2008 was an amazing year for children's music, as new bands and established artists continued to push creative boundaries. Here are my top choices for best children's music of 2008:
1. Frances England - Family Tree
The perfect combination of style, subject, and performance. Frances knows exactly how to write songs to kids, almost like she's channeling the thoughts that go through the heads of our little ones.
2. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - Easy
Finally, a well-produced, well-performed hip hop album for kids that actually sounds like hip hop, is kid-centered, and isn't dumbed down.
3. Gunnar Madsen - I'm Growing
If I were looking for a songwriter to compose tunes for a Broadway musical for kids, this is the guy I'd pick. An amazing array of music and lyrics.
4. Randy Kaplan - Loquat Rooftop
Storytelling via song, par excellence. Kaplan's unique cover song choices and intimate delivery make his second kids' album a truly rewarding listening experience for the whole family.
5. The Terrible Twos - Jerzy the Giant
The New Amsterdams record their second kids' album under their children's music moniker The Terrible Twos, and, to the advantage of kids and their families, seem to be saving their best songs for their youngest fans.
6. Recess Monkey - Tabby Road
The fourth kids' album from these Beatle-worshiping educators from Seattle. And the thing is, they just keep getting better!
7. Sunflow - Under the Stars
Best "Naptime" album of the year. If Harry Nilsson wrote the music to the daydreams in your head, this is what it would sound like.
8. Barenaked Ladies - Snack Time!
BNL's first foray into the kids' music world features their trademark humor and between-the-lines wit. Plus lots of radio-friendly pop music!
9. Brian Vogan - Little Songs
Warm, friendly, and funny rock and folk songs from Seattleite Brian Vogan. One of the best rookie kids' albums in a while.
10. Little Miss Ann - Clap for Love
A combination of subtle socially conscious messages and rousing covers and originals lets kids know that they can have fun and get involved at the same time. A great sophomore album from Chicago's Ann Torralba.
Instead of ranking any more albums, I've simply listed below some of my favorite children's CDs of 2008, all of which deserve a spin on any family's record player. Enjoy!
Astrograss - Let Me Stay Up All Night
Baby Loves Hip Hop - Dino 5
Board of Education - Board of Education
Joel Caithamer - The Biggest Everything in the World
Matt Clark - Funny Little Fella
Daddy A Go Go - Rock of All Ages
Kimya Dawson - Alphabutt
Harmonica Pocket - Ladybug One
The Jellydots - Changing Skies
Lisa Loeb - Camp Lisa
me3 - "The Thin King"
Medeski Martin & Wood - Let's Go Everywhere
Mr. Leebot - Activate!
Putumayo Kids - African Dreamland
Justin Roberts - Pop Fly
Peter Rundquist - Bug Feathers
Danielle Sansone - Two Flowers
ScribbleMonster - Songs with No Character
Spanglish Wrangler - Spanglish Sing-Along!
They Might Be Giants - Here Come the 123s
Various Artists - Funky Kidz
Dan Zanes - Nueva York!
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
2008 was an amazing year for children's music, as new bands and established artists continued to push creative boundaries. Here are my top choices for best children's music of 2008:
Monday, December 29, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Sounding like a mix of Os Mutantes, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Wailers, and Astrud Gilberto, Argentinian musician Mariana Iranzi's first album for kids is an amazing amalgamation of influences that translates beautifully into the playful, lively Aventura Collage.
Iranzi has travelled an interesting musical path, from Buenos Aires to the Berklee College of Music, studying along the way with an array of musicians. She performs regularly in the northeast club circuit as an expert bassist, teaches music at Baby Wiggle in Boston, and performs with coworker Sarah Wheeler in the toddler band Little Groove.
The lyrics of Aventura Collage are for the most part in Spanish, but any family will still dig sing-along tunes like "Pajaro Carpintero," "Contamos Hasta 10?" and "Fieston;" folk songs like "Caballito," "A San Nicolas," and "El Patito Feo;" and the album-ending lullabies "Buenas Noches" and "Sueno de una Noche de Verano."
Check out the horn-fueled reggae of "Todos los Ninos del Mundo," the Toddler Time free-for-all instrumental "Bluseando," and the Tom Ze-inspired madness of "Vieja Cachivache." Then Samba along to "Cuidemos al Planeta," and Tango as you listen to "Milonga Temprana," which features the traditional Argentinian dance and musical style known as the Milonga, the precursor to the Tango. And you can't miss the spoken word tale "La Jirafa Bacana" and the hip hop tune "Abra Cadabra."
Inventive and entertaining, Aventura Collage is a welcome addition to the kids' music world. Let's hope Iranzi has more musical adventures in store for children and their families.
Monday, December 22, 2008
That's right, more Xmas tunes, Beatles-style! The Butties formed at Syracuse back in the early eighties, but you may know them as The Blanks, the a cappella band that pops up on Scrubs every once in a while. The Butties' 2005 Fab Four-influenced Christmas album, 12 Greatest Carols, sticks closely to the trademark Beatles sound and harmonies, and covers their entire career chronologically, from "Joy to the World"/"Please Please Me" to "Let It Snow"/"Let It Be." Dig especially their version of "A Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" melded to "A Day in the Life."
Rubber Band are a Beatles tribute band from Denmark that have been performing for almost 20 years. Their 1994 album Xmas! The Beatmas sounds more like any typical Mersey Beat band than vintage John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but it's rockin' holiday fun, nonetheless. Standout tracks include their version of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" done up like "Taxman," and a cover of Wham!'s "Last Christmas."
Friday, December 19, 2008
The first true Ramones-inspired album to hit the kids' music shelves! Sure, there have been one-off songs on various children's CDs that were little tributes to the Ramones' sound, but this one ... from the copy of the Ramones' Road to Ruin album cover and title, to the signature Ramones logo on the inlay card, to the image of a vinyl record on the CD itself (on the "Spire" label, no less), The Boogers' Road to Rock is fun for punks young and old.
