Tuesday, December 12, 2006

***Stephen Cohen***

A red-jacketed band of half-human, half-animal musicians comes marching down the street, accompanied by a couple of oversized birds ... what an awesome introduction to Stephen Cohen's Here Comes the Band! With a smoky-voiced delivery, vocal phrasing a little like Rickie Lee Jones, and an intimate coffee house presentation, Portland resident Stephen Cohen whams, tickles, and strums the strings of his guitar, which acts as much a percussion instrument as a keeper of melody, intertwined with the tinkles, knocks, and wobbles of his handmade musical gear. Rhythms are suspended and sometimes done away with entirely in several songs, tying together everything in a cohesive dream-like collection of thoughts put to music. Sound too heavy for a kids' album? Au contraire, my little ones, for that's the amazing thing about this CD: yer tiny kids can sing right along with every single song on the album, while grownups can bask in the glow of Cohen's musical inventiveness. Even though Cohen has been recording since 1979, Here Comes the Band is his first album specifically for kids.

Soon-to-be Toddler Time classics include the mantra-like "Give Me That Toy!", the boppity "Mr. Knickerbocker" and "Baseball, Baseball". The controlled chaos of "The Elephant Walk" mirrors, coincidentally, sounds produced by bands of the Elephant 6 collective (Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc.), while the ethereal "Rain, Rain, Rain" fully utilizes Cohen's self-created percussion inventions. The three-part thread "Here Comes the Band / There Goes the Band / Sleepy Dreams (of the Band)" that runs through the CD gives Cohen a chance to name check his old group, the Talk Talk Band. By using a few tunes culled from some of his grownup albums, real life and fiction and Many Hats, Cohen shows his trust in kids' taste and intelligence. He's not making music for children, but just making music.

Not only do you get Cohen's wonderful songs, the CD is also packaged with a lyrics booklet full of artwork by Christopher Shotola-Hardt, instructions on making your own instruments, and explanations of everyone's duties in the making of a CD ("The producer chooses the songs..."). Check out more of Cohen's work, it's pretty inspiring and amazing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

***Chucky Woodbine***

A classic reborn! Years ago, Auburn University's student radio station, WEGL, was adamantly anti-commercial. During my senior year, I remember hearing this lo-fi, herkity jerkity, melodic song called "Double Feature" about, I think, monsters and secret messages on cereal boxes. Now, that memory would have completely faded into the ether of collegehood if not for ... TAH DAH! ... the reissue of Chucky Woodbine's Misleading.

This quartet from Massachussets made a cassette-only version of Misleading back in the late-80s that included songs about woodland creatures, bullies, and some weird guy named Fred Villari. Throw in a couple of instrumentals and a punk song called "Roadkill" (chorus: "Roadkill! Roadkill!"), and you have an amusingly silly, inventive, do-it-yourselfer worthy of way more exposure than it got.

Is this kids' music? I dunno, is "Yellow Submarine", or pretty much everything Jonathan Richman ever recorded? My point is that kids are smart and have incredibly varied tastes, so anything that seems entertaining and is a little off the beaten path (i.e. - doesn't come with tie-in merchandise) should be readily introduced to kids. Go ahead, let them hear what's out there and they'll decide what they like. If your upper-elementary kid is into quirky music, is thinking about starting a band, or just likes to decipher sometimes impenetrable lyrics, he'll dig Chucky Woodbine.

Friday, December 01, 2006

***Rockosaurus Rex***

HELL YES!!! Tired of hearing toy piano versions of your favorite Toddler Time classics? Prepare your preschoolers to have their faces rocked off by "Wheels On the Bus"; "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes"; and "This Old Man" as performed by our favorite prehistoric metal gods, Rockosaurus Rex!

All you grownups will probably get a bigger kick out of this musical project from Austin, Texas, than your young'uns, but hey! crank it up and see what they think. "All the Pretty Little Horses" is given a heavy dose of Metallica, while "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" is all Anthrax'ed out. In fact, quit reading this and head for the Rockosaurus Rex website immediately, so the rockin' can commence. There are plenty of clips from The Big Bang! to which one can thrust one's fist into the air.

Make sure to read their bio, have fun with the whole concept, and unite the world through metal. Like the Rockosaurus Rex creed says, "They have come to rock the children of Earth". Amen.