Wednesday, August 30, 2006

***Mister Laurence***

There's a musical legend living in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, R. Stevie Moore, who pretty much invented the D.I.Y. ethic in the late 60s, early 70s. Since that time, he has recorded literally hundreds of cassette tapes, vinyl LPs, and CDs, all chock full of his off-kilter yet brilliantly perfect pop compositions, writing, playing, recording, and producing everything himself.

Tucked away in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is Laurence Bond Miller, aka Mister Laurence, the children's music version of R. Stevie Moore. Since 1999 Miller has released five CDs, Flaghorn, Tugboat Tow, Bubbleland, Pure Gibberish!, and Recess Forever!, with another, Marmaline, to be released soon. I can't recommend one CD over another, so browse Mr. L's witty, silly website and check out the awesomeness of individual tracks like "Bubbleland", "Recess Forever", "Is There an Echo in the Room?", "Little Flower", "Jack 'N' Jill's Hill", and the Zen sentiments of "The Sky is in the Sky!" and "We Won't Be Afraid" (Even if we are afraid / We won't be afraid).

The only group who comes close to his combination of inventiveness and quirkiness is They Might Be Giants, who would be well advised to team up with Mister Laurence and create the greatest kids' album ever. Hey, it could happen!

Friday, August 25, 2006

***Josh Levine***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

***Enzo Garcia***

With an earthy voice remarkably similar to Burl Ives', and a one-man-band arsenal of instruments, San Francisco-based children's entertainer and musical educator Enzo Garcia presents his ninth (ninth!) CD of kids' music, LMNO Music-Pink.

Garcia constantly develops new movement and music programs for his LMNO Music sessions, and the resulting songs are translated to CD. If you scan the titles on this and other LMNO Music albums, you'll notice that many of the tunes are traditional songs, which can be a tricky thing for most performers. But Garcia makes these songs his own, convincing you that he wrote "Jim Along Josie", "Looby Loo", and "Trot Old Joe" himself.

The spoken word chants "Here is the Sea" and "Let's Make Pizza" are reminiscent of Woody Guthrie's classic LP Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child. And the fact that he makes slight changes in the chord progressions of his "Hello" and "Goodbye" songs shows that Garcia doesn't take his audience's intelligence for granted: even the tiniest kid can differentiate between the beginning and the end of the program by the music, even if he or she can't speak yet. But the gem of the album is Garcia's own "Hold My Hand", one of those songs that makes you sing along loudly and dance in circles with your loved ones every time you hear it.

Intimate, rhythmic, and wonderfully played, Enzo Garcia's LMNO Music-Pink is a fun album that belongs in every home, classroom, and Toddler Time collection. Another classic from the west coast!