Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 19

Ones that got away: Albums that didn't get reviewed but should have!!

Lamar Holley, Classroom Pop, Volume 1

Imagine Brian Wilson teaching your fifth grade class, backed by The Ben Folds Five ... that's pretty much whatcha got with Lamar Holley's Classroom Pop! Un-bee-leeee-vably catchy tunes about plants, explorers, religions, the Colonies, clouds, state capitals, and the Pythagorian Theorem. Hey, if you're not in the mood for learnin', skip to the music-only tracks. An amazingly good CD that's perfect for classrooms or the budding songwriter in your home.

Ninny Cow Tea, 58 Really Short Songs with Lyrics by 3 to 5 Year Old Children

The brainchild of Brett Ellerton, Music Specialist at Seattle's New Discovery School. As a songwriting exercise, Ellerton had his preschoolers come up with a short phrase which was put to music by the students and Ellerton. After practicing the tunes as a class, the songs were recorded, and voila, Ninny Cow Tea! A fascinating look into the minds of little kids. as the song subjects range from family trips to super heroes to personal fears to playing hopscotch with a ghost. And don't miss the kids' song illustrations in the CD layout!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New York, New York, It's a Helluva Town...

...even for kids' music! That line from On the Town sez it all when you look at the number of children's music acts slated for appearances in the Big Apple in September alone. Dig:

  • Sept. 6 - The Terrible Twos @ The Bowery Poetry Club
  • Sept. 7 - Robbi K and Friends @ Howl Festival in Tompkins Square Park
  • Sept. 7 - Uncle Rock @ The Bowery Poetry Club
  • Sept. 14 - Dan Zanes @ The New York Botanical Garden
  • Sept. 14 - Hayes Greenfield @ The Jewish Museum
  • Sept. 14 - Tom Chapin, Lisa Loeb, and Brady Rymer @ Harmony on the Hudson
  • Sept. 20 - Astrograss @ National Estuaries Day Celebration at Battery Park
  • Sept. 20 - The Sippy Cups @ South Street Seaport
  • Sept. 20 - The Dirty Sock Funtime Band @ NYU's Skirball Center
  • Sept. 21 - Alex and the Kaleidoscope Band @ The Brooklyn Children's Museum
  • Sept. 21 - Laurie Berkner @ Lincoln Center
  • Sept. 28 - Funkey Monkeys @ The Jewish Museum
  • Sept. 27 - The Bari Koral Family Band @ Brooklyn's Best Family Fest
  • Sept. 28 - Astrograss @ The Jewish Community Center

...not to mention Morgan Taylor's ongoing Off Broadway production of Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Sensation at the DR2 Theatre. Come for a visit, hear and see some great music!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mid-Week Madness # 927

Sandbox, Are We There Yet?

This Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, NC, quintet keeps it rural without going overboard on the hokeyness. In fact, Sandbox's mix of country, early '80s new wave, roadhouse honky tonk, doo-wop, and rock & roll will entertain the whole family. From the cowbell rock of "I Like to Win" to the country/new wave hybrid "Pajama Party," from the sweet country pop of "Dream Song" to the educational powerpop of "Chromosome," from the radio-ready "PB Jam" to the twangy doo-wop of "Car Rides," there's something here for everybody. And don't miss "Jump Jump!", the band's ready-made live show participation tune. A fun, funny, sweet and silly album!

Zev Haber, Chicken Scratch

Chicken Scratch, the third kids' album from Mount Vernon, NY, musician Zev Haber, is a great collection of simple but eclectic tunes that almost defy categorization. Dig the Steely Dan vibe of "Pasta Pete," the down-and-out blues of "Garbage Truck," and the Sesame Street-ready "What is Good in My Neighborhood." The title track introduces the world to the hottest preschool dance in the land, while the cumulative samba "Three Little Muffins" and the really silly "Family Band" round out the musical fun. This is pretty much a solo effort by Zev, except for various guitar tracks by John Kelly. For fans of Duke Puddintown or Mr. David!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Snacktime Curse

What is it with The Barenaked Ladies these days? First, Steven Page gets busted for being pharmaceutically naughty, now Ed Robertson barely makes it out of a plane crash up in Ontario. Bless their hearts, I hope this doesn't swear them off making another kids' album...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 18

Wow! Two of the best kids' albums of 2008 in one post! Convenient!!

