Monday, June 08, 2015

Oswald - Pop Goes the Octopus

Our youngest son LOVES Oswald, a tv show based on the picture book by Dan Yaccarino, so we searched for related music: what we found might be the most minimalist, most existential kids' CD ever produced. The 13 tunes on this album explore heady subjects like collecting clouds, looking for the owner of a lost umbrella, and sharing slices of a banana, all in an almost stream of consciousness manner.

Despite boasting over a dozen tunes, the release can best be described as an EP, as the total running time of the CD is 16 minutes. Songs range from half a minute to 2 1/2 minutes in length, three are instrumentals, and a couple more are sparse on lyrics. Don't let this put you off, however: listening to Pop Goes the Octopus is a little like watching a leaf float slowly downstream or running your hand across a puppy's fur. Pure and simple joy.

The tunes on Pop Goes the Octopus (and for the show itself) were created by Evan Lurie, founding member of The Lounge Lizards. Lurie has also composed music for many television shows and film soundtracks, including The Backyardigans. The majority of the sparsely-arranged musical accompaniment is provided by piano and lightly-played brass and woodwinds, giving the songs a timeless feel. Two of Oswald's voiceover stars, The Wonder Years' Fred Savage (Oswald) and '70s pop crooner Tony Orlando (Sammy Starfish), also showcase their singing talents here.

The CD begins with the show's loping and cheerful theme song, followed by Oswald's ode to roller skating that, half way through the song, repeats the melody at a much slower tempo. Oswald then ponders "What to Collect" and quietly concludes, "...clouds." This leads into "The Perfect Cloud Collection," an instrumental perfectly designed to convey the feeling of watching and mentally collecting favorite clouds as they drift by. Then Oswald tries desperately to figure out who lost their "Polka Dot Umbrella;" the tune's tempo-free arrangement and instrumental coda mirror his thoughtful search around town. Oswald's favorite television program is The Sammy Starfish Show, and Tony Orlando sings the theme song as the character of Sammy. "Here She Is" follows as Sammy Starfish's finger-poppin' equivalent of Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea."

Oswald and friends participate in the "Big Parade" accompanied by jaunty marching music, then Oswald quietly declares "I'm in the Air" as he describes a bird's eye view of Big City. Oswald and friends spend the day helping each other and reward themselves with some "Tutti Frutti Pie," then Oswald does a little spring cleaning and takes a load of objects "Down in the Dump." By the way, in the actual episode everything he takes is reclaimed and reused by his pals. Oswald offers his buddies "A Big Banana" for snack, and the song's rolling piano, tempo changes, and joyful horns make the tune an album highlight. The CD ends appropriately with the "Oswald Closing Theme," a slightly different take and tempo on the show, and album, opener.

If you happen to pay attention to reviews of this album on a particularly popular sales website, several listeners complain about the brevity of Pop Goes the Octopus. Think bigger picture: this CD played on a loop provides endless, soothing vibes that'll appeal to every member of the family.

Released August 20, 2001; Nick Records

Track Listing
  1. "Oswald Opening Theme"
  2. "Roller Skating"
  3. "What to Collect"
  4. "The Perfect Cloud Collection"
  5. "Polka Dot Umbrella"
  6. "Sammy Starfish Theme"
  7. "Here She Is (AKA Pet Show)"
  8. "The Big Parade"
  9. "I'm in the Air (AKA One More Marshmallow)"
  10. "Tutti Frutti Pie"
  11. "Down in the Dump"
  12. "A Big Banana"
  13. "Oswald Closing Theme"

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mailbox Monday: What's New in Kindie Rock

Vered - Hello My Baby: Songs to Bond You and Your Baby

(Release Date: March 24, 2015; Baby In Tune)

The 16 laid-back tracks on Vered Benhorin's second album of baby-centric tunes feature layers of harmonies and lots of finger-snap percussion. Producer Dean Jones works his particular earthy, organic magic on Vered's compositions, and a constellation of performers contribute, including David Levine (ex-Dog On Fleas), Justin Lansing (Okee Dokee Brothers), Rachel Loshak (Gustafer Yellowgold), Amadou Diallo, and Joanie Leeds. Dig the beautiful album art by Luisa Possas.

