Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ashley Bryan

Wow ... you come to work every day hoping to be inspired by the words or art of an author or illustrator, and then, POW! a genius like Ashley Bryan shows up and completely blows you out of the water!

Mr. Bryan was the keynote speaker at our annual Anne Carroll Moore Lecture here at the Donnell Central Children's Room. His latest work, Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals, is included as one of the NYPL's "100 Titles for Reading and Sharing" for 2007, a list that is celebrated by having one of the honorees speak to librarians, publishers, authors, illustrators, and fans.

Now, you can't even call his presentation a "speech", it was poetry as performance art, man. He brought to life and gave voices to poems that he had illustrated in the past, poems by Nikki Giovanni, Eloise Greenfield, Langston Hughes, and himself. He made the characters jump off the page, be it a landlord demanding money from a tenant, or a very, very slow snail.

A beautiful dude, and amazingly spry for a man in his mid-80s! If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, stop at nothing! Otherwise, check out any of his webcasts on the Library of Congress website. The Ella Jenkins of poetry, no?

Friday, November 02, 2007

***Down at the Sea Hotel***

A must-have for dreamers and those who rock them to sleep! The latest from Canadian publishing house The Secret Mountain is one of the best lullabye/naptime CDs you'll ever hear, and for several reasons: The performances, songwriting, and production on Down at the Sea Hotel are worthy of any grownup album...no shortcuts were taken here just because it's a kids' CD.

A gaggle of stellar singers and musicians from Minnesota's roots rock label Red House Records convened to record quiet songs written by the likes of Nanci Griffith, Tom Waits, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Neil Young, Billy Joel, Goffin & King, Bruce Cockburn, Jesse Winchester, Don Henley, and Steve Earle. The whole project gets its warm, rich, deep sound from producer Paul Campagne, who makes sure each voice and instrument get their own space.

There are two ways to enjoy this collection of tunes for beddiebye-time: As a picture book/CD package, illustrated by Mireille Levert's amusingly fantastical paintings, and featuring Greg Brown's "Down at the Sea Hotel"; or as a digipac CD. Throw this one in the stereo on a drowsy afternoon, or read the picture book with your little one as the title song plays in the background. High quality on all fronts!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ellen & Matt live at Donnell !!!

West Coast kiddierockers Ellen & Matt graced the stage at Donnell on Saturday, August 11. Highlights included LOTS of dancing, a cover of the Beach Boys' "Darlin'", and a new song called "Capybara", an anthem about the largest rodent still in existence that will make you hoist your lighters when you hear it in concert.

Lots of fun was had by all, plus Ellen Kennedy pretty much had a family reunion at the show, as bunches of relatives and friends from Brooklyn and the surrounding area showed up for the gig.

A great show and a great vibe. Can't wait for their next concert!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

***Dean Jones***

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. This is music that you hear in your head when you're sitting on your front porch, miles from your nearest neighbor, watching the sky change colors as the sun goes down. Besides having THE absolute best album title of the year, Dean Jones' Napper's Delight is very appropriately named, as this is not a bedtime CD, but a CD to listen to before an afternoon nap, when you and your kids can contemplate the drowsy music and thought-provoking imagery of the words.

Those familiar with Dog on Fleas' work will recognize lead Flea Dean Jones' playful, cosmic lyrics, tenderly sung by Jones and guest vocalists Elizabeth Mitchell; fellow Flea Debbie Lan; and Amy Poux, founder of Working Playground, Inc., and High Meadow Arts, Inc. In fact, Jones showcases a mindboggling array of Hudson Valley talent, including the aforementioned voices, the pedal steel of Fooch Fischetti, and fellow Flea David Levine's fiddlin'.

The slightest touches of electronica mixed with the sounds of mbiras (thumb pianos) and balafons (marimba-like instruments), especially on "Tiny Fishes", make the music on Napper's Delight both now and timeless. And listen to how Dean quietly and slyly works Steely Dan into the lyrics of "Sally Ann". "Wheelin' and Dealin'", cowritten with NYC's Emily Curtis, would be a lo-fi electrotrance hit on any college radio station, and the Elizabeth Mitchell-sung "Grow Little Flower" would fit in just nicely on Neil Young's Harvest Moon.

Other highlights include the 5/4 - 3/4 verse/chorus of the Vince Guaraldi-influenced "Needs", the mournful trombones of the call-and-response antebellum-sounding waltz "Filly and Dilly", and the uniquely Dean Jones lyrics of "Hush Little Baby". Dig these tasty lines from "Hermit Crab": Minnows swim in minnow school / Stand askance of tidal pool / Swim on swishy beaucoup fishies / Pesky little Pisces settle down nicely". Cool.

What's going on here is more than pretty little folk songs: The album as a whole is all about observing, understanding, and caring for your world, including the people around you. It's not enough to live in it, you have to be a part of it.

This is music, man. If anyone in the universe wants to jump in and get their feet wet, well, c'mon. Everyone's invited, Dean Jones ain't keepin' nobody out.

Friday, August 31, 2007

***Mr. David***

Aaaah, I see, so this is how it's gonna work: Musicians from beloved bands of our pasts will slowly take over the kindierock world, until children's music becomes the only current genre that anyone actually listens to or pays for... Ya see, Chris Molla, former member of Camper Van Beethoven, has already released a couple of CDs for kids (Roll Along: Fingerpaint, 1999; Jump Up: Fingerpaint, 2004), and now his CVB bandmate Greg Lisher is a contributing guitarist on Mr. David's latest masterpiece, Jump In the Jumpy House.

