Friday, March 31, 2006

More Links to Know

I've added a few more links recently there on the right and I wanted to point out a few that focus on other ways to disseminate children's music.

Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child is a kids' music radio show broadcast out of Massachusetts but also with a weekly podcast. Bill Childs and his 6-year-old daughter Ella spin a bunch of great kids-related tunes, never failing to begin and end with a They Might Be Giants song. That, frankly, would be enough for me, but I've watched his playlists over the past few months, and they've always been quite cool. Do check 'em out.

Pancake Mountatin is a kids' music TV show broadcast in the Washington, DC area. I first stumbled across them last year and their guest list is still pretty amazing. They don't really play kids music -- they bring in "adult" bands and have them play for kids and their minders. Generally the bands play more "adult" music, which I'm not wildly enthused about, at least for the predominant musical selection, but their guest list -- The Arcade Fire, The Go! Team, Metric, Ted Leo, and the like -- is very indie-rock-friendly.

Finally, TV For Tots isn't focused on children's music at all -- the sharper ones among you will have figured out that it's focused on children's TV. It can be argued, however, that Noggin is the single biggest factor in the recent boom in kids' music. No Noggin, and I doubt that Laurie Berkner is selling her DVD in every Starbucks in the country. That's why I check this site out.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Album Recommendations by Age

If you're new to the children's music game, you might not be sure which albums are right for which kids, be they your own or someone else's. And while there's no accounting for taste (insert name of your most-disliked musical artist here), it is possible to make a reasonable guess of an album's targeted age range. It's more art than science, to be sure -- your 7-year-old might like Laurie Berkner and Raffi; your friend's 2-year-old might think Justin Roberts rocks. But a simple folk song about learning the numbers is going to appeal to a different audience than a rock song about losing one's first tooth.

Here, then, is a list of all Zooglobble-reviewed albums organized by the first year I thought the albums would be appropriate to listen to. Please keep in mind that...

-- I'm not a child development expert -- I only play one on the Internet. Actually, I don't even play one here. I'm just a parent. I guess that makes me some sort of child development expert, but definitely not one with the relevant letters behind my name.
-- I've listed all albums reviewed here at the site -- just because it's on the list doesn't mean I wholly recommend it. That's why I've linked to the reviews.
-- The maximum age is in parentheses. I don't recommend giving a child at the upper end of any album's age range that album as they'll probably dismiss it as "baby stuff." But kids who have listened to that CD for a long time may reach that upper end (or will secretly enjoy listening to it if it's being played for a younger sibling).
-- I'll try to keep this post current for all subsequent reviews. Check back often!

(Last updated: July 19, 2006)

For newborns and up
--> You Are My Sunshine - Elizabeth Mitchell (6) review -- low-key folk-rock, great covers
--> You Are My Flower - Elizabeth Mitchell (5) review -- even slightly more low-key folk-rock, still great covers
--> Songs For Wiggleworms - (5) Old Town School of Folk Music review -- simple renditions of classic songs for kids
--> Wiggleworms Love You - (6) Old Town School of Folk Music review -- more (mostly) simple renditions of classic songs
--> All Through the Night - Mae Robertson (3) review -- lullabies familiar and un-
--> Listen, Learn and Grow Lullabies - Various Artists (5) review -- soothing classical melodies
--> Lullabies: A Songbook Companion - Various Artists (3) review -- classic (sung) lullabies
--> Close Your Eyes - Josephine Cameron (5/NA) review -- not specifically a lullaby album for kids, but works just fine that way

Age 1 and up
--> Whaddaya Think of That? - Laurie Berkner (6) review -- fun originals and covers
--> Singable Songs for the Very Young - Raffi (5) review -- the album that pretty much started the kids' music genre (Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Ella Jenkins notwithstanding)
--> More Singable Songs - Raffi (6) review -- the sequel
--> Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child - Woody Guthrie (6) review -- folk songs for kids from the prolific folksinger
--> Quiet Time - Raffi (5) review -- mellow classics and Raffi originals from entire career

Age 2 and up
--> Here Come the ABCs - They Might Be Giants (7) review -- TMBG and the ABCs. Fun alterna-pop for every age.
--> Ralph's World - Ralph's World (6) review -- Debut album from kids' pop-rocker
--> Catch the Moon - Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell (5) review -- folky versions of classics, songs from around the world, and covers
--> Buzz Buzz - Laurie Berkner (6) review -- Folk-rock for the preschooler set
--> Stomp Yer Feet! - Johnny Bregar (6) review -- a more soulful, slightly funkier version of Raffi (and don't let the Raffi reference scare you)
--> Fascinating Creatures - Frances England (7) review -- Very original indie-rock
--> Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang - Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang (6) review -- Saturday morning cartoon show-like with fun tunes
--> The Hollow Trees - The Hollow Trees (7) review -- folksongs for the family
--> Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz - Hayes Greenfield (12) review -- jazz renditions of classic kids' tunes, played in a variety of styles with vocals and instrumental solos
--> Kids Rock for Peas! - The Sippy Cups (6) review -- classics and nuggets from the '60s and '70s, tweaked for playschoolers
--> Snail Song & Magic Toast - The Sippy Cups (7) review -- two original and two spoken-word remixes reminiscent of '60s psychedelia and '70s power pop
--> Lead Belly Sings for Children - Lead Belly (10) review -- collection of kids' songs (folk, blues, work songs) from one of the most important 20th-century musicians
--> Folk Playground (Putumayo) - Various Artists (8) review -- not really folk, but a decent mixtape of folk-ish songs
--> An Elephant Never Forgets - Owen Duggan (6) review -- Raffi-like in its gentleness and appropriation of a number of musical styles
--> The Corner Grocery Store - Raffi (6) review -- Raffi's third album, doesn't really change the formula
--> Song and Play Time - Pete Seeger (6) review -- one of many Pete Seeger kids' albums, singing folk favorites
--> Kaleidoscope Songs Volumes 1 & 2 - Alex and the Kaleidoscope Band (6) review -- Mostly mellow pop songs about kids' experiences, written for the kids
--> Jivin' in the Jungle - Barking Gorillas (6) review -- kids' pop (with a little rock)

Age 3 and up
--> No! - They Might Be Giants (8) review -- alterna-pop for kids (which sounds a lot like TMBG's "regular" alterna-pop)
--> House Party - Dan Zanes (10) review -- mostly uptempo family music and folk songs
--> Night Time! - Dan Zanes (8) review -- slightly (but only slightly) down-tempo family music and folk songs
--> Rocket Ship Beach - Dan Zanes (7) review -- Zanes' first family music album, with more of a folk song and bluegrass emphasis than previous albums
--> Family Dance - Dan Zanes (8) review -- Zanes' second family music and folk song album
--> Silly Reflection - Lunch Money (7) review -- indie rock but with a purely preschool point-of-view
--> Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World DVD (8) review -- indie pop with unique animation
--> Ablum - Duplex! (8) review -- kids' indie rock with a very loose, adult indie rock feel
--> Bottle of Sunshine - Milkshake (7) review -- children's pop-rock (sweeter than many albums reviewed here)
--> Songs from the Hebrew Scriptures / Songs from the New Testament - Why Not Sea Monsters? (Justin Roberts/Liam Davis) (10) review -- Retellings of Biblical stories matched with easygoing Roberts melodies and lyrics
--> I Am Your New Music Teacher - Parker Bent (6) review -- pop-rock and other styles (EP in length)
--> The Amazing Adventures of Kid Astro (10) review -- fifth Ralph's World album with children's pop-rock skews both young (dumptrucks) and old (kissing girls!)
--> At the Bottom of the Sea - Ralph's World (8) review -- second Ralph's World album continues in same pop-rock vein as first, just skewed older
--> Jazz for Kids - Various Artists (10) review -- vocal jazz renditions of kids favorites and other kid-friendly tunes from Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and more
--> Jim Gill Sings Moving Rhymes for Modern Times (7) review -- jazzy melodies (among others) encouraging "music play"
--> Plays Well With Others - Uncle Rock (8) review -- Mostly roots-rock originals
--> Chocolate Milk - ScribbleMonster and His Pals (8) review -- crack alt-pop and alt-rock melodies with (in parts) cartoony voices
--> Curious George Soundtrack - Jack Johnson (7) review -- "Singalongs and Lullabies," indeed -- more laid-back rock
--> Children Are the Sunshine - Asheba (7) review -- Caribbean music, some standards, mostly kids' originals
--> Baloney Cake - Uncle Moondog (6) review -- mostly California- and surf-rock with (unseen) animated friends

