens when your imagination goes wild after the sun goes down.



The BenAnna Band is brand new. As in, they just started uploading videos to YouTube. The duo (with friends who drop by) plays pop/throwback covers, traditional favorites, and original tunes based around developmental play and community-based learning, with an emphasis on the silly for very young listeners. Ben and Anna started with "Twist and Shout" and "La Bamba." For their latest installment, they cover Rebecca Frezza's "Music in My Heart":

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Quick Hits: Schwartz Comes Alive, New 23 Skidoo Halloween Song

What if children's music never evolved? What if you could stream – or slip in a CD – or spin a record – and the songs remained the same, as Led Zeppelin once remarked? You have that opportunity with DITTO KIDDO, the new release from Stephen Michael Schwartz that plays as if preserved in amber for the past 40 years.

On DITTO KIDDO, there's no conflict, no negativity, and all the kids want to do is play a good game of hopscotch (Incidentally, when the song played, I asked my eight-year-old if kids in his school played hopscotch and he had no idea what I was even talking about). Stephen has been involved in the children's music business for decades, so he's not exactly unaware of the world climate. He just wants to take the temperature of very insular young children without drawing attention to climate change, divisive politics, gender confusion, or even fights in the school lunchroom. DITTO KIDDO is all about love, family, and positive activities. For anything deeper than that, you can always turn on your TV (when you've set up the parental restrictions settings).

DITTO KIDDO is available from Stephen Michael Schwartz's website, CDBABY, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo combines his love of classical music with the spookiness of All Hallows Eve for his new song, "Ain't No Party Like Halloween." The song is a hip-hop rendition combining Edvard Greig's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" mixed with Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." Here is the video:

Friday, October 04, 2019

Quick Hits: Say Yellow to Gustafer Book and Purple Fox Halloween CD

Gustafer Yellowgold came from the sun. That was established nearly 15 years ago by musician Morgan Taylor. Now it's time for his origin story – and for that, Morgan has turned to Audible, where the music mixes with a full-length children's story, "The Minnesota Chronicles."

Following last year's "I'm From The Sun," part two leads off quite logically asking "What's a chronicle?" The whimsical tale lays out the perilous journey that Gustafer undertook to travel from the Sun to the Earth to seek a cure for his ultra-fare "Ice-Cream-Cone-Heart." Interspersed throughout the story are Morgan's inventive songs, produced on this occasion by über-producer Dean Jones.

Gustafer has evolved into a Taylor family business, as spouse Rachel Loshak and their kids (and Dean's) fill out vocal parts, on such sing-along tracks as "It's All Who You Know" and "He's Not All There." Some Gustafer favorites make return appearances to reintroduce characters, including "Pinecone Lovely" and "Pterodactyl Tuxedo." If you haven't jumped on the Gustafer wave, here's your opportunity. And you don't have the excuse of traveling from the Sun.

Sample "The Minnesota Chronicles" or download the entire story and songs here from Soundcloud.

Here is a video preview of "The Minnesota Chronicles":


Based in Silicon Valley, Josh Friedman's Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies debuts their new release, SOMETHING'S BREWING...IT'S HALLOWEEN! as the fall season rolls around. The psychedelic funkfest that is the Jeebies gives you a full 16 tracks of All Hallow's Eve fun, covering all the bases, from "I'm Just a Goblin Named Gary" to "Zombie Brain Freeze Tag."

A band with a name as complex as theirs, the Jeebies also has a roster that defies listing in its entirety. But their eyes are on the prize – a concept album covering all things spooky and special. Josh goes full Bob Dylan for "Old Zonkey Donkey," gives a bluesy groove to "Potion to Make the Perfect Tune," and visits East LA for the album-closing "Mi Zorrito Morado," which translates into... wait for it... my purple fox. So everything goes full circle, much like the seasons, which bring us back to Halloween every October.

SOMETHING'S BREWING...IT'S HALLOWEEN is available from Purple Fox's website, Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Music, CDBABY, and Amazon.

 Here is the video for the band's NPR Tiny Desk Concert featuring "The Manners Suite":

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, October 4, 2019

Bring My Chimpy Home – Caspar Babypants
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Garden of Your Mind – Andrew & Polly
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
In My Nintendo – Jack Forman
Thank You For Being You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Who, What, When, Where, Why – The Bazillions

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, October 3, 2019

Ain't No Party Like Halloween – Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
Buenos Dias – The Lucky Band
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
Noodles And Butter – Caspar Babypants
People Watching – Dean Jones
That's My Style – The Bazillions

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Lori Henriques and the New Jazz Age of Kindie

Let's have some jazz hands all around for the renaissance of jazz-infused children's music. Not to make light of the development, but the surge can traced back to Lucy Kalantari winning a Grammy for her recordings. I'd say roughly three of the past six releases sent for review this summer were either jazz or jazz-adjacent. Now Lori Henriques, no jazz naif, returns with her entry, WHAT DO YOU WISH.

Herself a former Grammy nominee, Lori's latest collection is as close to Steely Dan for pre-teens as you're likely to hear. WHAT DO YOU WISH is as tight, coiled, and polished as any recording that Becker and Fagen ever put on disk. The horn arrangements, guitar solos, and backing vocals scream "soft jazz" and fill the air with ambient grooves.

Lori has remixed her song "Everlovin' Water" with help from keyboard player Aubrey Scarbrough, and given it a full funked-up arrangement. The tune is a literate "Schoolhouse Rock" explanation of the importance – and placement – of water, inside and outside of our bodies.

