Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 2

Music is just flying out of the mailbox:

Steven Zelin, Magical Boxes

The "Singing CPA" presents his first CD for kids, a collection of Toddler classics and original tunes. This native New Yorker's style is a little too precious for my taste, but if you need to supplement your preschool music stash, go for it.

Wendy Gelsanliter, I'm Hungry, I Need a Bandaid

The third kids' CD from this educator and current New Yorker. Lower-Elementary children would dig Wendy's original songs of kids' everyday highs and woes, expertly performed by her low-key rock band. Also includes covers of Guthrie's "Pick It Up" and Drake, Hoffman, & Livingston's "Mairzy Doats", with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.

Gunnar Madsen, I'm Growing

An amAAAAAzingly inventive bunch of songs from this Berkeley-based composer, performer, and filmmaker, and his third CD for kids. The stacks of vocals are what make this album shine brighter than most children's CDs, sounding at times like the Beach Boys on uberBroadway steroids. Brilliant songwriting and performances!

Key Wilde, It's So Good

If this EP's ska title song and punky "Favorite Names" are any indication of what to expect from a full-length release, you should keep your eye on these Brooklynites. Songwriting team Key Wilde and Richard Clarke (aka Mr. Clarke) have been in the music biz for a while, but have only just now recorded songs for kids. Tongue-in-cheek fun.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

***Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra***

Imagine a Toddler Las Vegas, a Rat Pack of sippy cup totin' hipsters ... I'm pretty sure this would be the music they would be digging! Now, I've said before that if a kids' performer decides to record nursery rhymes or folk tunes, they'd better bring something different to the table. And much like Josh Levine's salsa-fest Josh Levine for Kids or Rockosaurus Rex's metalhead heaven The Big Bang, the Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra does just that: Classic kiddie tunes are given a super swingin' treatment that'll have your junior Chairman of the Board's fingers a-poppin'.

Jazz, Baby! is an amazingly solid collection of songs, performed by a crack team of musicians, and sung by Matt Catingub and Linda Harmon. No low points or draaagging tracks here: From the opening horns of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to the subdued 4/4 - 3/4 arrangement of "Brahms Lullaby", play this one from beginning to end without reserve. Highlights include the Steely Dan / Manhattan Transfer-style vocals of "Itsy Bitsy Spider"; the Louis Prima / Keely Smith samba of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain"; and the big, wide-open organic production of the whole project - very tight but very real (sounds like you're in the same room with the whole band!).

Kids who already know these songs will get the biggest kick out of listening to Jazz, Baby! ... I can just see 'em, cranking this album up and singing along as loudly as they can! Also highly recommended for parents who are sick of listening to the same damned CD of classic kids' tunes ... This fresh but familiar bunch of preschool hits will make a great addition to classrooms, libraries, and homes.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

***Daddy A Go Go***

Amps to eleven, Fenders to the fore ... Daddy A Go Go is back in town! Everybody's favorite guitar dude returns with his sixth album for kids, Rock of All Ages, a CD full of puns, parental pop music winks, and headbanging riffs. There are allusions to "Roll Over Beethoven", "Be-Bop-A-Lula", "She Caught the Katy", Dark Side of the Moon, and American Bandstand ... and that's just in the first song! (Hey, the album title is a Badfinger tune!) From the rave-up "School Bus Driver" to the anthemic travelogue "Idaho!" to the absolutely ridiculous "Root Beer", John Boydston lets the jokes fly and the rock and roll thunder.

A lot's happened since the release of 2006's Eat Every Bean and Pea on Your Plate: Boydston and his two sons played gigs as the Daddy A Go Go Band at both the Austin Kiddie Limits Music Festival and the SXSW Music Festival, and guitar slinger Rick Derringer recorded one of Boydston's songs for his latest album Rockin' American. Not bad for a dad from Atlanta, huh?

"Rock of Ages" kicks off the album with a buzzing six-string and a karate kick, followed by two singalongs, "Nana-Nana Boo-Boo" and "School Bus Driver", that are perfectly crafted for live show audience participation. And if KISS made kids' music, I think it would sound kinda like "Idaho!", featuring drum/cowbell breakdown.

