Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Kids Music, NPR? You've (Sort Of) Come To The Right Place

Did you hear my interview with NPR's Melissa Block on Wednesday? Then head on over to the new website -- -- for all the links to the music featured on the interview, plus a whole lot more. Do stop by. Thanks!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Who Is That Elizabeth Mitchell Person and Where Can I Find Out More?

Did you get here looking for more info on Elizabeth Mitchell and her music for kids and families? Well, you came to the right place (sort of, at least after you check out Elizabeth's site). If you head to the new Zooglobble site you can read my review of You Are My Little Bird there as well as find out a lot more Elizabeth Mitchell-related stuff. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Just In Case You're New Here...

We've moved to the new website. If you haven't visited, you've missed the interview with Dan Zanes, the review of Elizabeth Mitchell's latest album, You Are My Little Bird, and the review of the Hoodwinked soundtrack. And that's just in the past two weeks. Slowly but surely, the rest of the posts here are being copied over there. Do stop by.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

Major Population Centers Have All The Luck...

This weekend...

New York? Brady Rymer's Family Jamboree on Sunday, with Brady Rymer, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Hayes Greenfield, on Long Island.

Los Angeles? Getty Concerts for Kids on Saturday and Sunday, with Charity and the JAMband, at the incredibly lovely Getty Center.

Chicago? Jammin' at the Zoo tonight, with Tally Hall, the Bad Examples, and They Might Be Giants at the very nice Lincoln Park Zoo. (Thanks, Clea, for the reminder!)

As for me, I'm doing our family's workday for the coop preschool. Wheelbarrows and shovels, whee!

Review: Marvelous Day! - SteveSongs

Let me begin by saying that I had heard "Marvelous Day!" the song long before I heard Marvelous Day! the album. And the song... well, it just sounded like one of those pull-out-all-the-stops attempts at a hit that just, well, didn't work. Too forcibly goofy, too many kids in the chorus, too much or too little of something -- whatever the case, I didn't like it. So I approached the SteveSongs' album, their fifth, originally released in 2005 and rereleased this week by Rounder Records, with trepidation. Which is another way of saying I skipped the opening (title) track and held my breath.

Well, I needn't have been so worried. For the most part, the album will have broad appeal to families. SteveSongs' namesake, New England-based Steve Roslonek, and his bandmates, primarily Anand Nayak, have crafted some fabulous pop melodies here. "Elephant Hide and Seek" is an uptempo ska-inflected tune while "Sprytle the Turtle" is one of many solid kids' pop songs here. My favorite track on the album is a song called "Ducks Hatching," which Roslonek and Nayak co-wrote with "Mrs. Grimsley's 3rd grade class." OK, they're not exactly George Harrison to Roslonek and Nayak's Lennon/McCartney, but the resulting song, about a classroom waiting for some duck eggs to hatch, has got a killer chorus and great usage of a kids' chorus to build out the sound. (It is, by far, the best song you will ever hear with the word "incubator" in it.)

Lyrically, the songs target the kids fairly directly. Rather than writing songs that might fully engage the adults listening, Roslonek and his partners prefer to throw in funny asides and puns to tickle the adults' funny bone. "Fast Monkey," a silly song about contrasts, has a cartoony-voiced something-or-other called (I think) "Silly Minilli" who would drive me nuts if it weren't for the fact that his asides are quite amusing, almost echoing the thoughts of the adults listening. (He appears briefly on a couple other songs, too.) The lyrics are well-done and large-hearted, but they're definitely of much greater interest to your kids than to the adults.

The band has a nice sound for the pop melodies, but Danger, Will Robinson! there are lots of (talented) kids' voices on this disk, sometimes taking leading roles. Your kids may enjoy this but you may grow weary of them. (The voices, not your kids, silly.)

Kids ages 5 through 9 will most appreciate the songs (and lyrics) on the album. You can listen to samples from the 52-minute album here.

Marvelous Day! is filled with strong melodies and fun, uplifting lyrics. There are enough moments of adult interest to sustain multiple listenings, which is good, because your kids will probably want to listen to this a lot. Recommended, if only for your kids' sake.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Review in Brief: The Johnny Cash Children's Album - Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash's most famous songs are his most tormented -- "I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die," sings the prisoner in his "Folsom Prison Blues" -- which means he's not exactly at the top of the list of artists who scream out "children's music" to the public. (We're still waiting for the Metallica and Smashing Pumpkins kids' CDs, too.) But contrary to the legend that surrounded the Man in Black, Cash never actually served time in prison and in 1975 Cash released the Johnny Cash Children's Album, a motley collection of kids-accessible tunes recorded in the early '70s. In 2006 Sony re-released the album for the first time on CD, with liner notes from Cash's son John Carter Cash and 4 bonus tracks. The 37-minute album, while retaining some of the trademark Cash sound (Cash's powerful voice is still there, the shuffling "freight train" instrumentals make occasional appearances), doesn't have a single track that a Johnny Cash fan would consider essential. In fact, one of the best tracks on the disk, "Little Green Fountain," is a brief and snappy a cappella duet with June Carter Cash that doesn't sound anything like his more famous work. "One and One Makes Two" is a sweet song about sharing one's time and love, while his cover of "Grandfather's Clock" is quite good. But for every decent track there's another track that's just plain weird. The odd bear-raising philosophy outlined in "Tiger Whitehead," the overly maudlin "Old Shep" (clearly "Old Yeller" didn't scan as well), the jokey spoken-word "Why Is A Fire Engine Red" -- none of them are worth more than a couple spins. Kids ages 3 through 7 will probably appreciate this album the most. But if you're a Johnny Cash fan and you want your kids to appreciate Cash, you're probably better off putting in your own "adult" disks. Whether or not you fast-forward past "Ring of Fire" is up to you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Belle and Sebastian's Children's Compilation Gets A Website or Two

I cannot stop Belle and Sebastian's relentless assault on me, I can only hope to contain it.

Despite attempting to keep my expectations low for their upcoming children's compilation, entitled Colours Are Brighter, all evidence suggests that it may turn out to be quite good. The latest evidence can be found on the newly-established website for Colours Are Brighter. A decent track from Snow Patrol, "I Am An Astronaut" and an awesome "Go Go Ninja Dinosaur" from Four Tet. And if you go to the album's Myspace page you can hear the Four Tet song again as well as a goofy monkey-based track, which, though listed as Kathryn Williams' "Night Baking," is clearly Belle and Sebastian's own contribution "The Monkeys Are Breaking Out the Zoo."

[Looking for more info on Colours Are Brighter, Belle and Sebastian, or "The Monkeys Are Breaking Out the Zoo?" Go to the new Zooglobble website (or here in particular) for the latest updates.]

The album, a benefit for Save The Children, is scheduled to be released in the UK on Monday, Oct. 16th. (Those goofy Brits and their Monday release dates! That's why we fought the Revolutionary War, of course, to buy our new releases on Tuesday. One if by land, two if by sea, three if you want the latest from Babyshambles.)