If anything, Lori is a little too ambitious. For instance, "Compassion" is a nice concept and the song strives to list people whose contributions make the world a better, more humane environment. But how many kids are going to take the time to Google (as I did) Simone Campbell, Cornell West, Krista Tippett, and Maria Popova, just to name a few? The gratitude theme works best on tracks like "I Like Myself," where she sings "I like myself, I do, and when I like myself, it's easy to like you," and the percussive "Life Is Yes," about the positivity of embracing experiences.

Let's all sit back, put on our best headphones, and revel in the New Jazz Age of children's music. Much like the other artists, Lori Henriques uses the form to celebrate the simple, everyday interactions between people. If anything, WHAT DO YOU WISH is a collection that answers its own question; what anyone would wish for is what they are hearing being lauded.

WHAT DO YOU WISH is available on Lori Henriques' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for "Everlovin' Water":

Friday, September 27, 2019

Quick Hits: Koo Koo Kanga Roo's Salad, Lucy Kalantari Halloween Tune

Koo Koo Kanga Roo are poised for a touring swing to support new music. The latest video to their song, "Salad," is just as amusing and clever as past favorites. View it below, and click through to their Web site for upcoming appearances.



Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari (and the Jazz Cats) have released a Halloween mini-set. You can grab the set list on Soundcloud.

Their brand now song, "Flick of My Wrist," is the story of a young witch who
goes a little too power-crazy, and learns that there are penalties for your misdeeds or wrong-headed thinking. The Jazz Cats provide ably backup, and the song even features a six-year-old cello (admittedly, her own son).

You can listen to "Flick of My Wrist" on Amazon and her website.

And here it is, now on YouTube:


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Andrew and Polly Go For the Moon

Andrew (Barkan) and Polly (Hall) know something that I don't. Which is why they record children's music and I write about it. Who would have though to turn Smashmouth's "All-Star" into a natural kid's tune? That's the lead track on their new CD, GO FOR THE MOON, and all I could say was "Well, of course it is." The sentiment comes from the famous speech by President John F. Kennedy, where he challenged America to win the space race. Smashmouth dropped the sound bite into their original 1999 track, and A&P have remixed it for maximum impact.

The popular Los Angeles duo have mind-melded with kids around the country over healthy snacks ("Grapes") and goopy phantoms ("Ghostbusters"). Their latest release stays the course and advances the cause, whether it's the inability to recall what to call a mommy friend ("Mom's Name" with SiriusXM favorite Mike Phirman), laughing your brass off with corny jokes ("Brass Chuckles"), or getting giddy about a field trip ("Aquarium," featuring frequent collaborator Mista Cookie Jar).

Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari (becoming a ubiquitous children's music presence these days) guests on the laconic sketch "Three Chartreuse Buzzards." And when I commented, "This sounds familiar," at the start of "Garden Of Your Mind," Ben promptly reminded me 'It's Mr. Rogers," which made me more happy than I ever imagined. When he was younger, PBS was showing episodes of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood twice a week. I recorded two months worth and burned them onto DVDs, which he watched with what I thought was tepid interest. But something did stick in his memory.

Andrew and Polly also host the musical podcast, "Ear Snacks" that teaches kids about the world. Each episode highlights music, science, art and culture in an all-inclusive, family-friendly environment for parents and their children. See below for a recent episode.

The duo have a propensity for sprinkling kindie dust on miscellaneous musical entrees and reimagining them for young listeners. Pete Townsend's "Let My Love Open The Door" was a 2018 revelation. GO FOR THE MOON's "All-Star" undergoes the same transformation. However, Roger Miller's "You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd" remains a tough chestnut to crack. Even so, GO FOR THE MOON is a mirthful, entertaining concoction of treats for developing senses, sensitivities, and sensibilities.

GO FOR THE MOON is available on September 27 from Andrew and Polly's website, CDBABY, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the Ear Snacks podcast, "Road Trip Mixtape 2019":

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 20, 2019

Backstroke Raptor – Story Pirates
Belching Fire – Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies
Clown Shoes – Ratboy Jr.
El Corazon – The Lucky Band
Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Stumble Into You – Jack Forman
You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd – Andrew & Polly

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

All Star – Andrew & Polly
Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
The Man – Taylor Swift
Me And You – Caspar Babypants
New Pair Of Shoes – The Bazillions
People Watching – Dean Jones

A Royal Return for Duke Otherwise

What did people do before television? Well, there was radio. What did people do before radio? Well, there was music. For centuries. It's the most constant form of entertainment and it can be made by anyone. That doesn't mean that just anyone should make music, but that's another story. You can make music anywhere, using almost anything as your instrument. And in the dark and cold of winter, that's a delightful distraction from the possibility of frostbite and worse.

Which brings us to Wisconsin's Duke Otherwise, who recorded his third CD, KITH & KIN, in a lake cabin in the middle of a frigid winter. His name seems to indicate jazz roots (i.e., Ellington vs Otherwise), but Mr. Otherwise instead harkens back to folk traditions on tracks like "Yodeling Lament," which ends with a manic rap riff. Spoiler alert: Although Mr. Otherwise claims a proficiency in many vocations, the yodeling on this song was completed by a less yodeling-impaired performer.

