Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dancing about architecture

There's a famous quote about music journalism that goes, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture". It's origins are still hazy, the earliest written version gives Elvis Costello credit, while Martin Mull, Frank Zappa, and Steve Martin, among others, have been said to be the father of said pithy observation. At any rate, I love to read about music, about others' views on artists and styles, about one musician's critical look at another musician's body of work.

I was fortunate to have Dan Shorr come by and visit the Central Children's Room today with his family as they were passing through Midtown Manhattan. I mention this because, not only is Dan a super nice guy and a great songwriter/musician, he's been bitten by the writing bug lately. Check out the "News" section on his website, where he discusses Texas songwriters, musical authenticity, the lack of quality music on the radio, and writing kids' songs from a child's perspective.

It's great to see a kids' performer taking his craft seriously. You can be the goofiest guy on stage if you wanna, but children and their grownups really respect musicians who respect their audiences' musical sensibilities.

I didn't have my camera on me today, so here's a picture of Dan from Bill Childs' photo album of the Jalopy gig in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

***Sugar Free Allstars***

Who knew Oklahoma could be so funky? The two dudes from Norman, OK, who call themselves the Sugar Free Allstars lay down some stinky poo grooves with nothing but a Hammond B-3 and a drum set, showing that less is more on their first CD for kids, Dos Ninos. This here is a booty-shakin' affair, y'all, so open up the Toddler Time floor for some free form dancin'!

Organist and sax master Chris Wiser and drum thumper Rob (Dr. Rock) Martin have been at the SFA game for a while. Having met at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, the duo finally gelled as a musical twosome after the exit of guitarist Mike Satawake and original drummer Andy Moore. Three CDs into their career, the Sugar Free Allstars decided it was time to turn the kids on to their brand of Memphis soul, NOLA funk, and amusingly witty lyrics.

From the group chant chorus of "Bathtub Boy" to the vaudeville jaunt of "Petting Zoo", from the southern California funk of "It's P. Kitty Time" to the raging Deep Purple rock of "Banana Pudding", SFA let their unique style shine through on Dos Ninos, diverting nary a whit from their trademark sound. In fact, "He's OK (The Spider Song)" is a remake of a tune that originally appeared on SFA's eponymous debut CD back in 2001. Grandparents get a funktabulous shout out in the silly but sweet "Poppy and MeeMaw", and the appropriately titled instrumental "Stinky" will put a crick in yer neck, for sure. The album ends with "Buck Up Little Camper", a nostalgic diversion that sounds more like the closing song to one of those RKO westerns.

After you've listened to Dos Ninos, check out "Wichita" from Return of Dos Machos!, "Exercise the Demon" from Sugar Free Allstars, or "The Way That I Felt Today" from Dos Machos! Heck, just go ahead and get all their CDs, throw 'em in the player, and have a party. The kids'll love it, the grownups'll love it, and you'll probably grab a few of your neighbors' ears, as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

***The Terrible Twos***

Finally, the "Smile" of Children's Music, the one that was forever coming out next month, snippets of which were heard here and there on the Internet ... does it live up to the hype? Yep, and lemme tell you why.

If you don't buy If You Ever See an Owl ... because of Matt Pryor's love of Beatle-esque chord changes and melodies, if you don't make this purchase for the "can't help but sing along" aspect of every song, if'n you don't plunk down yer hard-earned cash just to complete your Get Up Kids/New Amsterdams discography, then make this album part of your music collection for the following reason: this record contains a certified folk masterpiece that transcends time ... "A Rake, A Broom, A Mop, A Shovel" could be a direct descendant of Woody Guthrie's "Grassy Grass Grass" and Ella Jenkins' "Ten Green Bottles" in that the song's simplicity is what makes it brilliant. It's very difficult to write a good simple song. This little tidbit is guaranteed to be curated as part of some postmodern folk collection, for sure.

Good music is good music, and the Terrible Twos' debut boasts several top-notch pop tunes in "Ladybug", "When I Get to Eleven", "Pizza and Chocolate Milk", "We Can All Get Along with Dinosaurs", and the title tune. With four songs named for girls ("Heather in the Heather", "Vivian", "Caroline", and "Isabella") and another specifically about Pryor's son ("Littlest Houdini") the album is at the same time intimately personal and universally relevant. And the spirit of Schoolhouse Rock is called upon for "Math Stomp", a sooperdooper song about ... math, of course! Add the math mantra "Oneplusoneistwo" and the nightynight tune "Grumpy Bug", and you've got yerself a wonderfully entertaining album from top to bottom. And look for a follow-up album, tentatively titled Jerzy the Giant, sometime in the fall. Yay!

It's widely known that the Terrible Twos are the New Amsterdams, so give it to those guys for recording an album of great tunes that can be appreciated by any age. In fact, the best way to describe the whole project would be to quote Pryor from the Vagrant Records website: "I'm just an artist who made some music children like". Let's hope more musicians follow his lead.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Recently I attended a program called "Voices for the Earth throughout the World" at the United Nations Plaza, a program of music presented by children of many nationalities from NYC area schools and daycares. There I picked up an issue of the United Nations Environment Programme magazine, TUNZA, which featured an article on a truly amazing band.

Tinariwen are a group of nomadic Touaregs from northeastern Mali who originally formed in one of Muammar Qadhafi's rebel camps in the early 80s. Their name means "empty spaces" and that's the feeling you get when you listen to their music: it's sorta like Mississippi Blues filtered through hot Saharan sands. Actually, they sound like what Page and Plant were shooting for on their No Quarter album, only dustier, more of-the-earth.

Aman Iman (which translates to "Water is Life") is Tinariwen's third album, and it continues their exploration of musical links between Arabic rhythms and a blues backbeat, between traditional flutes and droning guitar licks, between ancient isolation and the modern world. Explore their website and check out their history and their beliefs and causes. Mesmerizing rock from a brilliant, deeply political, cosmically mysterious band.