Monday, July 31, 2006

Review: Go Baby Go - Baby Loves Jazz (Various Artists)

The creation of music industry veteran Andy Hurwitz, the supergroup Baby Loves Jazz is just one part of the Baby Loves Music empire. With Baby Loves Disco well-established and Baby Loves Reggae and Hip-Hop yet to come, who knows if Baby Loves Grime and Baby Loves Trip-Hop are next on the list. Released tomorrow, Go Baby Go! (2006) is the first of the Baby Loves... genres to make it to disk and it's a good first, er, baby step for the series.

The Baby Loves Jazz supergroup includes John Medeski from Medeski Mertin & Wood, members from the jazz band Sex Mob, and other musicians with strong jazz backgrounds. The concept on this album is fairly simple -- take classic children's melodies and jazz-ify them. From the bebop version of "Old MacDonald" to the funk/soul of "Paw Paw Patch," the group puts their own take on the melodies and lyrics in the best jazz tradition. The vocals are especially strong on "ABC" and the fun original "Scat Song." Two of my favorite tracks are the slow and funky "Wheels on the Bus" and the frenetic title track, both of which feature kids on the choruses. (Listening to the kids shout "Round and round! / Round and round!" in "Wheels" puts a smile on my face every time.

The 18-track, 51-minute album is not without some less-appealing moments. The interstitials, which introduce different instruments, are fun, but are placed before songs that don't build on the instruments mentioned (e.g., "The Piano" is followed by "Paw Paw Patch," which is played on an... organ). It's not bad, it's just an opportunity missed. And, frankly, I can do without the last 3 tracks, which are intended to be a calming, gateway to sleepy-time, but instead just drone on for way longer than necessary. Take out the last two tracks, and you'd have a fairly zippy 36-minute album.

The songs will probably be most appealing to kids ages 2 through 8. You can listen to the modern sounds of "If You're Happy and You Know It" and tracks from the four simultaneously-released "Baby Loves Jazz" books here. Because it's being released by the well-regarded jazz label Verve Records, expect to find this in a lot of different places.

People who think jazz ended when Miles went electric in 1969 may not appreciate all the tracks here (and, to be honest, I'm mostly in that category myself). But there are enough solid tracks to keep you traditionalists happy and if you (and your baby) like your jazz mixed with more modern elements of funk and soul, Go Baby Go! is an excellent addition to the small canon of jazz for kids. Recommended.

Chicago, Chicago, It's A Toddl(er)in' Town

So Lollapalooza and Kidzapalooza happen this weekend in Chicago. Like a few others, I was offered press passes, but I couldn't take advantage of them. Something about my son getting baptized this weekend. Sorry, Perry, maybe next year.

But that doesn't mean I can't plot who I'd see were I actually there. (Which I'd really, really, like to be.)

Now, if I were going on press passes for Kidzapalooza, I'd feel obligated to attend most of the Kidzapalooza shows, with certain exemptions:
1) I only need to see each artist once.
2) I'm entitled to miss one Kidzapalooza artist to catch a Lollapalooza show I'd absolutely hate to miss.

I'd also note that this would be the solo version of the show -- were I actually with a 5- and 1-year-old and a wife, the number of shows I could check out would be greatly reduced... And apparently I don't need to eat...

Friday, August 4
11:30 - 12:00 ScribbleMonster -- play the Michigan song! I love the Michigan song!
12:00 - 12:15 Remo Drum Circle -- kids. drums. chaos.
12:15 - 12:45 Asheba
12:45 - 1:00 Breakdancing with the Brickheadz
1:15 - 2:00 KidTribe
2:15 - 3:00 Alvin Ailey Dance Camp/Workshop
3:15 - 3:45 The Blisters (Jeff Tweedy's kid's band)
3:45 - 4:30 I might collapse from the heat, humidity, and crowds
4:30 - 5:30 Ryan Adams -- could be an incredible show, could be an utter disaster
5:30 - 6:30 Iron & Wine -- I'd love to see Mates of State from 5 - 6 PM, but it's just too much walking
6:30 - 7:30 My Morning Jacket -- could be a great show
7:30 - 8:30 Sleater-Kinney -- Let's see, penultimate show from one of the greatest rock bands of the past decade, or the Violent Femmes, who have somehow created a 20-year career out of one (admittedly) good album? On the other hand, the Violent Femmes show will be less crowded than detention in The Breakfast Club.
8:30 - 10:00 Ween or Death Cab for Cutie -- dunno, maybe I'd take a pass on both and instead file some stories.

Saturday, August 5
11:30 - 12:00 ScribbleMonster -- play the Michigan song again! And the Chocolate Milk song!
12:00 - 12:15 KidTribe
12:15 - 12:45 Candy Band -- Kids' punk. Good kids' punk.
12:45 - 1:00 Alvin Ailey Dancing Workshop
1:15 - 1:45 Ella Jenkins feat. Asheba -- It's kinda like seeing Springsteen. You have to see Springsteen, even if you just sort of like him.
1:45 - 2:00 Remo Drum Circle w/ Asheba
2:15 - 2:45 Justin Roberts -- Not missing this. Even if I have to miss The Go! Team
2:45 - 3:00 Peter DiStefano Guitar Workshop
3:15 - 3:30 Chutzpah
3:30 - 4:30 Calexico... unless after e-mailing Justin I find out he's playing a completely different set from 3:45 to 4:15
4:30 - 5:30 Sonic Youth -- I mean, it'd be cool to see Gnarls Barkley, but I think it'll be almost as packed as Sleater-Kinney. Sonic Youth is fine by me.
5:30 - 6:30 collapse somewhere
6:30 - 7:30 The Flaming Lips
7:30 - 8:30 The New Pornographers -- This would've been my "would miss Kidzapalooza" band
8:30 - 10:00 Manu Chao... or maybe more filing time

Sunday, August 6
11:30 - 12:00 School of Rock
12:00 - 12:15 KidTribe
12:15 - 12:45 Perry Farrell & Peter DiStefano
12:45 - 1:00 Peter DiStefano Guitar Workshop
1:15 - 1:45 Candy Band
1:45 - 2:30 The Hold Steady, though I'd be getting there late, and I'd miss the Q Brothers, who are playing with Chutzpah
2:30 - 3:30 Nickel Creek
3:30 - 4:30 The New Amsterdams -- but only if they play a Terrible Twos set
4:30 - 5:30 The Shins
5:30 - 6:30 Poi Dog Pondering, though actually I'd probably just camp out at the Shins' stage so I could get closer for the next set...
6:30 - 7:30 Wilco -- 'Nuff said
7:30 - 8:15 Broken Social Scene -- they could be awesome on stage
8:15 - 9:45 No need to see Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it might be fun...

So there you have it. I'm not wildly enthused by the nightly headliners, but the undercards are pretty darn awesome.

As the saying goes, "tickets are still available," though in a conference call last week, festival organizers said that they expected "2,000 - 3,000" attendees at Kidzapalooza this year (as opposed to hundreds last year), so it'll definitely be more crowded.