Age 4 and up
--> All Wound Up! - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer w/ Brave Combo (8) review -- energetic dance music for the whole family
--> Green Gorilla, Monster & Me - Ralph's World (9) review -- 6th Ralph's World collection of children's pop-rock and his best
--> Yellow Bus - Justin Roberts (9) review -- Roberts' 2nd album of children's alterna- and acoustic rock
--> Way Out - Justin Roberts (8) review -- Roberts' 4th album of children's rock
--> If You Ever See An Owl - The Terrible Twos (10) review -- alt-country/indie-acoustic-rock for kids by The New Amsterdams' alter egos
--> Every Day is a Birthday - Brady Rymer (9) review -- family-friendly (musically and lyrically) roots rock
--> Make Some Noise - The Quiet Ones (9) review -- TMBG-like absurd kids' rock
--> Accidentally (on purpose) - Keith Munslow (9) review -- children's pop with broad array of musical styles and story-driven lyrics, sharply played
--> Turn It Up Mommy! - The RTTs (8) review -- straight-ahead rock and blues-rock for kids
--> Giddyup! - Buck Howdy (10) review -- cowboy music for kids
--> Tall and Small - Rebecca Frezza (8) review -- snappy children's pop
--> Rock Your Socks Off (8) review -- jam-band rock that encourages lots of movement
--> Songs For Kids Like Us - Robbie Schaefer (8) review -- occasionally silly children's pop and bluegrass
--> Little Red Wagon (8) review -- gentle folk songs, for kids and more
--> Paws Claws Scales and Tales - Monty Harper (9) review -- library-focused kids' pop-rock
--> Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD - Monty Harper (9) review -- more straight-ahead pop-rock than Harper's studio albums, plus a live band
--> Beethoven's Wig 3 - Richard Perlmutter (9) review -- new lyrics set to (very) old classical tunes
--> Dog Train - Sandra Boynton (8) review -- more rocking than Chickens, with lots of guest stars
--> Philadelphia Chickens - Sandra Boynton (8) review -- more like a Broadway show with amusing lyrics (and drawings)
--> Happy Lemons - Ralph's World (8) review -- Ralph's World's 3rd album of kids' pop-rock
--> The Pet Project - Campfire Kev and Mary Lafleur (9) review -- A whole bunch pet/animal-themed children's pop (and a little country and rock)
--> Songs I Heard - Harry Connick, Jr. (10) review -- Jazzy renditions of movie and Broadway tunes
--> Linus & Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi - George Winston (10) review -- Mostly faithful solo piano renditions of Vince Guaraldi's jazz works from Peanuts specials and more

Age 5 and up
--> Catch That Train! - Dan Zanes and Friends (10) review -- Zanes' fifth (and best) family-friendly album continues his multi-stylistic approach with lots of guests
--> Meltdown! - Justin Roberts (10) review -- Roberts' fifth (and best) album of kids' alt-rock and acoustic pop
--> Alphabet Songs, Vol. II (Ivan Idea) - Steve Weeks (9) review -- Alphabet-themed CD with sly lyrics and roots/jam musical underpinnings
--> We Shall Overcome (The Seeger Session) - Bruce Springsteen (N/A) review -- Not really a kids' CD. But listen to it with 'em anyway.
--> Pegleg Tango - Captain Bogg & Salty (9) review -- pirate-themed rock and pop with a theatrical (and humorous) flair
--> Eat Every Bean and Pea on Your Plate - Daddy A Go Go (10) review -- Straight-ahead rock and lots of jokes
--> The Hipwaders - The Hipwaders (9) review -- Kids' alt-pop with reminders of the '60s and the '80s
--> Monkey Business - Eric Herman and the Invisible Band (8) review -- Herman's second album of children's pop
--> The Kid in the Mirror - Eric Herman and the Invisible Band (8) review -- Debut album of children's pop

Age 6 and up
--> Snow Day - Eric Herman and the Invisible Band (10) review -- Third album of children's pop

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Song of the Day: Tricycle - Lunch Money

Lunch Money is a band based in South Carolina. They play lo-fi children's rock and the songs of theirs I've heard create moments of ear-to-ear grins. So do other things, I suppose, but most of those are the result of family joy and not necessarily from children's music.

Their song "Tricycle" creates a lot of grins for me. It's a very simple song, musically -- guitar, drums, and a surfeit of handclaps. It matches an eminently hummable tune with words that have meaning to both the 3-year-old and their 33-year-old parents. "This tricycle was my brother’s tricycle / and that’s why it has this dent in the fender." It's a goofy little song, but it's sooooo much fun.

Listen to three songs off their first album Silly Reflection here.

For another song with handclaps from a band with an occasionally lo-fi aesthetic, listen to the Shins' "Kissing the Lipless" here.

(Hat tip to Bill from Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child for the Lunch Money advocacy.)

News: Want to Listen to the New Dan Zanes Album?

Then get yourself over to's Music Easter Store page, where you can find a stream of Catch That Train!, Dan Zanes' new album, scheduled to be released May 16, 2006. (Windows Media Player required to play, though samples are available for all the tracks in other formats.)

Having listened to the stream, I can say that anybody who's liked Dan Zanes' prior 4 children's music albums will like this one. It's just as good and with further listening may prove to be his best. Early favorite tracks include "Let's Shake," "Loch Lomond" (with Natalie Merchant), and "I Don't Want Your Millions Mister." (Considering Zanes' affiliation with Starbucks and Disney and fears that he'd "sell out," there may be other reasons for selecting that last track.) I would've ordered the CD sound unheard, but I pre-ordered it today.

Anyway, go now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Review: Every Day Is A Birthday - Brady Rymer

Brady Rymer's 2006 release Every Day Is A Birthday is his fourth CD of children's music. Accompanied by what might just be the best-sounding band in children's music, Rymer delivers a solid batch of songs that will engage both kids and adults.

Brady Rymer was a member of the '90s roots-rock band From Good Homes. On Birthday, he's firmly placed in the AAA (adult album alternative) format, with hints of alt-country, cajun, and Motown thrown in for good measure. Fans of the Wallflowers, Counting Crows, and the Jayhawks will probably enjoy the musical textures here. I also heard not a little bit of Paul Westerberg in the album, both in the melodies and the voice, if not the desperation.