On this eagerly awaited follow up to 2006's The Great Adventures of Mr. David, David Alexandrou channels the Velvet Underground for the roaring title tune, appropriates the sound of Desire-era Dylan on "The Stars are Grains of Sugar", takes us back to the Kinks' late-60s pastoral rock with "She's a Good Dog", and turns in a pretty damn good tribute to Johnny Cash with "Them Devils". And when the first song on the album fades out with "John Paul George and Ringo" being chanted over and over again, you know you're in for a funky, funny, far out musical trip.

If you're going to pull a song off this album as a single, "Hey! It's Lunchtime!" would be it. Bubbly, infectious, and silly, it'll make a great live tune, as will "The Stars are Grains of Sugar", its speed up/shakin' ... slow down/floating sections guaranteeing audience participation. And "Miss Pila" may sound at first to be a simple, Ranchero-influenced ditty about food, but listen more closely; dig the chord changes and countermelody!

Jump in the Jumpy House was produced and mixed incredibly well (just check out the bass guitar throughout the CD!) by contributing multi-instrumentalist Rich Ajlouny, giving the songs a very rich, deep, analog sound. And if you wanted to get old school, you could divide the album into sides: Loud & Silly ("Crocodiles are Hungry" through "She's a Good Dog", and Quiet & Introspective ("Ragtime Honey" through "Cabin Blues"), with "Exit Zoo" acting as a "Crocodiles" reprise. Plus, Tawnya Lancaster and Alexandrou designed and illustrated a wonderful CD package, full of playful drawings and song lyrics.

Another awesome CD from a kids' performer who's not afraid to stretch out in the words and music departments, and one can only imagine what's in the future for this guy if his albums keep getting this much better every time out. John, Paul, George, and Ringo would be proud.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gustafer Yellowgold live at Donnell !!!

Morgan Taylor brought the glorious story of Gustafer Yellowgold to the Donnell Central Children's Room this afternoon, with help from his wife, Rachel Loshak. Morgan thoroughly entertained the kids and their grownups with his multimedia presentation, and had 'em swayin' from the beginning of "I'm From the Sun" to the end of "New Blue Star". A highlight was seeing and hearing "The Mustard Slugs", a song from the upcoming second volume of Gustafer's adventures. This song, I swear, was somehow left off one of those Schoolhouse Rock albums and mystically channelled into Morgan's brain: It's the funniest song about math you'll ever see/hear.

I'm tellin' ya, go see Morgan live. These pictures just don't do him justice.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Summer is always a really busy and massively fun season at the library. I don't have as much time to write reviews, but I do get to do stuff like host big ol' Harry Potter parties! I'm tellin' ya, my coworkers and our pages put in lots of extra hours to get ready for this day-before-Deathly Hallows release shindig, and our patrons had a great afternoon.

We had arts and crafts...

owls from the New Canaan Nature Center...

magician/author Bob Friedhoffer...

and, of course, "Pin the Tail on Dudley's Butt".

Fun was had by all!!!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dancing about architecture

There's a famous quote about music journalism that goes, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture". It's origins are still hazy, the earliest written version gives Elvis Costello credit, while Martin Mull, Frank Zappa, and Steve Martin, among others, have been said to be the father of said pithy observation. At any rate, I love to read about music, about others' views on artists and styles, about one musician's critical look at another musician's body of work.

I was fortunate to have Dan Shorr come by and visit the Central Children's Room today with his family as they were passing through Midtown Manhattan. I mention this because, not only is Dan a super nice guy and a great songwriter/musician, he's been bitten by the writing bug lately. Check out the "News" section on his website, where he discusses Texas songwriters, musical authenticity, the lack of quality music on the radio, and writing kids' songs from a child's perspective.

It's great to see a kids' performer taking his craft seriously. You can be the goofiest guy on stage if you wanna, but children and their grownups really respect musicians who respect their audiences' musical sensibilities.

I didn't have my camera on me today, so here's a picture of Dan from Bill Childs' photo album of the Jalopy gig in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

***Sugar Free Allstars***

Who knew Oklahoma could be so funky? The two dudes from Norman, OK, who call themselves the Sugar Free Allstars lay down some stinky poo grooves with nothing but a Hammond B-3 and a drum set, showing that less is more on their first CD for kids, Dos Ninos. This here is a booty-shakin' affair, y'all, so open up the Toddler Time floor for some free form dancin'!

Organist and sax master Chris Wiser and drum thumper Rob (Dr. Rock) Martin have been at the SFA game for a while. Having met at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, the duo finally gelled as a musical twosome after the exit of guitarist Mike Satawake and original drummer Andy Moore. Three CDs into their career, the Sugar Free Allstars decided it was time to turn the kids on to their brand of Memphis soul, NOLA funk, and amusingly witty lyrics.

From the group chant chorus of "Bathtub Boy" to the vaudeville jaunt of "Petting Zoo", from the southern California funk of "It's P. Kitty Time" to the raging Deep Purple rock of "Banana Pudding", SFA let their unique style shine through on Dos Ninos, diverting nary a whit from their trademark sound. In fact, "He's OK (The Spider Song)" is a remake of a tune that originally appeared on SFA's eponymous debut CD back in 2001. Grandparents get a funktabulous shout out in the silly but sweet "Poppy and MeeMaw", and the appropriately titled instrumental "Stinky" will put a crick in yer neck, for sure. The album ends with "Buck Up Little Camper", a nostalgic diversion that sounds more like the closing song to one of those RKO westerns.

After you've listened to Dos Ninos, check out "Wichita" from Return of Dos Machos!, "Exercise the Demon" from Sugar Free Allstars, or "The Way That I Felt Today" from Dos Machos! Heck, just go ahead and get all their CDs, throw 'em in the player, and have a party. The kids'll love it, the grownups'll love it, and you'll probably grab a few of your neighbors' ears, as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

***The Terrible Twos***

Finally, the "Smile" of Children's Music, the one that was forever coming out next month, snippets of which were heard here and there on the Internet ... does it live up to the hype? Yep, and lemme tell you why.

