Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Review-a-Day August!

I thought I'd try something new here at Kids' Music That Rocks: a short CD review every day during August. Now, maybe I'm biting off more than I can chew, but I'm going to look at it as a way to exercise my writing chops. Just don't get all "I told ya so" towards the end of August when I start posting single-word reviews like "Great!" or "Existential."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lisa Loeb live @ Bartos Forum, NYPL!

Last Wednesday I attended Library Journal's first annual Publisher Presentation Day, an opportunity for twelve children's and adult publishing houses to show off some of their new titles for the fall.

Highlighting the day for me, though, was a short performance by Lisa Loeb to kick off the festivities that morning. She was promoting her Camp Lisa CD, and who better to get a quick preview than the librarians of The New York Public, Queensborough Public, and Brooklyn Public Library systems who might possibly purchase her album for their circulating collections.

Loeb played "Best Friend," "Peanut Butter and Jelly" (that's her smashing the peanuts in the photo above), and "Going Away" from Camp Lisa, and her 1994 hit, "Stay," which sounded a thousand times better this day as a solo performance than the original Reality Bites soundtrack tune. I think tweens would really dig her delivery, personality, and stage patter, and Camp Lisa seems perfect for that crowd, as well.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 17

Brian Vogan, Little Songs

Get familiar with the name Brian Vogan, folks, 'cause this dude's gonna hit big time! On one of the best kids' music debuts I've heard in a while, Seattleite Vogan and band present family-friendly folk and rock tunes about the seasons, Valentine's Day, the ABCs, and pumpkins. Make sure to check out the rockin' "Firefighter," the worthy-of-early-Sesame Street "The Listening Song," the prog rock/doo-wop epic "Chess," and THE perfect kids' TV show theme song, "Say Hello." Bound to be near the top of 2008's "Best Of" lists everywhere!

Dawnie's, Dancing in the Schoolyard

If your little ones like the dance pop of, say, Kelly Clarkson, then they'll dig Dawne Allyne's third CD for kids, Dancing in the Schoolyard. Lots of guitars and dance grooves accompany tunes about dancing, spiders, dancing, hopping, dancing, fishing, and ... more dancing! New Jersey-based Allyne is involved in the bluesy, rootsy music scene in the Northeast, and you can hear it in her tunes for kids. An album full of movement songs for kids who like to shimmy and shake.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Factory Tested Kindie Rock

Just so's ya know, music is factory tested here at the Kids' Music That Rocks Laboratories. Here's our little Steamboat diggin' The Terrible Twos' Jerzy the Giant ...

Monday, July 21, 2008

***The Terrible Twos***

Anyone familiar with The Terrible Twos' 2007 debut If You Ever See an Owl ... , or, for that matter, The New Amsterdam's body of work, will immediately recognize the breezy, laid-back, and ridiculously catchy sound of the Twos' sophomore kids' album, Jerzy the Giant. If it's possible, Giant is even better than Owl, and for several reasons: this time 'round, Matt Pryor and crew make the pop songs poppier, the quirky tunes quirkier, and the singalongs even more singalongier.

Yer not gonna find many better pop tunes than "Old Man Miller," "Big Baby J," "Olly Olly Oxen Free," the title tune, and "Playground," no matter what genre you're listening to. And it's to the Twos' credit that they saved these great songs for their kids' album, rather than developing the tunes for an Amsterdams release.

Dig the wonderfully oddball songs "Great Big Poop" and "Consonants," the former being essentially a drum solo accompanied by the chant "great big poop, tiny, tiny poop;" the latter a shuffle celebrating the sometimes overlooked non-vowels in the alphabet. Remember "A Rake, A Broom, A Mop, A Shovel" from If You Ever See an Owl... ? That song and "Consonants" put the Twos on par with They Might Be Giants in the "it's so simple, but no one thought of it yet" quirky tunes for kids category (see TMBG's "I Am Not Your Broom").

Get to bouncing around the room with "Jump Jump Jump," a perfect tune for live concert audience participation. And check out Pryor's endearing tributes to his own kids: the superpop tunes "Big Baby J" and "Jerzy the Giant," the harmony-heavy "Elliott Oooh," and the self-explanatory "Lily Names Everything Sandy." Then chill to the sweet ballads "Say Say Anything," where a dad assures his kid he can find comfort confiding in a parent; "Amelia Minor," with lyrics written around the names of the chords used in the song; and the beautiful closing lullaby "Whispering the Melody."