Joel Caithamer, The Biggest Everything in the World

Northern Kentucky's most rockin' librarian delivers the rock and roll goods again with his third CD for kids, The Biggest Everything in the World. Caithamer and band will make you laugh and want to turn up the stereo to 11, as Jason Erickson's guitar, Kenny Cowden's harmonica, Jim Morris' organ, and Brian Baverman's drums blast from the speakers on songs about the school custodian, a metal-eating kid, a Mekong giant catfish, farmer tans, and guitar cars. Dig the searing rocker (and really weird song) "Hug Tight Sticky Glue," and the awesome cover of Geoff Mack's "I've Been Everywhere," complete with ACDC coda.

Matt Clark, Funny Little Fella

New daddy Matt Clark decided to chronicle his son's first year through song. The result, Funny Little Fella, is a cross between Mr. David and They Might Be Giants, a musically and lyrically adventurous collection of tender, brief, but sometimes hilarious tunes. Definitely appropriate for naptime, but, Parents, watch out for giggle-inducing songs like "Crumple, Tear," "Drop, Drop," and "I Think I'm Gonna Put It in My Mouth." Favorite fact: Clark wanted the cover of Funny Little Fella to look like my beloved Meat Puppets' Huevos album, and artist Kelli Caldwell does a swell job.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

***Danielle Sansone***

A new kids' music genre needs to be created: Naptime Music. Songs you play when you or your little ones don't necessarily need to fall deeply to sleep, but maybe just need some down time, a few quiet moments to think about the universe or watch the sunlight play on the curtains. Danielle Sansone's Two Flowers falls perfectly into that genre.

This is not "Country Music", which today is too bombastic and relies too heavily on hokey, self-perpetuating stereotypes; this is rural music ... lots of spaces between the notes, room for the lyrics to breathe, the sound of twilight. Danielle's vocals take cues from Emmylou Harris' songbird sound and the note-bending style of Natalie Merchant.

On an album of what are essentially love songs from Danielle to her two daughters, Danielle enlists her brother Pat Sansone (of the wonderfully melodic band The Autumn Defense, and recently a Wilco live sit-in) and Atlanta-based producer/musician Will Robertson both to contribute their multi-instrumental talents. Also appearing are Minneapolis fiddler Peter Ostroushko, Autumn Defense collaborator and pedal steel aficionado John Pirruccello, and banjomeister David Stephens. Mandolins twinkle, pedal steel guitars weep, far-away pianos echo, all surrounded by harmonies galore. The title track sounds like nothing less than an ancient Americana folk song, while most of the tunes on Two Flowers could easily be hits on country radio.

Pair Two Flowers with Dean Jones' Napper's Delight (another nomination for the Naptime Music genre) and you've got yerself an afternoon of mellow gold. Those of us with families are fortunate that Sansone decided to share her music with children and their grownups. And dig the great album art by Jen Singh.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

You Say It's Yer Birthday...

We celebrated Steamboat's 2nd birthday a couple days ago, and everybody had a great time. Festivities concluded with a one-person parade through our town. And thanks, Mr. Leebot, for the special birthday song. We all dug it.

Happy Birthday, Steamboat!

Friday, August 15, 2008

***Pete Seeger***

Here's a blast from the past: an indispensable album by the master of folk music. With nothing but his warm voice and his 5-string banjo, Pete Seeger breathes joy and life into these old Americana tunes.