Indeed, Rymer has a thoroughly positive outlook on childhood. Songs like "Look In Your Pocket" and "Diggin' Up a Dinosaur" talk about the power of childhood imagination, while the amusing "Dilly Dally Daisy" and "Keep Up With You" celebrates childhood energy ("Mama needs a hot bath every evening / Loofah sponges, essential oils... / If she's ever gonna keep up with you!"). Some listeners may find some of the slower and quieter songs (such as "Side By Side") a bit too earnest, but that's more an issue of taste -- your "tolerance for mushy," as it were. I personally preferred it when Rymer let the band loose, as in the opening track "Rock 'N' Roll Mother Goose," the cajun-styled Guthrie classic "Little Sacka Sugar," or the rollicking "Mama Don't Allow." (I also could've sworn I heard a bit of a sneer in "Instead of Watching My TV" as if Rymer was telling the child in question to do something instead of watching his TV. But maybe I'm reading too much into that.)

A couple other notes: The album comes with a collection of snippets from the songs to challenge the listener to identify which song which snippet came from. This was harder than I anticipated. Must pay closer attention! It also comes with karaoke versions of three album tracks. This is such a cool idea that I can't believe it hasn't been done before (that I'm aware of). This is really great.

In the end, if you're looking for something more "adult-sounding" than some of the children's pop/rock that's out there, this CD is for you. (My wife, who definitely fits that category, really likes the CD.) It's best for ages 4 to 9. Recommended. Available at the usual online suspects.

News: New Milkshake News, Old Elizabeth Mitchell News

We cover the waterfront here at Zooglobble, news-wise. There is no expiration date for news here -- a week old, a year old -- if I haven't seen it before, I'm willing to pass it on.

I'm especially happy with these two bits of information, because they involve bands/artists in which women play major roles. My wife is happy, too -- upon hearing recently that we'd soon be getting a female-fronted CD -- she said, "About time!" (Or words to that effect.) Guess our female children's artists' section needs beefing up.

Aaaaanyway, the first bit of news comes from PBS Kids, which announces its Earth Day broadcast plans, including:
"the world premiere of three Earth Day-themed music videos from Milkshake, the
award-winning kids' rock band fronted by Lisa Mathews and Mikel Gehl that has
captured the ears – and the hearts - of kids and parents alike. The music
videos, which focus on taking care of the Earth and keeping it clean, were
written exclusively for PBS KIDS Share the Earth Day."

Now, aside from the scary fact that Lisa and Mikel are apparently collecting body parts from people (capturing ears and hearts, folks -- wasn't "Silence of the Lambs" set in the Baltimore area?... hmmm....), this does sound kinda cool. Or, at least, I think this could be right in Milkshake's wheelhouse. Check out "Woo-Woo," off Bottle of Sunshine -- I realize that Milkshake's music definitely tends toward the heartfelt, but isn't that exactly the type of thing you'd expect to hear on Earth Day?

The second bit of news comes from an old article recently posted (and written) by John Mitchell about an Elizabeth Mitchell concert in June 2005. The whole article is a nice piece on Mitchell (Elizabeth, not John), but I'm particularly interested in the information below (emphasis added):
"Mitchell went on to release two more CDs, one with Lisa Loeb, and is now
working on another one
. She has begun writing songs specifically for children,
but remains committed to unearthing lost musical treasures."

Well, given how little her website had been updated recently, I'm not surprised she's (in theory) working on another album. (They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes are also not paying their webmasters enough to keep their websites hopping with new stuff.) Here's hoping the album comes out in 2006.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Song of the Day: Mama Don't Allow - Brady Rymer

One of my favorite kids' books is Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, which simultaneously manages to capture the mindset of a three-year-old and permits that same three-year-old to yell "No!" repeatedly. It's a safe rebellion for the child, while also allowing him or her to exert control. (It's also now a musical, apparently, but that's a whole different subject.)

The musical equivalent is the traditional "Mama Don't Allow," which allows the listener to do all sorts of things mama (a particularly strict sort) don't normally allow: hand-clappin', foot-stompin' -- you get the idea if you somehow have never heard the song before.

Brady Rymer has a nice version of the song on his latest album, Every Day Is a Birthday. It's uptempo, full of energy, but the part that I really dig (and I why I'm mentioning it here) is when Rymer sings, "Mama don't allow no backup-singin' 'round here," and, sure enough, the backup singers chime in. It's a nice, slightly meta-, slightly humorous moment in a fun version of the song that could easily be no different from countless other versions of the song.

Reminds me a little bit of They Might Be Giants' "Fibber Island," off of -- appropriately enough, given the start of this post -- No!. "Here on Fibber Island / No one sings along," and then the backup singers (or whatever the squeaky voices are) chime in "no one sings along." Just as with Rymer's version, it's a meta-moment that challenges the listener and gives them a little bit of excitement when they figure out what just happened.

You can hear Rymer's version of "Mama Don't Allow" here. And, while we're sending you to CDBaby, you can hear TMBG's "Fibber Island" here.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Singing in Packs

We attended a singalong at our church tonight. Our church, which we joined a couple years ago, is part of a mainline Protestant denomination; like many such churches a sizeable portion of the congregation is aging. By hosting the singalong, I think the hope was to give pleasure to those parishioners who wanted to sing the "old favorites," while introducing a few of the newer hymns to the congregation.

I attended church rarely as a child, so I was pretty much an open book when my wife and I starting looking for churches to join. Besides such elevated things as "spiritual fit" and such practical things as "child care," I think I subconsciously wanted a church with a strong music program, singing hymns. Not praise bands, which I just cannot get into, but the old stuff. As a person who had a few years of organ lessons in my youth, I guess I have a deep-seated predilection for Bach. And the church we eventually joined definitely had a strong music program. A good choir and music director, a good organist, even the occasional bell choir performance. And no praise band.

The problem is, as someone who's sitting in the pews and not in the choir, there can often be a lot of silence surrounding me. Much like riding a bike you don't forget how to read music once you learn. And so even though I never had any choral training and don't have a "beautiful" voice, I feel like I stand out a bit, just because I'm actually singing. I hoped that many people who don't sing would attend tonight, but I'm not sure how successful it ended up being in that regard.

My other goal in attending was to have my daughter hear a whole bunch of people singing in packs. You see, church is almost the only place people sing together on a regular basis. If you play basketball or softball, you can join any number of city recreational leagues to play with others with similar interests. Scrapbooking? I gather there are parties where people can share their oddly-shaped scissors. Comic books (or, er, graphic novels)? Go to the comics store or even (now) the public library. But singing? Dan Zanes' talk notwithstanding, there's really nothing available for the recreational singer outside of a church setting. I wonder if there will be any church choirs 30 years from now if kids aren't singing on a recreational basis.

My daughter sat patiently through about 45 minutes of hymns she didn't recognize before begging to go to the playground, which we did. (Monkey bars rule, in her eyes.) I think she enjoyed the singalong, though I think she was disappointed that they didn't sing her favorite hymn, "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah," an African-American spiritual which is great for the young'uns because it's a simple melody with simple, repetitive lyrics. I hope she also enjoyed hearing her daddy and all the other adults (and the couple other kids) sing with loud voices and smiles on their faces. She may not like the hymns, but hopefully she'll continue to sing the first verse to "London Bridge Is Falling Down" over and over again.