It's interesting to see the differences in leader Matt Pryor's tunes and drummer Bill Belzer's two songs, "Archibald McCallister" and "Playground." Belzer uses a much more linear writing style, where Pryor's lyrics concentrate on feelings and kids' internal thought processes. But much like the Beatles' later albums, when George Harrison contributed a couple of songs, they fit right in with the sound while remaining distinctly Harrisonesque. Belzer's tunes compliment Giant as a whole while keeping their individual personalities.

Another must-have from The Terrible Twos! Buy Jerzy the Giant for your baby, toddler, preschooler, elementary student, middle schooler, teenager, college student, post-grad, young professional, parent, grandparent, and great grandparent. They'll love ya for it!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 16

Music Together, Family Favorites

The title is a perfect description, as standards like "Biddy, Biddy," "John the Rabbit," "Palo, Palo," and "I've Been Working on the Railroad" are performed along with originals written by Kenneth Guilmartin and Lili Levinowitz. This Princeton-based organization promotes interactive music fun for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and their families, and Family Favorites is a great way to see and hear what they're all about. Make sure to check out "Stick Tune," a very simple song that's impossible not to dance to, featuring Yvette Glover, dancer Savion Glover's mom. A super collection of tunes for the home and the preschool classroom.

Leeny and Steve, Be Nice

Gloucester, MA, duo Ilene Altman and Steve Equi play and sing everything on Be Nice, and their simple, clean production keeps the performances low-key and intimate. They use Pop, Rock, R&B, Reggae, Doo-Wop, Tin Pan Alley, and Country styles on songs about friends, grammar, playgrounds, dictionaries, and kids' neverending questions about life. And dig "Know What the Nos Are," a Queen-like tune about all the things kids aren't supposed to do, that sounds like a junior "Bohemian Rhapsody;" and "Sometimes I Just Need a Hug," a sweet ballad that could have been cowritten with James Taylor, Carole King, and Paul Simon.

Rock Daddy Rock, Silly Short Songs for Silly Short People

Chris Bihuniak may be the hardest working man in kindie rock: The co-creator of Teacher and the Rockbots and The Blankies just released his first solo album under the moniker Rock Daddy Rock after writing seven CDs worth of music with Bryan Mace over the past three years. Leawood, KS, resident Bihuniak takes a break from the education rock of his last two projects to bring us songs (most definitely inspired by his four young sons) about boogers, warts, burping, messy rooms, and farting. Your 6 to 9 year olds are gonna think this CD is heeeeelarious! And "Dirty Nails" is a seriously rockin' tune!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pokey Pup Super Summer Giveaways!

Come one, come all to The Pokey Pup Super Summer of Giveaways Contest Extravaganza-palooza!! Bryan Townsend and the rest of the folks over at Pokey Pup, a favorite online site for everything that is hip in the Children's Music world, have announced a great series of kids' music giveaways, including prize packs, free music, and autographed CDs.

The first round included autographed Frances England CDs, and the current drawing is for a chance to win one of three Here Come the 123s CD/DVDs by They Might Be Giants. Future giveaways include a Gustafer Yellowgold prize pack, autographed Recess Monkey CDs, autographed Jellydots CDs, and ... well, you'll just have to tune in to find out!

Hop on over to The Pokey Pup and see what they have to offer, and enter for your chance to win. And drop Bryan a line thanking him for continuing to offer The Pokey Pup's eclectic, interesting, and entertaining selection of music for kids and their families!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 15

Karen Potje, Can't Help But Love You, Baby

Ontario native Karen Potje performs her jazzy pop with a sprinkle of sophisticated country. No surprise, because Potje's background includes a stint in Texas digging local country & western music while performing with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Potje's lyrical, witty tunes for and about children are inspired by her own kids, and backed by an all star collection of Montreal musicians, including Rob Fahie, Philip Hornsey, Joshua Lebofsky, and Jordan Officer.

The Hobo Nickels, Cooper County

Americana from Denver, CO. All the songs describe sights around fictional Cooper County, like ""The Kearney Barn," "The Picket Fence in Pilot Knob," and "The Excelsior Springs Water Tower." One of the catchiest and funniest is "The Weaubleau Well," which hilariously describes what can be found at the bottom of said well. Lots of accordion, ukulele, harmonica, kazoo, guitar, and upright bass ... and fun!

Jonathan Sprout, More American Heroes

Kids' music veteran Jonathan Sprout follows up 1996's American Heroes with this second collection of musical biographies. Flawless production and an Adult Contemporary style (think Phil Collins or Lionel Ritchie) help describe the lives of historical luminaries from Sojourner Truth to Neil Armstrong. Perfect for 3rd - 5th-Grade classrooms, where students can pick apart Sprout's detailed lyrics and use them in conjunction with textbook info. This resident of Morrisville, PA, has scheduled the release of a third American Heroes CD for sometime in 2008.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Universal Music Family series

Here's a pretty cool series from Universal, featuring original songs by original artists. Now, I'm not sure I would include ABC's "The Look of Love" (from Totally '80s for Kids) on a children's compilation, or what exactly makes The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (from Songs for the Car) suitable for a road trip CD. But the series does include one of the most fun Christmas compilations ever, and you can't beat an album of Ella Fitzgerald gems for kids!