Then comes a pummeling version of "What a Wonderful World", via Joey Ramone; and the deliciously corny campfire tune "The Root Beer Song", in which Boydston stops the kids' accompaniment due to their overzealous emphasis on the wrong word in the chorus, and making him think twice about teaching the kids songs about Helsinki and Amsterdam.

Next up is "John Barleycorn Must Dye", Boydston's slap-back rockabilly nod to Traffic, which presents the tale of a kid who's a little too enthusiastic with his tie dyeing; then a rockin' cover of the Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy vs The Red Baron"; and "Get Yer Yo-Yo's Out", Boydston's shout out to the Stones' 1970 live album (arguably their best official concert recording).

Boydston rounds off the album with "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees", a song that questions Grandad's words of wisdom, and bears a more than passing resemblance to the Stones' "Dead Flowers"; "I Lost My Teddy Bear", a tune about letting go of childhood toys; and a solid cover of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around", featuring Max and Jake Boydston (13 and 16 respectively) on guitar and bass, and their buddy Jonathan Paz on drums.

Remember, kids' music shouldn't be the beginning or end of your child's exploration of the world of music. If they dig guitars, make 'em an mp3 compilation of tunes by, say, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Boston, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Ramones, see what sticks. Throw in some Daddy A Go Go, and if they're tickled by the goofy asides and silly lyrics, turn them on to Dr. Demento, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Weird Al, or They Might Be Giants.

Most importantly: Take your kids to see a live show! Daddy A Go Go has played some impressive festivals and venues lately, so check his schedule to see if he's coming to a town near you. Next stop: Cobo Hall!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 1

Here are the kids' music CDs I've received over the past week. I've included links to the artists' home pages and sites where the CDs can be sampled and purchased. Have fun!

Suzi Shelton, No Ordinary Day

Her second solo CD for children includes covers of Dylan and Bowie. Well-produced pop songs about real-life kid issues. Several of these songs would fit right in on a tween soundtrack.

Thaddeus Rex, Shakin' in Chicago

The third CD from T. Rex. This Windy City-themed album features Pinetop Perkins and Koko Taylor on one track, and includes a cover of "25 or 6 to 4"! Kinda like a mix of The Violent Femmes, Natalie Merchant, and PBS Kids.

Rebecca Frezza, Special Kind of Day

Rebecca's fourth kids' CD, in keeping with the "day" theme that seems to be forming here. I guess you can't have just a plain old day... Similar to Suzi's CD, but with more electric guitars.

Daddy A Go Go, Rock of All Ages

The sixth CD from John Boydston includes homages to Joey Ramone, Chuck Berry, and the Royal Guardsmen. And his teenage sons help with the rockin'! Guitars and jokes galore.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Friday Free-for-All!

Each Friday I will feature every CD that comes across my desk. There's a TON of kids' music out there, so while I continue to post full reviews of what I consider to be the best of the best, everyone who sends music will get a shout out. I'll include links to artists' websites so you and your kids can check out a few samples, see if you dig 'em.

See you this Friday, February 22, 2008!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reading is Fundamental!, wait, the Miasma of War is Fundamental!

Not surprising news from the White House:

President Bush Eliminates Funding for Reading Is Fundamental’s Historic Book Distribution Program Serving 4.6 Million Children

Statement from Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO, of Reading Is Fundamental

"President Bush’s proposed budget calling for the elimination of Reading Is Fundamental’s (RIF) Inexpensive Book Distribution program would be devastating to the 4.6 million children and their families who receive free books and reading encouragement from RIF programs at nearly 20,000 locations throughout the U.S.

“Unless Congress reinstates $25.5 million in funding for this program, RIF would not be able to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation’s youngest and most at-risk children. RIF programs in schools, childcare centers, migrant programs, military bases, and other locations serve children from low-income families, children with disabilities, foster and homeless children, and children without access to libraries. The Inexpensive Book Distribution program is authorized under the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (SEC.5451 Inexpensive Book Distribution Program for Reading Motivation) and is not funded through earmarks. It has been funded by Congress and six Administrations without interruption since 1975.