Elizabeth Mitchell has two or three songs with religious/spiritual background on her two CDs. You can listen to "This Little Light of Mine" and "So Glad I'm Here" at her website. Great stuff, even if you don't care about church.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Song of the Day: Chocolate Milk - Scribble Jim

I know nothing about Scribble Jim. I know nothing about where he is based, what albums he has out, what his opinion of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' engagement is.

I do know that his song "I Love Chocolate Milk" is, against all my best defenses, lodged in my brain. It's not the lyrics of the verses, which I can't really recall. It's not the melody of the verses, which I can't really recall, either. It's not even the spelling out of "I love chocolate milk," which frankly takes too much time to complete.

It's the darn chorus.

I love chocolate mi-ilk.
I-I love chocolate mi-ilk

OK, written out it's not really that impressive. But there's some harmony thing going on in the second line which I think is now permanently lodged in my brain already overstuffed with information, probably forever crowded out some other, more useful piece of information from, say, Mrs. Pittman's AP English class. All I can think of is a small, slightly unruly mob of five-year-olds bobbing their bobbed-cut heads together and raising their crayon-stained fists in unison, singing:

I love chocolate mi-ilk
I-I love chocolate mi-ilk.

That, and the chorus seems like an... homage to Joan Jett and the Blackheart's "I Love Rock 'N' Roll."

Listen to the chorus (and the rest of the song) of "Chocolate Milk" here:

As for the original, all I could come up with was a version by "Rock Lobster," an '80s retro cover band. Didn't seem worth linking to. Couldn't even find the "Weird Al" Yankovic version, "I Love Rocky Road," which seems kinda like the mid-point between "Rock 'N Roll" and "Chocolate Milk," no?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Review: Green Gorilla, Monster & Me - Ralph's World

Ralph Covert released his sixth Ralph's World album, Green Gorilla, Monster & Me, in 2005, 5 years after he released his self-titled Ralph's World debut. Six albums in six years -- that's like one less than Peter Gabriel's done in almost thirty years. So, yes, he's prolific.

One could understand perhaps if Covert started repeating himself at this point, but this is his best album, full of great pop-rock songs. The album leads off with "Clap Your Hands," a rousing tune entirely different from the They Might Be Giants song of the same name, but with almost as few words and just as winning. As with many of his albums, Covert covers lots of stylistic ground (the klezmer of "Me & My Invisible Friend," the southern jangle-pop of "Old Red #7," the Ramones-lite punk of "I Don't Wanna," and, most bizarrely, the Elvis-meets-Moby sound of "Gitarzan"), but for whatever reason the forays no longer sound somewhat forced as they did on earlier albums.

Covert's lyrics have also improved over time. "What do you do when you need to / Hang your heart on something real / Remember what you're after?," he sings in "Hideaway," lines that would work in an "adult" song. "Liesl Echo," a slow, Beatlesque tune (and do you think the Beatles get royalties anybody even uses the phrase "Beatlesque"?) about a mountain girl and a shephered in love with her features the couplet "The shepherd left her / For greener pastures," a line which brings a wistful smile to my face every time I hear it.

Not every song is perfect -- "Tim The Boy" is an attempt to teach a lesson that ticks me off because it basically cribs the chord progression from "Red Banana," on the same album. ("I Don't Wanna" is a much more effective lesson-song, and more fun to boot.) But the hit-to-miss ratio is very high.

The album is best for kids age 4 through 9. Thanks to Covert's recent signing with Disney, the album has now been rereleased by Disney, which probably means you'll be able to buy it at your local Sip-N-Slurp in the near future. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Song of the Day: One Little Cookie - Justin Roberts

Justin Roberts had his first hit, "Yellow Bus," off his 2001 album of the same name. But my favorite track on Yellow Bus has always been "One Little Cookie," deep into the album.

"One eye watchin' the kitchen door / one hand reachin' for the cookie jar / I heard this voice from up above / Showerin' down these words of love."

And from there proceeds an ever-increasing fit of self-rationalization from the narrator as he eventually eats, uh, ten cookies. He knows he shouldn't, but can't stop himself. Kids will laugh, recognizing the feelings of exhilaration from doing something they know they're not supposed to. Parents will laugh, albeit a little more ruefully. The music, powered by the guitar and drums and Hammond organ, gets increasingly loud and insistent, dovetailing nicely with the narrator's ever-quickening swiping of the cookies. It's a nice match of music and lyrics.

Maybe it's the propulsive beat, but the song triggers thoughts in me of Spoon's "Sister Jack," an urgent song that only gets more urgent as the song progresses.

Roberts can turn out great power-pop songs. This is one of them.

Go here to see a video for "One Little Cookie."
Go here to get to a video for "Sister Jack."

Dan Zanes in DC

Devon links to an article on Dan Zanes in a New York state newspaper this past week. Devon's comments (and Zanes', too) are spot-on. In that article and in this one from the Fresno Bee (sorry, registration required), Zanes outlines his philosophy, such as it is, regarding the music he's recording, which he calls "all ages." In the Fresno Bee article, Zanes says:

"I think when people talk about kids' music or children's music — music that's really particular to the experience of kids learning to count or eat with a fork — that's good, but that's never what I was interested in... I was interested in music that was a shared experience, that kids and grown-ups can listen to.... It helps people with the idea that they can hang around the house and do their own songs."

Zanes is the main reason I subtitled this blog "Children and Family Music Reviews" rather than just "Children's Music Reviews." By removing most music revolving around notions of romantic love from the equation, Zanes sounds very retro, but also opens himself up to a broad spectrum of thematic and musical choices that can appeal to all family members simultaneously. I can enjoy songs about learning to count or reciting the alphabet, if they're done well, but Zanes' approach is complementary. (I also whole-heartedly endorse Zanes' notion that people should sing on their own more.)

So here is a press release from Americans for the Arts Arts Advocacy Day, at which Zanes performed. No word on whether "Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 Ragtime" will appear on Catch That Train!.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Song of the Day: Spaghetti (Twist and Twirl) - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer with Brave Combo

I heard "Spaghetti (Twist and Twirl)" today and I remembered how much I like the song.

So much so, that I've decided to start a "Song of the Day" series -- we'll see how long it stays "Song of the Day" before it becomes "Song of the Week" or "Song of the Lunar Cycle" -- and inaugurate it with this song.

To call Brave Combo a "polka band" seems to sell them short a bit -- they are a whirlwind of musical energy. Paired up with long-time children's music artists Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, their 2001 album All Wound Up! is a bundle of enthusiasm and lots of fun. Without a doubt, though, the standout track is the penultimate song, "Spaghetti (Twist and Twirl)." The song is about a chef at an Italian restaurant and his frustration with the kids who want nothing more from his talents than plain old spaghetti. Lyrically, it's amusing to the adults and empowering to the kids, who can sing "Spaghetti!" or "Twist and Twirl!"

But it's musically that this song really gets me. Its energy is infectious -- it's great for dancing foolishly with your kids. And sonically... for most of the song it's the bass line with the melody above it, a different melody each for the verses and the chorus and the bridge, and then near the end they sing the chorus and the bridge simultaneously. To top it all off, at the very end they add a fourth musical line out of nowhere but that fits perfectly.

Really, it reminds me of the New Pornographers' "The Laws Have Changed," one of my favorite songs, in the overlayering of musical themes. A whole album of songs like that would just leave me incapacitated for days afterward. It's best taken in limited doses.