If you don't buy If You Ever See an Owl ... because of Matt Pryor's love of Beatle-esque chord changes and melodies, if you don't make this purchase for the "can't help but sing along" aspect of every song, if'n you don't plunk down yer hard-earned cash just to complete your Get Up Kids/New Amsterdams discography, then make this album part of your music collection for the following reason: this record contains a certified folk masterpiece that transcends time ... "A Rake, A Broom, A Mop, A Shovel" could be a direct descendant of Woody Guthrie's "Grassy Grass Grass" and Ella Jenkins' "Ten Green Bottles" in that the song's simplicity is what makes it brilliant. It's very difficult to write a good simple song. This little tidbit is guaranteed to be curated as part of some postmodern folk collection, for sure.

Good music is good music, and the Terrible Twos' debut boasts several top-notch pop tunes in "Ladybug", "When I Get to Eleven", "Pizza and Chocolate Milk", "We Can All Get Along with Dinosaurs", and the title tune. With four songs named for girls ("Heather in the Heather", "Vivian", "Caroline", and "Isabella") and another specifically about Pryor's son ("Littlest Houdini") the album is at the same time intimately personal and universally relevant. And the spirit of Schoolhouse Rock is called upon for "Math Stomp", a sooperdooper song about ... math, of course! Add the math mantra "Oneplusoneistwo" and the nightynight tune "Grumpy Bug", and you've got yerself a wonderfully entertaining album from top to bottom. And look for a follow-up album, tentatively titled Jerzy the Giant, sometime in the fall. Yay!

It's widely known that the Terrible Twos are the New Amsterdams, so give it to those guys for recording an album of great tunes that can be appreciated by any age. In fact, the best way to describe the whole project would be to quote Pryor from the Vagrant Records website: "I'm just an artist who made some music children like". Let's hope more musicians follow his lead.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Recently I attended a program called "Voices for the Earth throughout the World" at the United Nations Plaza, a program of music presented by children of many nationalities from NYC area schools and daycares. There I picked up an issue of the United Nations Environment Programme magazine, TUNZA, which featured an article on a truly amazing band.

Tinariwen are a group of nomadic Touaregs from northeastern Mali who originally formed in one of Muammar Qadhafi's rebel camps in the early 80s. Their name means "empty spaces" and that's the feeling you get when you listen to their music: it's sorta like Mississippi Blues filtered through hot Saharan sands. Actually, they sound like what Page and Plant were shooting for on their No Quarter album, only dustier, more of-the-earth.

Aman Iman (which translates to "Water is Life") is Tinariwen's third album, and it continues their exploration of musical links between Arabic rhythms and a blues backbeat, between traditional flutes and droning guitar licks, between ancient isolation and the modern world. Explore their website and check out their history and their beliefs and causes. Mesmerizing rock from a brilliant, deeply political, cosmically mysterious band.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Black and White

I've been a fan of rock & roll history for many years now, and I sometimes like to think I know everything, that's right, everything about popular music from the past 50 years or so. Well, I also enjoy finding new information ... it keeps me humble.

I knew Three Dog Night performed songs written by Harry Nilsson, Paul Williams, Hoyt Axton, Randy Newman, and other contemporary tunesmiths, but I never really looked into the origins of the song "Black and White". While digging through the music collection here at Donnell, I came across this picture book published by the Ward Ritchie Press from L.A. in 1966. David Arkin's lyrics and Earl Robinson's music were originally published as a song in 1956, a tune that celebrated desegregation specifically and the Civil Rights Movement in general. Arkin decided to illustrate the song himself ten years later with simple black and white pencil drawings and, at the end of the story, sparse splashes of color.

The version of "Black and White" we are most familiar with was made popular first by British reggae band Greyhound in 1971, and then more famously by Three Dog Night in 1972. You have to admit, when it comes on the radio, this joyous song is pretty hard not to sing along with. But Arkin's original lyrics are powerful and uplifting, telling the story of (as the subtitle states) "the freedom to go to school together". This is a rare, wonderful gem. Come on by the Donnell Central Children's Room and give it a gander. I'll listen for your voices singing along with the book.

Monday, April 30, 2007

***Gustafer Yellowgold***

So much has already been said by so many reviewers about this wonderful, wonderful project, there's really nothing left to say about the re-release. Wait, lemme say this: if there is ANY possibility of seeing Morgan Taylor's live multimedia presentation of the Gustafer Yellowgold story, you MUST go. I've seen grown men crying with joy at the end of "New Blue Star" when all the children in the audience are blissfully singing "Neeeeeeeww Bluuuuuuue Staaaaar!!!" Absolutely heavenly.

And with the new release you get two additional songs: "A Cooler World", which could be Taylor thinking ahead to the possibility of an animated series, because this little ditty succinctly encapsulates everything Gustaferish within a perfect pop tune; and "Rocket Shoes", a typically wistful Taylor tune that fits right in with the feel of the older songs. Both have been available for a while on the Gustafer website, but it's nice to have them incorporated into the total storyline and CD/DVD package.
Here's what I had to say about the original DVD-only release:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

As you sit reading this review, I feel sorry for you, I truly do. For you see, friends, the minutes you waste eyeballing these pitifully mundane comments are minutes you could be digging this mindblowingly awesome DVD. This stuff is so far ahead of typical kids' entertainment, everyone else might as well give up. OK, allow me to back up and let you in on what all this proselytizing is about.

