Tuesday, September 30, 2008

***Rhythm Child***

Where can you go for one-stop shopping to find a John Lennon Songwriting Contest Grand Prize-winning song (2005), two Children's Music Web Award-winning tunes (2004 & 2005), and an XMKids Radio #1 hit (2007) ? Hey, you don't have to go any further than Drum Circle Sing-A-Long, presented by the Rhythm Child Network.

Norm Jones and his wife Heather founded Rhythm Child in 2003 to "promote creative expression and cultural exploration" through drum circle workshops, interactive music classes, and live concerts. Drum Circle Sing-A-Long is an aural representation of their mantra, and is full of beats, rhythms, and melodies that'll keep your little ones moving.

The CD kicks off with "Jammy Put On," Grand Prize Winner in the children's category of the 2005 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. This funky adaptation of "The Hokey Pokey" about getting ready for bed is more likely to get kids up and dancing than to settle them down for a night's sleep! Next is the very poppy "Learn from Nature," a sort of kid-friendly description of the science of biomimicry.

Two story songs are then featured: dig the very cool drum sample and tremeloed guitars in "Bird & the Dragon" and the slow jam of the Isley Brothers-inspired "The Story." Hand drums and percussion dominate an updated "This Little Light," and the electrofunk version of "Five Little Monkeys" is one of my favorites on the disc.

"How Much Farther" is an amusing tune about the frustration of being stuck in the car on a family trip, based on the structure of "Oh My Darling, Clementine." The album ends with a rhythm-heavy remake of "Kumbaya" and instrumental versions of "Learn From Nature" and "5 Little Monkeys."

If your little ones are into rhythm and drums, check out Drum Circle Sing-A-Long, a great CD for classrooms and family music collections.

Friday, September 26, 2008

***Mike Mennard***

Feelin' particularly swashbuckling today? Well, Mike Mennard has just the thing for you! Pirates Do the Darnedest Things is his swaggering, silly, singalong collection of tunes dedicated to a rogue's life on the sea. Historic tunes, originals, and classic covers are tied together by short skits, limericks, and goofy jokes, all celebrating the joys and trials of being a pirate.

Mennard kicks off his fourth kids' CD with a roll call of pirates in the title tune, followed by "Yo Ho Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)," the old theme song from the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at Disney. Silliness ensues with "ARRH!" "Buccaneer Singing on Broadway," "Ramsey the Pungent Pirate," and "Silly Willy Walla Walla Wary," in which the land-bound buccaneer laments that "it's tough to be a pirate in Nebraska."

Another highlight is the great tune "Captain Blake," with music by Mennard and lyrics by Kelsey Hulsman, an elementary school student who won Mennard's inaugural Pirate Poetry Contest. And check out the funky medley "Early in the Morning/Blow the Man Down," the mostly a cappella version of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest," the homesick ode "Fiddler's Green," and the sweet "Pirate Moon."

Hey, it's only 358 days until the next Talk Like a Pirate Day, so start collecting your pirating stash with Mike Mennard's Pirates Do the Darnedest Things.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Yo Gabba Gabba!

Jimmy Eat World posted a sneak peek of their video "Beautiful Day," scheduled to be aired on today's episode of Yo Gabba Gabba! Great pop song, and cool flying dogs and cats.

Jimmy Eat World-Beautiful Day-Yo Gabba Gabba

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yo Gabba Gabba!

The second season of Yo Gabba Gabba! premiered yesterday and rave reviews are already coming in. Brobee celebrated his birthday, and how better to rock the party than have The Ting Tings cover "Happy Birthday," a tune originally recorded by Altered Images back in '81.

Like DJ Lance Rock says, "Listening and dancing to music is AAAWESOMMME!"

Friday, September 19, 2008

***Nikolai Moderbacher***

You'll have to pardon the crappy photography, but I wanted to give you an idea of the concept of this CD package, lest you think I had inadvertantly posted a white square. Remember back in 1987 when Sammy Hagar ran a contest to let fans name his latest album? Turns out I Never Said Goodbye was the best they could do ... Anyway, Brooklyn-based music instructor and wood artist Nikolai Moderbacher goes one better by allowing each listener to create the cover art for their own copy of his kids' album Tabula Rasa.

Niko's music is sonically similar to Mr. David's style: eclectic with out being weird, and simple while being memorable. Check out especially the wittily-titled "Chew, Chew Train," the alphabet nonsense song "ABACA," and the ode to boo boos, "Au." And dig the charmingly odd arrangements in "Take Off the Crumbs," not a far throw from those that The Who's John Entwhistle was so fond of ("Boris the Spider," "Fiddle About").

The loping "Wake Up" sounds like a low-key Daniel Lanois production, and "When I Was a Baby" is a great 3/4 - time rewriting of the classic "Cotton Fields." Dance along with the samba-influenced body part identification game "Baby Baby," and the Mediterranian-flavored tribute to the "terrible twos," "No, No, No." Then settle down for the day with a quiet version of the traditional Austrian lullaby "Haidschi Bum Baidschi."

Moderbacher recruited fellow Music Together instructor Rachel Friedman to help out with the vocals on half of the songs, and his wife Pyeng Threadgill on one. Moderbacher even utilized the rhythm section from his wife's jazz combo on several of the tunes, and all the songs have a great recorded-at-the-same-time-in-one-room sound, giving the whole project an intimate, personal feel. Super kids' debut that's perfect for the whole family.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Justin Roberts' Greatest Hits?

I was putting together an artist profile about Justin Roberts over on the About.com site, and I started looking through his albums ... man, that dude has lots of good songs! Which led me to wonder: if you were to compile a Justin Roberts greatest hits album, what songs would you pick?