If you were going (if you are going), what would your schedule be?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Review: What's Eatin' Yosi? - Yosi

Scene: Two guys proceed through a Las Vegas buffet line. Let's call them, for sake of comprehension, Larry and Darryl.

Larry: So, uh, what are you getting there?
Darryl: I thought I might get that -- erp! -- new Yosi CD.
Larry: In a buffet line? Since when do they have kids' CDs in a Vegas buffet line?
Darryl: Haven't you heard? Kids' music is all the rage now. And Vegas is never one to miss out on a trend if it means some extra cash. So, yes, I'm getting the new Yosi CD, What's Eatin' Yosi?. Well, that and the crepes.
Larry: Oh, the crepes are excellent. I recommend the deviled eggs, too.
Darryl: Yeah, so anyway, this is like his fourth album and -- ooooh, are those California rolls? Gimme six of those! Anyway, get this, it's a theme album. All about food.
Larry: A food album. Which we're talking about while we're in a buffet line. In Vegas, which never met a theme it couldn't turn into a hotel. Imagine that.
Darryl: Stop with the snark, Larry. Yes. 16 tracks and 45 minutes about almost entirely about food.
Larry: It's like your dream album, Darryl.
Darryl: You're a bitter man, Larry. Try eating a little more, you'll be happier. Yeah, I'll have everything in that omelette.
Larry: So do all the songs sound the same?
Darryl: No, not at all. There's a rocking tune about "Chicken Noodle Soup," ("Oh, yeaaaahhhh") while "Bulbes" is done in a klezmer style... hey, where are the baked potatoes?
Larry: Over there. Any songs you want to recommend to me? (Uh, no thanks, I'll pass on the Jello.)
Darryl: Well, I really like the Zydeco stylings of the album opener, "Let's Get Cookin'," the punk thrash version of "On Top of Spaghetti," and his duet with Brady Rymer on Rymer's rootsy "Fresh Brown Eggs."
Larry: And what should I stay away from?
Darryl: Y'know, that "Schlurpknopf" story song really got on my nerves. And so did the opera-esque "It's a Pizza." Anything overly cute. But you know what?
Larry: I'm not a mind-reader, so no. What?
Darryl: It's possible to eat too much food. Like all this stuff here looks good -- ooh, chocolate pecan pie! -- but once you sit down and eat it in one setting, it seems a bit much. Ironically, my favorite song on the entire album is the album closer, "I Just Love You," which is the one song not about food. It's a gentle midtempo ragtime song. And it's so... refreshing... after fifteen straight very literal songs in a row about food -- even good ones -- to hear something not about food.
Larry: So once I get back to my incredibly cramped hotel room, where could I get some samples?
Darryl: Well, you could try the album's CDBaby page or for full versions of several songs, Yosi's page.
Larry: Sounds like the album's probably -- BRA-AACK! Excuse me! -- best for kids ages 5 through 9?
Darryl: Yep. What's Eatin' Yosi? might make you feel stuffed by the end, but there's enough good music on there worth listening to. I recommend it. Now, where's that French waffle line?...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

That Blogging, I Hear It's Popular These Days

I've previously mentioned Brady Rymer's blog, which, though updated only sporadically, is a fun read. There are a few other musician-authored blogs I've been reading for weeks if not months now, and I've been failing in my kids-music-news duties by not mentioning them before.

The best kids' musician-penned blog I know of is Monty Harper's blog, which includes links to his podcasts and gives some insight into the working world of a kids' musician. Harper's good humor, noticeable in his songs, is evident here, too.

A couple other artists who have more recently started blogging, of a sort, are Eric Herman and Yosi. Both take a slightly different approach from Rymer and Harper -- they've focused (thus far) on other kids' music artists. Herman's blog talks generally about assorted kids' artists, both well-known (Ralph's World) and not, and why he's enjoyed them. Yosi's blog focuses more on specific albums that he reviewed for a parenting magazine in New Jersey.

Harper has been blogging for a while now (longer than this site, even), so he understands what it takes to write a blog on an ongoing basis. We'll see whether Rymer, Herman, and Yosi want to keep it up. (And believe me, after that initial burst of expression, it's easy to let the blog just die a slow, painful death.)

Now there are other ways to communicate with fans -- Justin Roberts is a fairly regular newsletter publisher, for example, and Dan Zanes' newsletters, while not as regular, always have a nugget or two of good (or fun or useless, or all three) info. And Myspace, of course, has its own blogging capabilities. But I'm actually surprised that more artists haven't plunged into the blogosphere. It does seem to me a fairly cheap and easy way to establish connections between the artist and the audience, especially one that may be growing, at least in terms of the ability of an artist to reach a national audience. Monty, Eric, Yosi, Brady -- has it helped? Or is it a useless, time-consuming pain in the rear?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Review in Brief: Scat Like That - A Musical Word Odyssey - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer

Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer have been nominated for 11 GRAMMY awards (winning two of them) and are talented musicians and songwriters in both kids' and non-kids fields. So how come I didn't adore Scat Like That!, their 2005 GRAMMY-nominated kids' album? There's nothing wrong with the album's execution -- the musicianship and production are strong -- and the concept is intriguing, focusing on all sorts of wordplay. And there are some very good songs amidst the wide-ranging musical styles used here. My favorite is Marxer's midtempo blues number "Dagnabbit!," which matches Marxer's expressive vocals to amusing lyrics about a kid who let the wrong word slip out in a moment of frustration ("I need some words with consonants / To say what I must say / Words with B and D and P / And S and T and K"). I particularly liked the song's 2-minute musical outro. I also find it hard not to like a song titled "I Love Pie" which is set to a Latin meringue melody. (I don't care if it's not a meringue -- though I'm pretty sure it is -- "pie" and "meringue" is too good not to believe.) I think what makes me so blase' about the album is the feeling that the disk's educational thrust (it is an album about wordplay after all) was getting in the way of enjoying it. The best songs -- "Dagnabbit!" or "A Pirate's Song," perhaps -- would fit on any album of good kids' music and the wordplay themes of those songs are just happy byproducts of the songs themselves. In this case, it doesn't reach the manic heights of their excellent 2001 collaboration with Brave Combo, All Wound Up!. The album is best for kids ages 6 through 10, especially if they're into words and all the fun things one can do with them.

Please Release Me: August 2006 Edition

I skipped July, didn't I? Slacker. Well, it would've been a short list (at the time, anyway). But August? August is shaping up as a little more crowded...

August 1: Go Baby Go - Baby Loves Jazz (Various Artists)
August 1: If I Could Be... - Meredith Brooks
August 8: A World of Music - Toucan Jam
August 8: What's Eatin' Yosi? - Yosi (national release)
August 22: Marvelous Day - Stevesongs (re-release on Rounder Records -- say that three times fast)
August 29: You Are My Little Bird - Elizabeth Mitchell (on Smithsonian Folkways)

But wait, there's more!

September will see the release of new stuff from Trout Fishing in America and ScribbleMonster (maybe).