Illustrator/songwriter Morgan Taylor, originally from Dayton, Ohio, currently a Lower East Side resident, is the creator of Gustafer Yellowgold, a character from the Sun who befriends otherwise friendless beings like a flightless pterodactyl, a crying green bee, a dragon who makes his home in a fireplace, and an eel. Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World is the soundtrack of their intertwining lives, filled with stories of friendship, loneliness, loss, death, and love. But these subjects are dealt with in such a subdued manner that you don't so much read the lyrics or hear the music, you feel them, you understand the emotions channeled through the songs, you empathize with the characters.

The eight songs on the DVD are iconographically illustrated with Morgan's simple and colorful drawings, enclosed within a square wooden frame, and lyrics to each stanza appear on the frame as each song flows by. The DVD also includes wordless versions of all the songs so you and your little ones can sing along with "I'm From the Sun", "Your Eel", "New Blue Star", and the rest of the joyous tunes and aching melodies.

After having opened for bands such as the Polyphonic Spree and Wilco, Morgan is currently performing the Gustafer Yellowgold music locally, playing live as the images from the DVD are projected onto a screen. If you live near NYC, go see the show. If you live anywhere else in the world, come see the show. If you are of this universe, buy the DVD and share it with everyone you know.

Monday, April 23, 2007

***Peter Himmelman***

Quick tip for making a "good" kids album ... play who you are. That is, don't try to become what you think the public perceives a "children's musician" should sound like, just perform your music as you normally would. Play it, and they will come. So ... here's a guy whose style incorporates a little bit o' Costello, a little Springsteen, some Winwood, kinda Jersey Shore summertime bar bandish, a sprinkling of Memphis R&B, with harmonies and chord changes McCartney wouldn't say no to: c'mon, people, let's fly a kite! Specifically, Peter Himmelman's My Green Kite, the fourth kids' album from this L.A.-based musician and arranger.

The album kicks off with what would be a great concert opener: handclaps leading into a roaring intro, followed by three opportunities for group singalong: you can yell the song's title "Feet!", join in the call and response "I love my feet!", and enthusiastically sing "School's out!", and that's all in the first song!! Then comes the title track's awesome chorus; and later the question, would "Another Bite of Hay" really make me a happier person?
Other songs let us know that Mom's a great cook and Dad isn't as nerdy or boring as his accounting job would make him seem. Three must-hears are "A Dozen Roses", a folky rhyme set to rowdy rock and roll; the NuWave psychedelia of "Have You Ever Really Looked At an Egg?"; and Himmelman's deft and sarcastic beat poet rap "Nothin' to Say", whose horny funk backing music could have been sampled by A Tribe Called Quest.
This is one busy dude who, thankfully, takes the time to turn in another high-quality kids' collection. He could be running on autopilot by now, having released 10 adult albums, six CDs of unreleased tracks, and a compilation of his work with his original band, Sussman Lawrence. But somehow Himmelman gets better with each release, which is good news for kiddierock lovers everywhere. One of the secrets of his success is that Himmelman is Himmelman - he plays who he is, and the superlative results shine through.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stevie on the Street

Two things I love with all my heart: Stevie Wonder and early Sesame Street. They kept it real, dammit!!! Dig the kid goin' nuts on the fire escape...

Monday, April 02, 2007

***The Sursiks***

This has to be the most brilliant, goosebump-inducing project of the year in the field of kids' music: remember when Syd Barrett was so wacked out that his pals from Pink Floyd and Soft Machine had to build songs around the doodles he managed to get recorded to tape? Same idea here, 'cept the vocalist/songwriter is a three-year-old girl, Lydia Grace, around whose lyrics and melodies the members of the Sursiks construct their music.

Marvel at a child's view of the world in "When Monsters Come", dig the ELO intro to the new wave punk "Aunt Kate", check out the beautifully spooky "Winter Wind is Blowing", and be tickled by "L-Y-D-I-A"'s self-affirming chant about coloring with purple crayons. Progressive music for Toddlers by Toddlers!

Now, the Sursiks released another CD that uses the same concept, except the rantings and ravings left on an answering machine by various friends are given the build-a-song treatment. Equally brilliant, incredibly amusing, but very adult. The grownups can listen to this one after the kiddies have gone to bed.

At the very least, Lydia Grace is an interesting CD. At the most, though, Lydia Grace is inspiring, inventive, and refreshingly original. Very late-70's Frank Zappa-ish, in the sweetest way possible. Power to the Preschoolers!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hooooz Howwsss?

Mike's House! Man, you gotta admire the tenacity of a four year old who braves a snowstorm just to make it to his weekly Public Library Picture Book Hour.

Julia Sauer (1891-1983) was a Children's Librarian at the Rochester, NY, Public Library from 1921 to 1958. She wrote this little tribute to the power of books and stories back in 1954, with illustrations by our man Don Freeman, he of Corduroy fame.

Now, you might think Mike is the kid trudging through the snow ... no, this little dude loves Virginia Lee Burton's Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel so much that he refers to the library as "Mike's House". This leads to confusion later in the story when Robert, during his snowy trek to the library, gets a little sidetracked and has to ask a cop for directions. After the policeman unsuccessfully tries to find a "Mike Mulligan" in the phone book, a waitress at the diner realizes Robert's talking about the Public Library. Hey, Robert may have missed this week's Picture Book Hour, but he's thrilled to the gills that he'll get to introduce Officer Jensen to Mike Mulligan!

Libraries rock, Preschoolers rock, and Preschoolers who love their library this much really rock!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Kidmusic @ Jalopy

Two things I took away from tonight's kidstock at Jalopy in Brooklyn:

One - I really, really, really, really hate going anywhere without my wife and baby.

Two - David Weinstone said (I'm paraphrasing here), "If yer in this business (children's music) to make money, write mediocre songs. If you write great kids' songs, yer not gonna do so well."

'Nuff said.