Standout Tracks: "More of a Baby," "All I Want"

Randy & Dave - Calling All the Elephants

(Release Date: April 2015; Song Wizard Records)

Randy Sharp has a songwriting resume that goes back to the mid-70s, and Dave Kinnoin has released eight solo kids' albums. Their debut CD as the duo Randy & Dave features a dozen tunes with lots of stylistic range and loads of silliness. Comes with a booklet of lyrics and chords. Particularly enjoyed the 7/8 chorus of the classroom-appropriate tune "Counting One, Two, Three."

Standout Track: "Counting One, Two, Three"

Lloyd H. Miller - Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! An Introduction to the Civil War Era for Kids

(Release Date: April 14, 2015)

Miller has become one of the preeminent history rockers on the scene, as his albums and live presentations help spread the gospel of significant but sometimes overlooked historical events and personalities. Yet another album produced by Dean Jones, Glory! revels in melding traditional arrangements and instrumentation with the power of rock and roll. This first in a series of "musical textbooks" is highly recommended for upper elementary classroom media collections and history buffs.

Standout Tracks: "John Brown," "Tenting on the Old Campground," "Weeksville"

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Beauty of Music

As a child care provider, I've thoroughly enjoyed playing a part in helping curious, impressionable, and energetic young children grow and mature during their first few years of life. Every week I loved sharing songs with them for the sheer joy if it, but there are actually many benefits to singing and playing music with your children.

  • Music helps develop children's language, math, and listening skills
  • Music helps develop children's self-esteem and social skills
  • Music improves memory
  • Music relieves stress and encourages creativity
  • Music is a multisensory experience
  • Music helps improve fine motor skills, coordination, and rhythm
  • Music provides an outlet for self-expression
  • Music improves self-regulation skills and makes transitions easier
Having said all that, though, the most beautiful thing about music is that melody is universal and crosses all cultural boundaries. We were very fortunate at our early learning center to have the opportunity to work with a culturally diverse group of children, some of whom had a limited grasp of the English language when they first arrived at the school. However, after just a few days of singing songs together, those children joined in enthusiastically with everyone else.

It’s also important for children to have knowledge about and appreciate the traditions and lifestyles of kids from different lands. This can only help to lessen their fear and misunderstanding of anyone not like them. Those fears and misunderstandings tend to lead to prejudices many of us adults can't let go of. Record labels like Putumayo Kids, The Secret Mountain, and Smithsonian Folkways provide rich, deep collections of children’s songs from around the world, while artists like Elena Moon Park and José-Luis Orozco share collections of childhood songs from their native countries. Have fun exploring these resources and collaborating with your children in the beautiful global language of music!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Mailbox Monday: What's New in Kindie Rock

Jonathan Sprout - American Heroes #4

(Release Date: February 11, 2015; Jonathan Sprout)

Sprout's fourth collection of musical biographies. Slickly produced and full of information, AH4 would make a nice addition to an upper elementary media center collection, or the basis of a school social studies presentation. Includes a booklet of lyrics and brief bios.

Standout Track: "E=mc2"

Earthworm Ensemble - Backyard Garden

(Release Date: April 21, 2015; Western Seed Records)

Beautifully organic country rock from members of I See Hawks In L.A. Their second album for families visit themes of home-grown food, animals and insects, and enjoying and appreciating the outdoors. Parents who dig indie rock will find this CD in their stereo even when the kids aren't around.

Standout Tracks: "Picture This You're a Fish," "Ladybug"

Stephanie Coldwell-Anderson - Dreams

(Release Date: March 12, 2015; Sakura Melody Music)

Classical vocalist Coldwell-Anderson's 5-song EP celebrates imagination and childhood experiences. The quiet tunes feature Stephanie's voice and piano, along with occasional acoustic guitar and mandolin. Perfect for naptimes.

Standout Track: "If I Were a Wizard"

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Free Design - Sing for Very Important People

The Free Design produced an album of songs for "very important people" back in 1970, and its appeal hasn't weakened a bit as those very important people have grown up. Inspired by the release of Peter, Paul and Mary's 1969 album Peter, Paul and Mommy, The Free Design produced a batch of new songs specifically for younger listeners, combined those tunes with a few the band had already released, and came up with their fifth album, Sing for Very Important People.