You can preorder at here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Review: Kid Pan Alley (Nashville) - Various Artists

I'm not usually one to be swayed by the cause behind an album, but when the first sentence of an album's press release includes a statement that "kids need to know they can be creators and not just consumers," that can exert a strong pull on me. With his Kid Pan Alley program, Musician Paul Reisler has gone into schools around the country to create songs with more than 10,000 schoolchildren. The album in question, Kid Pan Alley (originally released in 2004 and rereleased next Tuesday on Compass Records) and was the result of collaboration between Nashville schoolkids and the city's songwriting community. Nashville is arguably the most vibrant songwriting community in the country (where is its Brill Building, one wonders), and so there were some exciting possibilities from combining that talent and experience with the viewpoint of youth.

Produced in combination with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, the album is a rich collection of styles, from R&B to power-pop to bluegrass to, yes, country. The strongest tracks are those where the artist was well-known enough to allow the songwriters to craft it in the artist's particular style. Kix Brooks' "Cartoons" is a great song in the slick country-pop vein while the strutting "Freaky Friday" is given a fun rendition by Delbert McClinton (it's a great kids' Halloween song out there, one that begs a "Thriller"-style video). "Whispering in Spanish" is given a '60s string-laden ballad treatment, one that Raul Malo is familiar with. And there are less familiar artists (to me, at least) who turn in some performances -- the power-pop "No Fair" performed by Will Hoge will probably ring true to a lot of 6-year-olds. Other tracks ("Little Drop of Water," for example) take a much less direct lyrical approach, showing the influence of the professional songwriters.

There are other good songs, but the sheer diversity of musical styles works against the album as an album. I understand the desire to get as many of the tracks recorded and onto the CD, but at 18 tracks and 58 minutes in length, there are some tracks that could probably have been cut. ("Extra Hand," for example, while a nice little bluegrass tune, sounds out of place amongst the poppy and often orchestrally-enhanced pieces.)

The album will probably be of most interest to kids ages 5 through 10. You can listen to clips at Amazon or at the original release's CDBaby page.

This is not the most cohesive of albums. But as a collection of always intriguing and sometimes amazing songs, with the knowledge that kids helped make this album, Kid Pan Alley commands the listener's attention. Recommended.

And I Know That It Might Sound Outrageous...

... but today was our daughter's first full day of kindergarten. And it was raining. At 8 AM. This never happens in Phoenix, and as a result traffic was all a-kerfuffle, and I missed Justin Roberts' Today show appearance.

Luckily, the magic of this here interweb thingy steps in: Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players perform "Meltdown!"

(And, yeah, maybe some other day I'll talk about the kindergarten thing.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Just Because You're Paranoid...

... don't mean they're not after you.

Or, as Nirvana might say, had they turned their attention to a kids' music blog instead, just because information is in a ever-so-slightly-over-hyped press release or newsletter, doesn't mean that it's not actually news.

Here, then, some recent PR news. For each artist, you decide which statements are true and which are false.

Justin Roberts: With a spiffy new website (including the Willy Was a Whale video from Noggin), why wouldn't the Today invite him and the Not Ready for Naptime Players to play on Aug. 22nd? (That's, uh, tomorrow!) Katie Couric's coming back just to see him!

Laurie Berkner: With a spiffy new website (not including the Willy Was a Whale video from Noggin), why wouldn't Good Morning America invite her and the Band to play on Aug. 26th? (That's, uh, Saturday!). And she's going to be on the Fisher Price float in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. And there's going to be a 65-foot inflatable Laurie in the parade, too!

Milkshake: Will be seen on PBS Kids and Discovery World ("ToddWorld") with new videos and new music. They will also be appearing on C-SPAN2 providing musical commentary on U.S. Senate coverage.

Rebecca Frezza and Big Truck: Will also be appearing on PBS KIDS with new videos. Christopher Walken will appear in their next video.

(C'mon, I'd pay to see Christopher Walken in a video for "It Wasn't Me!")

Things That I Like

#453 - Welcome to Ralph's World CD/DVD available for pre-order.

Set to be released October 3, Amazon has the track listing as follows...

Disc: 1
1. Fee Fi Fo Fum
2. Puppy Dog
3. Dance Around
4. The Coffee Song
5. The Mighty Worm
6. Things That I Like
7. With A Friend (The Pooh Song)
8. Dinosaur Rumble
9. Peggy’s Pie Parlor Polka
10. All I Want To Do Is Play
11. At The Bottom Of The Sea
12. Animal Friends
13. Surfin’ In My Imagination
14. Happy Lemons
15. Riding With No Hands
16. EXCLUSIVE AMAZON BONUS TRACK: Sunny Day Rainy Day Anytime Band (Oooh, check out the awesome near-monopolistic power of! All hail!)

There will be plenty of time to offer opinions on the track selection (what else is there to review on what is -- sort of, in part -- a greatest hits collection), but they did pick a great leadoff track.

This 2nd disk would appear to be a disk of videos.

Disc: 2
1. Things That I Like
2. Dance Around
3. Dinosaur Rumble
4. Surfin’ In My Imagination
5. Mighty Worm
6. Puppy Dog
7. EXCLUSIVE AMAZON BONUS VIDEO: Happy Lemons (All hail!)

I think they're also releasing a separate DVD package (with more videos), but there's no pre-order for that yet.


Back from family, friends, and fish.

Back from lovely sounds: the crash of ocean waves, Raul Malo's voice in concert, my wife's voice uninterrupted by our kids' voices.

Back to: school, work, and friends.

If you've been away for a while, make sure you scan through the archives -- don't miss the reviews, interviews, and stories.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Interview: Bill Childs (Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child)

One of my main purposes in applying for the show was to have it be an adventure with Ella... It's nice that it's taken off as it seems to have, but my goal was, and remains, to have fun with Ella.

Bill Childs' first words to me (electronically speaking) were, "I think you may be me." That comment was based on our similar musical tastes (across all ranges of music), but we soon found out that our paths, while never actually crossing, did have some eerie echoes (time spent in Minnesota and Texas... playing the violin). It should be noted that Bill and I have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

Bill's radio show/podcast Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child is a great way to hear songs from the artists we talk about here. (And then some -- if the number of artists referred to the other person could be viewed like the trade deficit, Bill is definitely the United States and I'm the rest of the world.) So I thought he'd make a great subject for our first non-musician interview here. Thanks to Bill for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully.

When exactly is your anniversary?
8/13. The station went on the air on 8/7. Incidentally, the very first thing we did on the very first show was a mistake; I hit play on the wrong CD player and played a Laurie Berkner song instead of TMBG's "Dr. Worm."

How long have you been interested in kids and family music?
Ella's birth in 1999 was certainly the main thing that prodded us to find good kids' music. I remember reading some reviews of Dan Zanes's first album and buying it from Amazon. In the "other CDs you might like" category, Amazon pointed us to Justin Roberts, so we bought his first album too. (It helped that I saw and liked Justin's prior band, Pimentos for Gus, a bunch at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis.)

Over the next few years, we eventually got a bunch of other stuff (Schoolhouse Rock, Joe McDermott, Lucas Miller, various compilations, Laurie Berkner, etc.), and started seeing some of the artists play at Iota Club & Cafe in Arlington, Virginia (where we lived at the time). And we've been They Might Be Giants fans since pretty near their start in the '80s, but I don't really think of them as "kids and family music," even today.

There was little "kids' music" in my house growing up. We listened to the Tulsa, Oklahoma NPR station a lot, so I heard mostly classical music (plus Prairie Home Companion starting sometime in the late '70s, perhaps making the move to Minnesota in the '80s somewhat easier). We had a great Time-Life jazz series. And of course there was Sesame Street and Electric Company and such on the TV. But mostly it was classical, both listening to and playing (I play violin).