Monday, March 19, 2007

***Randy Kaplan***

Straight outta Park Slope, Brooklyn, Randy Kaplan presents an eclectic collection of covers and originals on his newest CD, Five Cent Piece. Released on his own Yellow Thing Records & Books label, Five Cent Piece runs the musical gamut from Judy Garland to the Stones, from Woody Guthrie to Jonathan Richman. Now, remember, kids' albums aren't meant to be the only source of musical history, so the fact that Kaplan includes a song made famous by the Rev. Gary Davis, two songs by legendary lyricist Yip Harburg, and another from the Bye Bye Birdie soundtrack doesn't mean he meant for you to ONLY listen to his version. It's an invitation to explore, to find out more about music and it's history and sources.

Kaplan's performance and style could most easily be compared to Arlo Guthrie; and, coincidentally or no, he covers songs by Woody and by Arlo, plus his 10-minute "You Can't Always Get What You Want" resembles Arlo's album side-long "Alice's Restaurant". The bohemian bluegrass/dixieland played by Kaplan and his extremely cohesive and talented band tie together the varying song sources into a unified package, so that Jonathan Richman's "I'm a Little Dinosaur", Elizabeth Cotton's "Freight Train", and "We're In the Same Boat, Brother" (made popular by Leadbelly), all sound like they were performed at the same sitting. Plus, his rendition of "Over the Rainbow" has to be THE sweetest you'll ever hear.

His originals are wildly original, showcasing Kaplan's love of the narrated song: a shark interrupts bathtime with a request to "Shampoo Me", the "Mosquito Song" details a conversation with a certain bloodsucker, and the "Roaches" that occupy Kaplan's apartment are into Kafka's "The Metamorphosis". And kids'll get a big laff out of his original lyrics to "Donut Song".

Dig the packaging and layout: Kaplan's profile graces the giant nickel design on the CD itself, while several street signs and storefronts in the foldout will be recognizable to Brooklynites. Lots of time and effort by Kaplan and fellow musician Tom Johnson went into the cover, which almost always means great music waits inside.

A sort of East Coast companion piece to Mr. David's The Great Adventures of Mr. David, Kaplan's first kids' CD (hopefully not his last) after releasing five for grownups will no doubt be equally loved by tots and their adults. Take the F Train over to the Perch Cafe in Brooklyn and check out a performance by this unique artist. And tell him to keep up the good work.

Monday, March 05, 2007

***Daniel Schorr***

What do you get when you cross Bob Dylan's vocals from Nashville Skyline with Ballad of Easy Rider-era Byrds music, and illustrate the whole thing with funky fresh Doug Allen drawings? Daniel Schorr's latest album, Every Word I Say is True, of course!

Brooklyn-based educator Schorr's second kids' CD on his Tee-Tot Records label is chock full of words, a veritable feast of lyrics, backed with one of the best rootsy country-rock soundtracks you'll ever hear on a children's album. Songs about a kid who never forgets anything, about the twelfth dimension, about dog-devoured homework, about brain appreciation; unbelieving adults, nagging parents (those durn grownups!), and snowball fights; tear-jerkers about bad luck and anthemic rockers detailing Santa's stab at musical superstardom.

This Owens/Haggard/Yoakum-influenced album brings the Bakersfield Sound hardcore, especially on "Elephant's Memory", "The Homework-Eating Dog Named Rover", and "If I Didn't Have a Teddy Bear", but two songs that break from the guitar twang are "I Was Lost, But Now I'm Found" and "The Emperor's Castle". The former, sung by Brian Dewan, is one of the best "oughta be on Broadway" tunes ever, and the latter, a synthesizer-driven socio-political statement, is reminiscent of The Monkees' "Zor and Zam".

So if'n yer littl'uns dig a weeping pedal steel and thick-string Strat solos, pick up Every Word I Say is True. Heck, go see Schorr play live if you're near Brooklyn and give him a big "yeehaw"!

Monday, February 26, 2007

***Hungry March Band***

One of the reasons I love living and working up here in the NYC metro area is the fact that you literally never know what's just around the corner. Now, imagine you're jivin' down Union Street in Brooklyn and suddenly you're face to face with a 25-or-so member marching band blasting out a Duke Ellington ditty, a swirling gypsy tune, or "Paranoid". Think Polyphonic Spree but with band instruments, and with a million times more punk rock spirit. That's right, people, the Hungry March Band want your attention, and they're gonna get it!

This Brooklyn-based ensemble of nebulous membership is all about the neighborhood, baby. They're intensely committed to social concerns and have many, many causes in which they're deeply involved. Musically, they seem to have massive amounts of fun but, believe me, they don't take their playing lightly. Their first two CDs, Official Bootleg in 2000, and On the Waterfront in '03 (with illustrations by Lower East Side legend Fly), were just warmups for this blast of reed & brass-fueled musical fury. Critical Brass, released in 2005, contains a dizzying array of covers and originals played with a possessed fervor unlike anything this side of Norfolk State University's band, songs that grab yer attention by the ears and force you to groove along. Pop in album-opener "Jupanese Ju Ju" and crank it up!

Check out their performance schedule, and see them live!!


Monday, February 19, 2007

***Asylum Street Spankers***

Finally! After months of "it's fixin' ta come out soon" updates and myspace soundbite leaks, what may be the album to beat in the kids' "CD of the year" category has finally been released. And believe me, folks, it was well worth the wait! If you're a fan of down-'n'-dirty, sweet-'n'-sassy acoustic ensemble music, yer gonna love the Asylum Street Spankers' first album for kids, Mommy Says No!