Mr. Otherwise talks the talk for young audiences. When a third grader's fancy turns to their teachers, he delivers the wistful "Elementary Crush," where the protagonist imagines marriage will end his penmanship homework (except for carving their names in a tree). There's an interstitial saga of a mother passive-aggressively ordering her son Billy to put down his sister (no spoiler here). The siblings on "Twins" insist they are alike, while the lyrics say otherwise. "Eats Like You" spins some fanciful wordplay describing animals and their dining habits in comparison to a picky child:

I know a ferret who likes to eat carrots
A popcorn-poppin' parrot who never wants to share it
A muffin-eating puffin, a turkey who stuffs himself with stuffing
I know a turtle who loves to eat tufu
But I've never met anyone who eats like you

Sentimentally, Mr. Otherwise goes back to the genesis of music as original entertainment on KITH & KIN's closer, "Always Home." He sings about everyone living so far away and how cold it is outside (although it's ostensively about animals in their shells and burrows). The modern world has become a smaller place through social media and interconnectivity, but Mr. Otherwise shows that children (most of whom don't have Facebook accounts) are acutely aware of the enormity of our planet. He addresses their concerns with a deft touch, humor, and even a tap dance. It may not be a frigid night in a lakeside cabin, but KITH & KIN sounds like home anywhere.

KITH & KIN is available on Duke Otherwise's website, Amazon, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Here is a live performance of Duke singing "What Kind of Hairdo Do You Do?":

Friday, September 13, 2019

Quick Hits: New Music from ScribbleMonster and Uncle Dox

As the leaves begin to crinkle and brown, ready for their descent from the trees, children's music artists' focus turns as well. Indeed, I can report on new songs from Uncle Dox and the long-absent ScribbleMonster.

It's been a while since ScribbleJim and ScribbleJayne released new material, but the band has turned to children's books in the break (three to date), and continued their live performances. And apparently there's a Greatest Hits compilation coming in 2020. In the meantime, here's "Amazing Brain," their power-pop, positive-values ode to using your noodle and not taking yourself for granted.

Take a listen now at Soundcloud. And find their catalog now on Amazon Music

Uncle Dox has issued "Laser Beam Eyes," a 1980s rap throwback with sound effects that will satisfy all video game players (from two generations). And there's more to come in the near future.

You can find "Laser Beam Eyes" on SoundcloudSpotifyBandcamp, and Facebook.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Oran Etkin Speaks to Children Through World Music

Children's music and music education are not mutually exclusive. But organically fusing the two concepts is a risky proposition. Get too preachy and the kids won't go for it. Yet if you're too obtuse, you do your source material a disservice. Internationally acclaimed jazz clarinetist and composer Oran Etkin looked for a way to build deep musical connections across cultural boundaries. The initial result was the Timbalooloo method of introducing young children to music. The second – a resulting CD of musical selections – is now a reality, as FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME: A JOURNEY WITH CLARA NET.

Passing on the joy of music through generations is Oran's mission. To manifest his destiny, in 2005 he founded Timbalooloo, which re-imagines teaching children to become fluent in the language of music. Timbalooloo uses a creative alternative approach to music education, as well as concert performances, recordings and video content, engaging children around the world to speak an international language of music with the same fluency as their mother tongue.

FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME was recorded and filmed on location in Zimbabwe, Turkey, Czech Republic, Japan, and China with representatives of each country’s traditional music as well as instruments indigenous to that region. Oran uses the concept of his instrument (Clara Net the clarinet) as a method of communication (hence, speaking through song to the world). For instance, the song "Kutapira" was recorded with Musekiwa Chingodza, a Zimbabwean spiritual master of the mbira (thumb piano).  On other tracks, Clara and Oran interact with new instrument friends like the accordion, kopuz, balalaika, and shamisen. These instruments have individual personalities (discussed during introductory pieces before each song) that evoke a range of feelings, from joy and humor, to weariness and sadness.

There are lullabies, dancing songs, and fanciful tales of nature on FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME. You wouldn't think a two-string musical instrument could convey emotion. But that's what happens on the Japanese "Mo Li Hua." Oran merges his love for disparate cultures and bringing together children with the music native to those regions. His accomplishment is showcasing that music is indeed a language that expresses intense emotion for young children. FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME may inspire children to investigate in more depth than they're used to; music is indeed a worldwide adventure for Oran Etkin. Have clarinet, will travel.

FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME: A JOURNEY WITH CLARA NET is available from TimbaloolooApple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for Oran's song, "Kutapira":

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Quick Hits: From Jazz to Hip-Hop With Camille Harris, Father Goose

Jazz is making a comeback. Jazz fans may object to that wording and declare "jazz doesn't NEED to make a comeback, it's doing fine!" But they wouldn't argue that more jazz appreciation wouldn't be a bad thing. To wit, a resurgence of jazz-infused children's music, including defending Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari. Now Brooklyn's own Camille Harris resumes her so-called silly jazz contributions with her fourth CD, BABY ON THE SUBWAY.

A veteran of musical theater and stand-up comedy, Camille uses her quirky sense of humor and unique toolbox to bang new life into such chestnuts as "Muffin Man," "Old MacDonald," and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." The CD opens with “Jiggly Wiggly,” featuring a strong Latin accent and a trumpet solo by Wayne Tucker. The title track (see video below) brings to vivid life how cute infants unite everyone across a swath of cultural differences. Driving through Long Island, both my kids fell into a familiar, friendly singalong for "Wheels on the Bus" (how can you not?). I dared them to attempt Camille's "The Backwards Alphabet" and won that bet.

Camille uses her jazz to demonstrate that children's music has many forms. You don't need to walk a thin line between folk and funk. There are a bunch of other options, some right in your own backyard. Camille represents the growing number of independent-thinking, diverse, and reflective performers finding ways to introduce contemporary, classic genres to young audiences.

BABY ON THE SUBWAY is available on September 13 from Camille Harris's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for the title track, "Baby on the Subway":



Father Goose returns with a new five-song EP, I CAN MAKE IT, filled with hip-hop powerful pop tunes. Goose and crew drop the following songs – "I Wanna Dan
ce With U," "Kidzzz (Want To Be Free)," "By The Beach," and the title track. Goose keeps the house party moving, through his force of nature personality, charisma, and natural ability to lead kids through dancing and call-and-response songs.