In around 1985, my brother sent me a tape of the Violent Femmes and Icicle Works from college, and a friend gave me a tape with the Replacements' Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. Both were eye-opening (well, not so much Icicle Works).

How did you get your own radio show? (Did you have any prior radio experience?)
Not long after we moved here in 2004, I saw a flyer for a community radio station, Valley Free Radio that was aiming to launch in 2005. It looked like a fun way to meet some people in the community, do something very different from my day job (law professor), and do something special with Ella. So I filled out a show application, pitching both the kids' music show and a more general indie rock show.

When the station launched (a year ago now), there were more slots than there were active applications, so it wasn't through any magic that we got a slot for the kids' show. We did, however, start out with the rather brutal timeslot of 6 to 8 on Saturday mornings. Happily, the 8 to 10 slot opened up and we moved there, hopefully to stay.

I had a show for several years while in college at Macalester in St. Paul -- WMCN, 91.7 FM, 10 Blazing Watts of Power! -- playing local and indie stuff. I've been really interested in decent radio for a long time too, starting with KJJO, one of the first commercial "modern rock" stations (in Minneapolis). That interest grew a lot more with Rev-105, an astonishingly good commercial station (also in Minneapolis), that was bought out by Disney and changed to a metal station in the late '90s. (Thanks, Disney! Hugs!) [Rev-105 is the single best radio station I've ever known. I can't describe how great it was to listen to in its heyday. It was a college radio station with commercial radio station discipline and college radio ad sales, which is to say, very little. Which probably explains why it got bought out. But I was long gone by then. -- Ed.]

Some of the folks involved with Rev-105, after bopping around Twin Cities radio for several years, then helped found the amazing public radio station The Current. I also enjoy, a formerly-terrestrial station that is now internet-only and listener-supported; KEXP out of Seattle; and Radio K, the University of Minnesota's radio station. Our local AAA station is substantially better than average.

And while not radio, a friend and I owned a record store, Tremendous Imposition Records, in Minneapolis back in the early '90s. That made me realize how fun it can be to introduce people to new music. For instance, we bought direct from Mordam Records, which distributed a lot of west-coast punk labels. That meant we could sell Lookout! Records CDs for $10, less than most anyone in the Cities -- and Lookout! at the time had Green Day. We actually had Green Day in-store for what they claimed was the first time they'd ever played acoustically in front of people. They were good, even with the drumming being the wastebasket turned upside-down, and we sold a lot of their CDs. And we sponsored local shows on both KJJO and the University of Minnesota's station.

Did you plan Ella's appearances from the beginning?
Oh, yes, certainly. One of my main purposes in applying for the show was to have it be an adventure with Ella (and, if he wishes as he gets older, with Liam). And it was important to me to have a kid involved in listening, choosing, and talking about the music. It's nice that it's taken off as it seems to have, but my goal was, and remains, to have fun with Ella.

What's the most enjoyable part of doing the show?
Most of the time, it's spending time with Ella. I also love having artists on the show -- the guest DJ sets are a lot of fun for me in particular, and the in-studio performances are great too. And there is certainly something to be said for getting to hear a ton of great new music. I've been surprised (nicely) at getting to know some of the artists well too, both via e-mail and by talking in-person.

What's the least?
Some Saturdays I don't want to wake up.
Some CDs I don't want to listen to.
Sometimes Ella's in a mood. Sometimes I'm in a mood.

The station has its own challenges, as most progressive community groups do. I wholeheartedly support the goals of the station, but it has gone through substantial growing pains and some infighting and power grabs. Things seem to be settling down reasonably well in that regard, and most people seem to be focusing on the task of actually running a radio station.

What's Ella's favorite (and least favorite) part of the show?
Favorite: "That you get to rock out... you don't have to be doing much with the radio stuff [equipment]."
Least favorite: "That I have to get up early sometimes when I don't want to."

When do you plan what's going to be on the air?
About a minute before it's on the air.

Well, not exactly, but that's pretty close. The night before or the morning of the show, I pull a handful of non-kids' CDs from our home CD collection. When we get to the station, with Ella's input, I make a stack of new music I want to get to and then pull more non-new CDs than we'll need for the show, just grabbing whatever hits me, trying to mix some relatively recent music with older stuff, and trying to have a good mix of styles as well. If something has happened in the week that suggests a theme, or if the weather fits in a theme, or if it's someone's birthday, or someone's sick, or whatever, I'll try to get some of that together too. I also have a separate stack of "Are you prepared to rock?" material.

Then it's pretty much on-the-fly. Ella picks the TMBG songs for the start and end unless I have a strong desire for a particular song. Beyond that, I do a rough order of CDs, so we have something lined up a half-dozen songs in advance, but we change it around as we go -- if I think of a pair or group of songs that should go together, for instance, or if we get a request. And we often don't choose a particular song until it's going into the CD player. Since Ella does most of the cueing of CDs (and most of the engineering more generally), she often goes with a different song than I had in mind.

How do you think the show has changed over the past year?
I think we're both much more comfortable on the air and with the equipment. We have a much larger library now, which is fun but also frustrating, as it's harder to play all the great music we have. Ella is getting more discerning about music she likes and doesn't like and why. And of course we have more listeners now, which brings with it great suggestions for new artists.

There was a flurry of interest in kids' music nationally in February, March, and April. How did that affect the show?
I don't remember it having any impact. I imagine our listenership increased some, but I don't remember a big bump (though I don't have great metrics on that). The pace of CD submissions has stayed relatively stable. Our local paper is doing a kids' music feature story soon and we'll be in that, so I suppose that's probably to some extent related to the interest.

Aside from the e-mail from Flansy, what's been the coolest (or three) thing that's happened with the show?
1. We've had a great time with all the musicians who have come through the area. It was especially neat to have The Deedle Deedle Dees play an incredible show at a very cool DIY local venue (Flywheel), and we're putting together some more shows there this fall and next spring featuring some of our absolute favorite artists, including a November 18 show with Lunch Money and Uncle Rock. And the guests -- SteveSongs, Ben Rudnick, Danny Adlerman, Keith Munslow, Milkshake, and local singer Dennis Caraher -- have been revelatory at times. There's something special about an artist performing with just guitar or keyboard and vocals, with no production. Last weekend we had Asheba, ScribbleJim, and Justin Roberts call in live from Chicago during Kidzapalooza, and Asheba sang a lovely little version of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." I like moments like that.

2. I love that we were even a small part of getting attention for artists like (but not limited to) Frances England -- new artists who deserve attention but who don't have the distribution network of some.

3. Did I mention the e-mail from John Flansburgh? It's pretty cool. Since TMBG is Ella's favorite band, that's been a huge thing for her too.

I'm swamped with CDs, and I don't think I get all that you do. How do you listen to all of them?
I don't, at least not as promptly as I'd like. I have a backlog of probably at least 50 CDs, and maybe closer to 100. I do some triage, trying to listen to stuff with more intriguing descriptions before some others, and I often listen to the most recent CD of an artist before getting around to older music. I go in waves, where if I'm working on the house or doing dishes or writing, I'll go through a dozen CDs in a day, choosing tracks for airplay. And a fair number of CDs I can make decisions about without listening to all of every song. But other days I just don't feel like listening to any kids' music and so I don't. I'd love to get the stack down to just a couple of dozen.