Between group releases and solo projects, this band from Austin has released a crapload of awesomely rowdy and raunchy music that, I promise, NEVER fails to get you on your feet a-dancin'. But don't worry, grownups, you can play Mommy Says No! for the tots without losing any of the Spankers' trademark feistiness, intelligence, and inventiveness. Lots of punky roadhouse blues, 20s & 30s jazz, rolling cajun rhythms, and western swing, all totally acoustic, all totally rockin', providing the soundtrack to childhood, you know, songs about the power of an awesome lunchbox, the joy and pride of getting rid of your training wheels, sweet tunes about admiration and friendship, the endless possibilities of the future, fear of the dark, and a frog with super powers named ... Super Frog!

This album of mostly originals also includes a jacked up cover of Nirvana's 1990 single "Sliver", a pretty straight reading of Harry Nilsson's "Think About Your Troubles" from his wonderful kids'/adult album The Point!, and Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams' "Everybody Loves My Baby", first recorded by brother Clarence Williams' Blue Five in 1924, then made popular by Ruth Etting and later by Doris Day, the Spankers' version of which will cause absolute mayhem on the Toddler dance floor.

Their funny songs are dirty, their dirty songs rock, and their rockin' songs are hilariously witty, so make sure to check out their entire catalog. They've recorded whole albums and EPs dedicated to weed and sex, but for Mommy Says No! the Spankers toned down the subject matter and continued full bore with the music. This shows a great faith in kids' music tastes on the part of the band, and the kids will appreciate the gesture. A hugely talented band with a great sense of humor givin' it up fer the kids. Their parents should be proud.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Hey, kids, micromusic ROCKS!!! With an almost fanatical loyalty to computer systems of yore, ComputeHer, aka Michelle, has created an album of hyperdanceable tunes using an old Game Boy, a Game Boy Camera, a Commodore 64, an Apple IIe, an Atari 2600, an old Nintendo, a couple of Texas Instruments educational games, and a keyboard here and there. She goes all out and issues her CD, Data Bass, in a 5 1/4 in. floppy sleeve to the delight of us oldsters.

Of course, this genre has been alive for a while, and involves a mind-blowingly deep pool of devoted talent, but it seems to be getting really big in Europe, and I'm always up for new music formats. Besides, can you imagine the crazyass post-Toddler Time dance revolution this CD would cause? Interpretive moves like you wouldn't believe!

Check out ComputeHer's myspace page, including a few YouTube clips of live performances. Kids' music is supposed to be fun, and this is nothing but! Oh, and here's a pic featuring fellow music gamers at a show.

Monday, February 05, 2007

***Purple Burt***

Lemme see if I got this right: There's a kid who's purple but invisible, he eats purple soil to stay on his toes mentally, he's color blind but owns a zillion color TVs, his dad is missing, he's in love with a girl named Do-Re-Mimi, he jumps a hope rope and collects inert gasses ... hold on, here's what we'll do. Get your nearest copy of Purple Burt, press play, listen to the first song, and all (well, almost all) will become clear. The first 3-dimensional CD cover ever? I don't know, but the google eyes on the front of Purple Burt only add to the wonderful oddness of this masterpiece.

In the spirit of Harry Nilsson's The Point, Mitch Friedman presents the story of a boy with unique qualities and an interesting collection of family and friends, told with songs and narration. What began as a single song on The Importance of Sauce, one of Friedman's albums for adults, grew into the title song for and storyline of Purple Burt, his first kids' CD. Friedman gets musical assistance on Purple Burt from XTC's Dave Gregory and Andy Partridge, and DIY pioneer R. Stevie Moore. Not only do many of the songs recall Moore's oddball pop brilliance and XTC's jangly psychedelia, you can hear a hint (intentional or no) of kids' musician extraordinaire Mister Laurence in Friedman's delivery and song structure.

Dig the manic doowop of "Wonder Where", the jump rope percussion in "I Hope", the Ween-like "Try This On for Size", the ukulele tear-jerker "I Miss My Daddy". But the chart-topper, the one to tell your friends to add to their ipods, is "Color Feel", a wistfully beautiful pop song about not being able to see colors, but to feel them, instead. Every song is almost like a lyrical "Where's Waldo", with witty lines hidden within tongue twisters and puns, like "If a fish can sniff through water / Could it smell the guy that caught her?", and "Some sillium, some serious / Boron and curious / Half an itty bitty liter / Of some peterpumpkinether". But what makes this whole thing cool is that you've got a kid dealing with acceptance, jealousy, friendship, loss, schoolboy crushes ... you know, all that crap that comes along when you're about, say, nine or ten ... presented under the guise of a goofy kids record.

This is an adventurous and silly CD for your middle-grade kids, but could just as easily be in high rotation on Jersey City's WFMU. Oh, and check out four more Purple Burt-related songs on Friedman's website, along with a teaser message about the possibility of a second CD that will continue Purple Burt's adventures.

Monday, January 29, 2007

***Recess Monkey***

With an CD cover like this, you might expect a Beatles-inspired concept album of sorts. Well, you'd be kinda right: the album begins on a "Sgt. Pepper" / "I Am the Walrus" vibe, and includes a "Taxman" clone, with a thread of animal songs (both wild and domestic) running throughout. Sound interesting? It gets better: the tunes on Aminal House are incredibly poptastic, on par with Chris von Sneidern at his best and Jellyfish on a very silly day. Say hi to Recess Monkey!

These three teachers from Seattle who call themselves Recess Monkey released their first CD, Welcome to Monkey Town, back in 2005. Their second is a brilliant mix of melodicism, akin to The Quiet Two (formerly The Quiet Ones); science facts, much like Teacher and the Rockbots; and all-around jollity, a la Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Aminal House kicks off with a massive string of great tunes, each one better than the last. I mean, just check out the choruses of "Aquarium" and "Zoo Zoo Zoo"; the "Taxman" verse of "KC (He's a Fine Dog)"; the softshoe cabaret of "Fred (The Tabby Cat)" ... just wait 'till the chorus hits and you can totally picture a thousand kids on a hilltop singing, "Meow, Meow!"