And then there's October, October 3rd in particular, which is shaping up to be a very crowded release date. The third album from Milkshake, Play. [Edit: I've been told the album may come out just a leeeetle bit later.] The third album from The Sippy Cups, which has, hands-down, the best kids' music album name of the year, Electric Storyland. And the DVD/CD release from Ralph's World, Welcome to Ralph's World. Actually, I've seen that listed on various e-tailers' sites as both 10/3 and 10/10, so it could be either. We shall see...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Interview: Charity Kahn (Charity and the JAMband)

Our kids are a huge part of everything we do with the band. We took all the JAMband kids on tour (9 total) with us down to LA and they were exposed to all the pieces of what it means to have a band. There’s a Behind the Music series waiting to happen here. I’ll say no more.

Charity Kahn, founder and leader of the Bay Area-based funk/soul/whatever kids' group Charity and the JAMband, is a mother, musician, and mathematician. Or, at least, she has a mathematics degree. Charity took the time recently to answer a few questions of mine with her typical enthusiasm. Read on to find out about obsession with a certain '80s hair-metal band, her band's newest song, and the relationship of math to her music.

What music did you listen to growing up?
My folks are classically trained, and ran a piano studio forever. They also directed choirs, musicals, taught music in schools, and my dad’s been a church organist since he was 13. So the early years were filled with classical and sacred music and opera, a little jazz, show tunes, and my mom’s favorite, Johnny Mathis. And, of course, Free to Be, You and Me, John Denver and the Muppets, and all of Hap Palmer’s stuff. Next came the Carpenters, Chicago, the Jackson 5, Manhattan Transfer, until I finally discovered classic rock’n’roll. Led Zeppelin took me over for a few years (hasn’t let go, actually). And living in a small Midwestern town water skiing on summer lakes and partying in the woods and cornfields, I also had a Def Leppard obsession (still do, actually). The Grateful Dead came into the picture some time during teen-age hood. I was also performing a lot of classical, jazz, and swing music at the time (vocal and ensemble), so I loved listening to that stuff, too.

Was kids' music something you went into deliberately, or was it something you sort of stumbled into? ("Stumbled into" not meant pejoratively...)
I guess it was more of a stumble, and then a landing. It felt more cosmic than deliberate. As soon as my first son was born, I began writing songs for him, about him, inspired by him. When he was 18 months old, I could no longer deal with the corporate world, and I quit my software engineering job and founded a parent/child music and movement program I called JAM, using the children’s songs I’d come up with over the last year-and-a-half as raw material. I recorded my first children’s CD (JAM: Music for Movement with Children) for those families in 2002, sending it off to the manufacturer for pressing three days before my second son was born.

By the time my kids were 5 and 2, I was ready with another record (Peanut Butter and JAM, 2004) and had begun performing family concerts both solo and with the JAMband. Our third release, Rock Your Socks Off, came out this February (2006) [ed: read the review here], and the next one’s cookin’ in the oven as we speak. We just performed the first new song from it ("Get Your Booty Outta Bed!") at our last show. Thanks to my oldest son, Jasper, for running into the bedroom early one recent morning, chanting that phrase over and over at the top of his lungs. That’s usually how JAM songs are born. And motherhood and my work in music are inseparable for me on a million levels.

Which songs are your favorites to play? Which songs draw the most response in concert?
Because of our instrumentation (drummer, percussionist, 2 guitars, bass, piano, 3 singers), we can really rock out. So if had to pick favorites, I’d choose the funkiest ones with the heaviest grooves: "Peanut Butter and JAM," "We Like Funky," "Happy Birthday Baby," "Partner Dance." Since every one of our songs has accompanying choreography, folks are dancing throughout the show, so the response is consistently high. We usually have a Mush Pot ™ up front of 50 or so kids completely focused, following every move. "Peanut Butter and JAM" and "Happy Fluffy" are examples of songs that get folks particularly amped (lots of jumping, shaking, and “laughing so hard you fall to the ground”).

Do you write songs specifically with movement in mind, or is it just a happy byproduct of the types of songs you write?
Both. The choreography for "Super Hero" came totally after the fact, because the lyrics of the song just wrote themselves and I had no idea at the time what the dance would be. "Towel Tango" is an example of the other method. I wanted the lyrics to invite kids to follow along with a towel or a scarf, and wrote the lyrics to encourage exactly that kind of movement. And, of course, there’s the tango instruction part: slow, slow, quick, quick, switch!

Which is easier for you to write -- lyrics or music?
It all just seems to miraculously flow out. Neither is hard. Both are exceedingly fun.

How do you incorporate music into your day-to-day life with your kids?
We listen to our iPod a lot. The kids have their own playlist, which is constantly growing and morphing. And we just shuffle the whole collection, too, to expose them to tons of stuff. And we dance around all the time. Make up crazy songs. Shake our booties. Make our puppets dance. Do silly shows in the foyer after dinner. Have run around time in the living room after bath and before bed with live music or CDs. Charlie (my husband and bass player) is amazing at coming up with silly songs in the moment and things can get pretty hysterical around here. I’m starting to teach my oldest son piano, but we’re taking it slow and treating it more like piano play for now (I strive to under-program my kids). We drum. On everything. Our kids are a huge part of everything we do with the band. We took all the JAMband kids on tour (9 total) with us down to LA and they were exposed to all the pieces of what it means to have a band. There’s a Behind the Music series waiting to happen here. I’ll say no more.

You've also written a book on the relationship between math and music -- aside from the more obvious relationships (e.g., reducing a plucked string's length in half increases the pitch by an octave), what are some interesting relationships? Is that relationship between math and music something you consciously think about when writing or playing songs?

People who know me solely as a musician tend to be surprised when they find out my degree is in Mathematics, and that my careers up until now have been in that arena. The assumption that music is a right-brain activity, and math is a left-brain activity, and never the twain shall meet, seems to be alive and well.

In my experience, however, both pursuits require a full-brain approach. Solving a difficult math problem requires a combination of left-brain analytical skills and a right-brain artistic approach. Playing or writing a symphony requires the same. Creativity in general requires the full brain, and applying and working with math takes as much creativity as music in many ways, although it’s not traditionally considered an artistic discipline. It’s no surprise that many famous mathematicians and physicists are also talented in music, and vice versa.

When it comes to creating music, I do have a few songs that introduce mathematical concepts with the lyrics, like counting by 5’s and other multiples ("Gimme 5 Gimme 10," "Counting Tricks," "Gimme 10 Gimme 5") and even infinity and zero ("Happy Birthday Baby"). I don’t specifically or consciously apply math when I’m composing a melody, or working out the structure of a song, or performing a song. But there is a huge amount of math going on behind the scenes, and I’m sure my love and knowledge of math plays into my songwriting and vocalizing in a pretty big way.

For starters, counting out a rhythm is mathematical. Time signatures and note values basically mirror the concept of fractions, a measure of music being a unit divided into its component parts by notes and rests. The physics of sound (pitch, frequency, harmony, resonance, dissonance) relies on mathematics for its formulas and computations. A melody can display geometry, inversions, and symmetry…or asymmetry for that matter. Compositional structure is pattern-based and mathematical by nature. I could go on and on; check out Math and Music: Harmonious Connections for more detail.