The Goose Trotters (an ever-expanding assemblage of East Coast performers) includes Vic Rosario, Danni Ai, Delilah Lady Delish Tollinchi, Steve A. Williams, and too many more to list here. But they all come together to provide solid beats and sound messages.

Grab I CAN MAKE IT from the Goose Hut or Bandcamp.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Quick Hits: Jon Samson Examines Differences, Drowsy Tunes from Monika Ryan

The day is drawing near, when children's music will become a thing of the past. It's mostly falling on the shoulders of my OLDER child who still enjoys the genre. His younger brother is beginning to request pop music more often. But his brother – with his teenage years dwindling – is happiest engaging with musicians, and nobody has been more appreciative than children's performers.

One of the first live musicians we saw was Brookyn's Jon Samson, a music therapist who knows how to connect with special needs kids. His latest collection, AGELESS, addresses the question: “How do we maintain our childlike spirit through the challenges, problems and predicaments we face in the world and within ourselves?”

AGELESS tackles ADD, frustration with everyday life, and how speaking to other people can be overwhelming. "Videogame," featuring youthful guest singers, talks about how life is like a game, with endless levels after levels. "Predicament" shows that it's okay to safely trigger emotions for healing purposes. You may think "Bye, Polar Bear" is about extinction, but it's really about differences between people:

So the penguin in me greets the polar bear in you
As we melt our polarities and make something new

AGELESS focuses on gentle messages for young minds, with "Love Is Not a Race" being at the forefront. It's part of the curriculum for his CoCreative music program. But it's also a lesson where everyone could use a refresher.

AGELESS is available August 30 from Jon Samson's website and Spotify.

Here is the world premiere video for Jon's song, "Predicament":



Think lullaby and you conjure "Twinkle Twinkle" and babies snuggled warmly into their beds. Jazz vocalist Monika Ryan decided to give them a twist – her new LULLABIES collection features vocals and ukulele. It's a stripped-down home studio batch of lovingly crafted sincere sentiments, for children as well as their (non-drowsy) parents.

Not technically a children's CD, Monika definitely sings for them, as on "Life Is A Mess":

Life is a mess, a great big hot mess, a dirty wet mess, if you're doing it right
Life is unkempt untangled and unfurled
Life is unmade unbridled, mixed up, and swirled

Designed as a tonic to reassure, recharge, and replenish, LULLABIES gives Monika a showcase for her lilting vocals, with only occasional strumming on the uke to change the key and move the tunes along. The CD is designed to refuel people burned out at the end of the day, when they are home and surrounded by their loved ones. Music gives us mental nutrients to reactivate and re-engage us with our families. And for everyone, music provides the potential for a good night.

LULLABIES is available from Monika Ryan's website, Amazon, and Apple Music.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Caspar Babypants Celebrates Sweet 16 (CDs)

It's hard to believe there was a time when Caspar Babypants wasn't a part of our children's music experience. And yet it's true; his first CD did not erupt until 2009. Since then, we're witnessed the music of Chris Ballew's alter ego firsthand (alas, before I started recording songs at live performances), viewed his amusing videos, and heard all of his releases, including his latest (an astronomical number 16), entitled FLYING HIGH!

This is the paragraph where I usually delve into the background of the musician and his cultural or personal relevance to me as a reviewer. Let's skip that part. Read about the metamorphosis of Caspar Babypants here. In short, Chris is a dad and a former alt-rocker who now uses his powers of creation for the younger set. More than once I've uttered, "That's just ridiculous!" while listening to a Babypants track, then found myself singing along a moment later, including the brand new "Shine It Up!"

The works of Caspar Babypants are often hard to explain. Chris brings forth characters and situations that exist in a realm between authentic and fantastic, such as "Roly Poly Buggy Ball," an ode to armadillidium members of the insect family. He exercises his Dr. Seussian muscles with "Rhymes With Orange" with four concoctions that my younger son thought might actually exist. "Google them," I suggested. Chris also delves into southern rock, giving "Ducky Is the Name of My Bike" an Allman Brothers guitar twang.

Chris has an obsession with taking traditional songs such as "London Bridge" and giving them a redo. FLYING HIGH! features "London Bridge Is Falling Apart," I've Been Asleep on The Railroad" (think "working on...") and "Sittin' In a High Chair" (a modernized version of the more than 100 year old plantation favorite, "Shortenin' Bread").

Chris says the inspiration for his foray into children's music was the artwork of his wife, Kate Endle. Together they have crafted a line of children's books (based on more original Babypants tunes) that can be found here.

FLYING HIGH! maintains the high standard of past Babypants releases. It's hard to believe that Chris has produced nearly 300 tunes (there are a couple of Beatles-themed CDs in his oeuvre). It's easy to believe that he's far from done producing effervescent, engaging Caspar Babypants' kids tunes.

FLYING HIGH is available on Caspar Babypants' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the video for his song, "Made For You This Little Song":


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Alphabet Rockers Share the Love

The children's music category for the Grammy Awards has been a blender of genres over the past decade – winners have included The Okee Dokee Brothers (American folk), Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (kid hop), and Lucy Kalantari (jazz). Oakland's Alphabet Rockers earned a nomination in 2018 for their transformative CD, RISE SHINE #WOKE. Co-founding duo Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Soulati Shepherd double down on their message of inclusion with their new release, THE LOVE.

Described as an intergenerational hip hop album, more than 60 guest artists help the Alphabet Rockers promote racial, gender, and class equality. "Until We're Free" features SaulPaul and 123 Andres joining in the refrain, "I'm not free/until you're free" in two languages.