You can hear a snippet of "Spaghetti (Twist and Twirl)" here. Links to audio and video of "The Laws Have Changed" are here

Review: Curious George Soundtrack - Jack Johnson

I've never been a big Jack Johnson fan. Didn't dislike him, but just found his folky-guitar-based music too... languid for my tastes. As a result, I didn't necessarily have high hopes for his work on the soundtrack to the movie Curious George.

I needn't have worried. The Curious George soundtrack is a solid album of (mostly) children's music that appealed to me and will appeal to the kids.

The songs most likely to be enjoyed by adults and kids simultaneously are the ones where the band shakes off its (to put a negative spin on it) lethargy and really gets moving. The "3 R's," which rewrites "3 Is A Magic Number" into a celebration of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," is a full-out jam that is destined to become a classic children's song recording. "Jungle Gym" and "Upside Down" are a couple other songs that move briskly and entertainingly. (The cover of the White Stripes' "We're Going To Be Friends," like the movie itself, polishes off the sharper edges of the source material. It's OK, but not revelatory.)

Johnson had to walk a fine line between entertaining his adult fans and engaging the young viewers and listeners. When Johnson throws his adult listeners under the bus to focus on the kids, he's written some great children's songs. "The 3R's" and "The Sharing Song" are superb examples of this. On other tracks such as "Upside Down" and "People Watching," Johnson neatly straddles that child/adult line with lyrics that can be read on multiple levels. (And, indeed, "Upside Down" is getting played on all kinds of different stations.)

Where the album fails slightly as an album is with the slower, more wistful tracks. "Wrong Turn" is a lovely song, and in the movie itself, it works quite nicely. But lyrics like "And I would like you to know / Although it seems sad to say / This was only the worst hour of my day" do seem a bit heavy for the youngest kids. A couple other tracks fall into this category.

Reading back on this review, the tone is a bit harsher than my overall feelings about the album. It's a good album with a few great kids' songs, and unless you dislike Jack Johnson's music, you're going to like this album. It's best for kids 3 through 7 and it's available darn near everywhere.

And as for your kids, well, if they're anything like my daughter, they'll say, upon first listen of the CD at home, "Hey, that's the Curious George music!" When I asked if she remembered it from the movie, she said, "No, we heard that at preschool!" I have a feeling her classroom isn't the only one with a copy...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring Songs

Today was the first full day of spring. In most places, it's time for the onset of spring fever, but in the Arizona desert, it's a warning that the good times will soon come to an end. Temperate weather will soon be a distant memory. Our front flower bed can only go downhill from here.

I tried to find some songs about spring in my collection, but pretty much came up empty. Winter has no shortage of songs, as snow and the [pick-your-religion-winter-celebration] lend themselves to songwriting. The other three seasons have fewer songs (I can only think of Laurie Berkner's "What Falls in the Fall?" from Whaddaya Think Of That? as a specifically autumn-related song), but spring I think is particularly deficient. What happens in the spring? Not much visibly, compared to autumn (falling leaves) or summer (general goofing off).

Here, then, is a list of spring-ish songs. Flowers and bugs and a little rain. Rain isn't necessarily for spring alone, but we've gone without much rain this winter and spring and so it's a bit of wishful thinking.

Raffi, "Robin in the Rain" (Singable Songs for the Very Young)
Elizabeth Mitchell, "You Are My Flower" (You Are My Flower)
Laurie Berkner, "In the Clouds" (Buzz Buzz)
Elizabeth Mitchell, "Ladybug Picnic" (You Are My Sunshine)
Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell, "Butterfly" (Catch the Moon)
Ralph Covert, "The Ants Go Marching" (from Songs For Wiggleworms)
Dan Zanes and Dar Williams, "Wild Mountain Thyme" (Night Time!)
Dan Zanes, "On the Sunnyside of the Street" (Rocket Ship Beach)

I suppose there's always XTC's "Grass" or the Talking Heads' "(Nothing But) Flowers," but those aren't really for kids for assorted reasons, now are they?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Review: Wiggleworms Love You - Old Town School of Folk Music

In the mid-80s, the writer/director John Hughes produced Pretty in Pink, in which the less-than-upper-middle-class main character (played by Molly Ringwald, natch) has to decide romantically between her best friend Ducky and a boy from the "right side of the tracks." To many viewers' great chagrin -- how could you not pick Ducky! -- she picks the golden boy. A few years later, Hughes basically rewrote Pink as Some Kind of Wonderful and reversed the ending, with the main character picking his from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks best friend as his romantic partner. It's a much more satisfying ending.

What does this have to do with Wiggleworms Love You, the 2005 album from the Old Town School of Folk Music. OK, aside from the fact that both Hughes and the Old Town School are associated with Chicago. Well, this new album is sort of like the "golden boy" character with all the advantages compared to the poor original, Songs For Wiggleworms. The first album sounded like it was recorded in an actual Old Town classroom, with time constraints reminiscent of parent-teacher conferences. ("I'm sorry, it's 6:45, it's time for the Sweeneys.") Very few of the songs had anything more than voice and acoustic guitar.

This new album is greatly expanded sonically. It sounds much better, and the instrumentation is, on some tracks, surprisingly full. Percussion, bass, stringed instruments of all kinds (banjo, mandolin, fiddle) -- heck, there's an accordion on seven tracks. It sounds much more like a "folk music" album. (All of this may be the result of the fact that an honest-to-goodness record company, Bloodshot Records, released the CD.)

So why wouldn't you want this CD? Well, you would... if you already had Songs For Wiggleworms. The problem is that they already got most of the great tunes on the first CD. There are fewer of the great "oh, I'm gonna sing that to my young'uns" songs. There are maybe 12-15 songs that meet that criteria on the CD, or about 1/3 of the 42 songs on the album. The other songs are obscure to varying degrees, usually dependent on how familiar you are with the early Raffi oeuvre. (I can't believe I just used the phrase "Raffi oeuvre.") That's not to say that there aren't some great tracks on the album -- "If I Was a Bird," the meta-rave-up "Mama Don't Allow," and the tailfeather-shaking "Looby Loo" are three standouts. But unlike the first CD, on which the listener could singer virtually every song, many without the CD, this CD may be great to listen to but isn't necessarily as user-friendly for taking that out into the daily world with your child.

This sounds like a mixed review, but it's really not. It's just that I think the first album's ragged charm is just so perfect for its intended use that this more polished sequel slightly disappoints. If you already have Songs, I recommend Wiggleworms Love You wholeheartedly. If you don't, I think the first album is the better starting point. The CD is for children aged 0 through 6 and is available through the links above, plus the usual online suspects.

News: New They Might Be Giants Album This Spring

Via TV For Tots (which I've been following for awhile, and needs to be added to the sidebar soon) comes this article on music videos for kids.

I remember when "music videos for kids" meant "kids watching MTV." But I think we're probably way past that point, aren't we? (Remember A-Ha's "Take On Me?" I think I'd probably let my daughter watch that, even with the small bits of stylized violence. Maybe there's something on MTV or MTV2 today I'd be comfortable with. But that would require me to actually watch MTV or MTV2.)

In any case, besides the article itself, which is kind of interesting, there are a couple news bits buried within:

1) Yes, indeedley-doodley, Ralph's World has signed with Disney. Do I know how to read between the lines or what?
2) They Might Be Giants is preparing the follow-up to Here Come the ABCs entitled, naturally, Here Come the 1-2-3s. It'll be another CD/DVD combo.