Monday, July 07, 2008

***The Jellydots***

I love to connect everything musical to the Beatles, thus the following analogy: Doug Snyder's first CD as The Jellydots could be considered his A Hard Day's Night, and his latest, Changing Skies, his Revolver.

Snyder's 2006 debut, "Hey You Kids!", is giddy to the point of, well, if you had a vinyl copy the needle would laugh itself off the record. The lyrics and music on Changing Skies, though, aren't afraid to explore and express deeper, even darker, feelings. People grow up. Kids grow up. Little fans of "Hey You Kids!" aged a couple of years since that release, and Doug's songs have matured accordingly.

Sure, there are tunes like "Sunshine" (a rock and roll ode to the sun's healing rays) and "San Diego" (a fuzz bass-powered suggestion to make a new start in a new town) that are reminiscent of the Jellydots' first disc. But dig the message behind "Mountain" (taking chances in life) and the wry humor and in-jokes of "Art School Girl." And I love the incomprehensible lyrics of the superpoppy "Solo Echo" (about a lost alien?).

"Big Swingset" recalls fond memories of a favorite piece of playground equipment, while the Radiohead-like grind of "Sad Robot" tells a truly sad tale of a forgotten and out-of-commission robot who longs to contact the stars or even his Uncle Voyager, knowing that he's probably gonna be pulled apart and used to make a coffee table or a "high-tech ottoman."

The final five tunes on Changing Skies beautifully describe the emotional push and pull of loneliness, lost friendships, and enduring love. From the complete adoration of "Beautiful as You" to the sadness of "Remember Me," from the "have guitar will travel" melancholy of "Travelin' Man" to the soul mate sentiments of "When You were Born," to the gorgeous closing lullaby "Pretty Little Baby," the album is worth the last half alone.

Snyder stays at the top of the Kids' Music heap with Changing Skies by offering up a CD that everyone sitting around the stereo can dig, from preteens to grandparents. It's really cool that artists are thinking outside the "children's music" box; let's hope The Jellydots remain at the forefront of that movement.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Carroll Park Kids' Concert Series in Brooklyn

The summer fun continues in Carroll Park! Check out the schedule for July and August:

Wednesday, July 9 @ 4:00pm - Lloyd Miller (of the Deedle Deedle Dees) & the Brooklyn Phone Book
Lloyd Miller, from The Deedle Deedle Dees, a Brooklyn-based rock band for kids (and parents too), is well known to Brooklyn neighborhood families from his popular appearances at the Tea Lounge. The Brooklyn Phonebook is Lloyd Miller's back-up band of local kids.

Wednesday, July 23 @ 4:00pm - Randy Kaplan
Randy Kaplan is a Brooklyn-based songwriter known for his incisive lyrics and songs that blend American roots, folk, alternative, and pop. Randy has released six CDs, the most recent being the children's record Five Cent Piece. The CD features classics like "Over the Rainbow" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want", and original songs too. Kaplan has been praised and recommended by New York Magazine, TONY Kids, Cookie Magazine, Parenting Magazine, and others.

Wednesday, August 6 @ 4:00pm - Uncle Rock
Uncle Rock is singer-songwriter, actor, teacher, former globe-trotting bassist, and erstwhile stay-at-home dad Robert Burke Warren. His "Rock Of All Ages" songs, featured on three critically acclaimed CDs, draw inspiration from Maurice Sendak, Woody Guthrie, Shel Silverstein and the Beatles, to name a few. HeĆ¢€™s also a featured artist on Sirius Satellite Radio's channel 116 Kids Stuff. Uncle Rock is an interactive, joyous, adult-friendly musical experience.

Wednesday, August 20 @ 4:00pm - Bari Koral Family Band
Award winning singer/songwriter Bari Koral has joined forces with some of the best players on the downtown NYC music scene to bring you the Bari Koral Family Band — rock songs for kids that parents dig. "Dad's New Car," from their highly acclaimed debut CD, is a Children's Music Award Finalist and "A Day at the Beach" spent 4 months on XM KIDS' top 10 list.

You can check out photos of the series' first concert, Audra Rox, at this link. Thanks to Lynn Melnick for all the info!