“Since its founding in 1966, RIF’s programs have played an important role in improving literacy in this country. The U.S. Department of Education has shown that the number of books in a child’s home is a significant predictor of academic achievement. In addition, RIF programs also support academic achievement by involving hundreds of thousands of volunteers and other caring adults in encouraging children to read for fun. We urge all Americans to contact their Congressional representatives and ask them to reinstate funding for this important program.”

If you want to get involved, follow this link. But really, people, attack stuff like this from the bottom up: Contact your Mayors, your County Representatives, your District Representatives, your School Principals, your local Librarians, your children's School Media Specialists ... I have very little faith that sending an email to the office of George or Dick will accomplish anything. A grassroots movement beginning with you, dear reader, now that I have faith in.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

***The Harmonica Pocket***

As soon as I saw the Matthew Porter painting on the cover of this CD, I knew it was gonna be a winner! Ladybug One, the second collection of kids' songs from Washington State's The Harmonica Pocket, will win you over with its laid-back originals and quiet reworkings of traditional tunes. Meditative, atmospheric, gentle, inventive ... you won't hear arrangements like this on any other album for children.

The Harmonica Pocket is primarily singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Keeth Monta Apgar, and a musical cast o' plenty. He's showcased his considerable pop songwriting talents on albums like Birds Falling from the Sky and Underneath Your Umbrella, which contains the original version of "Spiders in My Breakfast". Much like Matt Pryor's The New Amsterdams and The Terrible Twos, if you like Apgar's grownup albums, yer gonna like the kids' stuff, and vice versa.

This cool little concept album revolves primarily around the idea of insects and bugs, with songs like "Firefly", "Spiders in My Breakfast", "Ladybug 123", and "Bumblebee Lullabye". But then check out these tasty tidbits: "O Susanna" in 5/4 time with sitar and tabla accompaniment; the Hindi lullaby "Mere Bacche Ke Liye Lori"; and the 55-second brilliance of "Four Spaces".

One of my favorite parts of opening a new album is reading the credits, and I love some of the instrument descriptions listed in Ladybug One: waterphone, wind wand, dixieland kazoo ... but these and other exotic instruments aren't just thrown in on a whim. Everything is woven into each song in a way that doesn't bring attention to it, and songs are made stronger by their inclusion.

Apgar closes the album with five naptime songs: the previously mentioned "Mere Bacche", the ridiculously sweet "Bumblebee Lullabye", the bilingual "La Luna", Monica Schley's pedal harp instrumental "Lucid Dream #3", and Apgar's own mbira solo called "Mbira Dreaming" ... hey!

Wonderful little songs about acceptance and love, appreciation of and respect for nature and the environment, the beauty of our world, and, of course, ABCs and 123s. A perfect present for new parents or indie music fans, Ladybug One is a great representation of Apgar's gift of melody and lyric, and hopefully this won't be his last offering to the kids' music world.

Friday, February 08, 2008

An Update from Ambassador Scieszka

Here's what Jon Scieszka has been up to in his first few weeks as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, via Publishers Weekly's "Children's Bookshelf":

"Dear Bookshelf Readers,

It has been a weirdly wild month. The whole combination of touring for Trucktown with Dave Gordon, Loren Long and Dave Shannon, and simultaneous Ambassador touring, has combined into a perfect storm of kid mania. I've been received by my people with small open arms.

Here, for instance, is a partial list of suggestions from Ambassador fans big and small of what I should receive as Ambassador:

laurel wreath/crown
bejewelled goblet
those little flags for my car
guards for my embassy
an Apache attack helicopter (my idea)
instant restaurant reservations anywhere, anytime
a fancy uniform
a Captain Crunch style admiral's hat (Dave Shannon's suggestion)
Secret Service Franking privileges (mine also)
lifetime diplomatic immunity, for anything (ditto)
a million dollars (surprisingly not mine, but very nice)
official seal diplomatic pouch rank above TSA officials
Ambassador underwear
championship wrestling style belt
require everyone to address me as "Your Excellency" or "Your Eminence"
A butt of Malmsey (traditional payment for England's Poet Laureate)

I'm thinking we should implement ALL of the ideas.

