Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 12

Hot Peas 'N Butter, The Pod Squad

The Pod Squad is Hot Peas 'N Butter's fourth kids' CD, a collection of well-produced tunes performed in English and Spanish by Danny Lapidus and Frank Cotto and special guests. Standouts include originals "Beautiful Dream" and "Time to Fly", and traditional tunes "Ocho Candelikas" and "Peggy-O". But, for cryin' out loud! did they have to make the sponsor's name as big as the band's on the front cover?!?

The Learning Station, Brain Boogie Boosters

Perfect example of "don't judge a CD by its cover": At first glance I thought this was another mass-produced collection of impersonally-performed edutunes ... wrong! Written by Don and Laurie Monopoli and Dr. Becky Bailey, with performance help from Paul Opalach, these catchy songs encourage exercise, relaxation, and meditation. Great for classroom use!

The Jellydots, Changing Skies

On Changing Skies, Doug Snyder's Jellydots songs mature with his audience. Rather than continue with a carbon copy of his debut masterpiece "Hey You Kids!", Snyder writes deeper, sometimes darker, songs that fans of his first album will be able to appreciate lyrically and musically as they grow older. Check out "San Diego", the great pop song "Sunshine", and the string of five wonderful ballads in a row that close out the album. A chart-topper!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's the latest, it's the greatest, it's the library!

Who knew the library had a rally song? "The Library Song" was published in 1967 by Joleron Music Corp., and written by Fred Hertz and Joel Herron. This duo wrote and recorded five LPs as Frankie Stein and His Ghouls, issued on Power Records in the late 1950s. Hertz also co-wrote a couple of tunes on Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, while Herron was best known for penning the songs "I'm a Fool to Want You" and "Sierra Nevada".

Here are the lyrics to "The Library Song":

"Oh, the place for you and the place for me is the local public library / They have books and things they lend for free, it's the latest, it's the greatest, it's the library / They have histories, they have mysteries, and for mother books of recipes / See a movie show, hear a symphony, it's the latest, it's the greatest, it's the library / Educational, informational, entertainment that's sensational / It's a way of life, it's for you and me, it's the latest, it's the greatest, it's the library."

Two things that popped out: 1) Seems the prevailing idea in 1967 was that only mom took the kids to the library, and then just to pick up the latest chicken casserole recipe; 2) The library is "a way of life"?!? Zowie! The cult of bibliography begins young...

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Here are a couple of photos from the They Might Be Giants show we attended a few weeks ago. To keep the grownups happy they played "Istanbul" and "Particle Man", while including a pretty even selection from all three of their kids' music albums. As you can see from Steamboat's picture, he already has the disgruntled "whatever, man" teenager look down pat.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

***Frances England***

I love it, man! Kids' Music has gotten to the point where people are actually anticipating artists' upcoming releases, starting a buzz when even the rumor of a follow-up album is generated. A performer at the top of my list of "when's the next one comin' out?!?" has to be Frances England, and sure enough, Family Tree doesn't disappoint. Wait, I should say Family Tree "quietly destroys the competition", or "raises the bar to an almost impossible height". It's that good.

Here's the secret to Frances' success: these songs existed in her heart before they found their way onto this CD. Like several "kids' bands" I really dig ... Dog On Fleas, the Jellydots, Elizabeth Mitchell, Gustafer Yellowgold, Gunnar Madsen, Mr. David, ... Frances doesn't set out to record a children's album. She writes songs that she would have written anyway, tunes that have been floating around in the ether waiting to be channeled through her fingers, through the strings of her guitar, through our speakers.

Back in the early-to-mid '80s the indie rock scene was pretty closely knit: REM knew the Replacements knew Husker Du knew the Minutemen knew the Meat Puppets, etc., and all these bands learned from one another, listened to each other's albums, went to see each other's shows. It's no accident that Dean Jones from Dog On Fleas and Doug Snyder from the Jellydots make guest appearances on Family Tree. There's a movement goin' on here, people, and at the very least these fiercely independent bands and performers will be remembered years from now for the quality and vision of their work. At the very most, they will wrest control from corporate purveyors of obviously yet shamelessly crappy kids' music.

