Saturday, March 28, 2009

***John Carlin & the Kids' Music Underground***

A few years ago, Brooklyn's John Carlin started his own program of interactive music classes for kids, and called it "The Kids' Music Underground." About the same time, he released his first CD for kids, First Time for Everything, a one-man project of covers and originals. This January, Carlin and his band released Welcome to the Kids' Music Underground!, an album that's more in keeping with his personal worldview and musical ideals exemplified by his programs for children.

Carlin and band roll through some rootsy rock on "Meet You at the Playground," "A Dinosaur Named Fred," "Air Guitar," and the title track, while world music and the blues are featured on "Jambalaya Road" and "Big Bed Now." Carlin includes a full-band remake of "Eliza" from First Time, sounding that much better with vocal harmonies and additional instruments added to the mix.

The activity songs "I'm Flyin'" and "Tag Song" are perfect for live concerts, while the band sound a bit like Wet Willie on the mostly-vocals tune "Everybody's Rollin'." But I gotta admit, I like the the slower songs on Welcome better, with exceptional tunes like "Extraordinary Day," "One Family," "My Front Door," and "Goodbye Song" sounding like they could be included on a new version of Sesame Street.

Kids' music nowadays is a kind of underground movement, as bands and performers like John Carlin make albums that are flying under the mainstream radar. Support your local children's music scene and get kid rockers like Carlin, and his album Welcome to the Kids' Music Underground!, on the radar.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

***Joe West***

Santa Fe, NM-based singer, songwriter, performance artist, and all-around musical experimentationalist Joe West just dropped his first CD for children, If the World was Upside Down, an album of classic country Americana flavored with a smidgen of southwestern spice. West is a highly-respected figure in the Santa Fe / Albuquerque music world, having released several CDs on the Frogville Records label.

If the World was Upside Down kicks off with the title tune, a philosophical, Johnny Paycheck-like bar room singalong, followed by the jaunty, loving tribute to "My Grandma," who has her quirks but is still our favorite person in the world. Then comes West's accordion/mandolin cover/remake of Michelle Shocked's "The Ballad of Patch Eye and Meg," from her 1986 album The Texas Campfire Tapes.

"Dump Trucks and Tractors" is a full-on hardcore honky tonk hit that oughta be blasting out of every juke box in west Texas, and the band is given a chance to stretch out instrumentally on the tune. Sounding very much like Willie Nelson, West turns in a beautiful old west song, "On the Banks of the Rio Grande," a tune destined to become a new classic (and dig the dobro solo). And the sunny "Anita Pita" tells the story of a single mom supporting herself and her teenage daughter by vacuuming art galleries.

"Veronica Rose the Flying Unicorn" is a swaying love ballad, while the gorgeous "Robots of Rayleen" tells the story of dance floor-lovin' automatons who adore the band because they have a smoke machine. And West's semi-instrumental cantina rocker "Don't Forget to Brush Your Teeth" is kinda his version of "Tequila." The album ends with the melancholy epic "Homemade Rocket to the Moon" and an instrumental version of "Patch Eye" called, appropriately, "The End."

The coolest thing about this project is that it's a real band playing real music, not some goofy grownups twiddlin' through some kiddie tune cast-offs: West's band of crack musicians from the Santa Fe area don't hold back on their performances one single bit. This stuff is intelligent, funny, and musically right on. Awesome Americana for the whole family.

Friday, March 20, 2009

***Shāna Barry***

Somewhere between Kimya Dawson's wordy stream-of-consciousness songs and Nick Drake's whispery dream fever tunes lies Shāna Barry's first album for kids, A Pink Whale and a Very Tall Tree.

The Frances England-sounding eight-song EP contains a group of very visual songs: close your eyes and let the lyrics tell you stories about the special secret island of fōf, described in great detail on "Around the Island" and "The Great Mystery;" and about the adventures of a curious fōfer named Otamo who encounters and befriends "The Pink Whale" named Guinivere and climbs a very tall tree to "Cloudland."

Like any normal kid, Otamo loves to talk about "The Day I Learned to Ride My Bike," but then gets philosophical with "Some are Green," an ode to diversity and acceptance. The short album is rounded off with a lullaby and an instrumental. Barry performs the songs with just her voice and guitar, and an occasional ukulele. The stark musical background is a perfect palate for lines like "I hop from rock to rock and peer into tide pools," and "The rogue wave passed us by," and "Who wants a humdrum earth when it can be vibrant and grand," and words like chicory, anemones, cumulonimbus, and centripetal.

A beautiful, quiet, mysterious album that honors kids by challenging their perceptions and vocabularies. Kudos to Shāna Barry.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

***Here We Go***

How often does one get to write a music review in which the band name, the album title, and the lead song are all the same? The debut kids' record by Here We Go is called Here We Go, and the first song on the CD is, yep, you guessed it, "Here We Go." That sort of cheekiness informs Here We Go's music: carefree and sunny, but with a wink-yer-eye awareness.

Here We Go is basically Mississippi-based Australian expat Phil Ulrich doin' it all. His production skills are part of what makes Here We Go so listenable: subtle drum machine tracks are smoothly mixed with the sounds of a pedal steel guitar or, say, a ukulele. In fact, the project sounds like a cross between Jason Kleinberg's kids' band, me 3, and Beck.