THE LOVE also showcases interludes that explain the themes being discussed on the tracks, such as "They/Them" for preferred pronouns and "You" about how individuals see themselves, whether as parents, professionals, participants, or multiple designations.

Society is changing. Music culture is changing. The Alphabet Rockers envision THE LOVE as a tool to ease the learning curve that might confuse children and their families. Getting by is one thing; doing better is fundamentally more important, they insist. THE LOVE is a collection of power-pop-rap songs that pack a punch. "I Am Enough" features the "queer boy band" the Singing Bois, who recently called it quits:

I feel free in the skin that I'm in though I wonder when
I can wake up kick back walk through the world never thinking 'but why
You put limits on my body and tell me how to live my life
Listen I'm free, so free

The Alphabet Rockers understand that change is incremental; every generation having the choice what direction the compass will point in the future. Album closer "Someday" is a wistful ode to having "all the pieces and the knowledge and stepping back to acknowledge." Here's to acknowledging that the Alphabet Rockers are on the right track as well as the right side of history, musical and otherwise.

THE LOVE is available on the Alphabet Rockers' website, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Here is the lyric video for their song, "We Royal":

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Pop Ups Rev Take a Jukebox Journey Through Time

My kids are more voracious listeners than voracious readers. Remarkably, they would prefer to hear music than play videogames – which means our Wii system has become horribly antiquated. Regardless, books are still a staple of their education. And audiobooks from musicians are an interesting new twist. The Pop Ups (Jacob Stein and Jason Rabinowitz) are the latest to embark on such an endeavor, with their JUKEBOX JOYRIDE launching on Audible a little while ago.


Unlike their CDs, which can be digested in under an hour, JUKEBOX JOYRIDE will take most of an afternoon, or several weeks if you go chapter-by-chapter at bedtime (like I did with my son). So I apologize for the delay between release of the audiobook and my review.

JUKEBOX JOYRIDE follows 12-year-old twins Jules and George as they travel through time to find their Uncle Bob, a renowned ethnomusicologist (the study of music). An avid concertgoer, Bob used a magic music box to pingpong through his favorite venues (such as New Orleans in the 1920s). But there's a villain, and a chase, and peril, etc. It's a jaunty, well thought-out adventure. If your child enjoys the "Magic Treehouse" series, just envision those books with a hefty musical component, courtesy of the Pop Ups.

In addition to the Pop Ups themselves, voice talent includes Noel MacNeal (Bear in the Big Blue House) and Carly Ciarrocchi (formerly of Sprout TV). It's a heady jaunt, so be prepared to answer many questions about different eras of history and specific genres of music.

JUKEBOX JOYRIDE is available from Audible (an Amazon company).

Here is the "making of" video for the audiobook:


Monday, August 12, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Finally – Franz Ferdinand
Flexible Brain – Ratboy Jr.
Give You a Call – Jack Forman
London Bridge Is Falling Apart – Caspar Babypants
Lost And Loving It – Kepi Ghoulie
Ode To Bed – Mo Phillips
Taco Tuesday – The Lucky Band

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, August 12, 2019

Blow – Ed Sheeran Feat. Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars
Harmony With You – Jack Forman
Lazy Boy – Franz Ferdinand
The Me I'm Meant to Be – Howie D
Noodles And Butter – Caspar Babypants
Summer's Here – The Bazillions
Thank You For Being You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Quick Hits: Oran Etkin Turkish Lullaby; New Grin Brigade CD

Oran Etkin made his mantra "Have clarinet, will travel" and turned it into a vision quest. His Timbalooloo music program promotes musical education through the playing of instruments rather than formal lessons. Oran brought his Timbalooloo methodology overseas for his upcoming project, FINDING FRIENDS FAR FROM HOME: A JOURNEY WITH CLARANET, with stops in Zimbabwe, Czech Republic, Turkey, and China.

The CD is coming later this month. In the meantime, here's a preview with the song "Dandini Dandini," a traditional turkish lullaby.

Here is the video explaining the Timbalooloo project:


What if you had a group of friends who wanted to make children's music when the inspiration hit them? That would be the concept behind Dave Kinnoin's Grin Brigade, which returns with their second CD, ALL I DO IS HOP and 29 tracks of childish mirth.

Dave is joined by his "Randy and Dave" partner Randy Sharp on many of the songs this go-round, including the country rocker "Just Like Magic" and the mouthful "Locomotivation." Every kid's value in the home marketplace is evaluated in "HIgh Paying Job" as the protagonist seeks gainful employment mowing lawns, walking dogs, and even filling cups of coffee.

With 29 songs, there's a lot being thrown at listeners. If one doesn't grab your kids, there's another dozen where that one came from. Even adults can join the grin brigade with "Dog Alphabet," a true canine aficionado's listing of different breeds and their activities.

ALL I DO IS HOP is available from Grin Brigade's website, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Let SiriusXM Know: Kids Place Live Should Stay on Channel 78

SiriusXM has announced that starting Thursday, August 15, Kids Place Live will move "down" the dial from Channel 78 to Channel 355. That means the majority of vehicles will no longer receive the station. It will be restricted to computers and devices with streaming audio.

I got bored with Sesame Street and the WIggles pretty early on when Ben was a toddler. Luckily there was SiriusXM's Kids Place Live, which was an oasis in the desert. We heard dozens, if not hundreds of new artists. And as soon as Ben was able to tell me his favorites, I was able to purchase and download specific songs and CDs (which generated revenue for those musicians).

By the time Ben was five, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the "standard" kids music stuff that was promoted by his education programs – including Sesame Street and Barney (shudder). But he would also break into songs that his friends and classmates didn't know. Every year, we'd compile CDs of original children's music and distribute it to his friends for his birthday. That became a quarterly occurrence with the amount of music he consumed.