Former punk rocker and current developmental psychologist Paul Crowe put both careers to work on Road to Rock, applying a healthy dose of hey ho let's go to simple originals and tried-and-true Toddler Time tunes. Crowe's self-penned songs are worth the price of the CD alone: album-opener "This Song is About Transportation!" the no-holds-barred "Peanut Butter & Jelly," and the soon-to-be sing-along classic "I Don't Need to Be Worried" give you a great idea of The Boogers' sound.
Road to Rock features a cover of Country Joe McDonald and Blair Hardman's I'm So Glad (I've Got Skin), also covered by The Persuasions on their 1999 kids' album On the Good Ship Lollipop. The Boogers rework the song twice as "I'm So Glad (I Got Teeth)" and, later on the album, as "I'm So Glad (I Got Feet)." The band also set comix legend Jay Lynch's "Um Tut Sut" to music (who, by the way, contributed the awesome cover art); and rewrite The Ramones' "This Ain't Havana" as "I Like Bananas," and "Judy is a Punk" as "Fish Will Fly".
Lots of short, fun, loud songs ... perfect for your budding rocker!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Lookin' for holiday tunes, but ready for something different? Give these two kindie rock bands a listen: Ernie & Neal's Christmas Rocks! and Trout Fishing In America's Merry Fishes to All are both full of original Chrismas songs that the whole family will dig. E & N bring their classic rock and roll style to the table for their third album for children, and the Trouts stick to their rootsy, folksy sound on their seventh kids' album. I've included longer reviews over at About.com.
You can check out samples for both Christmas Rocks! and Merry Fishes to All at the CD Baby website. Have a rockin' Xmas!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The Eight Nights of Light are approaching, so I've compiled a list of great Hanukkah music for kids over at About.com to help celebrate the season. Let us know if any other children's artists have released a Hanukkah CD and we'll add it to the list!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Here's a video from another new kids' group I love, The Boogers. Paul Crowe and band take their Ramones worship to the nth degree by making a whole album of punk rock-inspired songs for children (more on Road to Rock later), including their tribute to everyone's favorite sandwich:
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Short review: If Klaatu made a kids' album, this is what it would sound like.
Long review: Seattle powerpop band Central Services combine their love of melody and hooks with classroom subjects that might otherwise be yawned at by Fourth Graders, to create the ridiculously catchy, funny, and intelligent CD Central Services Presents: The Board of Education! If you dig Recess Monkey, then you'll like Central Services' alter ego kids' group, The Board of Education. Here's a funny thing about those two bands: BOE are rockers who write songs that teach, and RM are teachers who like to rock. And both bands are from Seattle ... cool!
"Rise and Shine" kicks off the album with "Rock and Roll All Nite"-meets-Elephant 6 pop explosion, then "Beverly the Village Misfit" reels off mind-blowing scientific facts to the tune of Ben Folds Five glam rock. The band gets close to They Might Be Giants territory with "8 is a Number," a big band jumpin' jive tune that observes "when eight takes a nap, that's infinity."
"The Lonely Tomato" wistfully ponders his place in the fruit/vegetable picture, then majestically celebrates his many uses, while "Know Your Inventors" honors patent holders generally and William W. Averill specifically (asphalt pavement) with piano pop. The love-song-in-disguise "Lunchtime (Tin Foil Robots)" uses Free Design-like harmonies to relate a school crush with lines like "Tin foil, it won't protect you from love."
Memphis R&B helps describe the good points of "Your Sensitive Elbow," and the tongue-in-cheek "Ice Ages are Fun!" warns about the results of global warming via crunchy pop music. And the chunky rock and roll of "The Many Uses, and Dangers, of Commas" accompanies a humorous grammar lesson.
The 8mm school film sound effects and wordy lyrics of "Volcanoes and You," combined with its greasy lounge pop groove, make this tune worthy of a classic Ween album, and "Heading Home" brings the album full-circle as the school day ends. The CD closes (kinda) with the astonishingly beautiful "August Lullaby," which completely catches you by surprise based on the rest of the rockin' album. In fact, Pixar would kill for a ballad this good on any of their soundtracks nowadays. Oh, and there's the hidden track "Hiccy Uppy" (I think), a very short Vaudeville song about, um, hiccups!
The Board of Education is an awesome headphone album for upper elementary kids, full of witty wordplay, great production, and reeealy catchy tunes. Parents will definitely like it as much as their kids do, maybe more!
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Man, I'm so taken with Michael Rachap's Readeez project, I just gotta show you a video before I post a full review of the DVD. I wrote a short blurb about Readeez Volume One over at About.com, but I'll have a more detailed description soon. Until then, enjoy the poptacular "Circle and Square," a clip worthy of classic Sesame Street.
Posted by Warren Truitt at 5:55 AM
Friday, December 05, 2008
I've always loved reading about the day-to-day lives of rockers, not necessarily how many tv sets they've thrown out various hotel windows, but normal stuff like working in the studio or playing in front of a rabid crowd.
The kids' music world is building up a pretty good list of musicians who blog about their experiences, from Yosi Levin's interview-rich Indie Kids Rock, to Monty Harper's neverending pro-library tour at Monty's Children's Music Blog, from Johnette Downing's look at the business side of kids' music on her self-titled Johnette Downing blog, to Steve Dreher's musings on music and parenthood at Rockin' the Kids' Music World, to Eric Herman's reviews and interviews on Cool Tunes for Kids and his tour diary at Travelblogue.