Pete Seeger recorded two albums of children's songs back in 1955 for the Folkways label. This CD reissue combines Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Big Fishes and Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Little Fishes into one collection. Seeger's passion as a folk song collector and dedication to quality performances make this CD a timeless treasure.

Seeger presents familiar tunes like "Frog Went A-Courting," "Teency Weency Spider," "Skip to My Lou," and "I Know an Old Lady (Who Swallowed a Fly)," as well as lesser-known gems like "Fly Through My Window," "The Darby Ram," and "Old Gray Mule." The album also includes the best performance ever of the song/story "The Foolish Frog." A great family sing-along CD!

It can't be emphasized enough how important Seeger's contributions were to the field of children's music. Albums like Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Fishes, Little and Big brought old Americana tunes back into the lives of families, and children today still sing these songs thanks to Pete Seeger and his banjo.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

***Brian Biehle***

Sacramento, California's Brian Biehle delivers what could best be described as a feel-good, jam band album for kids with his second children's CD, Opus Soup. An easy-going vibe, sunshiney lyrics, and acoustic/electric instrumentation give Opus Soup the sound of, say, Jack Johnson playing for one of the bands on the H.O.R.D.E. Tour. Fun!

Songs about cameraderie, self-determination, counting backwards, individuality, taking care of the Earth, and dancing like a frog are performed and produced entirely by Biehle himself. Dig his cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba," and the rockin' two-part tune "Hold On Tight/Livin'." And "Same As Me" would make a great summertime radio hit. Check it out!

Monday, August 11, 2008


Interesting things are on the horizon, folks, so I'm gonna return to my regular KidsMusicThatRocks schedule of reviews and news. If you've mailed CDs, don't worry ... they WILL be reviewed! I just didn't want to sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity, plus, I'm holding back on a bunch of reviews until I can give you more news about a new outlet for children's music information. Until then, send all calls to my Quality Control Engineer, Steamboat.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

***The Mighty Buzzniks***

The Mighty Buzzniks blast out of Melbourne, Australia, with their full-length debut, The Great Space Circus, a theatrical mix of characters, stories, and music. Jamie Saxe and crew cover a wide range of styles as The Buzzniks, including hip hop, western, tango, punky rock and roll, country, and folk.

Songs like the spooky "Giant Squids," the clippity-clop of "Cowboy Dan," and the spicy "To Be a Bug" would best work in a live setting, say, in the style of California's The Sippy Cups or New York's The Dirty Sock Fun Time Band, or even as the soundtrack to an animated TV show. And I really dig the X-like multi-part "Katie and the Spider," and the Zen sentiments of "Nighttime is the Daytime (With the Lights Turned Out)."

Cool tunes from Down Under for your early elementary kids. Oh, and it's fun to listen for linguistic differences in the songs: zero is "zed," and the spider in the famous nursery rhyme is described as "ipsy wipsy."

Friday, August 08, 2008

***The Conductors***

L.A. rocker and dad Joe Hutchinson has created a project dear to his heart: Navigating the Spectrum is Joe's way of musically reaching out to fellow parents of children with Autism. Besides leading his powerpop band HUTCH, Joe is the proud father of a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or Autism. His hope is that through his kids' band, The Conductors, he can use the power of music, especially live music, to strengthen bonds between parents and children, and between like-minded adults, as well.

Now, this isn't some disposable vanity project: Hutchinson put as much time and love into Navigating the Spectrum as he would a HUTCH album, and you can hear it. The rockin' "Twelve (12 Kisses for My Baby)" and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" take their cues from classic powerpop bands like Off Broadway, 20/20, and the Paul Collins Beat, while the chug of a steam engine rolls through "Great Freight Train" and I've Been Working On the Railroad." Equally as nifty are the Buddy Holly-inspired "Won't You Be My Friend?" and the a cappela rhyme "The Sun Comes Up, The Moon Goes Down," perfect for audience participation. And dig "Hush-a-bye Darling," a lullaby that's as good as any ballad Oasis ever wrote.