The album continues with, among others, the beautiful "Butterfly", the powerpop of "Littlest Monkey", the quiet/loud pastoral "The Rabbits", the piano anthem "Grey Zebra", a little surf rock with "Pet Shark", and the Todd Rundgren-y "Cookie". Throw in a few short, silly skits and some general rowdiness with the Monkey Town characters, and you've got yerself a great presentation!

Incredibly hooky chord changes and sophisticated arrangements elevate this CD far above yer average kids' album; and the spacious, in-the-same-room production is extremely well done. It's hard to believe this is an independent release! and a kids' album, at that! by three silly teachers!

Lots of goofiness, lots of awesome songs, lots of fun. Recess time!

Monday, January 22, 2007

***Park Slope Parents: The Album (Vol. 1)***

With such an unbelievable wealth of talent in one Borough, what else was one to do but release a benefit CD containing contributions from some of Brooklyn's (and the world's) biggest names in kids' music. From Dan Zanes to David Weinstone, from Michael Leyden to Audra Rox, from Astrograss to The Deedle Deedle Dees, from Suzi Shelton to Daniel Schorr, Park Slope Parents presents a great collection of songs loosely based on life in Park Slope and its environs, all to support the operation and upkeep of the Park Slope Parents website.

One of the great things about the album is the treasure trove of "unreleased" stuff: The Quiet Two's "When I Dream", Sign-a-Song's "Friends", and Astrograss' version of "Drunken Sailor" (with help from Audra Rox's band) can only be found here. Both Courtney Kaiser (from KaiserCartel) and Audra Rox wrote songs specifically for this project, and The Deedle Deedle Dees' "Major Deegan" is from an as-yet-unreleased album. And Brooklyn's Mo Willems illustrates the whole package ... cool!

But lookyhere, you better go out and get one fast: the Park Slope Parents organization is only pressing 5,000 copies, and Brooklyn might be a long walk for some of you (psst, don't worry, CD Baby is selling them, too!). Lots o' links to check out on the website, so get to clickin'!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

***Little Miss Ann***

OK, we all know the superpop kids' album thing can be done, and done well (see Morgan Taylor's Gustafer Yellowgold, Doug Snyder's the Jellydots, Lee Feldman's STARBOY, etc.). So, after hearing several amazing records geared toward, say, six- to ten-year-olds, it's refreshing to find a nice little CD like this. Little Miss Ann's Music for Tots is exactly that: tunes your littlest music fans can recite, sing with and dance along to.

Ann Torralba is an alumnus of Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, home of the Wiggleworms children's music programs and creator of three CDs chock full of traditional folk songs. Torralba and her husband have recorded an album of songs that are really ... well, for lack of a better term, groovy, but I mean that in the best way possible. The production is very warm and intimate, and there are lots of killer harmonies. Think Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention with less elaborate instrumentation and simpler vocal arrangements.

The album begins with Torralba's quietly welcoming "Hello", and follows with Arthur Hamilton's "Sing a Rainbow" from the movie Pete Kelly's Blues, but Torralba's arrangement, I swear, could have been a soda pop commercial in the early 70s. Next is "Pirate Ship", a great Toddler Time movement song; then comes Torralba's funky "Dance with Your Daddy", and a completely original arrangement of Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine".

The silly "Edamame", based on the traditional "I Had a Rooster", offers an international buffet for the listener (who knew tortillas and latkes grew on trees?), and the simple but extremely catchy adaptation of "There's a Little Wheel" coulda been a hit for Linda Ronstadt back in the mid-70s. The album ends with Torralba's "Moon Jelly", Elizabeth Cotton's "Freight Train", and the traditional "Golden Slumbers".

This is a cozy and fun CD worthy of any preschooler's music collection. Get one for their daycare or Kindergarten classroom, as well. I think they'll dig it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

***Books of Compassion***

Seeing as how I am a Children's Librarian, it's only fitting that every once in a while I post something about books. So I'll shut up about music for a bit and tell you about some great reads for yer little ones.

Rebecca Schosha, a fellow Kids' Librarian here at the Donnell Central Children's Room, passed along an article called "How to Raise a Compassionate Child", written by Jane Meredith Adams, and originally published on Parenting.com. In it, Adams describes several ways we grownups can promote sweetness, helping, and friendship in our little ones.

Going with that vibe, I picked out a few books that fall under that general thought. And the ones I picked were not from the group of books that say "make sure to do good things so that good things will happen to you". These merely show thoughtful, empathetic, compassionate actions, without the characters thinking about what might be in it for them. Check 'em out:

Thank You Nicky!, by Harriet Zeifert, ill. Richard Brown
This lift-the-flap board book is a perfect example of the importance of letting your actions, not just your words, guide your little ones' concept of life. Nicky the cat is asked by the first two people he meets to lend them a hand with their tasks. After that, on his own, he helps a little boy who dropped his groceries, a little girl who almost lost her newspaper, and so on.

All That You Are, by Woodleigh Marx Hubbard
Simple statements let the reader know why he or she is special, including "When others need help, you take responsibility", "You are generous", and "You live with compassion". My favorite is an illustration of a crying elephant, who, having stepped on and crushed a boy's bike, is being comforted by the little boy, accompanied by the sentence "You forgive".