The newest blog in town belongs to The Hipwaders' Tito Uquillas, whose Christmas-specific blog Kindie Christmas discusses holiday music and writing songs for kids, as well as providing some nifty samples of Tito's favorite Christmas songs. Drop by, check it out, and let Tito know what you think. AND, if you know of any other kindierock bloggers, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
OK, I'm gonna sneak this one onto KidsMusicThatRocks because it's just too much fun to pass up. The Fab Four, a Beatles tribute band from Southern California, released A Fab Four Christmas in 2002, their first holiday CD done up a la JohnPaulGeorge&Ringo. You could even consider it a mashup album, as the band mix spot-on renditions of early-era tunes like "And I Love Her," "Help!" and "Baby's In Black" with classic Christmas songs. And you just gotta hear "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to the tune of "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Joy to the World" done in the style of "Please Please Me."
What makes it extra fun for Beatledorks like me is that fact that the band went to the trouble of using relatively obscure tunes like "Mr. Moonlight" and "Tell Me What You See" to spice up oldies like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Good King Wenceslas." Merry Christmas, and crank it up!
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Christmas is only about three weeks away (what!?!), so, just in time for that holiday party or for a nice musical gift, here's a list of great Christmas music for kids over at the About.com site.
For this list I was leaning towards more traditional, back-to-the-basics holiday tunes, so before your young'uns start digging Patsy and Elmo's "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," or "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses, they can learn the golden oldies from Mitch Miller and Bing Crosby, newer versions by Susie Tallman and Raffi, or just get in the Christmas spirit with soundtracks from A Charlie Brown Christmas and John Denver and the The Muppets.
Let it snow!
Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
In honor of South African songstress Miriam Makeba, who passed just two weeks ago, here's a short review of one of her indispensable albums, Sangoma, recorded in 1988 for Warner Brothers Records. A Sangoma is a traditional healer in southern African cultures, and these songs reflect that sense of history.
All the tunes are sung in Xhosa, a South African dialect, but don't let that deter you from enjoying these prayer songs, parables, lullabies, and gathering songs. Makeba is accompanied by a group of female singers on these traditional melodies, sometimes with sparse percussion, often a cappella style. Good vibes and a joyous spirit radiate from every song on the album.
A great way to introduce your young ones to the beautiful world of music from our beautiful Earth. And, this being 2008 and all, you can immediately download the album or songs for your family's listening pleasure.
Monday, November 24, 2008
In my extremely humble opinion, Dog On Fleas are one of the few kids' bands who make an effort to stretch out and grow as artists. Dig their riverboat/back porch/one-microphone approach on 2003's Cranberry Sauce Flotilla, and their solid pop/rock/world sound on 2006's When I Get Little. This year's Beautiful World, their fifth CD for kids, is a great collection of unmistakablely Dog On Fleas tunes, augmented by analog Moog synthesizers and whispers of electronica.
The album kicks off with the title tune, which mixes 6/4 and 4/4 metres with piccolos and flutes to create a world music ode to our world. Next is John Hughes' thumping tune of affirmation, "Star Tonight," then comes the head bobbin', in-your-face bass of "Do You Wanna Know My New Dance Step?" or, as my wife exclaimed, "Hey! Justin Timberlake for kids!" And the mysterious-sounding "Water Planet," with its Zappa-esque horn/woodwind arrangement, views Earth from an alien perspective.
John Hughes' beautifully simple "The Beach Song" puts your toes right in the Hawaiian sand, and the rockin' "Dumpling" takes a metaphysical look at existence. The wonderfully nonsensical "Lima Bean," featuring vocals from Lorette Velvette and Uncle Rock, contains awesome lines like "Lima Bean's lookin' in a full-length mirror /Singin' Rod Stewart so the whole town can hear her"; the Ben Folds Five-inspired "Crawl To Your Mother" is then followed by a waltzing "Where Would You Fly?" featuring Ben Richter's musical saw.
"I Love Your Accent" celebrates one world made of many people with the mantra "I love your accent! Where ya from?"; the buzzing new wave/rowdy New Orleans rock of "Unbirthday" dares listeners to sit still! Good vibes are flowing on the vegetable-lovin' "Sittin' in the Field," while the jazzy "Balloon Man" asks the amusing question, "Do you like Pop Music? Ahh ... probably not!" And the album ends with the pretty pop of the word-filled "Birds of a Feather", and the quiet lullaby to tiny tots 'round the world, "Babies," featuring Frances England.
This Hudson Valley, NY, collective of musicians and artists have been performing together for ten years now, and their combined experience together as bandmates and songwriters just makes them that much better. Look around you: it is a beautiful world, and Dog On Fleas are happy to tell you all about it.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wow, only a week until Thanksgiving! Just for the occasion, I've put together a list of downloadable Thanksgiving music for kids over on my About.com site for your last-minute holiday party planning.
The list of iPod-ready Thanksgiving songs includes favorites like Laurie Berkner, Dog On Fleas, John McCutcheon, and The Uncle Brothers, as well as lesser-known tunes by folksinger Si Kahn, kids from the Quincy Choral Society, Jewish Music superstar Debbie Friedman, and a 1956 recording of children from Brooklyn's P.S. 24.
Save me a slice of pumpkin pie!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
There are thousands of Christmas music CDs available for kids and their families, but what about music that celebrates Kwanzaa?
I've compiled a short list of great Kwanzaa albums over on my About.com site, but I know there have to be more out there. If you know of an excellent Kwanzaa CD (or out-of-print LP), or if you're a musician who has recorded an album of songs celebrating the Seven Principles, please feel free to leave a comment or make suggestions.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
For the second time in three years, Justin Roberts earns the number one rank in the annual Fids & Kamily Awards for best children's music. His album Pop Fly comes in atop this year's impressive list of kids' CDs, including Frances England's Family Tree and They Might Be Giants' Here Come the 123s.
Here's the complete 2008 Fids & Kamily Top Ten, along with 10 honorable mentions and 47 nominated albums.