A great short album of short songs, perfect for The Conductors' target audience. Still want more proof that Hutchinson's heart is in the right place? Check out this link about a recent kids' show in L.A. that seemed to put families with children at a disadvantage.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

***Lisa Loeb***

Camp songs? Nifty pop tunes? And the theme to Meatballs?!? Hot dawg, I'm there! Lisa Loeb's latest contribution to the kids' music world is a unique work of art, indeed. Camp Lisa is a departure from the quiet folk tunes of Catch the Moon, her 2004 collaboration with Elizabeth Mitchell. This time 'round, Loeb's songs are aimed squarely at an 8 to 12 year old audience, and resemble more her previous releases for grownups.

Camp Lisa is more or less a concept album about arriving at summer camp, making friends, singing songs, and having to say goodbye to those friends at the end of the season. Songs like "Best Friend," "When It Rains," and "It's Not Goodbye" are great pop tunes, worthy of Top 40 radio play, while the folky "Going Away" and a cover of Neil Young's country rock classic "Love Is a Rose" add to the quality of the collection.

Kids will get a kick out of camp favorites like "Peanut Butter and Jelly," " Wake Up Song," "Father Abraham," and "Cookie Jar Song," while parents will appreciate Loeb letting them in on the fun with the inclusion of funnyman Steve Martin's banjo work on "The Disappointing Pancake," and a totally rockin' cover of "Are You Ready for the Summer?", the theme song to the 1979 camp flick Meatballs. Great project from an alternative pop hero for your tweens.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

***They Might Be Giants***

Another oldie worth spotlighting again is They Might Be Giants' 2002 kids' debut, No! Over the course of listening to No!, we find out that "The Edison Museum" is useful as both an historical site and a creepy place to be sent if you're naughty, and that "John Lee Supertaster"'s diet has to be extra bland to accommodate his sensitive tastebuds. The Appalachian acapella story-song is updated with "I Am Not Your Broom", and "Clap Your Hands" is probably the greatest Toddler Time singalong song that Wilson Pickett never made.

The most awesome thing about this album is that the songs can pretty much be interchanged with songs from their best TMBG "adult" albums. A world controlled by kid-created robots, the mystery of balloon manufacturing, making sure to cross the street at the corner: yes, TMBG explore the imagination of a child without insulting the kid or annoying the parent. What other children's album ends with a fist-pumping anthem to the pros of beddybyetime?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

***Jamie Barnett***

Jamie Barnett's 2004 album, Just Look At You, is full of tiny treasures: check out Jamie’s playful, inventive lyrics; his deep, ringing acoustic guitar; his beautifully arranged tunes – like Leo Kottke without the fretboard gymnastics, and John Prine without the piss and vinegar.

Murrieta, California, educator Jamie Barnett sings songs about sledding, eating pancakes, folding clothes, hanging out with Dad as he visits various members of the extended family, all under the umbrella philosophy of living life in the moment, appreciating even the smallest events and tiniest slices of time we have together.

Feeling down? A little blue? That’s ok, “My Laughter” reminds us that our smiles are always right under our noses, and that if we just “Step Outside” every once in a while, we will notice the beautiful world all around us. One of the best tunes is “Sun Shines”, a serene song on which Jamie’s niece Alyssa sings. You can’t even call this song a “lullabye”; it’s more like a mantra, a Zen way of looking at life.

Both the title track and “Big Brown Eyes” are great examples of Jamie’s living-life-in-the-now immediacy, while “381 Days” gives kids the facts about the Montgomery bus boycott and encourages them to ask questions about our history and the choices we made. Just Look At You is a very personal CD, from the family photos to the singing help to the philosophies of life. A beautiful album with a beautiful message.

Monday, August 04, 2008

***Rik Barron***

This, folks, is as close as yer gonna get to a Waylon Jennings kids' album. Newfoundland folk and roots music veteran Rik Barron uses his considerable talents to create Shine, a wonderfully rustic album for children. Barron's quavering baritone is very reminiscent of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, and his quiet, almost conversational delivery fits his material perfectly.

