Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hooooz Howwsss?

Mike's House! Man, you gotta admire the tenacity of a four year old who braves a snowstorm just to make it to his weekly Public Library Picture Book Hour.

Julia Sauer (1891-1983) was a Children's Librarian at the Rochester, NY, Public Library from 1921 to 1958. She wrote this little tribute to the power of books and stories back in 1954, with illustrations by our man Don Freeman, he of Corduroy fame.

Now, you might think Mike is the kid trudging through the snow ... no, this little dude loves Virginia Lee Burton's Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel so much that he refers to the library as "Mike's House". This leads to confusion later in the story when Robert, during his snowy trek to the library, gets a little sidetracked and has to ask a cop for directions. After the policeman unsuccessfully tries to find a "Mike Mulligan" in the phone book, a waitress at the diner realizes Robert's talking about the Public Library. Hey, Robert may have missed this week's Picture Book Hour, but he's thrilled to the gills that he'll get to introduce Officer Jensen to Mike Mulligan!

Libraries rock, Preschoolers rock, and Preschoolers who love their library this much really rock!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Kidmusic @ Jalopy

Two things I took away from tonight's kidstock at Jalopy in Brooklyn:

One - I really, really, really, really hate going anywhere without my wife and baby.

Two - David Weinstone said (I'm paraphrasing here), "If yer in this business (children's music) to make money, write mediocre songs. If you write great kids' songs, yer not gonna do so well."

'Nuff said.

Monday, March 19, 2007

***Randy Kaplan***

Straight outta Park Slope, Brooklyn, Randy Kaplan presents an eclectic collection of covers and originals on his newest CD, Five Cent Piece. Released on his own Yellow Thing Records & Books label, Five Cent Piece runs the musical gamut from Judy Garland to the Stones, from Woody Guthrie to Jonathan Richman. Now, remember, kids' albums aren't meant to be the only source of musical history, so the fact that Kaplan includes a song made famous by the Rev. Gary Davis, two songs by legendary lyricist Yip Harburg, and another from the Bye Bye Birdie soundtrack doesn't mean he meant for you to ONLY listen to his version. It's an invitation to explore, to find out more about music and it's history and sources.

Kaplan's performance and style could most easily be compared to Arlo Guthrie; and, coincidentally or no, he covers songs by Woody and by Arlo, plus his 10-minute "You Can't Always Get What You Want" resembles Arlo's album side-long "Alice's Restaurant". The bohemian bluegrass/dixieland played by Kaplan and his extremely cohesive and talented band tie together the varying song sources into a unified package, so that Jonathan Richman's "I'm a Little Dinosaur", Elizabeth Cotton's "Freight Train", and "We're In the Same Boat, Brother" (made popular by Leadbelly), all sound like they were performed at the same sitting. Plus, his rendition of "Over the Rainbow" has to be THE sweetest you'll ever hear.

His originals are wildly original, showcasing Kaplan's love of the narrated song: a shark interrupts bathtime with a request to "Shampoo Me", the "Mosquito Song" details a conversation with a certain bloodsucker, and the "Roaches" that occupy Kaplan's apartment are into Kafka's "The Metamorphosis". And kids'll get a big laff out of his original lyrics to "Donut Song".

Dig the packaging and layout: Kaplan's profile graces the giant nickel design on the CD itself, while several street signs and storefronts in the foldout will be recognizable to Brooklynites. Lots of time and effort by Kaplan and fellow musician Tom Johnson went into the cover, which almost always means great music waits inside.

A sort of East Coast companion piece to Mr. David's The Great Adventures of Mr. David, Kaplan's first kids' CD (hopefully not his last) after releasing five for grownups will no doubt be equally loved by tots and their adults. Take the F Train over to the Perch Cafe in Brooklyn and check out a performance by this unique artist. And tell him to keep up the good work.

Monday, March 05, 2007

***Daniel Schorr***

What do you get when you cross Bob Dylan's vocals from Nashville Skyline with Ballad of Easy Rider-era Byrds music, and illustrate the whole thing with funky fresh Doug Allen drawings? Daniel Schorr's latest album, Every Word I Say is True, of course!

Brooklyn-based educator Schorr's second kids' CD on his Tee-Tot Records label is chock full of words, a veritable feast of lyrics, backed with one of the best rootsy country-rock soundtracks you'll ever hear on a children's album. Songs about a kid who never forgets anything, about the twelfth dimension, about dog-devoured homework, about brain appreciation; unbelieving adults, nagging parents (those durn grownups!), and snowball fights; tear-jerkers about bad luck and anthemic rockers detailing Santa's stab at musical superstardom.

This Owens/Haggard/Yoakum-influenced album brings the Bakersfield Sound hardcore, especially on "Elephant's Memory", "The Homework-Eating Dog Named Rover", and "If I Didn't Have a Teddy Bear", but two songs that break from the guitar twang are "I Was Lost, But Now I'm Found" and "The Emperor's Castle". The former, sung by Brian Dewan, is one of the best "oughta be on Broadway" tunes ever, and the latter, a synthesizer-driven socio-political statement, is reminiscent of The Monkees' "Zor and Zam".

So if'n yer littl'uns dig a weeping pedal steel and thick-string Strat solos, pick up Every Word I Say is True. Heck, go see Schorr play live if you're near Brooklyn and give him a big "yeehaw"!