But the best, the absolute best tribute so far was my reception at the La Jolla Country Day School. The room was packed with 200 pre-K through first graders. As I entered, they presented me with a red satin Ambassador sash, and the fifth/sixth grade music class played an original composition, "Ambassador Fanfare," on kettle drums, trombone, trumpet, and xylophone.

I liked it so much that I went out and came in three more times. And Dave Shannon was with me, so I had them play it for him as Vice-Ambassador—
only half of it, and twice as fast.

It's been very cool to actually get the attention of the ever-fickle media to get across the message that we can and should let our kids read for pleasure. And that there are all kinds of good books out there that kids will want to read.

I have gotten an avalanche of requests. Some of them weird, but most of them heartfelt. The CBC is fielding more every day, looking for events important on a national scale.

I'm also working on a plan to promote the best of every publisher's list for Reluctant Readers, deputizing teachers, librarians, booksellers, parents, kids, and anybody who's found a book that works. Details to be released soon.

Oh, and Dave Shannon also taught a library full of 250 K and first graders the "traditional" way to say goodbye to the Ambassador: both arms straight up overhead, bowing/salaaming farewell. Priceless. Though my wife is not too crazy about doing it every time (or humming the Fanfare, now that I think of it).

Bum bum-bum Baaaahh!


Ambassador Jon"

This guy has things under control. Long live the Ambassador!

Monday, February 04, 2008

***The Sippy Cups*** DVD

If you're lamenting the fact that you never got to take your kids to see the Dead, or if you don't think your little ones are ready for a Flaming Lips show, don't get bummed, man, check out the Sippy Cups! In their first live DVD, Electric Storyland! Live at the Great American Music Hall, the band feature songs from their 2006 CD Electric Storyland!, an album that came in at #6 on the 2006 Fids and Kamily Poll.

The Cups also include on the DVD a new song, "Ladybug Beat", and a Ramones tribute from their first full-length album Kids Rock for Peas!, more or less a snapshot of their live show at the time, full of cover songs by the likes of Elton John, the Velvet Underground, War, the Beatles, the Monkees, and early Pink Floyd. In fact, the Sippy Cups cultivated their audience by putting on shows (but with a real live band) much like the Baby Loves Disco parties, where groovy oldies are played for family dancing fun.

And this ain't one of them one-camera, homemade deals, people: The whole thing was professionally and expertly directed and produced by Lou Weinert and Jim Iacona, and edited by Bob Sarles, filmed at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, under Jeffrey Bihr's stage direction. The cynical might say nay to the Sippy Cups' over-the-top approach to kids' music, but hey, it looks like everybody is having a hell of a time! This is an incredibly interactive presentation, visually and performance-wise ... the band include members whose duties include juggling, unicycling, character portrayal (with lots of costume changes), and dancing, just dancing.

Equal parts carnival, magic show, vaudeville presentation, and musical happening, the Sippy Cups' concert dazzles the live audience and the viewers at home: Oversized puppets punctuate lyrics from several songs, a giant jellyfish glides gracefully across the stage, superheroes and robots make special appearances. Susan Verlander's illustrations fly superimposed across the screen while her husband Mark plays guitar and sings ... playfully trippy and impressively staged.

NOW, having said all that, the most important thing to remember about kids' music is ... TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO SEE A LIVE SHOW! Nothing, not even the most mindblowing film of a concert, can beat hanging out with your kids while you listen to real music and watch musicians actually play their instruments. If it's a rainy afternoon, check out the Electric Storyland! DVD. Otherwise, take a walk to the nearest cafe, gazebo, park, or concert hall that features music for the whole family and rock out with your loved ones! I'm sure the Sippy Cups would agree.