The Free Design were a band of siblings from Delevan, New York, who created jazzy, bubbly, sunshine pop similar to the sounds of The Carpenters, The Fifth Dimension, The Zombies, or The Millennium. The Dedrick family lived and recorded in Queens, New York, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, releasing seven albums during their time together.

Chris Dedrick wrote and arranged most of The Free Design's songs, although Sandy, Bruce, and Ellen Dedrick all contributed their considerable instrumental and vocal talents. Besides performing their own songs, The Free Design created unique cover versions of songs by The Beatles, The Doors, Paul Simon, The Mamas and The Papas, Tim Hardin, and The Turtles, as well as by composers like Stephen Schwartz, Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Hugo Montenegro, and George Gershwin.

The Dedrick siblings were all accomplished musicians, but during their tenure as The Free Design the band utilized the instrumental talents of some of the best session musicians around at the time. The Free Design's albums featured guitarists like Ralph Casale, Tony Mottola, and Jay Berliner, keyboardists like Paul Griffin and Dick Hyman, and bassists like Chuck Rainey.

Sing for Very Important People begins with "Don't Cry, Baby," a Carole King-like piano number that offers comfort to little ones. Joe Raposo, Jon Stone, and Bruce Hart's classic "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?" follows, offering an even sunnier, more upbeat version of the Sesame Street theme than the original, if that's possible! The gentle, atmospheric "Children's Waltz" asks, "what makes a raindrop fall?" while the sprightly piano ballad "Scarlet Tree" is full of vibrant imagery. The Dedrick siblings' father Art wrote "Little Cowboy," whose jazzy clippety clop helps bring little range riders' days to a gentle close.

The tune "Love You" may be the most well-known song by The Free Design because of its use on movie soundtracks and in commercials. The song was featured during the credits of the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction, at the very end of season four of the Showtime series Weeds, and as the theme song to the internet podcast “Jordan Jesse Go." “Love You” was also featured in TV commercials for Peter’s Drumstick ice creams in Australia, “Smil” chocolate in Norway, “Cosmote” in Greece, DC Shoes’ second “Progression” short, in Toyota advertisements internationally, and most recently with Delta Airlines. "Love You" encourages grownups to find the child within and live life with a sense of wonder, via an unforgettable weave of mostly a cappella vocal harmonies.

"Ronda Go Round" describes a magical merry-go-round with a gently funky pop backing, explaining that "this one’s special, the beasts they are free, showing little children sights they can’t see." The rhythmically challenging "Bubbles," originally released on 1970's Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love, includes a wicked guitar solo and contemplates such heavy subjects as parental conflict, aging and death, and the second coming of Jesus Christ, acknowledging that kids think about heavy stuff like that. "Daniel Dolphin," a baroque, chamber music-like tune that describes a friendship with an aquatic creature, first appeared on You Could Be Born Again in 1968. And "Kites Are Fun," arguably The Free Design's poppiest, catchiest tune, was originally released on the band's 1967 album of the same name. Sing for Very Important People gently comes to a close with an a cappella "Lullaby," showcasing The Free Design's prowess at complex vocal harmonies.

The Free Design's influence on indie pop is evidenced by the output of recent bands like The High Llamas, Cornelius, Beck, Stereolab, and Belle and Sebastian. The super hip kids' show Yo Gabba Gabba! has featured covers of "Kites Are Fun" by The Parallelograms, "2002 - A Hit Song" by the Yo Gabba Gabba! house band The Yo Dazzlers, and "I Found Love" by The Trembling Blue Stars. Sing for Very Important People is a great example of The Free Design's musical strengths and aural appeal, besides being a super album for kids and their families.