Math and music: food for the mind, food for the body, food for the soul ;-)

Besides your own music, what other musicians do your kids listen to?
Their absolute favorite song right now (and one of mine ;-) is "Lemonade," by Protein. Other faves: The Beatles, The Who, Dan Zanes, Aretha, The Killers, The Cars, Ella Jenkins, The Ramones, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, Spearhead, Justin Roberts, sacred choral music, The Police, Fatboy Slim, Moby, Manu Chao, and anything funky, anything with a heavy groove and a strong beat.

What's next for you and the band?
We’re in the planning stages for a DVD. Starting the next record. Booking shows. Would love to start touring more (NW, East Coast, Europe…why not?) In general, more CDs, more shows, more tours, more of this same celebration of life we are experiencing by sharing our music, our love, and our time with families. It’s simply too good, too fun, and too amazing not to do as much as possible of it. Rocking socks off families is the best job I’ve ever had.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hello, I Must Be Going

It's time for a little break from blogging. Read through the reviews you missed, click through on the links you skipped, and go back and listen to some albums you haven't heard for a long time, kids-related or otherwise. Back in the middle of the week with lots of new stuff.

Review in Brief: Jim Gill Sings Moving Rhymes for Modern Times - Jim Gill

It took several months and several listenings to Jim Gill's 2006 album Jim Gill Sings Moving Rhymes for Modern Times before I fully appreciated the disk's strengths. In the meantime I'd listened to scores of CDs lacking some of the qualities Gill brings. To begin with, Gill's good humor shines through, not so much in wacky lyrics or zany vocals, but in simple vocal expressions. Listen to Gill's humorous interplay between him and guitar player Don Stiernberg on "Delay on the Freeway," which digresses into discussing catalytic converters, and you can see how he'd be great in front of a crowd of kids (or adults, for that matter). Gill and his crack group of backing musicians serve well his often jazzy melodies (notably "Jim Gill's Groove" and "Tromboning"). And, hey, any album that works in a bit of Gershwin ("Rhythm in my Fingers") is OK by me. The album title itself could be the Library of Congress description for the CD -- there are lots of rhymes and lots of description and encouragement of physical motion, sometimes large ("Swing Your Partner") and sometimes small (the aforementioned "Rhythm in my Fingers"). Best for kids ages 3 through 7. You can hear full song selections from all of Gill's albums at his new website. The album is probably best for a classroom setting or at least at home; I can see how the album would be less compelling if you're in the car and your range of motion is (hopefully) limited. But if you're looking for an album to interact with ("music play," as Gill describes it), Jim Gill Sings Moving Rhymes for Modern Times is an excellent choice.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Yes, But Will He Get His Own Funky Dancing Shadow?

Did you know you can get every Dan Zanes family album at the iTunes Music Store? Including audio for his All Around the Kitchen DVD? Even a bonus track from Parades and Panoramas?

And that now he's just the second kids' artist to get their own "Essentials" list, which is an iTunes Music Store-endorsed collection of, well, essential tracks from an artist's catalog? The Wiggles, meet Dan Zanes. Dan Zanes, meet the Wiggles.

I mention this for two reasons:
1) It's a recognition of the changing nature of kids' music (Ralph's World is featured on the sidebar; Justin Roberts is featured on the page, too).
2) I compiled the list.

(And, yes, there are more coming. If it takes a while, there are good reasons for that having nothing to do with my opinion of the artist.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Review in Brief: Dog Train - Sandra Boynton

For those of you who adore Sandra Boynton's comically plaintive drawings of pets and her whimsical sense of humor, but found the Broadway show stylings of Philadelphia Chickens a little too, well, Broadway show-stylish, her 2005 album/book Dog Train really brings the rock. Or, well, as much as any album that features three separate episodes entitled "Cow Planet" can bring said rock. Boynton and her musical collaborator Michael Ford have recruited a... diverse collection of musical performers to perform their (mostly) humorous songs -- Alison Krauss, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Blues Traveler, among others. As is often the case with albums where a collection of performers tackle the work of another artist, the best work is done by the least expected -- the Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan bringing his Tom Waits-esque voice to "Sneakers," or the energetic "Pots and Pans" built up to a percussive crescendo by the Bacon Brothers and Mickey Hart. The best song on the CD may be the most familiar -- the wonderful "I Need A Nap," which pairs "Weird Al" Yankovic with Kate Winslet ("this is Ms. Winslet and Mr. Yankovic's first duet together," the liner notes wryly comment). It takes a Titanic-worthy overwrought ballad and applies it to the overwrought words of a cranky kid. It's very meta, and very funny. Less successful, though, are the fairly straight songs (Alison Krauss sounds wonderful on "Evermore," but she'd sound wonderful singing the "Weekly Clipper") and the "Cow Planet" interludes. The album will probably be most appreciated by kids ages 4 through 8 and people of a certain age remembering the soundtrack to their high school and/or college years. (Hey, I liked the Hooters. And the Spin Doctors CD. And the Hootie CD. I'm just sayin'.) You can hear clips from all of Boynton's CDs here. Oh, and if you don't want the book/CD compilation, the CD by itself is scheduled to be released on August 8. Fans of Boynton's work won't be disappointed by Dog Train; newcomers may be surprised at the breadth of collaborators here and amused by the whimsy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Review in Brief: The Pet Project - Campfire Kev & Mary Lafleur

The 2006 Cooperative Summer Library Program may be winding down, but here's another pet-themed CD in case librarians reading here are looking for a CD to tide them over these last few days of summer. (I'm guessing throwing up one's hands and feeding the kids animal crackers is an insufficient response.) Kids' music artists Campfire Kev and Mary Lafleur have teamed up to record The Pet Project (2005), an album with more than 20 original songs, all about pets and animals in general. The songs generally fit in the children's pop mold, with a large cast of musicians backing up the two leads, who trade vocals (and songwriting credits). With 20+ songs about the same subject, I gravitated toward the songs that stood out musically and lyrically -- the country-rock on Kev's outstanding "The Cow Who Can't Say 'Moo'", the gentle AM pop of Lafleur's "Teddy's Bear" (weaving a story about Teddy Roosevelt's pets), or the dueling vocals on "Queen of the House," a clever "cat vs. dog" song that would be great in a kids' musical. The disk is best for kids age 4 through 9 and you can hear clips at the CD's CDBaby page. (And if you like Campfire Kev's more rocking songs on this disk, you might want to check out his first CD, The Campfire Kev Show and Other Radio Favorites.)

We don't have pets in the house at the moment, so I'm not the first person you should read looking for "oh, they have so described my pet" comments. I can only hear so many songs about how wonderful pets are or the wacky things they do before I go a little crazy. Kinda like reading one too many mommy- or daddy-blogs. But in selective doses, there are some good tracks on The Pet Project.

All Belle and Sebastian, All the Time?

Pitchfork picks up a NME story updating the Belle and Sebastian-curated children's music compilation, Zooglobble goes nuts. (You know, for someone who's a little bit skeptical about this whole endeavor, I'm certainly spending a lot of time talking about it. Maybe I'm talking myself into thinking it might just work.)