How often do you listen to "old favorites" (kids' division)?
We have a handful of kids' CDs burned and in our minivan that are on fairly regular rotation. Milkshake, Lunch Money, ScribbleMonster, Ben Rudnick, and some other ones. At home, it's not terribly common to have on older kids' music, except that I have burned a couple of playlists for the kids to listen to in their room -- one rocking CD, some Danny Adlerman, some lullabies, and a couple of other mixed CDs, I think.

What do you listen to when you don't listen to kids' music? Is it the "non-kids'" stuff you play on the air, or something else?
We have a pretty varied CD collection; most of the non-kids' stuff is from it, but it's not necessarily representative of what I listen to other times. I probably listen to more than any other single music source. (And, incidentally, their morning show (The Morning Show, natch), which came over from the classical station, is a great source for non-kids' kid-friendly music.) [I again concur -- it's quite good. - Ed.]

To give a decent sampling of the newer stuff we listen to, here's the track list from our 2005 end-of-year best-of compilation CD we give to friends and family:

Mates Of State - Goods (All in Your Head)
New Pornographers - Sing Me Spanish Techno
Of Montreal - Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games
Fatboy Slim - Wonderful Night
BC Camplight - Blood and Peanut Butter
Brian Wilson - Vega-Tables
Ben Folds - Jesusland
Elvis Costello (with Lucinda Williams) - There’s a Story in Your Voice
William Shatner - Common People (featuring Joe Jackson)
Polyphonic Spree - Section 12: Hold Me Now
Ditty Bops - Ohh La La
Lunch Money - Tricycle
Dressy Bessy - Side 2
The Thermals - How We Know
Los Abandoned - Van Nuys (es Very Nice)
The Salteens - Kelly Nicoll
The Latebirds - Got A Message
Ben Kweller & Ben Folds & Ben Lee - Just Pretend
The Be Good Tanyas - The Littlest Birds
Ben Rudnick and Friends - Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World (live for VFR)
Ella Childs - The Magic Stone (Ella's poem from her first grade class)

(Past years' playlists are here.)

I listen to a lot of Minneapolis music (Replacements, Walt Mink, Suburbs, Arcwelder, etc.) and a fair amount of alt-country or whatever you want to call it (Gourds, Uncle Tupelo, Old 97's, etc.). Other representative groups: Soul Coughing, fIREHOSE, NoMeansNo, Pixies, Babe the Blue Ox, Michael Franti, Fountains of Wayne, Beastie Boys, Billy Bragg, Papas Fritas, Throwing Muses, and so on.

What plans do you have for the show in the upcoming year?
Gosh, I don't know. Most of the time I'm just happy if we get our act together in time to start at 8:00 and if we avoid any major technical problems. But let's see:

I'd love to get more family artists performing up here; the Eric Carle Museum (which does one big show a year with the likes of Dan Zanes and Milkshake) seems like an ideal venue for bigger names, while Flywheel has been great as well. I wish the people who book the main venues in town would try kids' stuff, but so far I haven't had any luck.

I hope that the people interested in good kids' music (like you and other bloggers) keep it up and continue to support lesser-known artists as well as the big names. Along those lines, though it's not strictly part of the show, I'm going to be the music columnist for Minnesota Parent magazine starting in September, and hope to roll the column out to some other outlets as well. I plan to feature less-prominent artists a good amount in the column.

I'd like to do a better job of finding more non-kids' music to play on the show, especially from more diverse genres.

I'm very excited to hear more guest DJ sets and fill-in shows. At the end of this month, we'll have Monty Harper filling in for a whole show, and I think Frances England's guest spot is on its way here now. By the time this goes on your site, we will have already played Amy Davis's, and hopefully you'll get one together soon too. I find various folks' picks to be fascinating, and often to introduce me to new artists or ideas. I really enjoyed the ScribbleMonster show and The Quiet Ones' Andy was just amazing (plus, that's how Flansburgh found us).


Thanks again to Bill for taking the time to answer my questions. (And to you, the reader, for making it all this way!)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Review in Brief: Dreamers of Dreams - Erin Flynn with the Co-Op Band

It’s hard work reinterpreting classic kids’ tunes -- it takes imagination and a little bit of brazenness. Originally released in 2004, Erin Flynn’s debut Dreamers of Dreamshas enough of both. Flynn, who now teaches at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago (and appeared on their Wiggleworms Love You album), recorded the album in Philadelphia with a large and talented Co-Op Band, giving her freedom to take musical chances. My favorite reinterpretation is their version of the classic “Mary Mack,” which starts off slowly and gradually picks up speed before becoming a full-on punk version. In “Twinkle,” Flynn uses “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” as a jumping-off point for original music (reminiscent of Guster) and sky-centric lyrics. The original songs, while decent, collectively may be too earnest for the adults and too abstract in places for younger kids. (I tried but couldn’t resist, however, the best song the Partridge Family never sang, “Join In With a Song.”) The 40-minute album employs many musical styles -- the punky “Mary Mack,” for example, or country and bluegrass on the “Train” medley -- but most commonly has a folky, jam-band feel, thanks especially to the adept percussion work. The album is best for kids age 3 through 7, with sound clips (and the album) available at the album's CDBaby page. Fans of Elizabeth Mitchell, Brady Rymer, and Frances England will find much to like on this collection, particularly the fabulous reinterpretations. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

YAKMA (or, Yet Another Kids' Music Article)

But a decent one, with substantial comments from Dan Zanes and Ralph Covert of Ralph's World. Paste Magazine (which I've subscribed to for a couple years now -- it's a good read and has reviewed a few kids' music CDs in its pages), has finally posted online their article on the wave of artists entering the kids' music business. (I've had the magazine for about 3 weeks now, and was about to post without the link, but it showed up today.)

My favorite comments from each artist?

Dan Zanes -- "Soon we'll have a generation that doesn't know that 'Yellow Submarine' or 'Octopus's Garden' were Beatles songs; they are just gonna know them as songs they sang together in kindergarten."

Ralph Covert -- "I have no interest in making 'kids' music.' I won't ever make a 'kids' record,' but I'll make music kids love."

Go read.


I'm still feeling like I'm living a life out of Where's Waldo?, but that will end soon. To all of you who've e-mailed me recently, I will get back to you soon. I've got more reviews, more news, and more surprises coming up.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pining For The Fjords

It's a Monty Python reference, having to do an "ex-parrot." (Go ahead and Google it.) The blog's not dead -- I'm off for some (mostly) R&R and (a little) business. Expect more posts later next week. In case you missed it, make sure you read the ScribbleMonster report from Kidzapalooza and the report from Jackie Schimmel (from Justin Roberts' band) below that. I got pictures of the musicians, too, but Blogger was balky. Have fun. Rock on with your bad selves. Or good selves. Whatever.

When ScribbleMonster Played Kidzapalooza

When the cold, hard truth that I wouldn't be attending Kidzapalooza/Lollapalooza sunk in, I thought about who could write an interesting summary of their experiences there. And the first person that came to mind was Jim Dague aka ScribbleJim, whose newsletters (and few e-mails to me) have been generous and amusing. Jim's summary below -- covering both Friday and Saturday -- does not disappoint. Many thanks to Jim for taking the time to put this together.