Pages of Music, by Tony Johnston, ill. Tomie de Paola
A book which, I'm ashamed to say, I've never heard of before today! Long ago, a boy and his mother visited Sardinia. The poor shepherds of Sardinia gave the boy and his mother fogli di musica, pages of music, or, thin, hard bread. The shepherds would take no payment, but instead happily played music on their pipes. The boy was so taken with the music and the shepherds' kindness, he returned to Sardinia years later a famous composer and arranged a full orchestral concert of the shepherds' simple pipe song.

Here Comes Darrell, by Leda Schubert, ill. Mary Azarian
Based on the kind actions of real-life Darrell K. Farnham, the woodcuts and words of this book tell the story of a good neighbor who looks after everyone else, almost to the detriment of his own home! So when a stiff Autumn wind blows through northern Vermont and tears the roof off Darrell's barn, his neighbors immediately begin rebuilding without even having to be asked.

Cold Paws, Warm Heart, by Madeleine Floyd
A cold, lonely polar bear is warmed from the inside out when a little girl hears his flute music and brings him her scarf and a mug of hot chocolate, spends time with him, and promises to visit every day.

Friday, January 05, 2007

***String Bean Jones***

Holy cow! How could I have missed this one?!? Every so often somebody will bring to my attention a CD that has been out for a while that they think should be heard, and sure enough, they were right on with this album. It was like coming across a stack of old 78s in a second hand store, full of music you've never heard before and won't hear anywhere else.

Jeff Harris, aka String Bean Jones, has released a reeediculous number of CDs with his Lefty Jones Band, all wonderful and all amazingly original. The music is sort of acoustic / electric / Neil Young & Crazy Horse / travelling through St. Louis via Vicksburg via Baton Rouge. Harris' first kids' album, String Bean Jones; Live From The Bathtub, continues the legacy of originality and eclecticism, with an emphasis on acoustic performances.

From the Mississippi blues of "Mudpie" to the tender "Babyman" to the rowdy "Peas Fell Hard", from the chugging piano of "Pickle Blues" to the sweet "Alone with the Lightning Bugs" to the silly "Stinky Ann", Harris' compositions and lo-fi production style ( did he really record it in a bathtub ?!? maybe! ) are instantly captivating, and thoroughly entertaining in a "wow - what the hell is this - i love it" kind of way.

Check out some of the clips from all 17 (17!) Lefty Jones releases over at CD Baby, go to iuniverse and browse through a few pages of Harris' "Smiley-Man Chronicles", then buy copies of all his music for yer kids, uncles, grandmothers, dogs, and various strangers. They'll thank you.

Monday, January 01, 2007

***2006 Top Fifteen Songs***

OK, say you wanted to put together a mix tape for a friend who had never heard any of the current group of kids' performers. Here are my top fifteen favorites from, roughly, 2006 that I would immediately have the uninitiated listen to. Why fifteen? That's about the length of a regular album, and, well, I'm too lazy to pick twenty. Check 'em out!

Number Fifteen : Tiburon - Josh Levine
from the CD Josh Levine for Kids
Classic Spanish-language cover song that will make your Toddlers go Salsa crazy!

Number Fourteen : Punk Rock Skunk - Farmer Jason
from the CD Rockin' In the Forest with Farmer Jason
Jason Ringenberg lets the rock and roll fly, while giving the music industry a playful nudge in the ribs.

Number Thirteen : Hold My Hand - Enzo Garcia
from the CD LMNO Music-Pink
The most joyful, singalongable kids' song written in 7/4 time you'll ever hear.

Number Twelve : Eleanor Gerbil - Monty Harper
from the CD Paws, Claws, Scales & Tales
The Rutles would be mighty proud!

Number Eleven : If You Listen - Elizabeth Mitchell
from the CD You are My Little Bird
There is a wonderful world of music that exists beyond the borders of yer run-of-the-mill kids' selection, as this beautiful and obscure cover song proves.

Number Ten : Jack was Every Inch a Sailor - The Hollow Trees
from the CD The Hollow Trees
The best drinking song for kids ever ... EVER!

Number Nine : Fascinating Creatures - Frances England
from the CD Fascinating Creatures
Music that sounds like Daniel Lanois producing the Sundays, with lyrics that urge us to be the most wonderful being we can possibly be.

Number Eight : Face the Facts - Jim Gill
from the CD Jim Gill Sings Moving Rhymes for Modern Times
Toddler Time activity song disguised as a German beer hall stein-raiser, if sung by Monty Python's Fred Tomlinson's Singers.

Number Seven : Surf's Up All Around the World - Mr. David
from the CD The Great Adventures of Mr. David
If Brian Wilson still recorded stuff like the Smile project, this is what it would sound like.

Number Six: Your Eel - Gustafer Yellowgold
from the DVD Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World
Format be damned: this DVD-only masterpiece is touching, bittersweet, and poplicious. Guaranteed to make you sing along with the chorus.

Number Five : Respect - Greg Loop
from the CD Stories from Duke Puddintown
An awesome slice of jangly pop music with equally awesome lyrics.

Number Four : Big Bad Wolf - Joel Caithamer
from the CD ACTIVATE!
This rockabilly scorcher tells the true story of that misunderstood ol' wolfie.

Number Three : The Moon Song - dog on fleas
from the CD When I Get Little
Lyrics that are simultaneously silly, cosmic, and full of pop culture references, woven into a song that The Band would have given their beards for.

Number Two : Bicycle - The Jellydots
from the CD "Hey You Kids!"
Pop music par excellence, joyful beyond belief, written in the voice of a child who looks at the world with eyes of wonder, and an adult who loves and appreciates the tiny magical moments of life.

Number One : For Those About to Walk, We Salute You - Daddy A Go Go
from the CD Eat Every Bean and Pea On Your Plate
The most full-on, kick-ass, rock & roll kids' song of the year! Crank this sucker up as loud as you can and thank Les Paul for givin' us the electric solid body guitar.