First, the actual news -- the compilation on Rough Trade Records is now scheduled for release in October, not September as originally announced. Oh, and the Flaming Lips have been added to the bill.

Now, for pure silliness, let's guess what the best track will be, purely based on the artist and song name:

Four Tet (featuring Princess Watermelon) - "Go Go Ninja Dinosaur"
Rasputina - "A Skeleton Bang"
Franz Ferdinand - "Jackie Jackson"
Snow Patrol - "I Am an Astronaut"
The Divine Comedy - "Three Cheers for Pooh, Cottleston Pie, Piglet Ho"
The Kooks - "The King & I"
Half Man Half Biscuit - "David Wainwright's Feet"
The Barcelona Pavilion - "Tidy Up Tidy Up"
Jonathan Richman - "Out Dog Is Getting Older Now"
Ivor Cutler Trio - "Mud"
The Flaming Lips - "The Big Ol' Bug Is the New Baby Now"
Belle & Sebastian - "The Monkeys Are Breaking out of the Zoo"
Kathryn Williams - "Night Baking"

I've got my bets on the Four Tet and Flaming Lips tracks. The Divine Comedy track could either be a disaster or inspired. As a big fan of the Milne books, it's a track I simultaneously view with anticipation and dread.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Review: An Elephant Never Forgets - Owen Duggan

I would call Owen Duggan the "next Raffi," but the problem is, I already did that with someone else. And even if I no longer believed it (which I do), it would look pretty foolish of me to recant scant weeks later. So let me put it this way -- Owen Duggan is Raffi.

Or, to put it another way, Duggan's late 2005 debut album An Elephant Never Forgets is the album that Raffi could've recorded after The Corner Grocery Store, had he decided to continue mining the vein of classic kids' songs, folk songs, and other musical traditions instead of becoming increasingly concerned with ecology and children -- all Good Things, no doubt, but far from where Raffi started. But Duggan has the sweet voice (here's a man who needs to record "Puff the Magic Dragon") and talented backing musicians that makes Raffi's work so pleasant to listen to.

Duggan, a San Antonio-based music teacher, has put together a wonderful group of musicians to back up this collection of Duggan originals and classic tunes. The gentle humor of the album is evident in one of my favorite tracks, the zippy "The Ants," better known as "The Ants Go Marching." Duggan and his band gives the song an increasingly manic energy, which is released in a jazzy musical outro. I especially liked the brass work of Ron Wilkins throughout the album, but the whole set of jazz and folk musicians who back him up are top-notch. The music switches between gentle kids folk music (the Duggan original "The Elephant Song" and "I Got the Baby Blues"), covers of classics ("Tom Paxton's oft-recorded "The Marvelous Toy"), authentic folk music (the energetic fiddle tune "The Green Meadow"), and jazz (the Ellington/Strayhorn "Happy Go Lucky Local"). Duggan closes out the album with a couple lovely lullabies, which seems to be the standard for kids' albums nowadays. (Almost makes me nostalgic for the Raffi albums, which sometimes ended up an uptempo note.)

This album is targeted right at kids ages 2 through 6. You can hear samples here and order the disk at Duggan's website or the standard Amazon/CDBaby/iTunes trio.

If Raffi makes your eyelid twitch erratically, I really can't recommend the disk to you. But if you have an appreciation for Raffi's work, and are looking for something else besides to play, An Elephant Never Forgets is a nice collection, a little jazzier, a little poppier than Raffi, and every bit as well done. Recommended.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Review in Brief: Children Are the Sunshine - Asheba

Trinidad-born and Bay Area-based, Asheba released his third kids music album, Children Are the Sunshine (2006), earlier this month. Asheba's music draws on his Caribbean heritage, employing reggae and calypso styles on kids' standards and his originals. The strong points of the CD? There are some tracks I enjoyed -- the reggae-fied version of "All Around the Kitchen," for example, or an original version of an alphabet song ("ABC (Alphabet Story)"). But his CD fails to draw enough attention to Asheba's reported strengths as an improvisational artist or storyteller. There isn't always enough musical variety within a song to merit the 4- to 5-minute track lengths of many song, and sweet story songs like "Picoplat Calypso" were more the exception than the rule. And I was disappointed that the album didn't include a single song with steel drum, which Asheba can play.

Asheba is reputedly very popular in the Bay Area, and is working on a Putumayo Kids recording. I hope that that next album, especially with the backing of Putumayo, allows Asheba to use a broader array of instruments and larger number of musicians, thereby drawing out more of the qualities fans see in his live shows. Children Are the Sunshine isn't a bad album, it just doesn't do enough to showcase Asheba.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Huge In Australia

Before I get to the Purple Stripes, a quick story:

Shortly after the NPR interview, I got an e-mail from an Australian comic who was looking for a review I'd done of his CD here on the website. He'd apparently sold some of his albums at CDBaby from people who were referred there from here.

Here's the thing: I'd never even heard of him or the CD, let alone reviewed it.

I told him that if he got me a copy of the CD (which did sound like it'd be fairly amusing and even somewhat apropos for the site), I'd review it here, and then at least it would all make sense. Haven't heard a reply to the offer, though.

I bring this up as a way of saying I must be huge in Australia, because Karl Richter, with the new Australian label Bing!Bang!Bong!, is the first person to ask me to post a kids' music artist's mp3 here on Zooglobble. And since the song is from the new Australian kids' music duo The Purple Stripes, I said I'd be happy to oblige:

The Purple Stripes - The Circle Song (Too late!)

While my favorite song from their 2006 EP is "Bing! Bang! Bong!" (available at their Myspace page), I think "The Circle Song" is more indicative of their EP as a whole -- sweet female harmonizing in a folk-pop way, with just guitar and the bare minimum of percussion for accompaniment. Those looking for a kids' music equivalent of The White Stripes will be disappointed -- it's a little more of a blend of Laurie Berkner and Lunch Money.

Good stuff and a promising debut. Their EP will be on the iTunes Music Store soon.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Review: Song and Play Time - Pete Seeger

Long before Laurie Berkner, long before Raffi even, there was Pete Seeger. His stepmother spent a lot of time recovering folk songs from historical neglect, and her stepson put many of those on record. He was incredibly productive in doing this for Folkways Records, recording 54 albums for them. One of those albums, originally released in 1960, Seeger's Song and Play Time, received a new release on CD in 2001.

More than anything, the thing that keeps Pete Seeger's albums far from the file marked "important-but-unlistenable" is that voice. Crystal-clear and sweet, accompanied only by his adept banjo-playing, and sometimes by nothing his conviction that folk songs are worthwhile, Seeger's voice invites listeners to sit down and listen. (His voice sounds great on this remastered album.)