Now, on to Family Tree ... I probably can't do the album justice by typing a few words I looked up in a thesaurus, so here are a few gushing accolades from a blathering idiot: I love how she pronounces the word "baybeh", I love how the tempo speeds up in the middle of "Free to Be Me", I love the "ba dap ba" choruses on the title tune and "Animal Inside You", I love the perfectness of the oughta-be-a-hit-single "Spring Has Sprung" ... you just can't get more sincere than this, folks. Today is the release date for Family Tree, so find it, buy it, dig it, let Frances know how much you appreciate her presence in the children's music world.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Carroll Park Kids' Concert Series just announced!!

On behalf of the Committee to Improve Carroll Park, we are pleased to announce that

WITH AudraRox ON JUNE 21st!

Back for Summer 2008, this delightful series of free concerts, featuring bands suitable for the whole family, will kick off its season and celebrate the end of the school year with a very special performance by BococaŹ¼s own AudraRox!

Everyone is invited to attend.

WHO: AudraRox
WHAT: Free Concert in Carroll Park (Suggested donations of $5 per family will be very helpful.)
WHERE: Carroll Park, President Street at Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY (Take the F train to the Carroll St. Stop)
WHEN: Saturday, June 21st, 4 PM
WHY: To celebrate the summer, your community, and our beloved park!

July 9, July 23, August 6, August 20

Please visit our website for more information on our schedule.

Enormous thanks to our local sponsors. Please check our website for more information on these generous folks. Please support the people who support our community.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Article on Kids' Music

Here's a link to an article from Toronto's The Globe and Mail about the current state of Kids' Music. Mainly about Barenaked Ladies' Snacktime, but with shout-outs to They Might Be Giants, Jason Ringenberg, Dan Zanes, and Peter Himmelman.

And this is illustrator Kelly Light's winning entry in the BNL Snacktime Cartoon Contest:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

***Will Thomas***

Usually I'll wait until an artist can send me a finished CD or at least a burned CDR of premixed tracks before I post a review of their work, but I'm gonna go ahead and review demos from this performer's website because 1) his songs are that good and 2) his material fills a need.

Will Thomas will release his collection of bilingual kids' tunes in August, 2008, on an album called The Spanglish Wrangler Sings Bilingual Songs for the Whole Family. The songs are fun and funny and witty, and, most importantly to adults, stand up to repeated listenings. While Thomas has recorded grownup albums at Birdland Recording Studios in Town Creek, Alabama (very close to my hometown), he laid down the basic tracks for Spanglish Wrangler at his home studio in Miami Beach.

You can practice your Spanish vocabulary by inference in the song "Emociones"; while "(They Call It) Spanish Monday", based on T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday Blues", helps you brush up on the days of the week. "Desayuno Boogie" is a celebration of breakfast, while the swampy funk of "Broccoli" describes a girl's love of that vegetable.

"Eres Mi Vida" is a Spanish-language version of "You Are My Sunshine", and the story of "Cucaracha" is set to the music of Earth Wind and Fire's "September". "Bailla Pollito" is a funny little tale about a reluctant dancer, while "I Love My Dog" is a little reminiscent of the old classic "Down By the Bay". Additional vocab practice is provided by "Gator and Bee" and "Bear's Picnic", directions en Espanol on the former and present tense verbs on the latter ("I sing, canto, y'all sing, cantais", etc.).

Thomas' intimate, downhome, bluesy performance and playful songwriting style make this collection a perfect teaching tool in both the classroom and at home. You're not smacked in the head with ridiculously bombastic production, and the lyrics don't make kids (or adults) feel like dunces. This is a great project from an artist who is a welcome addition to the kids' music world.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

***Randy Kaplan***

Some people go into a kids' album project with the idea that they have to become this goofy alter ego in order to appease the "children's music" preconception. Not so Randy Kaplan. No, Kaplan has a unique style, musically and lyrically, that translates smoothly to the kids' music world without having to change a thing.