Barron's choice of cover songs adds to Shine's quality: Butch Hancock's "My Mind's Got a Mind of its Own," Iris DeMent's "Let the Mystery Be," Duncan Wells' "Shine," the Jimmie Davis classic "Nobody's Darlin but Mine," and a traditional tune made popular by Raffi, "To Everyone in All the World." Banjos, open-tuned guitars, and a strong collection of tunes make Shine a great CD for kids and their grownups. Like Barron's liner notes say, this isn't a party album: gather the family 'round and listen to this one around the fireplace or out on the front porch.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

***Peter Rundquist***

As soon as I saw he covered Syd Barrett's "Effervescing Elephant," I knew I was gonna like Peter Rundquist's Bug Feathers: Songs for Folks Young and Old. Think a more electrified and funky version of David Grisman and Jerry Garcia's Not for Kids Only, especially on "Wake Up Mama." Bug Feathers' sound could also be compared to the folky eclecticism of Mr. David's Jump in the Jumpy House, or the rootsy New Orleans vibe of Johnny Bregar's Hootenanny.

But don't think Rundquist's style is derivitive or old hat: he brings a completely unique take to oldies like "The Fox," "Over in the Meadow," and "The Barnyard" (aka "Fiddle-I-Fee"), complete with animal and insect sounds. And the joy exuding from "Last Chance Dance" and the title track are worth the price of the album alone. Marimbas, reverbed guitars, ukuleles, dobros, and filtered vocals add to the distinctiveness of Bug Feathers, a CD that would be right at home on the Rounder or Folkways labels. A winner!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

***Shad Weathersby & Mike Artell***

Yeah, you right! It's party time with Calling All Children to the Mardi Gras!, featuring Louisiana natives Shad Weathersby and Mike Artell. Weathersby is a respected New Orleans music veteran, and children's author Artell is best known for his books Three Little Cajun Pigs and Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood. Together they've created a rockin' celebration of all things Mardi Gras, from King Cakes to Fais-Do-Dos.

Calling All Children rises to the top because of one reason: even the youngest kids can sing along with these tunes without the band having to compromise the spirit and quality of the music. Plus, the songs are played by a real band, and the whole thing is ridiculously catchy! Man, you can't help but march along, drum along, shake along with these ditties, especially songs like "Here Comes the Big Parade," "Chicka Wah Wah," and "Mardi Gras Elementary." And "Up on the Ladder" is just a great song, no matter what genre it falls under.

Two bonus tracks include interviews with New Orleans kids talking about their memories of Mardi Gras, and author Mike Artell reading aloud his picture book Petite Rouge. A great CD for classrooms and families!

Friday, August 01, 2008

***Nat Hussey***

This is one of those gems that just comes out of nowhere. Not literally, but Matinicus Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine, is gettin' pretty close to the outskirts of nowhere. Nat Hussey's 2005 CD Papa Goose: Nursery Rhymes Fresh from Maine is as timeless as anything on Smithsonian's Folkways label, yet the arrangements are freshly contemporary.

Hussey has been recording and releasing music on his own since 1997, and, as with his grownup albums, Papa Goose (his first CD for kids) is based on everyday life in Maine. Some of these quiet, fingerpicking-style songs are so similar to James Taylor's classic sound, I'm surprised JT hasn't commissioned Hussey to write a few tunes for him.

Hussey's originals mix well with the folk tunes he chose to perform on Papa Goose, and the very Maine-centric, fun songs like "Critters Going Home," "I'm So Hungry!" and "Magic Rock (Maine Island Song)" are sure to grab yer kids' ears right away. "Sweep Away" sounds like a forgotten Paul Simon tune, and "The Seasons Change, Here in Maine" would be right at home on a James Taylor greatest hits album. Papa Goose is a beautiful, intimate, unforgettable CD for the whole family.