The Bozo Show has been collecting dust or gone for about a dozen years now. Still, there are countless Chicago-area children’s performers who proudly and prominently list their appearances on “Bozo’s Circus” (and I think they stopped calling it “Bozo’s Circus” about 25 years back) in their bio. Heck, if I were on The Bozo Show, I’d do the same. In its heyday, there reportedly was a 10-year waiting list for tickets. You never knew anyone who actually got to attend the show. Except for ScribbleJayne. Her uncle did advertising for Channel 9, so she actually scored tickets and went as a kid. We’ve tried to figure out a way to somehow make that qualify as saying we appeared on the Bozo show. We can stop thinking about that now. Now we can say that ScribbleMonster played Lollapalooza.

For about six weeks leading up to the festival, I’m amazed at all the various calls, faxes and emails somehow related to the event. There are a mass of people involved in making this thing happen. A request is made for a picture and MP3 that can be used on the website. They need artwork for the Kidzapalooza coloring book, our technical rider, stage plot, more artwork for the official program, several requests for contact information, promotional materials… it goes on and on. And they provide us with tons of information. Still, we’re not really sure what to expect.

I drop off merchandise and pick up our artist credentials on Tuesday. I feel bad for the workers all over the park setting up stages and booths in the direct sun with 100 degree temperatures. The stage isn’t up yet, but the Kidzapalooza area is the best in the house. Lots of shade, close to the lake. Sweet.

Friday morning we arrive at about 8:00 am to load in. We flash our Artist wristbands and are waved in. When I get to the Kidzapalooza area, four guys swoop in to unload my gear before I even come to a complete stop. By the time I get out of my car, everything’s on the stage. After we get our stuff set up, we’re carted over to the catering tent for breakfast. Upon our return to the kids’ stage, we find The Blisters doing a sound check. They’re kids who are the same age as some of our own kids and they’re really good.

Our show is usually very hands-on (we’re mobile with wireless mics and guitars) but the stage is five feet off the ground with barricades on either side. There’s no easy way to split time between the stage and the crowd. We also have only 30 minutes to play. Neither of these things are a problem, they’re just different. With all our interaction and set-up for activities, we normally play about 15 songs in an hour set. Today we’ve come up with a killer set of 10 songs that we’ll try to blow through.

The gates open at 11:00 and there’s a long line waiting. Our set starts at 11:30 and Kidzapalooza is officially underway. It takes awhile for people to get into the park. With each new song, there are new additions to the crowd. The KidTribe gang is hula-hooping and dancing with kids on the lawn in front of us as we perform. All the color and movement add to the party vibe. The band is pumped and the sound is great. We don’t spend a lot of time with chatting or interplay. It’s more of a rock band set. Lake Michigan is directly behind us. We’re playing at Lollapalooza! This is so awesome. We get through all 10 songs in our half-hour and we have a ball.

After breaking-down our gear we chat with Miss Mia and Ratso who are taping interviews for the local TV treasure known as Chic-A-Go-Go. We then catch the first half of Asheba’s set before checking our guitars in at the artist area. We run into him a couple more times before the day is through. You can tell that Asheba takes his role as a children’s performer very seriously and I love this about him. Sure, our job is to entertain, but I also believe that we have a responsibility to set positive examples for our audience. Our kids are exposed to plenty of questionable language and behavior on television, from their siblings and their friends. Are farts funny? You bet. Am I calling for an end to farts? Hardly. Kids can and will find a way to have fun with farts on their own. They don’t need any encouragement in song from an adult. I’m thinking we can aim higher and still have some fun.

We explore the artist lounge area and marvel. We find a scattering of comfortable umbrellaed tables and padded lounge chairs surrounding a tented bar area complete with couches, lounge tables and video screens displaying live Lollapalooza performances. There’s also a large platform area for viewing the AT&T stage, a masseuse and a PlayStation2 adorned with guitar controllers for playing Guitar Hero. We have three 13-year-old ScribbleKids in tow – including a drummer and guitarist - who mingle with the Blister kids. I think they’re all grateful to have someone their own age to relate with. They talk about their gear, how long they’ve played, the fest, what bands they want to see and monopolize the PS2.

How great that the Kidzapalooza stage has actual kids performing on it. I’m excited for our kids to see The Blisters play. They have a great crowd (made up primarily of adults) and do an impressive set of covers with a couple originals thrown in. For me, the highlight is their version of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” The audience was riveted. And the crowd went nuts over their encore of “Sweet Home Alabama.” The ScribbleKids were very much looking forward to seeing Panic! at the Disco and Death Cab for Cutie. At the end of the day, hanging with The Blisters and seeing them perform is the highlight of their day.


Saturday morning runs about the same as Friday with ScribbleMonster performing at 11:30. The Candy Band and Justin Roberts are here loading in. The line doesn’t seem to be anywhere as long at the gate this morning. Maybe everyone is still sleeping off yesterday. Like yesterday, more people stroll in as our set progresses. There’s a group of teens who are clearly amused by “Chocolate Milk,” “Don’t Cry, Dance!” and “A Monster Goes Rrraargh!” It’s great to look out and see them dancing, singing and smiling along with the younger kids, KidTribe and all the hula-hoopers. As we leave the stage looking out at Lake Michigan, we all agree that we would have no problem doing this every day.

Next up is The Candy Band, a group of moms from Detroit who blend nursery rhymes and punk. Almond Joy totally rocks on the guitar and ScribbleBrett is ready to have her be my replacement in ScribbleMonster. The adults in the crowd are obviously amused and it’s a kick watching everyone (really, everyone—including vendors, security, police officers) laughing and playing along to their “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

Knowing it will disappoint my mother who is a retired kindergarten teacher and huge fan (that combination and living in Chicago, I’ve seen Ella Jenkins many times) I still duck out on Ella to catch The Go! Team. As a fan, Saturday’s the day I’ve most been looking forward to. In addition to The Go! Team, The Smoking Popes are playing and neither one disappoint. The Go! Team’s music is so positive and fun. Live, they’re unbelievable. Their energy is non-stop. There’s no way you can sit still or not have a smile on your face. I’ve been waiting for a band on the “grown-up” stages to have this kind of energy and excitement. Come on! We’re at Lollapalooza! Go! Team!

I make it back to the Kidzapalooza area in time for the second half of Justin Roberts’ set and catch all of their second show. Justin plays with a very accomplished group of musicians who are as nice as they are talented. Not only does the band sound great, they’re great fun visually. Clearly they’re having a good time and they have many polished, entertaining moments where the band responds, reacts or moves in unison. Meanwhile, ScribbleMonster gets excited when we remember all the words to our songs.

Who knows what I was expecting from Chutzpah – a Jewish hip-hop trio. This easily could have just been silliness. But it was skillfully produced music with clever lyrics and choreography that, while humorous, also manages to educate and share the Jewish experience (seriously). Songs included “The Curse of the Blessing,” “In the Shtetl,” (that would be the Jewish ghetto) and “Superjew” (which is still running through my head). While singing a song about mothers, MC Meshugenah gets a phone call from his mother on his cellular headset. “Ma. I can’t talk right now. I’m on stage at Lollapalooza. No! Ma!” But the biggest laugh of the day comes when he declares, “Be crazy! Be yourself! But be prepared if people laugh.” So true, children. So true.