News: Ralph and the House of Mouse

In a big development that has attracted, well, no attention whatsoever, Ralph's World latest album, Green Gorilla, Monster & Me, is now being released by DisneySound. You can buy it at Disney's shop and a glance here indicates that the album was rereleased by Disney about a month ago.

In fact, if you go here, you can see Ralph Covert described as "Walt Disney Records artist Ralph Covert from Ralph's World." The link mentions that he will pay "tribute to our silly old bear with a new Winnie the Pooh song." Pooh will be celebrating his 80th anniversary this year. Covert, who covered "Winnie the Pooh" and "The Wonderful Things About Tigger" on his debut Ralph's World album, is a good choice. No word, however, on Kenny Loggins' reaction.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Whose Noggin Is That?

We recently received a copy of Brady Rymer's latest CD, Every Day Is A Birthday, and the first thing my wife said when she saw the CD was,

"Wow. Do we have any other kids' CDs with the artist's actual picture on the cover?"

This amused me, because it was the exact same thought I had the first time I saw a picture of the cover.

And, really, if you think about it, most children's music artists do not have a particularly large presence on their album covers. Ralph's World? Even on his latest CD Green Gorilla, Monster & Me -- Ralph is a tiny, animated man. Dan Zanes? Slightly less tiny, slightly less animated. Laurie Berkner? A little less tiny than Dan, a little less animated. And that's pretty much where the progression ends. (I guess Laurie's DVD has her featured a little more prominently.)

Progress in the children's music world is typically on the level of Justin Roberts' Meltdown! CD, in which the animated child on his fifth kids album now looks much more Justin-like.

Frankly, this probably doesn't matter much. This industry is probably significantly different than "adult" CDs, in which mass marketed CDs almost always come with the artist's picture prominently displayed (think of rap or country CDs, or U2 or the Rolling Stones). And even though the faces aren't there, there's often a graphical consistency to the cover art.

But with the increasing folding in of "serious" children's music artists such as Berkner, Zanes, and Covert into major record distribution, it wouldn't be surprising to see more faces and fewer cartoons on CD covers.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Top Five Lullabies I Actually Sing

Yeah, there are a whole bunch of lullabies out there, but there only about five I sing on a regular basis.

5. You Are My Sunshine -- Not the original version (check out the O Brother, Where Are Thou? soundtrack for a nice version of that), but the shorter version on the Songs For Wiggleworms disc. It's much more loving and doesn't include the lyric "You have shattered all my dreams," which I frankly think is a bit of a downer, lullaby-wise.
4. Wake Up, by the Arcade Fire -- Just kidding.
4. All The Pretty Little Horses -- A sweet melody; I try to remember that it doesn't matter if I can't remember what order "blacks," "bays," "dapples," and "grays" go in.
3. Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star -- An easy melody, simple words (except that nobody -- including me -- can remember anything other than the first verse. There are something like four or five verses.)
2. Brahms' Lullaby -- Which we all call the "doo doo doo" song. For fun with older kids, ask them to sing it in the style of animals. ("Quack quack quaaaaack, quack quack quaaaack...")
1. Skidamarink -- A bit uptempo for a lullaby, but it's a fun melody, easy lyrics, and even offers freedom to solo. Love this song.

There are lots of lullabies I like to hear (e.g., "The Water Is Wide"), but unless the melody and lyrics are both super easy, they are just unlikely to be sung in actual nurseries...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Review: Baloney Cake - Uncle Moondog

Baloney Cake (2005) is the second album from Uncle Moondog, the animated alter ego of California-based musician Mike McManus. Those of you hoping for the hard edge of another animated band, the Gorillaz, will be disappointed. Moondog is, er, a dog with a bunch of (mostly animal) friends with a vocal style that reminds me most of Wolfman Jack.

The album consists of a wide range of children's pop with a particular predilection for beach-related melodies and lyrics ("In Hawaii," "Surfin' School"). Now, I can't say I was super-enthused by the album. Some of that is because I didn't like the Moondog voice, which I realize is a personal choice -- others may think it's cool. Some of that is because I really didn't like "Baloney Cake," which is exactly about what the title says it's about and makes me a wee bit nauseous thinking about it. And one of Moondog's friends has a high-pitched electronic voice that drives me nuts.

What's good about the CD? Well, it's produced well, and when it stays away from cheesy kids' music touches (whah, whah, whah, WHAH) the songs have a certain appeal. The melodies are usually appealing. And McManus has a sly sense of humor. For example, in "Baloney Cake" he realizes that it is kind of a disgusting concept, and the song addresses that thought. (As does an aside in "Surfin' School.) And in "The Walrus Waltz," he not only rhymes "waltz" with "small-tz," he notes the silliness of doing so. (I'm also pretty sure that "Elvis" makes an appearance.) There's enough there that I'd like to see McManus give it a go without the Uncle Moondog alter ego -- I'd probably enjoy it more.

While I'm not a huge fan of the album, those who like Beach Boys-like melodies or want a coastal-themed album (and can handle people singing in a style different than a "normal" singing voice) may want to give it a shot. It's probably best for kids aged 3 through 6. It's available through his website. (Too bad there's nothing as catchy as the Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc.")

Desert (Island) Disc(s)

I asked my daughter today if she had a favorite CD. "No!" she said. Not at all?... OK, I'm not going down that far-too-easy humorous path. Her favorite CD was "the No! CD," which I took to mean They Might Be Giants' version. She also likes the "ABCs" CD. Which, uh, as you know, is also a They Might Be Giants CD. I know she has no concept that the CDs are from the same band, but clearly the apple has not fallen far from this tree.

Of course, the concept of an "album" is also somewhat alien to her, as she tends to think in songs ("House At The Top Of The Tree," from No!, "Theme From Higglytown Heroes" from Here Come The ABCs, Raffi's "Who Built The Ark", "Rattlin' Bog," off Dan Zanes' Night Time!). And she'll probably grow up a "song" person, not an album person, given how easy it is to pick songs.

Me, I'm still an album person, and while I could probably tell you what my favorite album ever was (Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend), I couldn't tell you what it would be now. Too many to choose from. Plus I get hung up over picking one among bands with lots of albums I love (TMBG, Wilco), and so some other album (Golden Smog's Weird Tales, maybe) slides through. Kinda like actresses from the same movie cancelling each other out at the Oscars...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Review: The Corner Grocery Store - Raffi

I think with kids' artists there's no such thing as a sophomore slump. There are plenty of artists whose second albums were just as good, if not better, than their kids' debuts. But something happens on album #3 -- delusions of grandeur, perhaps, or just boredom with the formulas -- it's good, but not as good as album #s 1 and 2. Victims of the slump include Ralph's World, Laurie Berkner, and, well, Raffi.

Don't get me wrong, The Corner Grocery Store, Raffi's 1979 album, is pretty good. It has some nice renditions of some traditional songs, including "Frere Jacques" and a very simple but pretty "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." For the most part, the instrumentation consists of the fairly simple arrangements of piano, guitar, and occasional backing band found on his first two CDs.

But there's something missing overall. Perhaps it's the lack of a really good Raffi original, like "Peanut Butter Sandwich" or "Oh Me Oh My." Perhaps it's "Anansi," which jettisons all the simple arrangements for something approaching cheesy instrumentation. I don't know. It's hard for me to put a finger on, but the whole thing just isn't quite as appealing to me. Still, for those you thinking that covering Leadbelly or Huddie Ledbetter or Woody Guthrie on children's music albums is a newfound trend, Raffi did them all (Ledbetter twice) on this CD. (He does add lyrics to some of them, so perhaps it's not quite so adventurous.)