The talespinner in Kaplan shines through on his latest children's CD, Loquat Rooftop, with songs like the New Orleans shuffle "Clothes Dryer", the talking blues "No Nothing", the superdescriptive "The Ladybug Without Spots", and "Loquat Rooftop", a stream of consciousness account of a lovely evening atop a Brooklyn apartment building. Randy is a storyteller at heart, and it really shows on Loquat Rooftop.

As with "Over the Rainbow" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" on last year's Five Cent Piece, Kaplan knows how to pick just the right cover songs, tunes that you think would be too hokey to make the cut on a kids' record, but are somehow transformed into classic singalongs. This time 'round, "Tomorrow", from Annie, is given the sweetest treatment you'll ever hear, while versions of Leadbelly's "Good Morning Blues", Leiber & Stoller's "Charlie Brown" and Hank Williams' "Move It On Over" rock enough to make yer kids wanna explore the originals.

Throw in some tunes like the poppypunk "Mazal Mazal", the silly "The Sour Song", the mini-skit "Boogie Woogie Washer Woman", the tender "(Don't Say) Anything at All", and the most "kids' song" song on the album "The Fire Engine", and, hey! you've got yerself a pretty solid CD!

Loquat Rooftop is Kaplan at his best: Memories; images, figurative and literal; sights, sounds, smells, flavors, textures; humor and fun ... all in the form of a song. Randy is one of Brooklyn's hidden gems in the world of kids' music. Get to know him before he breaks out bigtime.

Just got word from Bill Childs over at Spare the Rock, that Randy has ventured over to the Left Coast to seek his fortune ... Brooklyn's loss is L.A.'s gain! Good luck, Randy. Park Slope'll miss ya.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 11

Karen Jolicoeur & Bill Lewis, The Dream That You Wish

Manhattan-based vocalist Karen Jolicoeur delivers tender operatic lullabyes from sources as varied as Sweeney Todd, The Wizard of Oz, and Brahms, while throwing in a few old-school Disney songs and a couple of originals. Quietly and tastefully accompanied by pianist Bill Lewis.

Moey, Moey's Music Party

NYC mom, songwriter, and musician Melissa Levis rocks out with her band Alan Bennett (guitar), Roger Cohen (drums), and David Weinstein (bass & piano) on songs about manners, sharing, parents, sneezing, getting dressed, and being a kid in New York City. Think Sesame Street meets the Go-Gos!

Lemonsquare, Music For Fun

Alan Schlaifer and Louisette Geiss have created an extremely sunny collection of songs for the younger set, tunes about bathtime, rainbows, teeth brushing, blue whales, and eating veggies. Their sound is a little reminiscent of fellow Los Angelenes Ellen & Matt, and more of Schlaifer's music has been used in television and film through his Wade Street Music company.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Grownups are silly

So, it's only May and already there are five kids' albums out (or to be released) by major pop/rock/rap musicians and bands who have crossed over into the children's music arena. These are the ones I know of, so if there are more that should be included on the list, leave a comment.

Barenaked Ladies - Snack Time
Medeski Martin & Wood - Let's Go Everywhere
Prince Paul (w/ Chali 2na, Ladybug Mecca, Wordsworth, & Scratch) - Dino5
Lisa Loeb - Camp Lisa (June 3)
Natalie Merchant - as-yet-unnamed (Fall 2008)

Also, who would you like to see record an album of kids' tunes? Matthew Sweet would be one of the artists at the top of my list...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo video

I'm tellin' ya, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and crew are going to break out nationwide, and soon! Don't be surprised if you see and hear 23 and friends on a kids' show by this fall. Let's hear it for Asheville, NC!

"Gotta Be Me"

Friday, May 02, 2008

Put on your Purple Toupee, the Pencil Rain's a-comin'!

That's right, I'm going to see a They Might Be Giants kids' show tomorrow with my wife and our little boy, and we're excited! So excited that I'm gonna skip a "Friday Free-for-All" and post a live performance of one of my favorite TMBG tunes, "Fingertips". Prepare to be awed.