Posted by Warren Truitt at 1:16 PM
Thursday, November 13, 2008
West Virginia-born, Portland, Oregon-based Johnny Keener throws his musical influences into the pot and dishes out a great collection of rootsy, bluesy, Americana for kids and their families. Long John is his second CD for children, the first being 2006's Elephants Over the Fence. Check out Keener's solo album for grownups, as well as his work with the band Yoyodyne.
Long John kicks off with Henry Thomas' classic "Fishin' Blues," made famous by The Lovin' Spoonful on their 1965 album Do You Believe in Magic, and by Taj Mahal on his 1968 album De Ole Folks at Home. Next is the rockabilly raveup "Run Around," a tune that would be right at home on a Buddy Holly 45.
From the old to the new and somewhere in between: the title tune is a call-and-response African-American field song, followed by a cover of The Apples In Stereo's powerpop "Energy," from last year's New Magnetic Wonder. And then comes a spirited cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Down On the Corner," their hit from 1969's Willy and the Poor Boys.
"I Don't Want It" is a sea shanty/waltz, followed by a Stray Cats-like version of the folk tune "Cat Came Back." Then there's a cover of Cat Stevens' great singalong, "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out," written for the 1971 film Harold and Maude. The album ends with the quiet shuffle of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," and Johnny's own take on the oldie "Mockingbird."
Super folk/rock/blues for the entire family!
Friday, November 07, 2008
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I'm happy this morning, happy that there's so much excitement in the air after last night's election, happy that the shitheads who always complained about the government finally got up off their lazy asses and voted, happy that my little boy got to go into the voting booth with me and see how important everyone's voice is.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric up here in the North Jersey/NYC area last night: I swear we heard a celebratory roar of the masses when the winning numbers were posted online and were aired on television. I listen to Matt Pinfield on WRXP in the mornings, and grown men, big burly dudes from Queens, Brooklyn, and the Jersey Shore, were calling in today on the verge of tears talking about how happy and excited they were about the election. Times ain't gonna be easy, but they sure are a'changin'.
So, in honor of President Obama, dig Pete Seeger and Lee Hays' classic but incredibly relevant "Tomorrow is a Highway." Download the song, listen to it with your kids, and talk about what's goin' on.
"Tomorrow is a Highway"
Tomorrow is a highway broad and fair,
And we are the many who'll travel there.
Tomorrow is a highway broad and fair,
And we are the workers who'll build it there;
And we will build it there.
Come, let us build a way for all mankind,
A way to leave this evil year behind,
To travel onward to a better year
Where love is, and there will be no fear,
Where love is and no fear.
Now is the shadowed year when evil men,
When men of evil thunder war again.
Shall tyrants once again be free to tread,
Above our most brave and honored dead?
Our brave and honored dead.
O, comrades, come and travel on with me,
We'll go to our new year of liberty.
Come, walk upright, along the people's way,
From darkness, unto the people's day.
From dark, to sunlit day.
Tomorrow is a highway broad and fair
And hate and greed shall never travel there
But only they who've learned the peaceful way
Of brotherhood, to greet the coming day.
We hail the coming day.
Words by Lee Hays Music by Pete Seeger (1949)
TRO - (c) 1950 (renewed) Folkways Music Publishers Inc. New York, NY
Sunday, November 02, 2008
"Picnic in the Graveyard" is pretty much the best damn song about Day of the Dead yer gonna find! Sounding like nothing less than a lost Los Lobos single, this track from Robert Warren's 2006 CD, Plays Well with Others, is a great introduction to the sentiment behind this ancient Mexican tradition.
Posted by Warren Truitt at 5:37 AM
Friday, October 31, 2008
In celebration of the absolute greatest Halloween costume for us kids ... ever ... KISS! So, were you Starchild, the Demon, Space Ace, or Catman?
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Remember this classic Halloween album from years ago? Well, unless you're a hard-core audiophile who still owns a turntable, you ain't gonna hear it 'cause it still hasn't been released on CD.
Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House has just been made available on iTunes as an mp3 download! This album doesn't contain any music, but it does present a great collection of Halloween sounds. Many grandparents and parents will remember this record from the mid-'60s and the early '70s, when it was re-released.
The sound effects were culled from Disney's vaults, and include creaks, groans, screams, and screeches from short animated films and Disney park rides. Side one of the original album was narrated by Laura Olsher, and side two was pretty much the sounds from side one without the narration. Watch out, though: the track "Chinese Water Torture" contains potentially embarrassing, politically incorrect "Asian" dialogue.
Here's Haunted Dimensions' super overview of the history of the album. Spooky, silly, and hair-raising fun!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Last-minute Halloween musical treat: Eban Schletter's Witching Hour! Watcha got here is one of the best-produced Halloween albums you'll ever hear. Schletter has composed tons of music for film and television, including Mr. Show and Spongebob Squarepants. On this project, he enlisted the talents of musicians and actors like Grant Lee Phillips, Dave "Gruber" Allen, and Dave Foley to add to the songs, skits, incantations, and stories ... spooky and otherwise.
The cool thing about this album is that it's currently being presented live on stage at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles. Not a toddler album, for sure, but your 8-11 year olds will love it. Boo!!
Posted by Warren Truitt at 8:28 PM
Monday, October 27, 2008
After recording five CDs of kids' music that sounds sorta like Justin Roberts for slightly younger audiences, Steve Roslonek (aka SteveSongs) releases his first DVD collection, The Marvelous Musical Adventures, on the Rounder Records label. Roslonek also recently translated his relentlessly sunny and upbeat style and songs to television, landing a gig on PBS KIDS as the singing "Mr. Steve."
The Marvelous Musical Adventures is loaded with music and fun, including a ten-song live concert with SteveSongs' full band, eight music videos featuring live action and animation, a seven-song bonus music CD, and two short segments from PBS KIDS. After everything's said and done, this DVD/CD set is a pretty incredible deal for the money ($12.99 from Amazon, $11.99 from Rounder), considering the amount of entertainment crammed into this one package.