The album is best for children ages 2 through 6. I recommend the CD, though not as highly as Singable Songs For The Very Young or More Singable Songs. You can find the three CDs packaged together (slightly cheaper) as The Singable Songs Collection. Available at the usual suspects.

Whither Jamarama Live Reviews?

Clea's post on attending Jamarama over the weekend reminded me of something I wanted to do...

I've received a fair amount of website hits from people looking for Jamarama Live reviews. So I decided to see what I could find for myself. And the answer was clear: the reason I'm getting all these hits is because there really aren't any reviews out there.

So rather than rail on the mainstream media, I went to the real power, people! The BLOGS, man!

Jamarama Reviews Out The Wazoo(s) (West Coast Edition)

Small Ages: The good (Dan Zanes), the not-so-good (Milkshake), and the ugly (the Ohmies) (this past weekend...)
Buzzville: See above. Also, apparently Dan signs T-shirts! (Santa Barbara)
Winters on the web: "It was sweet and treacly and nauseating. 70 minutes of my life I will never get back but worth it to see my son happy!" So at least we know it's 70 minutes long. (Santa Barbara)
Gavin: All you ever wanted to know about sound for the show. And it wasn't that crowded. (Long Beach)

This Is An Imaginary Post

So last night, my nighttime reading with my daughter included Kevin Henkes' Jessica, which revolves around a kindergartner's imaginary friend.

And this morning, I heard a track off of Justin Roberts' Meltdown! called "Our Imaginary Rhino," which revolves around a youngster's (perhaps in kindergarten, perhaps not) imaginary rhino, natch. It's a catchy power-pop song with a few "na-na-nas" to make for enjoyable singalong action.

You'll be able to listen to samples of every song at Amazon next week when the album is released; for now go here to listen to samples of a half-dozen songs plus a full version of "My Brother Did It," another pleasing power-pop song.

(Truth be told, I prefer Henkes' books about mice to his books about, gasp, real people. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse is note-perfect, if books can indeed be note-perfect.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Links: Step Up To The Sidebar

As you can tell during your daily visits to this fine website (and you are visiting daily, right?), the sidebar is under more construction than Central Avenue during light rail construction. (Sorry for the local Phoenix reference, y'all.)

Slowly but surely, I've been adding review and artist links to the sidebar, with more (links and reviews) coming daily. I've also been adding other links of note.

I started this blog 18 months or more ago because there wasn't much on the Internet on children's music. That's changed somewhat -- it's still hit-and-miss, but that's better than miss-and-miss. While there are more links coming, I did want to point out three recent additions of relatively new blogs:

  • Head, Knees, Shoulders, and all that... is a blog written by Devon, a teacher of music to young kids in Japan. His blog has a bit of pedagogical bent, but never to the point of dullness or incomprehension. He has also helped record a children's music CD, which gives him an(other) interesting perspective.
  • (Sm)all Ages is written by Clea, novelist (among other things), who imparts an indie-music perspective on kids' music. My favorite parts of the blog (despite her impeccable indie-music taste) are her occasional thematic lists of songs -- click here if you're a hand-clappin' fan.
  • The Lovely Mrs. Davis Tells You What To Think is written by, er, the Lovely Mrs. Davis, natch. She covers a wide range of kiddie media on her blog. And although as a parent, she should know that just because you ask politely doesn't always mean you get what you want, in this case, yes, you may add me to your blogroll -- thanks for asking.

More links (and reviews, and news, and views, and -- I'm not promising anything, folks -- ramblings) will follow in the coming days. As always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Review: The Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD - Monty Harper

"Don't judge a book by its cover," goes an adage I tend to ignore when it comes to CDs. The aura of competence regarding album covers and inserts is often an indication of the competence of the music and production itself, particularly in children's music.

So this CD, with its cover picture a giant mouth that brings nothing to mind more than, "Let There Be Lips!" (that's a Rocky Horror Picture Show reference there, folks), worried me.

Thankfully, in this case, the old adage is actually true. Monty Harper's 2005 album, The Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD, is a fun and occasionally funny album. (It certainly exceeded my cover-based expectations.) For his fourth CD, the Oklahoma-based Harper recorded three concerts with his "Thrice Upon a Time Band" in front audiences of kids and parents. The concept brings a couple strengths to the CD: 1) the full band (guitars, bass, drums) sounds really good, and 2) the audience participation songs have an audience to participate. Both make the CD very lively.

Harper writes straight-ahead rock (think "classic rock") tunes with a sense of humor and an occasional tendency toward "educational" lyrics. My favorite songs on the CD are the two songs leading off the album, "Loose Tooth," a cute pop-rocker about, er, a loose tooth, and "The Great Green Squishy Mean Bibliovore," with crunchy guitars (and lead character). While I tend to prefer his more story-based songs (like the two above), his "educational" songs aren't bad either -- young kids will probably eat up (pun mostly intended) "You're a Dinosaur," which introduces a whole bunch of dinosaurs in song. (It's one of 5 reptile/dinosaur songs on the CD, so if that's your child's thing, definitely check it out. I'm pretty sure it's the only album in the world with two songs about horned toads.)

The CD also comes with some CD-ROM bonuses -- I did like the two healthy-eating-based songs, "I Go Bananas," and "Gimme Vegetables," the latter of which had a very '80s synth-pop texture wholly unlike the concert itself. (Both are fun -- if Harper ever releases a B-sides/rarities disk, these seem like perfect candidates. Because I don't think I'm ever actually going to listen to the CD at the computer....)

I'd recommend the CD for kids aged 4 through 9. You can find it through the usual suspects (artist's website, CDBaby, Amazon, with samples available at the latter two). If you're looking for a CD of rockin' kids songs, check it out.

Friday, March 10, 2006

News: Other Releases, Releases-To-Be

I hear you saying, "You and your "news." You're all Justin Roberts Meltdown this, and Laurie Berkner Starbucks that! How 'bout mixing it up for a change?"

And you're right, I have neglected other artist news recently. My bad. So here you go, three (mostly) fresh tidbits of info for ya...

1. Brady Rymer's 4th album has been out for a month now. Every Day Is A Birthday was released on February 10, 2006 and in addition to the regular songs, the album also includes what is intriguingly referred to as a "collection of brain-teasing, creative musical activities at the end of the album." Sounds like it'd be not-so-hot shuffled on an iPod, but kinda cool with the kids. (Also, Rymer's website is really cool.)

2. Eric Herman is preparing his 3rd album Snow Day for a late spring/early summer 2006 release. Go to the link above for info on pre-orders. His site also has some computer games, which I hear are all the rage these days.

3. Finally, Monty Harper also has an album coming out this summer -- Paws, Claws, Scales & Tales will have songs revolving "around the themes of pets and reading." Though lyrics are available, I think I'd rather be surprised to see how many songs deal with reading pets.

So there you go.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

So You Want To Submit An Album For Review?

(Last updated May 23, 2006 -- updates in italics)

In between whimsically and/or sarcastically rewriting press releases from children's music artists, I also review albums in a mostly eager manner. You might wonder how, as an international superagent, I find the time to review these CDs -- OK, I'm not really an international superagent, but I am a father of two, and international superagents have nothing on parents -- and the answer is, I'm not sure. I just know that I like listening to good kids' music and telling others about it.