I figure that The Go! Team was to be the fest’s highlight until The Smoking Popes play. We get to watch from on the stage as they rip through a set of some of their best, plus a couple of new tunes. There’s a fun Spinal Tap moment when Eli’s amp starts picking up an AT&T commercial mid-song. The timing and reaction couldn’t have worked any better if it were a planned bit. The Popes’ new drummer is fantastic and the band so is tight and together. I love that stuff. I get goose bumps when they play “Pretty Pathetic” (that song is brilliant) and my eyes well up with joy as they end their set with the crowd singing along to “I Know That You Love Me.” It’s an awesome moment.

We run into Justin Roberts’ bass player, Jackie Schimmel, at dinner. During our conversation she mentions that Stefan at Zooglobble asked her to write something about her experience at Lollapalooza and asked one other person. “Yeah, that other person is me.” The secret’s out. News spreads like wildfire across the festival.

At Kidzapalooza with... Jackie Schimmel (Justin Roberts' Band)

[Looking for Justin Roberts' Today show appearance? Go here for the link and check out the Justin Roberts links on the right for more Justin reviews.]

Since I couldn't actually attend Kidzapalooza/Lollapalooza, I thought I'd do the next best thing -- have somebody else file a report for me. The first of the two reports comes from Jackie Schimmel, who plays bass for Justin Roberts. Jackie's been reading Zooglobble for awhile now, and I thought she'd be a great person to give a "behind-the-scenes" perspective from Kidzaplooza. And she does, in spades. It's long, but it was a long day.

Many, many thanks to Jackie for taking the time to write this and for letting me publish it...


Hi! My name is Jackie Schimmel, and I play bass in Justin Roberts’ band, The Not Ready for Naptime Players. I first met Justin through our mutual friend, Liam Davis, and I started playing with Justin in February 1998. I’m on all of Justin’s cds except for his very first one, Great Big Sun. The Not Ready for Naptime Players have played A LOT of shows together over the years, and we have a great line-up for today’s show: Justin, Liam, me, Dave Winer on trumpet, melodica, percussion (and the BIG SHOES), and Gerald Dowd (who also plays with Liam in his “grown-up” band, Frisbie) on drums.

Lollapalooza is unlike any show we've ever played before. For one thing, at most of our shows, we're the only band on the bill. When we've played at other festivals, they've been specifically for kids (so the other performers have been folks like Hi-5 and They Might Be Giants). Appearing at a festival which is primarily for adults is definitely a first for us. Lollapalooza is an incredibly well organized event -- every single person we encounter over the course of the day is friendly, knowledgeable and thoroughly professional – and the Kidz Stage performers were treated like royalty. I really can't say enough about what a great experience it was!

Here's a timeline of my day:

7:00 AM: Time to get up!

When you play in a rock band for kids, you have the exact opposite schedule from a regular rock band: instead of getting to the venue at 8 pm, sound checking at 9 PM and going on at 11 PM, we do all of those things 12 hours earlier. One of the good things about this schedule is that we don't stagger home at 3 AM smelling like cigarettes. Another good thing is that we aren't exhausted this morning the way the rock stars playing on the other stages appear to be!

8:45 AM: Justin & Dave are scheduled to pick me up. (Michael, Justin’s tour manager, emailed a copy of the day’s itinerary to everybody in the band on Friday.)

9:10 AM: Justin & Dave actually arrive. This is a fairly common occurrence (Why? Dave is always – how shall I put it? -- late. We love him anyway.). On the drive to my house, Justin does an on-air phone interview with Bill & Ella from Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. Most of this interview takes place while Justin & Dave are in the drive-thru line at Starbucks. This is also a fairly common occurrence -- I think you'll find that most kid’s rock artists are highly-caffeinated.

9:30 AM: We arrive at the Artist Load-in Area right on time! Beth, the Stage Manager, comes to meet us with a golf cart to bring our instruments to the Kidz Stage. Liam & Gerald arrive right then, so they follow us to the stage in Gerald's car. It's a nice big stage right near Buckingham Fountain with lots of shady trees around it. Lollapalooza is spread over a HUGE area (the entire Grant Park) and our stage is centrally located. This turns out to be very convenient as the day progresses. Because so many bands are playing on our stage today, Lollapalooza has arranged for a "back line" of equipment for everyone to use: a drum set, guitar and bass amps, guitar stands, etc. It's really nice to be able to show up with nothing but my bass! I usually use a very small amp for our shows, and the amp on stage today has a huge cabinet with EIGHT 10" speakers -- I do not need to worry about being loud enough today!

10:15 AM: We all pile back into Beth's golf cart to ride over to the "Artist Relations" area. Lollapalooza has lots of “Fest Express” golf carts available to ferry performers from Point “A” to Point “B” – we take advantage of this option several times. We all get our special "Artist" wristbands (which are the equivalent of an “All Access Pass” for all three days of the festival!) and vouchers for breakfast, lunch & dinner (!) in the huge catering tent. Beth shows us around the Artist Lounge area which has deck chairs and a masseur and a PlayStation tent (we are momentarily concerned that Dave will forget to come back to our stage to perform) and a huge open bar. This is all pretty overwhelming. We decide to have some breakfast and -- Hey, look! It's Perry Farrell! All day long I find myself doing double takes as I pass rock stars just walking around.

11:30 AM: Back to the Kidz Stage. ScribbleMonster is playing “Beautiful Day” and the crowd is rocking out while KidTribe are getting everybody moving with hula-hoops. Liam & I walk over to check out the other Kidz area activities -- there are booths where kids can do all kinds of stuff: play different instruments, make their own t-shirts, get temporary tattoos, record their own songs, etc. Why didn't they have something like this when I was a kid?

12:00 PM: A great young punk band from Nashville called Be Your Own Pet is playing on the Q101 Stage, and I talk them up so much that Liam and Michael (our crew guy) join me on the trek to catch their set. (NOTE: BYOP’s lyrics are definitely not kid-friendly!)

12:30 PM: Time to grab some lunch before our first set. Hey, look! It's Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips! Curiously, he's already in the outfit he'll be wearing onstage tonight.

1:30 PM: I run into several members of Candy Band in the Ladies Room – Tammy (a/k/a Starburst) and I chat for a bit. Justin and I catch a Fest Express cart back to our stage. Hey, look! It's Carl Newman of The New Pornographers!

No matter how many shows we play, Justin is ALWAYS nervous before the show. He's a perfectionist, and I know he wants to be sure that he always puts on a great show for his fans, so it's just his nature to get a little stressed-out. Happily once we get on stage, he tends to relax. Justin heads backstage to warm up with some vocal exercises while I change into my stage outfit.

The amazing living legend, Ella Jenkins, is on the grass in front of the stage, performing with Asheba before a rapt crowd. I remember going to see Ella perform when I was a kid -- she's undoubtedly influenced generations of children to become musicians and to be unafraid to sing out loud. She is able to command a crowd’s complete attention in a way that few performers can. It just so happens that it's Ella's 82nd birthday this weekend -- Asheba leads the crowd in a special birthday song for her!