If you and your kids like silly and fun, upbeat, old-school kids' music, you'll dig The Marvelous Musical Adventures of SteveSongs.
Friday, October 24, 2008
We were talking earlier about "Naptime Music," tunes that are not really lullabies, but songs to contemplate while you're watching clouds float by or just taking a break from the annoying skronk of the world in general. Sunflow's Under the Stars is another great example of that genre, an album that features soothing lyrics, loads of harmonies, and knowing nods to Emitt Rhodes, Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney & Wings, The High Llamas, and Barry Manilow. Personally, this is ex.act.ly the kind of record that makes me want to plug in my bass and sing that fourth or fifth harmony part.
American Nancy Falkow and Dubliner Fran King, both accomplished popmeisters in their own right, teamed up to create Under the Stars with help from fellow melody maker Duncan Maitland. All three are based in Ireland now, which may account for the lyrical images of oceans, rain, rivers, and seas that populate several of the songs on Under the Stars.
Fran and Nancy trade off lead vocals on every other song, singing their own compositions. Under the Stars kicks off with the co-written, impossibly beautiful "(When You're In) Slumberland," Fran's Harry Nilsson homage. I just can't believe people are still allowed to write songs this good! Next is Nancy's sweetly jaunty "I Wish You Love," reminiscent of Nilsson's late '60s tunes (Sunflow love Nilsson!), and not a little similar to The Jellydots' "Pretty Little Baby." Fran follows with his very Paul McCartney-like "Eve's Lullaby (My Little One)," a song so tasty the ex-Beatle would trade his knighthood for it.
Nancy's "Sleepytown" is a quietly acoustic tune that contains the awesome line "Bumpy, rumbling stones will sooth your soul / Just a little break from rock and roll", after which waves wash up on a shore, fading into Fran's "Daisies & Orchids." The song begins serenely and builds into another McCartney-ish tune, with a chorus straight outta Paul's Flowers in the Dirt era. And Nancy's "Rock-A-Bye Dreams" is another mostly acoustic tune that would (and should) be a chart-topper on American country radio.
Fran's breezy "August Moon" features the baion beat that so fascinated Leiber & Stoller and Pomus & Shuman (check out "Spanish Harlem," "There Goes My Baby," "Save the Last Dance for Me," and "This Magic Moment"), and a chorus that would have been right at home on McCartney's Red Rose Speedway. The sweeping "Now Sleep" is Nancy's exploration of the connection between parents and their children, and the comfort kids take in mom or dad's arms at bedtime. The album ends with Fran's soft Tin Pan Alley tune, "Dreamboat," and Nancy's dreamy waltz, "Goodnight."
I've talked a lot on this blog about music being a powerful entity, a force that transcends genre, era, or listener age. This here album is so full of good vibes and beautiful melodies it's a shame you have to cobble it with a label like "children's music" ... so we won't! Under the Stars is music, folks ... dig it, and buy copies for all your family.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Steamboat has developed a very cute but very intense obsession with skateboarding ever since he saw the episode of Yo Gabba Gabba! where Tony Hawk skates through his Dancey Dance segment. I brought home Hawk's autobiography, Occupation: Skateboarder, so Steamboat could check out the photos, and one of his favorite was Hawk with a gigantic scrape on his lower hip (a booboo, according to Steamboat). But Steamboat is also adamant about how you always have to wear a helmet and knee pads and elbow pads.
Here we are hanging out in a local coffee shop, reading an old skateboarding book I found. We had just watched the "Careful" episode of YGG! that features a kid skating throughout a 1-to-10 counting segment (great, now Steamboat is convinced he can skate).
Posted by Warren Truitt at 5:10 PM
Monday, October 20, 2008
"Beethoven's wig / Is very big..." So began Richard Perlmutter's series of fun-filled classical music explorations back in 2002. This year's Beethoven's Wig 4: Dance Along Symphonies is all about dances, from waltzes to polkas, from two-steps to habaneras. Even if kids have never heard a graduation march or the theme to Masterpiece Theater, they'll dig the music and parents will get a giggle out of lyrics like "I want my diploma / I want it right now," and "People upstairs, downstairs, all around the house / They never miss tuning in, it's de rigueur."
One of the cool things about Perlmutter's projects is that he goes all out musically: world-class orchestras, singers, ensembles, and musicians from around the globe contribute music to Dance Along Symphonies. So, while Perlmutter is singing goofy lines like "Be a good doggie good doggie now Rover," you still get to experience the lilting melodies of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s "Annen Polka," as performed by a professional orchestra.
A few times on the album Perlmutter's lyrics perfectly match the music being played. During "Oh No!" you can see the steam engine bearing down on the poor damsel tied to the train tracks in a grainy silent film as Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" plays, and Georges Bizet's "Habanera" from Carmen provides the perfect tip toe music during Perlmutter's "Midnight Snack."
And, don't worry, Dance Along Symphonies isn't a complete sillyfest. Instrumental versions of all 12 songs are included so that kids and their families can enjoy the sheer beauty of Emile Waldteufel's "Les Patineurs" and Johann Sebastian Bach's "Minuet in G," and the joyful power of John Philip Sousa's "The Washington Post" (played by every single marching band that has ever existed) and Julius Fucik's "Entry of the Gladiators" (the tune that introduces the clowns at a circus).
This is a fun CD to play loudly and sing along with. "Forever we're marching, marching, marching!"
Friday, October 17, 2008
Didi Pop, Didi Pop
Cute tunes from L.A.-based singer/songwriter Deborah Poppink. This is her first CD for kids, but her resume includes compositions for film and television, including The X-Files. Produced by Brad Jones (The Shazam; Bobby Bare, Jr.; Imperial Drag; David Poe) and performed with a crack team of Nashville musicians, Poppink's debut children's album is full of songs about pets, etiquette, the alphabet, and poop!