I have already received a few albums from artists seeking a review from this site, and I figure it's time for me to actually outline the Official Zooglobble Album Review Policy. (This was pre-NPR -- strike "a few," insert "lots and lots of".) I'm going to call it "OZARP" just so I can do web searches for "OZARP" in a few days and see what turns up.

There are just two rules in the OZARP, though I've added some additional guidance.

#1 -- All albums submitted for review shall include complete artwork and an ISBN (barcode).

Basically, I want to review the CD as the actual end user will receive it, and with proof that somebody out there could conceivably buy it. So please, no CD-Rs, no CDs without the case and any inserts.

Two modifications based on a whole bunch of experience now...
1. CD-Rs sold at CDBaby are A-OK. I understand better now some of the economics of producing a CD and understand that some people may not have the upfront cash to do a fancy pressing. Like I said, if it's sold through CDBaby, it's fine by me.
2. Advance promotional copies (CD-R or otherwise) of albums yet-to-be-released are also OK. I like receiving lyrics/liner notes along with the promo CD, too, though that can be electronically. And I still prefer to see the finished product (even if I've already received the promo copy) -- I do find the physical product to be important to how the end user interacts with the music.

Beyond that, I would encourage artists who are considering submitting their album(s) for review consider the preferences, attitudes, and biases already reflected in the ever-increasing list of reviews on the site. I've never made any pretense to be a music educator trying to find the "perfect" or most developmentally appropriate CD for a child -- I'm a parent with two young kids (though, as They Might Be Giants would note, every moment they're getting older) and I love music. And while I don't entirely disagree with Barney Gumble's approach to life ("I'm not a picky man, Homer. Braaaaaah."), there are going to be certain CDs I probably won't like.

Additional promotional materials are not required with the CD, though I'll look at whatever else you send. It almost goes without saying these days, but a website link is especially helpful. If it's a yet-to-be-released album, a scheduled release date is also helpful.

#2 -- Quotations of two sentences or less on artists' websites or other promotional materials or by other websites/magazines do not require permission from the site owner. Quotations longer than two sentences, or any quotations attached to products actually sold to others, require express permission from the site owner.

OK, I realize the very last part of #2 is not common, but I know that artists will quote reviews on websites, promotional materials, and even on CD wrappers/covers. I'm just covering myself in the event that somebody wants to quote me on the latter. I'm not expecting a lot of letters from that provision.

Other than that, I'll try to notify you shortly before or after I post a review of an album you've submitted. We always appreciate links to the review or the website generally, but no links are required.

Please don't ask me when a review of the album you submitted will be up -- I'm a busy, busy man. The order in which I review CDs on the site is a complicated and patented algorithm that involves how much I like the CD, how long it's been since I last reviewed an album of yours, and whether you employed a penny whistle on your CD -- in other words, it all depends. Rest assured that if I really like your CD, I'll want to tell people about it sooner rather than later, "sooner" and "later" being relative terms around here.

If you do e-mail me asking about the status of a CD review (e.g., because you want to make sure I actually received the CD(s), and I totally understand that), you'll probably get a pleasant e-mail saying I haven't made up my mind yet, regardless of whether I've got a pretty good idea that I'm reviewing it next week or never. Rest assured, however, that I do, as promised, listen to every CD I get multiple times before I decide whether to review it. I know you've put a lot of effort into producing it, and I respect that.

So that's it. Pretty simple, I think. If you are a children's music artist, PR person, or assorted hanger-on, and you're interested, use that link in the upper-right-hand corner to drop me a line and we'll go on from there.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Review: Alphabet Songs Vol. II (Ivan Idea) - Steve Weeks

This review really revs up when the reader reconsiders her readily held notions regarding the realism referred to in this record...

OK, I admit it, it's hard to write (or "rite," to continue the motif) reviews by focusing on a single letter. And so it begs the question, why would an artist set up such an obstacle?

For that very reason, I had some trepidation upon my initial spin of Steve Weeks' 2004 album Alphabet Songs Vol. II (Ivan Idea). Each of the nine songs focuses on a single letter, I through Q, and I feared lyrics stretched beyond anything remotely resembling (stop it!) enjoyment. Luckily, the CD passes the enjoyment test with flying colors. The lyrics themselves focus on a single letter, but generally not in a way to call attention to them. (Only if you're listening closely will you notice all the words starting with the appropriate letter.)

On the CD's best songs, the letters seem almost secondary. "Kiki Kangaroo" is a bouncy song about a kangaroo with a mind of its own, "Look, Look!" a midtempo rocker about noticing what's all around, and, my favorite, "Monkeys" is an amusing, laid-back track about, well, monkeys. (The song, which includes a completely gratuitous "Sound of Music" reference, has a very Jack Johnson-like vibe, which is a little ironic given Johnson's work on the Curious George soundtrack.) Some songs tend to show the effort of focusing on a single letter a little more (see letters "N" and "Q"), but there isn't a weak track on the album.

The album is nicely produced -- fun acoustic guitar work, with some funky percussion tracks and even an occasional banjo. The songs are mostly gently uptempo folk-inflected rock. To put the album in adult terms, I'd describe it as Barenaked Ladies meets Phish. (Weeks' voice even reminds me of one of the Ladies' singers.)

I'd recommend the album for children aged 5 through 9. It's a fun album (or, to end the motif, "really rockin'") and would probably work in a school setting (though it'd work outside of such a setting, too). You can get the album through the usual online retailing suspects and through Weeks' website.

News: Yet Another Children's Compilation Record

Definitely not "For the Kids Three!"

Paper Bag Records announced its new compilation of music for kids, "See You on the Moon," with a list that (for the most part) only an indie hipster could love. Let's face it, when a member from Low (Alan Sparhawk) is the fourth-most recognizable name on the list (after -- and there goes my indie cred -- Sufjan Stevens, Broken Social Scene, and Mark Kozelek), this isn't exactly KidzBop 9 we're talking about. It will be interesting to see whether any of these tracks actually speak to kids.

The CD is released March 21, 2006.

Here's the tracklist, for those of you obsessed with that sort of stuff.

01. Alan Sparhawk - Be Nice to People With Lice
02. Great Lake Swimmers - See You On The Moon!
03. Sufjan Stevens - The Friendly Beasts
04. Montag - Kiddo 1
05. Apostle of Hustle feat. The Husky's - 24 Robbers
06. Junior Boys - Max
07. Broken Social Scene - Puff The Magic Dragon
08. FemBots - Under The Bed
09. Montag - Kiddo 3
10. Glissandro 70 - Voices are Your Best Friend
11. Mark Kozelek - Leo and Luna
12. Detective Kalita - Baby Brother
13. Montag - Kiddo 2
14. Hot Chip - I Can't Wake Up
15. Kid Koala feat. Lederhosen Lucil - Fruit Belt
16. Montag - Bonne Nuit Etienne
17. Rosie Thomas - Faith's Silver Elephant

Thanks to Stereogum for the heads-up.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

News: Laurie Berkner Band on Today Show this Friday

Laurie Berkner's e-mail list informs us that "Laurie Berkner, Susie Lampert and Adam Bernstein will be closing the show [March 10's Today Show] by playing a selection from the band’s new DVD."

This indeed is great news! I've been waiting to hear Adam Bernstein for the longest time!

(What? He's not even the regular band member? Brian Mueller is? And it's Laurie Berkner I should be excited about. Oh. Yeah. You're right.)