2:00 PM: Another great feature of Kidzapalooza is the interactive family Drum Circle. Ordinarily, the words "drum" and "circle" in such close proximity make me want to head for the hills, but this is really cool: the leader hands out percussion instruments to the dozens of kids and adults in the circle and everybody joins in! There is something utterly charming about kids banging on drums and shaking shakers and making NOISE with their parents right alongside them (rather than being told to pipe down). Judging from the big grins on everybody's face, the Drum Circle is a big hit.

2:15 PM: It's time for our first set! Usually, our shows are around 55 minutes long (we find that’s the attention span limit of our audience -- any longer and kids start to get a little antsy), but the Kidz stage sets are 30 minutes long. As a result, both of our sets today are heavy on the faster, punkier songs in Justin’s repertoire (which suits me just fine – I love to play the fast songs)! We open with "I Chalk,” the first song on Justin's latest cd, Meltdown! (it's one of my favorite songs to play, because the bass part is very busy), and follow it with my very favorite Justin song, "Our Imaginary Rhino.” It's so fun to play shows with Justin, because everybody in the crowd is always very enthusiastic, and they all seem to know the words to every song! It's great to see kids and their parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends and complete strangers singing and dancing together. We end the first set with one of Justin's biggest hits, "Willy Was a Whale" off of his second cd, Yellow Bus. Last Summer we went to Los Angeles to film a really cool video for "Willy Was a Whale" -- watch for it on Noggin!

3:00 PM: Time for a quick visit with my partner, Tamara, her sister Shannon and brother-in-law Marc and their kids, Maeve (10), Liam (8) & Molly (6). Everybody’s having a great time! Tamara and I run into Justin’s wife, Chris, who’s just arrived at the festival – we all head back to the Kidz Stage.

3:30 PM: We return just in time to catch the last few songs of Chutzpah’s set – they bill themselves as “The World’s First Ever Jewish Hip-Hop Supergroup” and they are FANTASTIC! While they’re on stage, the Brickheadz are breakdancing in the crowd.

3:45 PM: Almost time for our second set! Hey, look! It’s Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth! Justin is a huge fan and he nearly has a heart attack. Our friend, Piper Parker, who sang with us at our Ravinia show last month, just happens to be attending Lollapalooza today, so she comes onstage for our second set! We play a completely different set of songs this time (happily, after five albums, Justin has a LOT of great songs to choose from!) We open with "My Brother Did It" from Meltdown! and close the show 30 minutes later with Justin's signature song, "Yellow Bus" -- the crowd goes crazy!

4:30 PM: One last Drum Circle and the Kidz Stage closes up shop for the day.

4:45 PM: Time to drop off our gear at the Artist Relations area so we can go watch some other bands. Tamara and I load up all of Justin’s and my stuff and catch a ride in a Fest Express cart. Hey, look! It’s Jamie, Kaori & Ian (or possibly Sam) of The Go! Team! We love them! We shout "Yay! Go! Team!" at them and they shout "Yay!" right back at us. My one disappointment about this fantastic day was that The Go! Team was on opposite us and I couldn’t see their show!

5:30 PM: Time for the Smoking Popes! I convince Justin and Chris to join us for this great power-pop band’s set. Justin leaves the show as a new fan.

6:15 PM: We make the lengthy trek over to the other side of the park to catch the highlight of the day: The Flaming Lips. Fans dressed like aliens and Santas dance onstage while two enormous inflatable astronauts and an inflatable alien and Santa move about toward the rear of the stage. There are streamers and confetti and big blue balloons being tossed around the crowd. Wayne stumbles through the crowd in his “Space Bubble,” which looks a lot like an enormous hamster ball (Note to Self: Convince Justin to buy an enormous hamster ball).

7:15 PM: We make the trek all the way back to the other side of the park again to grab some dinner and hopefully catch most of The New Pornographers’ set. We run into Jim and Brian of ScribbleMonster and have a delightful chat over dinner. Hey, look! It’s the Smoking Popes!

8:30 PM: We walk over to catch a bit of Kanye West’s set and then call it a night.

Whew! What a day! We’re exhausted but had an incredible time! I can’t say enough about what a great experience it was to play at Lollapalooza!

A Whole Mess of Kids Stuff

Thanks to Devon, who points out a whole bunch of Washington Post kids' arts-related articles, including an interview with and recommendations from Dan Zanes. I've got a Jose-Luis Orozco CD -- I've listened to it a few times, but I'll have to go back and listen with fresh ears.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Review in Brief: Here We Go - Melissa

If I had a dollar for every time my name was spelled incorrectly, we'd have replaced the flooring in our house long ago. So I understand the decision by Los Angeles-based musician Melissa Szilagyi to drop her surname and perform simply as Melissa. It's also very pop-star-like. Her debut kids' music album Here We Go (2006), to be released next week, is 29 minutes of preschooler-friendly acoustic pop that sounds not a little like kids' music star Laurie Berkner. Whimsical stories ("Have You Ever Seen?"), interactive songs (the sea horses counting down from 5 to 1 on "The Seahorse Song"), and subjects of great concern to 3- and 4-year-olds ("Going on a Trip," "Chocolate Ice Cream.") Add to that Melissa's warm voice and sharp additional instrumentation (guitar, mandolin, harmonica, assorted percussion) from New York-based musician Beau Elliott, and the album is a perfectly good little collection of songs. The originals are well-crafted; the few traditional songs are innovatively arranged. It's not quite at Laurie's level, though, for a couple reasons. First, Berkner's songs have a river of good humor flowing through them; these songs, though by no means humorless, don't have enough of those moments of loopiness that keep parents sane while listening to Berkner's music. Second, you realize how important Berkner's band -- the bass and the piano -- are to her albums. Here We Go would have benefitted greatly from even a couple songs with a full band. The album is most appropriate for kids age 2 through 7. Listen to clips here or here. I'm recommending this -- it's a well-done and enjoyable album. (And I'm hoping Melissa finds even more talented musicians for her second album!)

Friday, August 04, 2006

It's There. I'm Not.

Kidzapalooza and Lollapalooza, that is. Weather looks to be a little warm in Chicago, but nothing like last week, luckily.

I hope to have a couple artists posting "on-the-scene" reports. No, I did not copy the idea from Bill. (Think of it as a case of "great minds think alike.") I'm not gonna get your hopes too high because I don't know exactly when the reports will get posted. By Labor Day, at least.

And, no, Gnarls Barkley is not one of the artists. Though now that I write it, that would've been "Crazy." (Ducks frying pan from audience.)

And, c'mon, everybody else is covering it, why not a Kidzapalooza musician?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Review: The Great Adventures of Mr. David - Mr. David

Sometimes it's easy to review kids' music -- a little of bit of this, sounds like that, there are songs about food. Then an album like The Great Adventures of Mr. David (2006) comes along, making the task much more difficult. Whatever it is (and it's many things, sometimes all at once), this is not a typical kids' album.

The second album for kids from San Jose-based musician David Alexandrou, who performs as Mr. David, The Great Adventures has, as you'd expect from the title, a number of songs about adventures and travels. But these aren't typical adventures. The very first line of the album, on the winding Bob Dylan-esque track "Sea Song," is "Golden brown peanut butter fell from the sky." And then it gets odder. (Yes, the narrator quickly gets to the sea. The sea serves as the location for other songs -- "Surf's Up All Around the World," "In the Storm Fighting the Octopus," and the Beatlesque "I'm A Fish." There's a sense of wonder and absurdity in the lyrics that sets it apart from the concrete lyrics of many other artists. Not that one is necessarily better than the other, but this is definitely the road less-traveled lyrically.