Funky Mama, Moo Juice
Kansas City, MO, musician Krista Eyler brings her rootsy rock and roll style to her third CD for kids, Moo Juice, with tunes about family, food, and dancing. Toddlers can hoist their juice cups to the rockin' "Sippy," dance to the Cajun flavor of "Potty Train," air guitar to the four-to-the-floor "Let's Drive," and join in with the a cappella activity songs "Can You Hear Me? / 1-2" and "Down Down Baby."
Jeanie B! and The Jelly Beans, Joy
Joy is the third kids' CD from Chicago-area musician Jeanne Bonansinga. A few overly-cutesy tunes are redeemed by songs that seem tailor-made for XMKids Radio, including the anthemic "I Just Wanna Play," the rave-up "When I'm Older," the rockin' "Bubble Wrap," and the Jimmy Buffett-esque "Hot Summer."
Posted by Warren Truitt at 12:45 PM
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The 2008 Parents' Choice Awards for children's audio were announced October 2, and the four Gold Award-winners were Putumayo's African Dreamland, Frances England's Family Tree, Gunnar Madsen's I'm Growing, and Ralph's World's The Rhyming Circus. Seven Silver Awards were also given out, along with nine Recommended Awards, 19 Approved Awards, and two Classic Awards.
Here's the complete rundown of all the Parents' Choice winners this year:
- The Treblemakers Children's Choir - Singing With Treblemakers: Songs for Young Singers (originally released in 1998)
- Jack Pearson - Singin' in Our Own Back Yard (originally released in 1995)
- Putumayo - African Dreamland
- Frances England - Family Tree
- Gunnar Madsen - I'm Growing
- Ralph's World - The Rhyming Circus
- Little Groove - Building Blocks
- Jack Grunsky - Catchy Tune
- They Might Be Giants - Here Come the 123s
- Linda Severt - Grinning Streak
- Lois Young - Jelly Bean Soup
- Trout Fishing in America - Big Round World
- Sweet Honey in the Rock - Experience...101
- Dan Zanes - Nueva York!
- Joanie Leeds - City Kid!
- Putumayo - Sesame Street Playground
- The Chickadees - Songs from the Great Outdoors
- Danielle Sansone - Two Flowers
- Hullabaloo - Tall as a Tree
- Hayes Greenfield - Music for a Green Planet
- Lisa Loeb - CAMP LISA
- Astrograss - Let Me Stay Up All Night
- Jorge Anaya - A Bailar! Let's Dance: Spanish Learning Songs
- Leeny and Steve - Be Nice
- Daria - Grandchildren's Delight
- Tom Freund - Hug Trees
- Kaley Willow & Wy Griffith - Miss Willow's Fence Row
- Anne Meeker Miller - Rainbows, Railroads and Rhymes
- Smart Start - Birth and Beyond
- Susie Tallman - A Child's Christmas: Holiday Songs and Carols
- Dominic Bakewell - Monkey Shoes
- Mark Wilder - Lovely Vibes
- Baby Loves Everything - The Dino 5
- The Kerplunks - The Kerplunks
- Jim Cosgrove - Upside Down
- Jeff Jones and the Earthtones - Sing a Little Song, Do a Little Dance
- Janyse - The Magic of Think
- Hot Peas 'N Butter - Vol. 4: The Pod Squad
- Jay Mankita - Eat Like a Rainbow
- Koolkidz - Songs For Koolkidz
- Steve Pullara and his Cool Beans Band - Zooboogie
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Now, this video is more like a karaoke presentation than a full-fledged video (very basic graphics are displayed as lyrics flash by), but DIG THIS TUNE! Nancy Falkow and Fran King comprise the duo known as Sunflow, and their debut kids' album Under the Stars just came out. This first single is just the tip of the pop iceberg ... stay tuned for a full album review. Until then:
Posted by Warren Truitt at 4:51 PM
Thursday, October 09, 2008
On what may be the kids' album with the grooviest title of the year, Chicago's Ann Torralba uses a mix of world, folk, and rock influences to create one of the best children's CDs of 2008. On her first CD for kids as Little Miss Ann, 2006's Music for Tots, Torralba featured a more folk rock sound. Well, the reverse is true on Clap for Love: rock is definitely emphasized over folk, as Ann and her full band flesh out originals and traditional tunes.
The easy going welcome song, "Good Morning," sweetly kicks off Clap for Love. Then, wow! the powerful "Stand Up" jumps out of the speakers, proclaiming lines line "Stand up all you children / For things that are in your heart." A swirling organ and fist-pumping chorus deliver a message of the importance of empowerment and social conscience.
The quieter "Mockingbird" is all about individuality, followed by an absolutely rockin' version of the traditional "Over in the Meadow." The loping title tune features a banjo ukulele and demands audience participation ... for love! And dig the very Ring Starr-like drum rolls in the instrumental bridge.
"This Little Heart of Mine" is a great pop reworking of the old spiritual, and the rowdy "Wheels on the Bike" is another audience participation song. The sounds of a drum circle surround the South African hymn "Siyahamba," sung in both Zulu and English. Hints of Bruce Cockburn's world music style flavor the traditional "All Around the Kitchen," and the purely sing-along tune "Count by Fives" includes an enthusiastic performance by a First Grade class from Burley Elementary.
A key to the album's success is Jon Williams' production: great drum sounds and warm, organic instrumentation throughout, very reminisient of the whole mid-'70s L.A. crowd like James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, etc. Clap for Love is for an older audience than Music for Tots; in fact, the same fans of Little Miss Ann's first CD will now dig her second, kinda like fans of A Hard Day's Night turning on to Rubber Soul.