SiriusXM ostensibly has THREE stations for children, but two of them don't really count. Kidz Bop is reworked versions of adult songs, with the lyrics "dumbed down." And Radio Disney is mostly the same pop tunes you can hear on dozens of their other channels, but with a heavier emphasis on artists discovered or signed to Disney labels.

Really, Kids Place Live is an oasis. SiriusXM bragged about adding "more than 100 streaming channels." But they are burying the only channel with original content for children. In my mind, that's SiriusXM practically admitting this is a shady move on their part. I'm certain that Kidz Bop isn't moving because Sirius must have a lucrative financial deal.

So what can we do to "save" Kids Place Live? Well, you can call them directly at (866) 635-5027. Or go to their HELP page and start a live chat. Or click to this page and file a complaint. However, if you do that, you'll only get a canned response that this move is being done because of "bandwidth limitations."

You should e-mail the top brass directly at Jim.meyer@siriusxm.com and scott.greenstein@siriusxm.com. Don't let SiriusXM get away with marginalizing children's music, which is an important part of their development and education. Make your voice heard for your children and the kids in your life.

Quick Hits: Autism-Friendly Tunes from Turtle Dance; New Song from Mista Cookie Jar & Little Miss Ann

When my son was Ben was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. Near the bottom – would he be able to enjoy things that neuro-typical children take for granted. For instance, what about music? Live performances, in particular. Those fears were allayed pretty early. And now Ben continually asks what's next – even before the lights have dimmed when we've just arrived at a concert venue.

For special needs children who need shows tailored to their specific needs, there are organizations such as Autism Friendly Shows and for kids, their partners at Turtle Dance Music, who do hour-long performances just for younger aged audiences. Turtle Dance has released their sixth CD, ADD TO THE WORLD, with songs revolving directly around math-based concepts. The ten songs include "Five Little Monkeys," "Jump and Count (Twist and Shout)," "I Only Sneeze in Threes," and a reading themed take on the Proclaimers with "500 Books."

Turtle Dance shows are accompanied by hands-on, visual, and sensory experiences designed to help kids learn and have fun at the same time. Kids play instruments, try out interactive music technology, and dance along through the whole show. Based in the Connecticut area, the program seeks to increase its educational component with ADD TO THE WORLD.

ADD TO THE WORLD is available through the group's website, Apple Music, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the group's song "Moon Landing":



The ever-prolific Mista Cookie Jar returns with another duet, this time with Little Miss Ann for the dessert-arrific "Halo-Halo." The song celebrates the Filipino treat of that name, which is concocted from coconut, mungo bean, shaved ice, corn, milk, and a scoop of ice cream. Did I lose you along the way? Trust me, it's more delicious than it sounds. Perhaps try it first and then ask for the ingredient list. As for the the finished product, just listen to how they wax prosaic:

Yum! “Ma sarap”
That’s Tagalog for tongue bliss.
“Halo-halo,” that’s Tagalog for mix mix.
Mix it up like a sweet cold gumbo
Fun for the soul. Make ya joy feel jumbo.

You can download "Halo-Halo" (all they ask if for 99 cents) from Bandcamp. Here's the link:

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, August 5, 2019

#Goals – Jack Forman
I Love The Night – Gustafer Yellowgold
Johnny Jackrabbit Jones – Caspar Babypants
People Watching – Dean Jones
Sea Of Stars – Dan Zanes
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
White Whale – Kepi Ghoulie

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, August 2, 2019

Can You Sing? – Dan Zanes
Helicopter Leaves – Ants Ants Ants
I Don't Care – Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber
Perfect Tuesday Afternoon – Frances England
Under the Big Umbrella – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Watch Petunia Dance – Caspar Babypants
Window – Gustafer Yellowgold

Growing Up Right With Josh Lovelace

If you want to know the difference between folk music and Americana, it's pretty simple – while all folk music qualifies as Americana, not everything Americana is folk music. While you play with that Rubik's Cube, consider Josh Lovelace, a prosaic provider of Americana whose children's works often drifts into the realm of folk music. But not all the time.

Josh's new CD, GROWING UP, paints a charming portrait of life in the southeast region of the country. The 12 songs grew organically from conversations with his wife and two children, through the course of their day-to-day interactions. Communication and bonding are prevalent themes on tracks like "You've Got Me and I've Got You" and "Forever My Friend." Frances England makes a welcome appearance on the bright and sprightly "Butterfly." Josh makes his agenda clear when he sings "Upside Down":

One thing makes us all the same
Everyone deserves to feel love everyday
We all have sickness, we have pain
Everybody needs a little shelter from the rain
We all want to be protected, understood, and feel accepted
Love is free so let's give it away
And together we can turn the whole world upside down.

"Hey It's a Good Day" has a Jack Johnson/John Mayer vibe with a dash of Michael Franti thrown in. "Goodbyes Are the Hardest Thing To Do" may be about when Josh goes on the road and has to leave his family to perform. Or it might be about dropping kids at school. "Even if we're miles apart, you've got a place here in my heart," is the refrain over a George Harrison guitar chord. Ultimately, it comes down to the album closer, "You Are Loved," which assures the listener, "You are enough... and you are loved." Who doesn't want to that simple comfort at the end of the day?

There are performers who want to make "good time music" and others who want to get kids to think. As a member of NEEDTOBREATHE, which originally came from the Christian rock movement, you could expect Josh to do some preaching. When those lessons do come, they're more from the Fred Rogers school of laid-back Presbyterian values. It's a "love thy neighbor" inclusion vibe. No one can accuse Josh of "pulling a Mike Pence/Fake christian" act. As long as Josh Lovelace forges ahead and his music evolves, it will be a pleasure to listen to him grow up.