The lyrics would just make the album slightly unusual if it weren't paired with a fabulous musical approach. Instrumentally, the album employs, among other things, horns, dulcimer, washboard, and ukelele. It's very Dan Zanes-ian in that regard. Mr. David also has a rough voice reminiscent of Zanes, but is also willing to use voice almost as an instrument, as at the end of the terrific "Surf's Up All Around the World," which sounds like the Beach Boys-meet-Laurie Anderson, or the instrumentals "Dream Away; Sail Away" or "Dancing with Peter Pan," which have a touch of Peter Gabriel in them. There's also the Jane's Addiction-goes-mariachi of "La Cucaracha" or the blues-rock of "Rock 'N' Roll." Even when something doesn't work (the medley of nursery rhymes), at least it's different.

The album probably would interest kids ages 3 through 9, though different songs would interest different kids. You can hear "I'm A Fish" here or samples of all the songs at the album's CDBaby page.

Even though I've made a lot of comparisons here, as a whole this album sounds like nothing else you've heard all year. It's got a sense of wonder and playfulness that will interest kids (and their adults) for a long time. Definitely recommended.

They Might Be Sparing The Rock

No, actually, they will. Bill at Spare the Rock tells the story of They Might Be Giants wanting to record a song for his broadcast. That is beyond cool, that's like, I don't Bill-and-Ella Lee Supertaster-cool, or something.

And in other They Might Be Giants news, their Dial-A-Song website has been relaunched with news that they're recording "adults" and "kids" albums back-to-back, with both albums scheduled for release in 2007. No "Here Come the 1-2-3s," as has been rumored, in 2006, I guess. (Thanks to the good people at This Might Be A Wiki for the heads up.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Review: Great Big Sun - Justin Roberts

The great risk in going back and listening to an artist's early work is that you won't like it as much as the later work that drew you to the artist in the first place, thereby also diminishing your original enthusiasm. Thankfully, that didn't happen for me when I listened to Justin Roberts' 1997 kids' music debut, Great Big Sun. It is, however, a different animal from Roberts' later work.

Unlike Roberts' later work, especially his stellar 2006 Meltdown!, Great Big Sun is a stripped-down work musically. Mellow guitar, some bass, some drums, the occasional tuba -- "Our Imaginary Rhino," this ain't. Instead, folk-pop songs such as "Little Raindrop," "Great Big Sun," and "3 Lil Pigs" take center stage. "Apple Tree" is such a dead ringer for James Taylor's work that Taylor could sue for royalties (or ask Roberts for permission to cover it). Only on a couple songs does he break out of the mold of the rest of the album, "A B C D E," an original pop-reggae take on an alphabet song, and my favorite, the folk/punk-rocker "Do You Wanna Go?," which sounds a little out of place here amidst the mellower cuts.

Lyrically, the album also differs from Roberts' subsequent albums in that the targeted age range is definitely younger. This is a result, no doubt, of Roberts' previous work as a preschool teacher. The alphabet, numbers, body parts (OK, brain parts), the three little pigs -- these are of great interest to 3- and 4-year-olds and perhaps less to older kids. And the impish characters that populate many of Roberts' later songs only appear once here, sort of, in the sweet, tuba-accented "Everything Else Starts With 'E'."

Given the slightly less mature subject matter, I'll put the age range here at 3 to 7. You can hear samples at the usual online sampling places.

Make no mistake, Great Big Sun is a sweet and tuneful collection of songs. (Indeed, Roberts has commented how some people "still love the simplicity" of the album.) It's not the guitar-pop of his later work, but it stands proudly in its own right -- it's an important part of Roberts' work. Recommended.

And A Bass Player To Be Named Later...

The baseball trading deadline ended on Monday, but a major swap will happen in the children's music biz this fall. About when the Wiggles start their Fall US tour, Dan Zanes and Friends will be wrapping up a week's worth of shows in Melbourne, Australia.

I knew about the Melbourne shows earlier this week, but what I didn't know until Zanes' most recent newsletter (and, really, go to his homepage and sign up now if you haven't already) was that it looks like my long Zanes-ian drought will be coming to an end this spring as he makes it to Tucson on April 22. It'll be a 2-hour drive, but we are so there.

Many other things of note in the newsletter, including a new (to me) Dan Zanes Myspace page. Full of your streaming Dan Zanes needs.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Review: Parades and Panoramas: 25 Songs Collected by Carl Sandburg - Dan Zanes and Friends

Dan Zanes' 2004 album Parades and Panoramas: 25 Songs Collected by Carl Sandburg is not, strictly speaking, a "kids music" album. This collection of songs from The American Songbag, compiled and published by the poet Carl Sandburg in 1927 does not always have the friendly vibe found on Zanes' five kids-related CDs. But it is a "family music" album in the best way -- it encourages families to listen, and occasionally sing, together.

Recorded with the same large and talented cast of characters Zanes has recorded his last few albums with, the album takes the Sandburg's collected songs and gives them new life. Musically, this isn't the rave-up (mostly) of Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Session album, nor is it quite as modern as the two Billy Bragg-Wilco Mermaid Avenue collections, but there are a few songs given a modern touch, such as "All Night Long," on which Rankin' Don recites the words of French painter Millet, or the midtempo rocker "The Midnight Train," about which Zanes notes, "I couldn't believe that it wasn't being played by every rock and roll band in New York."

The songs themselves are a history lesson. "Titanic," which tells the story of that fateful ship, is given a sprightly reading. Zanes and his brother-in-law Donald Saaf have a nice duet on "The E-ri-e," which tells a story about a different fateful ship. The California Gold Rush is given a nice banjo accompaniment on "California." All of which wouldn't be much more than a nice historical collection if it weren't for the sheer fun of some of these arrangements. The recurring tuba, fiddle, and many other fabulous instruments make the album a joy to listen to. At 65 minutes in length, the album is sometimes a bit much for one sitting, and the liner notes, while fabulously detailed, are sometimes rendered in fonts that make it harder than necessary to read. But those are really minor quibbles.

Like with all of Zanes' CDs, this one is appropriate for many ages. However, given the storytelling nature of many of these songs, I think kids ages 5 and up would probably get the most out of the album. You can hear samples, read lyrics and chords here.

I find Parades and Panoramas best exemplified by the rollicking "The Son of a Gambolier," a drinking song sung by a kid (with accompaniment reaching double-digits). It speaks both to the rough start of this country and to the sheer fun of communal singing. You're bound to find some song that strikes you similarly and you may, like me, be inspired to track down the Songbag that inspired Zanes to see what other delights the other 255 songs hold. Definitely recommended.

Jeff Tweedy, Can You Stop By?

I'm a big Wilco fan, but Clea, she's a huuuge Jeff Tweedy (and, by extension, Wilco) fan. In the hospital recently for some medical issues, she's back at (Sm)all Ages with posts on (mostly) adult music for kids and (occasionally) kids music for adults. If you don't stop by on a regular basis, you should -- Clea's always a fun read. And if you are a regular reader, make sure you stop by and welcome her back.

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.