This is a beautiful album to be coming out in these times of increasing loss of uniqueness and personal conviction. It's very cool that a kids' artist will make a call-to-arms to the under-10 crowd, while entertaining them all the while ... have fun, but get involved. Groovy!
Posted by Warren Truitt at 8:46 AM
Monday, October 06, 2008
Here's a perfect example of why reviewing "children's" music is at the same time frustrating and exciting: this here album was recorded specifically for kids, but I guarantee that more grownups than children will dig this CD. So, while me 3's "The Thin King" might not make it to the best-selling rack at your local megablob retail outlet, it's thrilling to see artists like Jason Kleinberg creating such adventurous, intelligent, and downright catchy music for children.
San Francisco-based Kleinberg is heavily involved in that city's music scene, playing and recording with groups like Diego's Umbrella, 86 The Band, Our Lady Of The Highway, Beulah, and The Pine Box Boys. Seems the children of Kleinberg's friends liked his solo CD Must Have Fun so much, he decided to enlist Bernie Jungle and Adam McCauley (also known for his kids' book illustrations) to play on an album for kids, and voila! me 3 was born. Coincidentally, the children's musician most likely to draw artistic comparisons, Mr. David, lives nearby in San Jose.
You can hear hints of Weezer (specifically "Beverly Hills") in the lead-off track "Apple," while the pop brilliance of "Tulip" and its chorus of "Too-woo-woo-woo-woo-lip" guarantee multiple plays. The space-age rock of "Come On" is a little similar to the sound of Tray Batson's Baron Von Rumblebuss project, and the jug band/Kid Rock hybrid "Doug the Mole" tells the story of ... well, a mole ... named Doug.
Kleinberg gets all philosophical and stuff with the sea shanty waltz "Thinking is Fun," the sunny "I Don't Know!" and the quiet ballad "When It All Began," while "Peeling Paint" and "Cows" are just great fun. The title track is a majestic tune that tells the tale of a make-believe ruler, and "Sunlight" conveys through a child's eyes the simple amazement found in the Sun.
What makes this album special is that Kleinberg steers waaay clear of cliched kids' music subjects and dumbed-down lyrics, but he doesn't sing adult love songs or write about the frustrations of being a grownup, either. He has faith in his young listeners that they will "get" these songs about imagination, wonder, humor, beauty, and wordplay. Spin this one for your toddlers, your kids in college, and your grandparents. And sneak a listen yourself.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Just got word that the new Mr. Leebot album is due Spring 2009, and judging by the five tracks I got a sneak listen to, this one's gonna be even more solid than his first CD Activate!, and dives even deeper into New Wave territory. Totally awesome!
Posted by Warren Truitt at 11:53 AM
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Where can you go for one-stop shopping to find a John Lennon Songwriting Contest Grand Prize-winning song (2005), two Children's Music Web Award-winning tunes (2004 & 2005), and an XMKids Radio #1 hit (2007) ? Hey, you don't have to go any further than Drum Circle Sing-A-Long, presented by the Rhythm Child Network.
Norm Jones and his wife Heather founded Rhythm Child in 2003 to "promote creative expression and cultural exploration" through drum circle workshops, interactive music classes, and live concerts. Drum Circle Sing-A-Long is an aural representation of their mantra, and is full of beats, rhythms, and melodies that'll keep your little ones moving.
The CD kicks off with "Jammy Put On," Grand Prize Winner in the children's category of the 2005 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. This funky adaptation of "The Hokey Pokey" about getting ready for bed is more likely to get kids up and dancing than to settle them down for a night's sleep! Next is the very poppy "Learn from Nature," a sort of kid-friendly description of the science of biomimicry.
Two story songs are then featured: dig the very cool drum sample and tremeloed guitars in "Bird & the Dragon" and the slow jam of the Isley Brothers-inspired "The Story." Hand drums and percussion dominate an updated "This Little Light," and the electrofunk version of "Five Little Monkeys" is one of my favorites on the disc.
"How Much Farther" is an amusing tune about the frustration of being stuck in the car on a family trip, based on the structure of "Oh My Darling, Clementine." The album ends with a rhythm-heavy remake of "Kumbaya" and instrumental versions of "Learn From Nature" and "5 Little Monkeys."
If your little ones are into rhythm and drums, check out Drum Circle Sing-A-Long, a great CD for classrooms and family music collections.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Feelin' particularly swashbuckling today? Well, Mike Mennard has just the thing for you! Pirates Do the Darnedest Things is his swaggering, silly, singalong collection of tunes dedicated to a rogue's life on the sea. Historic tunes, originals, and classic covers are tied together by short skits, limericks, and goofy jokes, all celebrating the joys and trials of being a pirate.
Mennard kicks off his fourth kids' CD with a roll call of pirates in the title tune, followed by "Yo Ho Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)," the old theme song from the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at Disney. Silliness ensues with "ARRH!" "Buccaneer Singing on Broadway," "Ramsey the Pungent Pirate," and "Silly Willy Walla Walla Wary," in which the land-bound buccaneer laments that "it's tough to be a pirate in Nebraska."
Another highlight is the great tune "Captain Blake," with music by Mennard and lyrics by Kelsey Hulsman, an elementary school student who won Mennard's inaugural Pirate Poetry Contest. And check out the funky medley "Early in the Morning/Blow the Man Down," the mostly a cappella version of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest," the homesick ode "Fiddler's Green," and the sweet "Pirate Moon."
Hey, it's only 358 days until the next Talk Like a Pirate Day, so start collecting your pirating stash with Mike Mennard's Pirates Do the Darnedest Things.
Posted by Warren Truitt at 3:07 PM
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The second season of Yo Gabba Gabba! premiered yesterday and rave reviews are already coming in. Brobee celebrated his birthday, and how better to rock the party than have The Ting Tings cover "Happy Birthday," a tune originally recorded by Altered Images back in '81.