Until, of course, he encourages them to join in the fun. Sometimes that encouragement is for physical activity, as in "Here We Go Loopy-Loo," the precursor to the "Hokey-Pokey." (Or, since the "Hokey-Pokey" has been around since possibly the Middle Ages, perhaps it's the successor.) Sometimes the encouragement is to sing along, as in the classics "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad" and "She'll Be Comin' 'round the Mountain." (The latter, I would note, includes a lyric about killing the old red rooster -- "hack-hack" -- which got left out by Raffi and Laurie Berkner. I like the addition and it certainly puts the next line -- "We will all have chicken and dumplings" -- in much better context.) And sometimes Seeger simply wills the listener to participate, singing loudly and clapping a cappella on "Captain Jinks."

Kids age 2 through 6 will most enjoy the songs here. You can hear samples at the Folkways page for the album.

At 41 minutes in length, the album may get a bit too repetitive to listen to straight through. But it'd probably fit right in a 5-CD changer on shuffle, either with Seeger's contemporaries or with your contemporaries. And the more you're willing to sit down (or stand up) with Seeger (rather than just putting him in the car's CD player), the more you and your kids will get something out of the album. Seeger's melodious voice and enthusiasm makes this worth exploring for you and the younger kids in your life.

A Great and Noble Experiment

Or, at least, this sounds like it'll be cool. The first of many guest DJ sets at Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child can be heard this weekend from Andy Ure of The Quiet Ones. (Didja read the review?)

At some point I'll have a guest DJ slot myself... I just need to figure out how to cram an entire musical philosophy into about 45 minutes. (Or maybe I should just play They Might Be Giants repeatedly.)

Anyway, go forth and listen.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Review: Plays Well With Others - Uncle Rock

You don't often get a second chance to make a first impression, the cliche goes, and that's especially true in children's music. A cheesy song is enough to make the parent quickly hit the eject button lest the children get too attached to music that drives the parent absolutely nuts; a poor album cover will doom the CD before it even reaches the player. So it was with Uncle Rock's 2nd CD, Plays Well With Others (2006), released a couple weeks ago. Uncle Rock? Just the name made me a little dubious. The logo? Designed by a child (the artist's son, as it turns out). And the opening song? Starts with the shouted phrase "Are you ready?" I was thisclose to hitting eject and never looking at the CD again, let alone listening to it.

And then within the space of about one minute, I was interested. The opening track, a general dancing around song, has a nice groove and includes the lyric "I'm gonna shake my head like the head of a mop." OK, you've got me back -- I'll stick around. Uncle Rock, as it turns out, is New York State-based Robert Burke Warren, who's played with both Wanda Jackson and RuPaul, among others. (I feel fairly certain that puts him in fairly small company.) Joined by a bunch of musicians on various tracks, he brings a loose roots-rock attitude to the CD, giving it a nice, organic feel. (The production is a lot better than the 4-track home recordings on his debut album.) The best cuts are those that are more fully realized instrumentally and lyrically. "Picnic in the Graveyard," for example, is a great kids' song about... er... death. Well, not exactly, but it's about Dia de los Muertos, a day of celebration where people have a picnic in the graveyard. "We're gonna sit in the grass / With people from the past / And we will not be afraid," goes the lyrics. It's got a great chorus backed by a horn section. The amusing "Gettin' Big Blues" is a bluesy number about how difficult it can be for kids to grow older ("I once had a T-shirt / the coolest thing around / but since I can't get it over my head / It's gonna be a hand-me-down" ... "I once had attention / I was an only child / But now there's a baby in the house / So I'm going wild... Pick me up / 'Cause I don't wanna walk") It works for both kids and their parents. The kids on the album generally add, instead of detract, from the mix.

Some songs ("Playin' Possum, "Shoe Bandit," "I'm a Pirate") don't work as well for me, they seem a little cheesy. But I give Warren credit for trying different things. He turns in a nice medley of "Magic Carpet Ride/Hey Bo Diddley/Magic Bus." And while the album's best cuts are the midtempo rockers, the closing ballad "Connected" is a sweet song.

The CD is most appropriate for kids age 3 through 8. You can hear clips of a few songs at Uncle Rock's MySpace page, though only one song, "Sugar Talkin'," is off the new CD. (Robert, update that page, pronto!) You can also hear samples at the album's CDBaby page.

Warren has made big strides in this, his second album. Teaches me to judge a book by its cover. He's got a little bit of Ralph's World and a lot more of Brady Rymer in him. Plays Well With Others is an album with some great cuts of kid-friendly roots-rock. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Note From My Family To Me

Dear Honey/Daddy/[unintelligible]:

You can't blog about everything. Sometimes other people will have the same idea you do, and occasionally they'll post something about it before you can. Deal with it.

Besides, they'll still want to read your review of that new artist they haven't heard of tomorrow.

Your Family

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Review: Make Some Noise - The Quiet Ones

Unfortunately for New York band The Quiet Ones, their 2005 debut Make Some Noise didn't, er, make some noise, or at least not as much as it should have. And while I can't answer the question of how in the name of They Might Be Giants did this album fly under the radar, I can do my best to explain why it shouldn't have.

The Quiet Ones are Chrstopher Anderson and Andrew Ure, 2/3rds of the band Muckafurgason, which toured with They Might Be Giants and whose final album was produced by John Flansburgh of the band. The They Might Be Giants reference is appropriate here, because the album is filled with lyrical flights of fancy that would not sound out of place on a TMBG album. Take, for example, "Polar Bear," a country-ish tune which starts out with the line "Straight to the point / I wanna be a polar bear," then comes back to the concept later on in the tune with the line "Back to the point of being a polar bear," a meta reference that is likely to amuse the parents within a very kid-friendly song about, well, being a polar bear. Or "Invisible Trousers," in which the narrator talks about how he "Wore them to the dentist & to the pet store / And everyone was pointing / Because they’d never seen invisible trousers before," which is a punchline that will reward the older kids and parents listening. For adults tired of listening to kids' albums with too many lessons, the lessons here are few and far between, with the band typically content to tell stories with subjects of interest to kids, like running ("How Fast Can You Run") and superheroes ("Ultrafoot").

Sonically, the album has a very British vibe, with some songs sound more like British Invasion bands ("Make Some Noise"), some like XTC outtakes (the amusing "My Keyboard"), and some like the Beatles (the lovely "I Remember Purple"). And, gosh, I've somehow managed to not mention my two favorite songs, the power-poppy "You Can't Hide Your Bike" (which is about exactly what the title implies), and the narratively exuberant album closer "Fizzy Milk."

Well, kids ages 4 through 9 -- especially slightly silly ones -- will enjoy this album the most. You can hear samples of some songs here or all songs at the album's page at Amazon. You can also see the lyrics and hear karaoke versions of most songs here.

Can you tell I liked the album? There are no bad songs here, just songs you'll like more or less than others. At just over the 30-minute mark, the album is short but very sweet. Fans of power pop or XTC or They Might Be Giants should check out the album post haste. Like, yesterday. As for the rest of you, the appealing goofiness and catchy melodies make Make Some Noise also worth your time. Definitely recommended.

Brady's Bunch

Brady Rymer. Elizabeth Mitchell. Hayes Greenfield. I doubt another lineup will top this, the best one-day-only concert of 2006. Heck, it can even give those multi-day festivals in Chicago and Austin a run for their money. Pity our family has no plans to beanywhere near Long Island on August 27.