Highlights of Here We Go's Here We Go include "All Hungry Babies," a hand-wavin' shout-out to tiny tots everywhere; the DEVO beats and 8-bit bleeps of "One to Eight," a tune that would feel right at home on an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba; the slippery bass, wiggly slide guitar, and dusty drum loop of "Down Home," a Beck-like tune about a homesick chicken; and lines like this from "Baby Food:" 'You may say that it's very, very strange / But there's a little sign that hangs inside the corner of my brain / It says, "Don't make your body do more than it can do." / Baby food is good because you do not have to chew.'

Danceable kids' music from the Deep South via the Southern Hemisphere. Dig it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Celebrate the holiday with Irish music for kids! I've compiled a list of some of the best traditional children's tunes from Ireland over at, so give 'em a listen and have the whole family sing along. Here are the best albums of Irish music for kids.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rockin' the Oldies: Five Classic Children's Albums

Sixty years ago, Columbia Records released Burl Ives' Animal Fair: Songs for Children, one of the first widely-distributed collections of songs recorded specifically for kids. In recognition of that milestone, over at I put together a list of the Top Five Classic Children's Albums, all recorded and released in the 1940s and 1950s.

Glaring omissions? Let me know. Suggestions? Make your voice heard. Check out the Top Five Classic Children's Albums.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

***Uncle Mike and his Polka Band***

You want happy? You got it! In this uncertain economic climate, everyone needs to slow down, take a cleansing breath, and crank up a polka album! And Uncle Mike has just the one for you and your family: Pint Size Polkas gets the party started and doesn't let up until the accordions come home.

The Mike Schneider Band have recorded five albums of polka music for grownups, and Pint Size Polkas is their first CD for kids. The album includes familiar tunes like "The Happy Wanderer," "The Chicken Dance," a re-written "Tiny Bubbles in the Tub," and "I've Been Working on the Railroad," as well as a couple of classics by Polka King Frankie Yankovic.

But the fun doesn't stop there: check out the can't-be-missed "Teach Me How to Yodel," the awesome sing-along "Hey Baba Reba," and the bottle-hoisting "Ein Milch," which may be the best drinking song for kids ever recorded. You can also get in some letter and number practice with "Alphabet Polka" and "Numbers Schottische," then enjoy the "Jolly Lumberjack Polka," already a hit on YouTube.

Tons of fun for young and old!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sesame Street Numbers: Five

Here's a very silly song about some very silly animals on a very silly farm, and it's all about the number five.

Sesame Street - "Country 5"

Saturday, March 07, 2009

#1 Amazon Kids' Music Download!

Guess who's sitting atop the mp3 Children's Album Chart over at Lunch Money, with their latest CD Dizzy! Stefan, I'm sure your piece on NPR the other day had a little something to do with it, too ... besides the album being *awesome*.

Friday, March 06, 2009

***Johnny Bregar***

Yet another warm, comfy CD of country/folk/Americana from Seattleite Johnny Bregar! His first, Stomp Yer Feet!, is one of the best albums for the 2-to-6 year old set you'll ever hear, and his second, Hootenanny, features a balance of originals and traditional tunes. It would have been difficult for anyone to follow up those two solid collections, but Bregar does it with his third CD for kids, Dragonfly.

Check out the nifty artwork by Kelly Angelovic, and Bregar's can't-miss covers of John Brim's "Ice Cream Man," Guy Wood & Sammy Gallop's post-WW II hit "Shoo-Fly Pie," and Sanford Faulkner's hillbilly Vaudeville fiddle tune "Arkansas Traveller." Other highlights include the pro-Maine bluegrass jam "Christmas Cove," the feel-the-sun-on-your-face feel good vibe of "Two Thumbs Up," the sweet pop of the title tune (already a hit on XM Radio's Kids Place Live), the banjo waltz/science lesson of "Honey Bees," the Memphis groove of "What Do You Do?" and the absolutely beautiful "Blue Canoe" (hey, pair this with Frances England's "Blue Canoe" from Fascinating Creatures!).

Seattle is fast becoming a hotbed of high-quality kids' music, and Johnny Bregar is one of the reasons why. The fact that his albums keep getting better is an indicator that he's here to stay, and that we should expect even greater things from him in the future. Dragonfly soars.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Groovy Ruby is Strong, Lovin', and Fun!

Got a High School Musical or Camp Rock fan at home, and you wanna give 'em an alternative, something not so overproduced and formulaic? Dig all-girl singing group Groovy Ruby's sophomore album Strong, Lovin',and Fun. Band leader Dean Laterra says it all with this description: "The Monkees and The Beach Boys collide with The middle school!"

I posted a full review of Groovy Ruby's Strong, Lovin', and Fun over at the site, so check it out and see what you think.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sesame Street Numbers: One

Here's another Sesame Street short about the number one, called "Hortense One Drum."

Sesame Street - "Hortense One Drum"

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sesame Street Numbers: One

I like numbers, and I like Sesame Street. Lucky for me, that classic show featured lots of short animated and live action clips about all my favorite numerals. Let's begin a series of number videos from Sesame Street with "One," courtesy

Sesame Street - "One"