Posted by Warren Truitt at 4:31 PM
Friday, September 19, 2008
You'll have to pardon the crappy photography, but I wanted to give you an idea of the concept of this CD package, lest you think I had inadvertantly posted a white square. Remember back in 1987 when Sammy Hagar ran a contest to let fans name his latest album? Turns out I Never Said Goodbye was the best they could do ... Anyway, Brooklyn-based music instructor and wood artist Nikolai Moderbacher goes one better by allowing each listener to create the cover art for their own copy of his kids' album Tabula Rasa.
Niko's music is sonically similar to Mr. David's style: eclectic with out being weird, and simple while being memorable. Check out especially the wittily-titled "Chew, Chew Train," the alphabet nonsense song "ABACA," and the ode to boo boos, "Au." And dig the charmingly odd arrangements in "Take Off the Crumbs," not a far throw from those that The Who's John Entwhistle was so fond of ("Boris the Spider," "Fiddle About").
The loping "Wake Up" sounds like a low-key Daniel Lanois production, and "When I Was a Baby" is a great 3/4 - time rewriting of the classic "Cotton Fields." Dance along with the samba-influenced body part identification game "Baby Baby," and the Mediterranian-flavored tribute to the "terrible twos," "No, No, No." Then settle down for the day with a quiet version of the traditional Austrian lullaby "Haidschi Bum Baidschi."
Moderbacher recruited fellow Music Together instructor Rachel Friedman to help out with the vocals on half of the songs, and his wife Pyeng Threadgill on one. Moderbacher even utilized the rhythm section from his wife's jazz combo on several of the tunes, and all the songs have a great recorded-at-the-same-time-in-one-room sound, giving the whole project an intimate, personal feel. Super kids' debut that's perfect for the whole family.
Posted by Warren Truitt at 5:50 AM
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I was putting together an artist profile about Justin Roberts over on the About.com site, and I started looking through his albums ... man, that dude has lots of good songs! Which led me to wonder: if you were to compile a Justin Roberts greatest hits album, what songs would you pick?
Would you go heavy on his earlier James Taylor-influenced CDs, or choose more tunes from his later Fountains of Wayne/Blink 182-sounding albums? Sure, you would include tunes like "Our Imaginary Rhino," "Pop Fly," and "One Little Cookie," but what about lesser-known album cuts?
Limit your theoretical CD to 12 songs, with maybe one bonus track. Lemme know what you think ...
Posted by Warren Truitt at 6:15 AM
Monday, September 15, 2008
I first reviewed Will Thomas' collection of bilingual kids' tunes back in May, when it existed only as mp3s on his website. Now that Spanglish Sing-Along has been released as a physical CD, complete with awesome revamped cover art and a slightly different, less clunky title (formerly The Spanglish Wrangler Sings Bilingual Songs for the Whole Family), I thought I'd repost an edited version of the original review. And Bill Childs, over at Spare the Rock, gave Will a cool little writeup in the July issue of Parenting magazine, as well.
Here ya go:
'Will Thomas' bilingual tunes for kids are fun and funny and witty, and, most importantly to adults, stand up to repeated listenings. While Thomas has recorded grownup albums at Birdland Recording Studios in Town Creek, Alabama (very close to my hometown), he laid down the basic tracks for Spanglish Sing-Along at his home studio in Miami Beach.
You can practice your Spanish vocabulary by inference in the song "Emociones;" while "(They Call It) Spanish Monday," based on T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday Blues," helps you brush up on the days of the week. "Desayuno Boogie" is a celebration of breakfast, while the swampy funk of "Broccoli" describes a girl's love of that vegetable.
"Eres Mi Vida" is a Spanish-language version of "You Are My Sunshine," and the story of "Cucaracha" is set to the music of Earth Wind and Fire's "September." "Bailla Pollito" is a funny little tale about a reluctant dancer, while "I Love My Dog" is a little reminiscent of the old classic "Down By the Bay." Additional vocab practice is provided by "Gator and Bee" and "Bear's Picnic," directions en Espanol on the former and present tense verbs on the latter ("I sing, canto, y'all sing, cantais", etc.).
Thomas' intimate, downhome, bluesy performance and playful songwriting style make this collection a perfect teaching tool in both the classroom and at home. You're not smacked in the head with ridiculously bombastic production, and the lyrics don't make kids (or adults) feel like dunces. This is a great project from an artist who is a welcome addition to the kids' music world.'
Posted by Warren Truitt at 8:37 AM
Friday, September 12, 2008
As many of you already know, I've started writing for About.com as their Kids' Music Guide. Now, that doesn't mean I'm abandoning good ol' KidsMusicThatRocks. No, no, no, it only means I have additional space and can use alternative formats to bring you information about music for children.
Over at About.com, I'm working on things like the best Beatles' singalongs, the music of Yo Gabba Gabba!, and an interview with Beethoven's Wig creator Richard Perlmutter, so keep checking in over there to see what's new and shiny in the world of kids' music.
And thanks to Bill, Stefan, and Amy (and all the rest of you kids' music folks) for all the help and suggestions!
Posted by Warren Truitt at 7:46 AM
Monday, September 08, 2008
I've always been a big proponent of the Do-It-Yourself ethic when it comes to music, and these folks take that belief to the next level. The organizers of the HONK! Festival in Somerville, Massachusetts, invite marching bands of, for, and by the people to march, play, and generally make a musical ruckus in their annual celebration of indie brass bands.
Several NYC groups, including The Hungry March Band, Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and Tri-Battery Pops, are performing in the festival which, at the very least, guarantees to entertain you and your little ones with massive amounts of loud, rowdy music, and at most hopes to inspire onlookers to get involved with music, social issues, politics, and getting to know your neighbors.
Posted by Warren Truitt at 2:42 PM