GROWING UP is available from Josh Lovelace's website, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and Amazon.

Here is the video for the song, "More Time With You":

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Quick Hits: Kids' CD from Howie D and Al d

The dictotomy between children's music as a vocation and children's music as a sideline could not have been more clear between the two CDs that passed my desk this week – Howie Dorough's WHICH ONE AM I? and A deCant's THIS LITTLE WORLD.


Howie D has been in the public spotlight for 20 years through his involvement as one of the Backstreet Boys. As the fame and fortunes of that quintet rose and fell, Howie looked for new opportunities and chose to offer musical reflections of his own childhood. WHICH ONE AM I? is the opening salvo that will result in a theater production, "Back in the Day," to open next year with him in the main role.

 WHICH ONE AM I? is professionally produced (by Tor Hyams) children's music, with many clever and personal songs, including the title track, plus "No Hablo Espanol" (video below), "The Me I'm Meant To Be," and a cover of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me." As you'd expect from a performer with extensive PR and recording experience, Howie has delivered a impressive, expressive debut.

 WHICH ONE AM I? is available on July 12 at Howie D's website, Apple Music, and Amazon

 Here is the video for Howie's song "No Hablo Espanol":

 

Al deCant, in contrast, had to do it all himself. Stick a broom up the back of his shirt and he'd clean up after his shows as well. A former elementary school principal, Al left his job to pursue a dream of becoming a full-time children's entertainer. He wrote "I couldn't be happier in my new career choice." And you can see his delight and hear the excitement as he connects with kids on his second CD, THIS LITTLE WORLD.

Al isn't looking to create a theatrical musical based on his childhood. He's looking to bring simple concepts with accessible messages to kids (mostly) in driving range of his community. His songs are self-explanatory: "Don't Wake Up the Baby," "Read To Me," and "I Don't Wanna Go To Bed." His motives are transparent. His enthusiasm is infectious.

 I'm not suggesting that Howie D is a better choice for your collection because he has name value. Nor am I suggesting that Al D is a more worthy addition due to his long-time dedication to children through his years in education. I would say the ultimate arbiter is who your kids decide they like – and who knows, they might chose both. That's a great thing about streaming music (if you're not a recording artist counting on play-clicks leading to tons of sales-clicks). It's a kindie democracy – picture Howie as the Mayor Pete in this scenario and Al as the Joe Biden. Just don't think too hard about it. It's almost naptime.

THIS LITTLE WORLD is available at Al deCant's website, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.

 Here is a YouTube video with the audio of the title track:

 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Brighter Side – Gustafer Yellowgold
Buenos Dias – The Lucky Band
Even When.... – Ratboy Jr.
Holiday Jam – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
Inkpot – Kepi Ghoulie
Me And You – Caspar Babypants

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 29, 2019

Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
Fly Like A Bird – Dean Jones
Handle With Care – Like Father Like Son
Loving & Kind – Aaron Nigel Smith
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf
You Do You – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could\

Monday, July 22, 2019

Quick Hits: Father Goose Video, Peppa Pig Debut CD

Ever since his days with Dan Zanes, Father Goose has been hard at work entertaining children and their families. As the self-proclaimed "King of the Dance Party," Goose is back with a new video for his rendition of "La Bamba," complete with puppets, percussionists, and lots of happy people.

Hosted by Valerie Leonhart Smalkin and Silly Hoose, the video features latin musician David Allen Rivera, singer Danni Ai, and Joshua Macrow's JJ Puppets. But the heart of the matter is the upbeat performance and lyrics that get you on your feet.

The song is available from Apple Music and Spotify.

Watch the video here:



My older son missed the Peppa Pig revolution but became a big (age-inappropriate fan). His younger brother thought the voices were funny and started imitating them. But he, too, soon aged out. Perhaps too soon, as the first CD from the British series is about to drop.

MY FIRST ALBUM from Peppa Pig has 16 songs that range from "Super Potato's Theme" to "Peppa's Lullaby." It's filled with voice characterizations about Peppa, a loveable, delicious (no don't go there) little piggy who lives with her little brother George, Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig.

MY FIRST ALBUM from Peppa Pig is available by pre-order.

Here is the video for the song, "Big Bong Zoo":

 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Friday, July 19, 2019

Clown Shoes – Ratboy Jr.
A Girl With Superpowers – Story Pirates
Peace Be To All – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
Rock Island Line (Featuring Billy Bragg) – Dan Zanes & Friends
Stumble Into You – Jack Forman
Taco Tuesday – The Lucky Band

Quick Hits: Sharon & Bram's Farewell Songs, SaulPaul's Park Rec 2 Step Video Contest

Twenty years is a long time to do anything, let alone children's music. But Canada's Sharon Hampson, Bram Morrison and Lois Lillenstein gained much fame and performed around the world. Josh Lovelace made sure to include a shout out to them as inspirations for his children's recordings.

After Lois retired from performing in 2000, Sharon and Bram kept going as a duo – and are now heading into their Retirement Tour after another 20 years on the road. To celebrate this milestone, they have released four new tunes, all written by Sharon's late husband, Joe. Now this is getting pretty downbeat but the songs themselves are mostly upbeat – "The Hug Song," "Different," a paean to diversity, and "The Colour Song," featuring Colin Mochrie of "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" fame.

The one real stunning message song is "Talk About Peace," which has as frank a discussion about politics as you're likely to hear directed at kids:

Well, they've got enough equipment to destroy the world and everything that's in it.
They way I've got it figured, it'll take a little while, about 25 or 30 minutes.
Seems funny to me that when you talk about peace, well, you might be suspected of crime.
And that the people trying hardest to save the world have lived here the shortest time.