Released 1970; Project 3

Track Listing
  1. "Don't Cry, Baby"
  2. "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?"
  3. "Children's Waltz"
  4. "Scarlet Tree"
  5. "Little Cowboy"
  6. "Love You"
  7. "Ronda Go Round"
  8. "Bubbles"
  9. "Daniel Dolphin"
  10. "Kites Are Fun"
  11. "Lullaby"

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mailbox Monday: What's New in Kindie Rock

Alison Faith Levy - The Start of Things

(Release Date: April 21, 2015; Mystery Lawn Music)

Former member of San Francisco's The Sippy Cups drops her second kindie rock solo album. Tunes include a cover of Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing, Out, Sing Out." Soulful and groovy.

Standout Track: "Rainbow Tunnel"

Future Hits - Today is Forever (Hoy es para siempre)

(Release Date: May 5, 2015; Coach House Sounds)

Down-to-earth indie rock from Chicago. Each catchy, organic, and educational tune is performed twice, once in English and again in Spanish. Nice addition to ESL classroom collections; comes with bilingual lyric booklet.

Standout Track: "Morning Ritual"

Keith Munslow - Tiny Destroyer

(Release Date: April 7, 2015; Needlenose Music)

The tunes on Munslow's seventh kindie release combine a variety of musical styles, comedy routines, storytelling, and humorous lyrics. The results sound like a cross between Steve Martin, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and a Broadway musical.

Standout Track: "Old Joe's Bones"

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lead Belly - Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly

Huddie Ledbetter had a long and storied life, both in and out of music. Rather than reiterate the details, most of which can be found using much more knowledgeable sources, we'll keep it simple here by concentrating on what might interest you readers the most: Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly, his first collection of children's songs. When the album was first issued in 1941, Walter Winchell famously blasted its release, stating, “How could one issue a children’s record by a convicted murderer?” Again, check out one of the Lead Belly bios listed below to get the full story behind such an incendiary statement!

The songs on Play Parties were recorded during May and July 1941 for Asch Recordings, Moses Asch's indie record label, and released as a three-disc 78 rpm set that same year. Those six tunes were later issued on the Stinson Records label in 1952 (that's the image used here). "Ha, Ha Thisaway" is an upbeat song that highlights Ledbetter's enthusiastic 12-string strumming and bright, joyful singing. This particular sing along describes a somewhat difficult childhood, as the singer's dad leaves the family at 12 yrs, although his mom never whooped him and he seemed to have a good time at school. Like many of the children's tunes he performs, Lead Belly explains the movements and motions of the ring song "Little Sally Walker" in the tune's intro.

"Redbird" is a more spirited circle song than "Sally Walker" in that everyone is circling simultaneously with or without a partner. This is a great shouting tune for group performances as kids yell out the title of the song during the game. The spirited "Christmas Song," a holiday tune known variously as "Christmas Is A-Coming," "Almost Day," and "Chicken Crowing for Midnight,"  describes kids' excitement about Christmas morning as they play out in the yard 'til midnight and the chicken signals the approaching holiday hour. "Skip to My Lou" is the most universally popular song on Play Parties, and countless entertainers have recorded their version of the old tune. Pete Seeger covered Ledbetter's version on Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Little Fishes,  a 10-inch album released in 1955 by Folkways Records. "You Can't Lose Me Cholly" is an oddity in that it's based on the song "Can't Lose Me, Charlie" written by Harry S. Miller in the late 1890s. Miller was well-known for his (to our modern ears, disturbingly racist) minstrel songs, but the emphasis here is on Lead Belly's energetic 12-string work.

Much has been written about Lead Belly and his music, so I won't go into a detailed history here. But to get even more insight into these particular songs, check out The Leadbelly Song Book, edited by Moses Asch and Alan Lomax, published by Oak Publications in 1962; or The Leadbelly Legend, edited by John and Alan Lomax, published by TRO/Folkways Music in 1959. Additionally, the album notes for the Smithsonian Folkways CD Lead Belly Sings for Children contain lots of great info. And for more evidence of the power of his voice and guitar, dig specifically the tune "Gallis Pole," a tune from which Led Zeppelin generously borrowed for their song "Gallows Pole" on Led Zeppelin III.

Originally Released 1941; Asch Recordings

Track Listing
  1. "Ha, Ha Thisaway"
  2. "Little Sally Walker"
  3. "Redbird"
  4. "Christmas Song"
  5. "Skip to My Lou"
  6. "You Can't Lose Me Cholly"