Oh, and Brady, you really should blog more often. That Clearwater Folk Festival entry was fun to read.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mick Jones, Children's Musician

So the family, or 75% of us, went to see Pixar's movie Cars this weekend. I was struck by two things during my time at one of our local metroplexes:
1. Yes, Northern Arizona really does look like that. OK, the buttes really aren't that car-shaped, and I'm pretty sure parts of Northern Arizona have "dark skies" ordinances that would pretty much rule out the bevy of neon in one scene, but other than that, yeah, that's pretty darn close. And, boy, would I like to be there right now.
2. In the previews before the movie's start, two animated movies for kids used rock songs more than 25 years old. One of the movies used a famous song by the Clash (my perpetually overcrowded mind believes it was "Should I Stay or Should I Go?," but it doesn't really matter). And my thought was, since when is the Clash kids' music? Now perhaps that tune isn't actually heard in the movie (preview songs aren't always included in the movie they're promoting), but between that and Ben Folds' cover of "Lost in the Supermarket" from Over the Hedge, and we almost have a trend. Perhaps there's a nice Christmas movie that will use "Guns of Brixton."

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't play the Clash for the kiddos on occasion, and I think the older kids might particularly appreciate what is, without a doubt, an essential rock album. Having said that, why can't movie producers use music that kids might actually... recognize? From a band that's released an album in the last 20 years? I mean, sure, maybe there might be a handful of adults who might decide to go to the movie because a preview uses a Clash tune, but doesn't that sell your primary target audience way short?

One of the reasons I've been writing here for so long is because I believe that "kids music" can -- and should -- engage kids on their level, in things they might be interested in, with voices they can relate to. That can cover a wide range of subjects and artists, some traditionally thought of as "kids-related," some not. And while London Calling is an awesome album, one I occasionally play on the stereo at home, it's not the first one I think of when I think source material for a kids' movie. It's a lack of imagination.


We're back to the rock this week, with a band you might possibly be aware of, an artist you're probably not aware of, and other stuff. Thanks as always for reading and commenting. And stay tuned, there are some cool announcements coming up in the next few weeks. OK, maybe they're not cool to you, but I've got a fairly low bar to clear.

Oh, and if you haven't read this post on whether or not kids' music is enjoying some sort of resurgence, you should do so.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Review in Brief: Songs I Heard - Harry Connick, Jr.

We really have Meg Ryan and the diner scene to thank for this. Jazz musician and erstwhile Broadway star Harry Connick, Jr. got his big break when he was asked to record the soundtrack to the movie When Harry Met Sally. The soundtrack was good, but the massive success of the movie was what pushed Connick into the national consciousness. More than ten years later, Connick repaid the favor -- sort of -- with his 2001 album Songs I Heard, on which he reworked Broadway and film showtunes. It's not a traditional kids' album, but when said tunes come from beloved sources such as Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, there's clearly a kids' music theme to the album. The best tracks are those where Connick lets loose his band and really swings. The opening cut, "Supercalifragilisticexpiadlidocious," is well, that word, on which Connick, Jr., backed by a New Orleans brass band, almost makes us forget Dick Van Dyke. (Connick's voice is smooth as always.) Other uptempo tracks such as "The Lonely Goatherd" and Dixieland stylings on "Spoonful of Sugar" also benefit from Connick's big band and his traditional jazz arrangements. They're definitely a new, jazzier version of the original, but they're not so different from the original that kids won't enjoy them. Less successful are the slower tracks -- I can't see kids recognizing "Maybe" (from the musical Annie) or enjoying the string-backed version here. On the whole, Songs I Heard is a playful album. It's probably too long with some songs too obscure for kids to enjoy the whole thing at one sitting but parents wanting to discover some new showtunes or hear new spins of classics may find this worthwhile and "have what she's having."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Welcome Orlando Bloom Fans!

I thought he was great in Lord of the Rings too... What's that? It's the Orlando Sentinel who's linked here? Oh, well then, welcome to you readers as well. (And thanks, Mary Ann, for the link.)

We're in the midst of a jazz week at the moment, but you'll find all kinds of kids' music here -- a lot of rock, some folk, even some classical buried around here. There are some links there on the right, including one to a listing of the reviews here organized by age. I'm positive you'll find something that will not only entertain your little ones but will also entertain you. (You can't listen to Sufjan Stevens all the time, you know.) And if you don't see an artist you really like, let me know -- I'm always looking for more music. Thanks for stopping by!

Review: Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz - Hayes Greenfield

Why are there not more great jazz albums for kids? You have wonderful melodies infinitely adaptable to the improvisational technique that is one of jazz's trademarks, and yet the number of really good jazz albums geared for kids is small. Hayes Greenfield's 2002 release, Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz, is one of those few albums, great for introducing kids to jazz.

The vocals, unsurprisingly for an album of renditions of kids' songs, are front and center. Miles Griffith turns in a broad variety of vocal approaches and his often gravelly voice contrasts nicely with the sweet voices of Lisa Michel and Charenee Wade. Richie Havens also lends his resonant voice to two tracks, "Grandfather's Clock" and "Oh Susanna."

The album utilizes a broad range of jazz styles, from the gospel wrap-up to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to the scat stylings on "Skip To My Lou" to the more contemporary jazz sounds of "This Old Man." Greenfield has also indicated -- and here's where my surface-deep jazz knowledge recognizes the names but not the particular albums -- that on "Grandfather’s Clock" they employ Latin swing (like John Coltrane's arrangement of "A Night Has A Thousand Eyes"), on "Old MacDonald" they use Thelonious Monk’s harmonic progression from his tune "Bemsha Swing", and on "Animal Fair" they superimposed Coltrane's classic "Giant Steps" harmonic motion. (Note: I have "Giant Steps" and I didn't recognize it, which says everything about me and nothing about Greenfield's skill here.)

What makes this album such a great introduction is the combination of vocals that are both skillful as well as engaging for kids (some tracks feature kids, but only as accompaniment) with instrumentals that are so often missing on kids-focused jazz CDs. Most tracks feature an instrumental break, with Greenfield's saxophone work taking the lead on the solos. The rest of his band swing solidly, too, making the whole 47-minute disc a pleasure to listen to.

It's really hard to put an age range on this disk, because I think most of the album works for adults just as well as for kids (with the possible exception of some of the vocal tracks where Griffith's voice is perhaps too cartoony), but I'll shoot for ages 2 through 12. You can see video clips and learn more about the project at the Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz website.

Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz is a fabulous disk, one that can serve as great introduction for kids to the broad vocal and instrumental palette used by jazz musicians. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Review in Brief: Linus & Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi - George Winston

With its stylized cover photo of San Francisco, little about the packaging of George Winston's 1996 album Linus & Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi suggests "kids music." Indeed, we had this in our own family long before we had any idea what a Baby Bjorn was, let alone struggled to make those snaps, well, snap. But through his scores for 15 Peanuts television specials and one movie, Guaraldi's music may be more familiar to Americans old and (especially) young than that of just about any jazz composer. So it's with the nostalgic thoughts of repeated viewings A Charlie Brown Christmas that many adults may be tempted to get this album, both for themselves and for their kids. Winston, a pianist better known for his New Age(ish) soundscapes and lesser known for his affinity for Hawaiian slack key guitar, plays things pretty straight here. His renditions of two familiar cuts from the Christmas score, "Skating" and "Linus and Lucy," sound much like the original recordings, with only a little flourish at the end of "Linus and Lucy" to distinguish itself from the original. Guaraldi was often backed by his own Vince Guaraldi Trio, so Winston's solo piano does have to do a little bit more work than Guaraldi's original piano work did with other musicians. Other highlights include Winston's rendition of Guaraldi's hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" (again, not so different from the original) and the brief "Bon Voyage," but there really aren't bad tracks. One of the main reasons to get this album is the broad net Winston casts across Guaraldi's work, both Peanuts-related and not -- sadly, it might just be the best Greatest Hits album out there for Guaraldi. Whether or not the kids will be interested in this album is another question entirely; this is probably one of those CDs the parents will play much more for themselves than for their kids. Which isn't a bad thing, either.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Review in Brief: Jazz For Kids - Various Artists

With its Giselle Potter-illustrated cover, the inattentive adult might be fooled into thinking that this is another Ralph's World CD. Clearly, Verve put some thought into how to market this compilation. But with Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, and Ella Fitzgerald (twice!) among those heard on the disk, somebody also put at least a little thought into the music itself. The 11-track, 28-minute album is a nicely sequenced mix of jazzy renditions of children's standards (Ella's versions of "Old McDonald" and "The Muffin Man"), silly novelties (Louis Prima's "Yes! We Have No Bananas"), and other kid-friendly songs. While the presence of Hampton, Peterson, and Fitzgerald are nice, for a person like myself whose jazz knowledge is about a quarter-mile wide and a foot deep, the Louis Jordan, Blossom Dearie, and Carmen McRae tracks are pleasant discoveries. (And while Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" doesn't really fit the swinging attitude of the rest of the tracks, it's a great cut, so we'll let it slide.) If I had any qualms with the disk it would be: a) I wish a disk entitled "Jazz for Kids" would have more than one semi-instrumental track (Peterson's boppy "Mumbles"), and b) I wish the disk's liner notes would've been seriously upgraded, giving more than just each track's title, artist, and release date. But as a whole, this is a pleasant collection of vocal jazz tracks from the mid-20th century and should please even those proclaiming to be allergic to jazz. Recommended.

This Week: All That Jazz

It's the Fourth of July week here in the United States, and I thought I'd spend all week celebrating the country's founding by looking at that most American of art forms, jazz. Not to get all Ken Burns on you, of course, but it's a great musical form that's been a little overlooked, kid-wise. Good stuff. (And for those of you who turn a tin ear to Ella Fitzgerald and the alto sax, don't worry, I'll bring the rock again next week.)

Review: Snow Day! - Eric Herman and the Invisible Band

Longtime FOZ (Friend of Zooglobble) Eric Herman released his third kids' music album, Snow Day! (2006), a couple weeks ago. It's taken me awhile -- three albums' worth -- to put my finger on how to describe his music, but I think I've got it -- it's a mixture of Shel Silverstein and the Beatles. Now, before Eric uses that as the pull-quote to end all pull-quotes, I should explain further.

Herman typically includes a few songs with lyrics by the poet Kenn Nesbitt on his CDs, and Snow Day! is no exception. Four songs include lyrics by Nesbitt, and those songs, like many of Silverstein's poems, take a skewed and occasionally dark view of life. "Snow Day," written in two- and four-word lines, is a quick, punky song about a kid who runs into a tree on his sled. "I Can't Wait For Summer" is a nifty, Beach Boys-inflected song about how wonderful summer will come when it gets here which ends with a cruel (for a kid, anyway) punchline. Indeed, five of the album's twelve tracks have a final-line punchline. And, punchline of not, many of the lyrics are humorous, like in "Cowboy Bergaleoukaleopaleous," about a sheriff whose less-than-catchy name leads to folks attributing his fabulous deeds to others like Annie Oakley whose names were less than a mouthful. It's something that would fit in perfectly on Where The Sidewalk Ends. (The book, at least, if not the album.)

Musically, Herman uses a wide variety of styles, employing country, disco, a Beatles reference (or a very Beatlesque guitar riff) on the opener, "Melody Ring." The best songs are those where Herman's just trying to write a song without getting too humorous or add over-the-top storytelling stylings. "My Lucky Day" is a darkly humorous pop tune about one kid's increasingly lucky day. The penultimate track, "Hide and Go Seek With the Moon," is a fabulous, gentle pop song about a kid's perspective on looking for the moon throughout the day (and night). One of the problems with the album, however, is that some of those gentler songs feel out of place on the disk. The best tracks also don't show the limitations of not working with a real band.

The album (with the exception of the final two tracks) is probably best for kids age 6 through 10. You can hear samples from all of Herman's albums here; the album is available from his website and the usual online suspects (both in physical and electronic form).

I liked individual tracks on the CD, but for me, the whole was less than the sum of its parts. The inconsistent tone between the darkly humorous tracks and the sweeter, more positive tracks was hard for me to negotiate. Kids (and parents) with more flexible minds, however, may find the album a worthwhile spin. And if you're a big Shel Silverstein fan, definitely check this out.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Review in Brief: Songs For Kids Like Us - Robbie Schaefer

[Here because Robbie sent you? Welcome! If you dig this album, there's plenty more great music here at the website (but few carp). Explore and thanks for stopping by!]If you're an adult, and you title your debut kids' music CD Songs For Kids Like Us, you've implied a certain level of (im)maturity to the prospective listener. On his 2006 kids' music debut, Virginia-based Robbie Schaefer (guitarist for adult rock band Eddie From Ohio) meets those expectations. Indeed, in the liner notes he thanks his family for seeing that he's got the "emotional maturity of a five-year-old" and recognizing that he should "use that to [his] advantage." The best songs on the CD are those where he lets his inner five-year-old out -- the backwards lyrics on the countryfied "Cowboy Bob," the sheer silliness of "There's a Carp in the Tub" (with a background group of... carp? singing "Carp. Carp.") Schaefer sticks mostly to folk and bluegrass in his tunes, though he employs pop on the album's best track, the leadoff "No! No! No!," and pulls in accordion and trumpet on the mariachi-inflected "Fredinand." He also turns two versions of "Chicken Lips," covered by someone slightly more well-known (Bruce Springsteen) a number of years ago. I could do without one of those versions (one version goes a long way) and the bland version of a "There's A Hole in the Bucket," though -- it seems out of place amongst the rest of the weirdness. (Oh, and the cartoony "Professor Schnoodle," bugs me too, but longtime readers know my aversion to cartoony voices.) You can listen to three songs off the album at the album's website. Overall, Songs For Kids Like Us is a nicely thought-out and well-executed debut that makes me hope that Schaefer hasn't exhausted his immaturity just yet. Recommended.