Would you go heavy on his earlier James Taylor-influenced CDs, or choose more tunes from his later Fountains of Wayne/Blink 182-sounding albums? Sure, you would include tunes like "Our Imaginary Rhino," "Pop Fly," and "One Little Cookie," but what about lesser-known album cuts?

Limit your theoretical CD to 12 songs, with maybe one bonus track. Lemme know what you think ...

Monday, September 15, 2008

***The Spanglish Wrangler***

I first reviewed Will Thomas' collection of bilingual kids' tunes back in May, when it existed only as mp3s on his website. Now that Spanglish Sing-Along has been released as a physical CD, complete with awesome revamped cover art and a slightly different, less clunky title (formerly The Spanglish Wrangler Sings Bilingual Songs for the Whole Family), I thought I'd repost an edited version of the original review. And Bill Childs, over at Spare the Rock, gave Will a cool little writeup in the July issue of Parenting magazine, as well.

Here ya go:

'Will Thomas' bilingual tunes for kids 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 Sing-Along 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.'

Friday, September 12, 2008


As many of you already know, I've started writing for About.com as their Kids' Music Guide. Now, that doesn't mean I'm abandoning good ol' KidsMusicThatRocks. No, no, no, it only means I have additional space and can use alternative formats to bring you information about music for children.

Over at About.com, I'm working on things like the best Beatles' singalongs, the music of Yo Gabba Gabba!, and an interview with Beethoven's Wig creator Richard Perlmutter, so keep checking in over there to see what's new and shiny in the world of kids' music.

And thanks to Bill, Stefan, and Amy (and all the rest of you kids' music folks) for all the help and suggestions!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Honk If You Love Honking!

I've always been a big proponent of the Do-It-Yourself ethic when it comes to music, and these folks take that belief to the next level. The organizers of the HONK! Festival in Somerville, Massachusetts, invite marching bands of, for, and by the people to march, play, and generally make a musical ruckus in their annual celebration of indie brass bands.

Several NYC groups, including The Hungry March Band, Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and Tri-Battery Pops, are performing in the festival which, at the very least, guarantees to entertain you and your little ones with massive amounts of loud, rowdy music, and at most hopes to inspire onlookers to get involved with music, social issues, politics, and getting to know your neighbors.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 20

A sudden surge in hip hop for kids warrants a review-a-thon!

Kat Vellos, Musiplication

Smooooooth math lessons via hip hop, thanks in great part to Batsauce, Jacksonville, Florida's underground beatmaster. Seattleite Kat Vellos and Britt Traynham (aka Batsauce) have created an album of very listenable tunes featuring the numbers one through ten. If you like production from the "dusty ol' record" school, or you like Digable Planets and Arrested Development, this disc is definitely for you and yours.

Various Artists, Hip-Hop Nursery Rhymes Collection, Vol. 1

Executive produced by DC Metro-based Ben Tynes, this CD presents classic nursery rhymes backed with spare, late'80s beats. Oldies like "Humpty Dumpty," "Old King Cole," "B-I-N-G-O," and "There Was an Old Lady" are given a funky fresh makeover. Check out the updated "Grand Duke of New York," which includes NYC locales like Brownsville and Sugar Hill in telling a young boy's success story.

Mark D. Pencil, Learning with Hip Hop

Atlanta, Georgia's Brett Schieber follows state curriculum standards to create an album full of songs about simple math and reading practice, following directions, physical exercises, and cleaning up the classroom. The CD starts off on a decidedly acoustic foot, then about track four, the beat drrrrops on "Numbers Help Me Count." Funky, fun, and perfect for the early elementary grades. Comes with downloadable lesson plans and coloring pages.

MeeWee, Hip-Hop for Kids

Co-created by NYC-based Daniel Klein and Perry Landesberg, MeeWee's message is all about empowerment, acceptance, friendship, and music. The CD features laid-back, R&B-flavored hip hop, a little A Tribe Called Quest-ish, a bit Parliament/Funkadelic-like. Dig "Planet Brooklyn," a tune that extols that borough's unique flavor. The album is currently available as an mp3 download only, but the MeeWee website includes lesson plans and lyrics. Nice feel-good hip hop for kids.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hello Goodbye

My little boy is fond of reading signs out loud now, and one of his favorites is "STOP!" I'm always looking for good songs with simple lyrics for kids, and this song is close to the top of my list. I always use "Hello Goodbye" to open my KidsMusicThatRocks singalong programs in the library because 1) it's a super song, 2) it's full of words like "stop," "go," "yes," and "no," and 3) it's the Beatles!!!

Gotta love their goofy antics, the psychedelic set, and the hula dancers (sure, why not? it's 1967!) at the very end. Enjoy!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happy Labor Day!

Since this holiday was originated by America's labor movement in the late 1800's, let's commemorate the date with a review of Ella Jenkins and a Union of Friends Pulling Together. This 1999 Smithsonian Folkways album, nominated for the 2000 GRAMMY Award for Best Musical Album for Children, is one of the best, if not only, true "concept albums" for kids.

Jenkins skillfully weaves songs, spoken word pieces, and call and response tunes about labor unions into an overall theme of togetherness, including songs about family, friends, and our nation. Kids will recognize favorites like "The More We Work Together," "If I Had a Hammer," and "Skip to My Lou," while historically significant songs like "Solidarity Forever," "Which Side Are You On?" and the powerful "Keep Your Hands on the Plow" are great discussion starters for families and schools. And compare this album's version of the Populist song "The Farmer is the Man" with the more rockin' version on Dog On Fleas' Cranberry Sauce Flotilla.

Check out this great collection of historical singalongs, perfect for both the classroom and the living room.