Wednesday, May 31, 2006

***The Hollow Trees***

These guys have definitely done their homework. Or have at least spent countless hours scouring the flea markets of southern California for out-of-print folk albums. Maybe they were lucky enough to have grown up in a household where these kinds of songs wafted through the air during childhood summers. Whatever the case, Los Angeles’ The Hollow Trees have created an album that is a throwback to the classic Pete Seeger/Burl Ives sound, and yet is amazingly fresh and original. Even hoary chestnuts like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and “Shoo Fly” totally belong to The Hollow Trees on this CD.

From the opening ring of a banjo on “Raccoon and Possum” to the sad and sonorous draw of a bow across a bass fiddle on “Buckeye Jim”, guitarist Greg McIlvaine and bassist Laura Steenberge (aka Gregory Hollow Tree and Laura Hollow Tree) treat the listener to an amazingly entertaining array of songs. Magnificently played and expertly recorded (in McIlvaine’s home studio, no less), The Hollow Trees’ self-titled debut was released last year on their own Hollow Trees Records. A friend of The Hollow Trees created the cover art, and McIlvaine designed the inner sleeve map that details the location of “Nelson”, a character described in the tune of the same name.

Need a drinking song for toddlers? Why, crank up “Jack was Every Inch a Sailor” and hoist your juice boxes! How about an extremely silly song that’s silly for the sake of silliness? Well, then, try “The Whale Song”, which almost brought a tear to the eye of a coworker, who fondly remembered the nonsensical lyrics from her childhood. Oh, and if you’re looking for the perfect preschool storytime activity song, play their original “Bunny Hop”, it’ll make you smile.

With a reverent but playful nod to the classic folk sound of the late 40s to the early 60s, The Hollow Trees use a combination of old folk tunes, sea shanties, and originals to make a modern day classic. Check it out. Turn it up. Have a hootenanny!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

***Daddy A Go Go***

With songs named “For Those About To Walk, We Salute You”, and “Pink Floyd Saves Hugh Manatee”, and a cover of a Spinal Tap tune (yes, that Spinal Tap), you know something goofy’s goin’ on. “It’s a kids’ world, yeah yeah yeah, and everybody else just gets to dance in it,” goes a line from Daddy A Go Go’s newest CD, Eat Every Bean and Pea on Your Plate. From the CD title’s pun to John Boydston’s running standup act, this is definitely a kids’ CD, and it is guaranteed to cause third graders to both giggle and air guitar.

Boydston, an Atlanta resident and Oklahoma native, has released four CDs on his own Boyd’s Tone Records and his fifth is a full-on rock and roll extravaganza, powering along with the same stumbly swagger that fellow Georgians the Black Crowes and the Georgia Satellites learned from the Stones. While grownups play spot the influences (listen for ACDC, the Rolling Stones, the Ramones, Lulu, Pink Floyd, the Replacements, the B52s, Spinal Tap, and the Beatles), kids can laugh out loud at songs about having to play on the crappiest little league team ever, brothers and sisters who bug the snot out of you, and the album-closing saga of a guy who absolutely cannot make a rhyme. With two twangy instrumentals rounding out the set, this is the perfect album for any guitar loving pre-teen.

It’s great to find a kids’ musician who rocks out unapologetically, who believes in the universal appeal of the powerchord, and who delivers his message without a smidgen of self-consciousness. Daddy A Go Go…[insert cannon fire here], we salute you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

***Gustafer Yellowgold***

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.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

***Saint Etienne***

One of the main points of this blog is to introduce kids and parents to different types of music suitable for children. That doesn’t mean anyone has to completely cut out all ultra mega conglomeration mainstream music, but at the very least balance it with unique, out of the ordinary styles. Having said that, here’s a little CD that is different, certainly, but nevertheless very enjoyable. There seems to be a growing trend among “Popular Music” artists to make kids’ music as a side project, and British group Saint Etienne have created an EP of songs for children as part of their newest album, Tales from Turnpike House. Up the Wooden Hills contains six songs designed for kids, the title apparently taken from the Small Faces’ song, “Up the Wooden Hills to Bedfordshire”.

The EP opener, “You Can Count on Me”, counts from one to ten in English, French, and Spanish, and sounds a little like Stereolab retooled for the dancefloor, or maybe a chilled out Madonna track. At 59 seconds, “Barnyard Brouhaha”, a sort of electronic “Turkey In the Straw”, seems ready made for use as an instrumental intro to a kids’ show. The rollicking “Let’s Build a Zoo”, with its neo-“Swinging England” music and list of alliterations like “Charlie chose a chimpanzee”, “Rachel rode a rhino”, and “Peter picked a penguin”, is sure to be a hit with your Toddler Time dancers.

After the nonsense lyrics and electro-rockabilly blues of “Excitation”, “Bedfordshire” begins with a father convincing his small son to turn off the TV for a while and take an imaginary trip to the wooden hills of Bedfordshire, their journey represented by a wordless soundtrack akin to a Brian Wilson Smile-era soundscape. Finally, a chamber orchestra and the soothing voice of lead singer Sarah Cracknell bring the day to a close with “Night Owl”.

As far as I can tell, Up the Wooden Hills is only available in combination with Tales from Turnpike House, and as a limited edition, at that. But rumor is Saint Etienne are working on a full-fledged children’s music project for future release, so this EP may become part of that at some point. But until then, get Tales and Wooden Hills, enjoy both, and encourage Saint Etienne to make more great music for kids!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

***Professor Presley***

I’ll have to admit, when I first saw the cover of this CD and read the subtitle, “A Punk Rock-N-Roll Romp Through U.S. History”, I was very skeptical. But, man-o-man, this is an amazing album! Bill Reynolds, aka Professor Presley, has used classic punk chord changes, song structures, and lyrical immediacy to tell the story of America’s history from Colonial settlement to the Reconstruction era. And the damn thing rocks!

As a Middle School Social Studies teacher in Encinitas, California, Reynolds took it upon himself to create materials that would appeal to his students, thus was born Professor Presley: History Rocks. With the musical help of Mike Kamoo and the vocal talents of several bands from Southern California, including Lucy's Fur Coat, The Stereotypes, Static Halo, Rookie Card, Jameson's Gypsies, and Jersey Thursday, Reynolds takes 8th Graders on a tour of significant events in the history of the United States.

Documents that were the foundation of our political system, the idealistic differences between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, the War of 1812, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the causes of the Civil War, are all given straightforward, literal descriptions and explanations. And what better music to be the backdrop of such inflammatory, thought-provoking subjects? It totally works, and you can almost see our founding fathers, if they had possessed the technology, grinding out a punk rock song about the pros and cons of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican Parties.

Another great aspect of Reynolds’ project is his Teacher’s Tool Kit, which includes two CDs and tons of materials to use in the classroom. So educators, take note! This one is a winner, and word is Professor Presley is currently working on World History Rocks and Science Rocks as we speak.

And check out the old school pics of the Minutemen in the contest area!