Sharon & Bram are finishing up their final tour dates this week, but plan to continue to record new singles and be involved in more children's media projects.

Sharon & Bram's new songs are available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and Google Play.

He hasn't been around quite as long as Sharon & Bram, but SaulPaul has a contest for the month of July revolving around his song "Park Rec Two Step."In partnership with the National Recreation and Parks Association, SaulPaul is promoting the "Park Rec Two Step Challenge" to encourage kids to get out and about into the national parks this summer. Watch the video (below) for more information. Submit videos of your kids, their friends, and your summer campers or family visiting local parks or recreation centers and doing the Park Rec Two Step for a chance to win weekly prizes of $100 Amazon gift cards (well, there are prizes left on July 22 and July 29).

Send your videos here by July 29. Use the hashtags #ParkRecTwoStepChallenge and #GameOnJuly on social media (make sure the posts are marked public. Did I mention that the Grand Prize winner gets a $250 Amazon gift card and will appear in the official Park Rec Two Step video with SaulPaul? I guess I should have!

Here's the video where SaulPaul explains the Park Rec Two Step contest:

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Trump: A Racist Down to His Shin Spurs (Opinion)

Donald Trump lied this week (no surprise) and said he doesn't have a racist bone in his body.

Much like cancer, racism is tough to beat. You have to be committed to eradicating it from your body. And there's always the chance that it will return, when you least expect it.

I've been a racist. I've said racist things. Hell, I even won the opportunity to appear on the Howard Stern Show as part of their 2002 "Meanest Listener Contest" by intentionally using the N-word. Am I proud of that accomplishment? In retrospect, it's an experience I will always remember. But now there's an asterisk.

I don't consider myself a racist now. I didn't consider myself a racist then. Even when I was being bullied as a young teenager and switched from public school to a private school. That was when I actually had that "my best friend is a black guy" phase. But I didn't walk around boasting "black kids drove me out of my school but I don't hold it against them!!" The situation might have hampered my development as a member of society, teaching me to hate people who didn't look like me. But it didn't.

What has happened over the past 20 years? The culture changed. Standards changed. Social media happened. Activists culled through decades and centuries of institutional racism and called people on their shit. And you could either accept that racism existed – and adapt – or you could deny and bang your head against the wall.

That's what Donald Trump is doing. The Presidency is a mantle some people are not immediately worth of holding. They grow into it, by admitting that they've made mistakes and their previous views might be wrong for the nation. But that's not Trump. His position is that he never makes mistakes – any mistakes are made by people underneath him, or wrong information, or fake news, or (when he said there were airports in the 1800s) a busted TelePrompter.

Trump is 72 years old. He has not evolved. He refuses to evolve. He wants a nation of followers – a dictator with rallies of goose-stepping minions – who agree with his beliefs, in lockstep. Witness politicians like Steve Scalise baldly lying and saying the GOP never disrespected Obama the way the Democrats are "disrespecting" the current racist President. This is such a laughable claim, from the rep who screamed "you lie" during an Obama "State of the Union" speech to an open letter that Republicans wrote to Iran to say Obama didn't represent the United States (!) during nuclear negotiations.

Have a I completely changed? Am I a totally new person, never thinking or saying something that can be construed as racist? That's not for me to say. I'm different than I was five years ago, more different than 10 years ago, and definitely different than 30 years ago.

Trump? Not so much. He was a racist slumlord in the 1970s when he and his father (who attended a Nazi rally in Queens) settled a housing lawsuit with the FBI – refusing to admit any wrongdoing, of course. He was a racist in 2017 when he said there were good people "on both sides" at Charlottesville. To deny Trump's racism is to deny your own racism. See it, own it, grow from it. Trump will never do that. America must see that, own that, and grow with a post-Trump government.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Anything For You My Love – Caspar Babypants
Cement Dude – Story Pirates
Dirt – Ratboy Jr.
Hanukkah Rocks – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could
I Spy – Ants Ants Ants
Inside I Shine – Danny Weinkauf
That's My Style – The Bazillions

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ben's Playlist - Monday, July 15, 2019

Anything Can Be A Hat – Ratboy Jr.
Chain Reaction – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Disco Hippo – Caspar Babypants
The Great Wallaby Adventure – Story Pirates
(Laughing in the) Pizza Rain – The Shake Ups
Stars – Ants Ants Ants
Stick Up Stand Up – Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Quick His: New Videos from Thunder & Sunshine and Ants Ants Ants

There's nothing worse than being stuck inside on a rain-soaked afternoon. Or is that just an over-reaction? The New York-based Thunder and Sunshine delivers an opposing viewpoint with their song (and video) celebrating the quiet pleasures of a "Rainy Day."

The brainchild of longtime area musician Esther Crow, the band's origins are simple –have a child, decide to create material for them. She surrounded herself with a group of like-minded performers and viola, a band was christened. You can buy their debut CD, THIS IS THUNDER AND SUNSHINE, from their website.

The band is playing in Union Square Park on Thursday, July 11 at 11 am.

Here is the titular tune in question. "Rainy Day" has a heavy '60s Mamas and Papas vibe to it, but the kids won't know that:



Ants Ants Ants continue the video output for their high concept release, THE ROBOT EP. You can buy the EP on July 19 from their website, Amazon, or Apple Music.

The band's performance "Live from the Rumpus Room" on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live is airing this weekend (July 12-14). Check the website for times.

Listen to the song on Spotify. Here is the kaleidoscope-delic video for the song, "Dance, Robot, Dance!"