Friday, August 25, 2006

***Josh Levine***

Let's see, what are the odds of coming across a kids' performer who just happens to work regularly with a legendary Cuban musician? Pretty good, actually, if you're in Manhattan! Professional bassist Josh Levine has combined the varied influences from his rich musical background to create what might be the kids' album most likely to induce spontaneous salsa dancing.

For his debut children's CD, Josh Levine for Kids, Levine put together a collection of traditional tunes, originals, and incredibly interesting cover songs. Double-tracked vocals, thick harmonies, generous use of a Venezuelan cuatro, and, of course, a booming acoustic bass, all recorded in Levine's apartment (let's hear it for indie rock!), make for a hugely entertaining album.

You get a great idea of what to expect for the rest of the album when Florentino Ruiz Carmona's "Tiburon" bursts from the speakers. Levine also covers Bill Staines' classic kids' song "A Place in the Choir", and Gil Raldiris' perfect preschool singalong activity tune "Mi Cuerpo Hace Musica". Again, an album full of traditional songs could go horribly boring, but wow, Levine really puts a spicy twist on oldies like "Jump Jim Joe", "I Am a Pumpkin", "The Hokey Pokey", "This Land is Your Land", "If You're Happy and You Know It", and even "Cumpleanos Feliz".

Levine contributes an impressive handful of originals, including the world-as-global-community message of "A Real Bouquet", cowritten with Edith Segal; and the joyous "I've Got Music in My Soul". Of course as a professional bass player, Levine made sure the low end was pushed to the forefront, and rightfully so. Every song sounds stronger for it, and seems to make the album even more of a hip shaking, hand clapping experience.

In the grownup music world, Levine performs with Son Amigos, a trio that includes legendary guitarist Jose Luis Martinez, who was an early member of the groundbreaking Cuban band Los Van Van, and can also be heard throughout the New York City area performing with the quartet Los Acustilocos, with songwriter/musician Angus Martin, and with vocalist Francine Morin ... busy, busy guy!

Full of short, intimate performances (four songs come in under the one-minute mark!) Josh Levine for Kids is a great, great resource for toddler and preschool programming, as well as a flat-out fun album to listen to loudly at home. Warn your downstairs neighbors, though: uncontrolled dancing is guaranteed!