Monday, March 30, 2015

Mailbox Monday: What's New in Kindie Rock

Alison Faith Levy - The Start of Things

(Release Date: April 21, 2015; Mystery Lawn Music)

Former member of San Francisco's The Sippy Cups drops her second kindie rock solo album. Tunes include a cover of Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing, Out, Sing Out." Soulful and groovy.

Standout Track: "Rainbow Tunnel"

Future Hits - Today is Forever (Hoy es para siempre)

(Release Date: May 5, 2015; Coach House Sounds)

Down-to-earth indie rock from Chicago. Each catchy, organic, and educational tune is performed twice, once in English and again in Spanish. Nice addition to ESL classroom collections; comes with bilingual lyric booklet.

Standout Track: "Morning Ritual"

Keith Munslow - Tiny Destroyer

(Release Date: April 7, 2015; Needlenose Music)

The tunes on Munslow's seventh kindie release combine a variety of musical styles, comedy routines, storytelling, and humorous lyrics. The results sound like a cross between Steve Martin, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and a Broadway musical.

Standout Track: "Old Joe's Bones"

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lead Belly - Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly

Huddie Ledbetter had a long and storied life, both in and out of music. Rather than reiterate the details, most of which can be found using much more knowledgeable sources, we'll keep it simple here by concentrating on what might interest you readers the most: Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly, his first collection of children's songs. When the album was first issued in 1941, Walter Winchell famously blasted its release, stating, “How could one issue a children’s record by a convicted murderer?” Again, check out one of the Lead Belly bios listed below to get the full story behind such an incendiary statement!

The songs on Play Parties were recorded during May and July 1941 for Asch Recordings, Moses Asch's indie record label, and released as a three-disc 78 rpm set that same year. Those six tunes were later issued on the Stinson Records label in 1952 (that's the image used here). "Ha, Ha Thisaway" is an upbeat song that highlights Ledbetter's enthusiastic 12-string strumming and bright, joyful singing. This particular sing along describes a somewhat difficult childhood, as the singer's dad leaves the family at 12 yrs, although his mom never whooped him and he seemed to have a good time at school. Like many of the children's tunes he performs, Lead Belly explains the movements and motions of the ring song "Little Sally Walker" in the tune's intro.

"Redbird" is a more spirited circle song than "Sally Walker" in that everyone is circling simultaneously with or without a partner. This is a great shouting tune for group performances as kids yell out the title of the song during the game. The spirited "Christmas Song," a holiday tune known variously as "Christmas Is A-Coming," "Almost Day," and "Chicken Crowing for Midnight,"  describes kids' excitement about Christmas morning as they play out in the yard 'til midnight and the chicken signals the approaching holiday hour. "Skip to My Lou" is the most universally popular song on Play Parties, and countless entertainers have recorded their version of the old tune. Pete Seeger covered Ledbetter's version on Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Little Fishes,  a 10-inch album released in 1955 by Folkways Records. "You Can't Lose Me Cholly" is an oddity in that it's based on the song "Can't Lose Me, Charlie" written by Harry S. Miller in the late 1890s. Miller was well-known for his (to our modern ears, disturbingly racist) minstrel songs, but the emphasis here is on Lead Belly's energetic 12-string work.

Much has been written about Lead Belly and his music, so I won't go into a detailed history here. But to get even more insight into these particular songs, check out The Leadbelly Song Book, edited by Moses Asch and Alan Lomax, published by Oak Publications in 1962; or The Leadbelly Legend, edited by John and Alan Lomax, published by TRO/Folkways Music in 1959. Additionally, the album notes for the Smithsonian Folkways CD Lead Belly Sings for Children contain lots of great info. And for more evidence of the power of his voice and guitar, dig specifically the tune "Gallis Pole," a tune from which Led Zeppelin generously borrowed for their song "Gallows Pole" on Led Zeppelin III.

Originally Released 1941; Asch Recordings

Track Listing
  1. "Ha, Ha Thisaway"
  2. "Little Sally Walker"
  3. "Redbird"
  4. "Christmas Song"
  5. "Skip to My Lou"
  6. "You Can't Lose Me Cholly"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Effects of GRAMMY Streamlining: Good or Bad for Kindie Rock?

From 1993 to 2010 the annual GRAMMY Foundation awards included the category "Best Spoken Word Album for Children." During that span you might have heard award winners like Bill Harley telling amusing stories, Tom Chapin narrating picture books, and Jim Dale reading Harry Potter novels, along with various actors and politicos retelling fairy tales or verbally accompanying classical music pieces.

This past year marked the first time since the Foundation's move to a more streamlined children's genre that an audiobook was awarded the top GRAMMY prize for the kids' music category. The incredible story of Malala Yousafzai had already caught the attention of millions through her co-written autobiography I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. A young reader version was later published as I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, and the audiobook of this tome won the 57th Annual GRAMMY Award for "Best Children's Album."

So why am I even bring up these points? Stefan Shepherd over at Zooglobble wrote up a great, thought-provoking article about the Children's GRAMMYs that got me thinking. If you look at the list of the most recent nominations for Best Children's Album, you'll notice a ton of super choices afforded judges. These included The Pop Ups' Appetite for Construction, Brady Rymer's Just Say Hi!, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo's The Perfect Quirk, and The Okee Dokee Brothers' Through the Woods, any of which deserved to win the GRAMMY if the category had remained music-only.

My reasoning is that at the very least, the discussions and arguments brought up by this year's winner will help draw the attention of less-informed listeners to inspiring stories like Yousafzai's and to the quality and diversity of new kindie rock music. Hey, if you need more proof of the improvement in children's music GRAMMY nominations in recent times just take a look at the choices between about 1978 to 2002:  a full 16 GRAMMY winners were Disney, Pixar, or Sesame Street products. Any press afforded quality kindie rock is wonderful, and we should be thankful for and proud to include I Am Malala as a fellow nominee in helping to bring new ears to your musical creativity.