Sunday, August 13, 2017

Video Recap: They Might Be Giants at Central Park SummerStage

It's been a while since we've seen They Might Be Giants live in concert. First and foremost, they haven't been doing a ton of shows playing their children-friendly material. Secondly, there's been other stuff going on. So it was fun to head to Central Park for the August 12 SummerStage Family Day.

The weather was cooperative, the trip was fairly uneventful (except for accidentally taking the A instead of C train and having to disembark and wait for the right train). Seating was on the turf as bleachers were packed. But that was not a problem. And Bill Childs traveled much further from Austin, Texas to play a set of science-related songs before the concert.

The band has been (mostly) together for more than 15 years in this iteration, so they're all on the same page. And in New York City, their home base, they got a raucous welcome reception from the moment they took the stage. The gaps between children's CDs means that a large portion of the toddlers in attendance had probably no idea who the band is. And rarely does TMBG acknowledge their Disney connection (for instance at the Disney Block Party show at the Nassau Coliseum) and play something like their theme for Mickey's Playhouse.

Robin Goldwasser guested to sing "Electric Car" and Danny Weinkauf got to rock out with "I Am A Paleontologist." His new CD, TOTALLY OSOME! also got a shoutout from John and John. The show was crammed with tunes, to the point that a five-year-old sitting behind me said rhetorically, "These guys know a lot of songs."

Indeed they do. TMBG sang so many songs that the show turned into a full set – not a truncated 45-minute "kiddie-length" performance. In fact, during the 80-minute duration of the show, so many parents with smallfry fled the grounds that we were able to move much closer to the stage. And despite Ben's insistence that "Don't Let's Start" would be the encore, it was "Dr. Worm." But Matt was impressed (despite a 20-minute nap) and looks forward to his next exposure. But who knows... by their next kid's concert in our area, he might be able to transport himself. Telepathically, even.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Jumping for Joy: The Return of Caspar Babypants

It's difficult to establish a unique voice. There's so much product out there that few people stand out from the very first musical note. Chris Ballew doesn't have that problem. Entering the second decade in his second career as children's musician Caspar Babypants, Chris has turned out 13 – yes, 13 – CDs that brim with uniqueness.

His latest CD, JUMP FOR JOY! is as buoyant and boyish as the rest of the Caspar Babypants pantheon. As with past CDs, Chris is chock full of the stories behind the songs. "Pushy the Tug" came from a pet name he and his wife (CD artwork and local artist Kate Endle) exclaimed every time a tugboat chugged by their home in Seattle. "Blackberry Pie" is credited to his (then) six-year-old son, Augie, although like every Caspar Babypants composition, he couldn't help put his own distinctive upbeat stamp on it.

Caspar Babypants is all about two things… updating traditional favorites with new lyrics and arrangements and taking bizarre concepts and taking them on oddly logical journeys. JUMP FOR YOU! features the standout example, "My Pants Are On Vacation":

my pants are on vacation I noticed that thery're gone.
My right legs knows my left leg knows they both think somethings wrong.
My pants are on vacation they left a detailed note.
But their handwriting is so sloppy that I don't know what they wrote.

Caspar Babypants music also works on two levels. Kids enjoy the hummable melodies and gentle, amusing material. It's so approachable that when we attended a live performance years ago, Chris started a song intro, "This is a song about a bear..." and Ben cut him off by shouting the title of a particular track he liked. Realizing that yes, he had written two songs about bears, Chris self-corrected and explained, "Yes, this is my OTHER song about a bear." Adults like the wordplay and jigsaw, not-random conceit that burst from Chris's days in the Presidents of the United States. "Free Couch" is about a country tick that moves to the big city and finds a place to live. The chorus? "Don't freak out I'm living in a free couch." Don't just read it – say it. Then you'll get it.

Where else will you get old-time classics remade for today's tots, like "Where O Where," nestled side by side with "The Softest Guitar on the Moon"? JUMP FOR JOY! if you're silly and six. JUMP FOR JOY! if you remember what it was like to be silly and six. For a quick refresher, Caspar Babypants is giving you 19 reasons to JUMP FOR JOY!

JUMP FOR JOY! is available August 18 from Caspar Babypants' website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for the new song, "Underground":

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Danny Weinkauf Back With Rockin' Osomeness

Is Danny Weinkauf the kindie equivalent of Dave Grohl? Bear with me here... Grohl graduated from Nirvana (which wasn't really a choice, given the circumstances) and created the Foo Fighters, a band which will go into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its own merits. But Dave had so many musical synapses firing that he had to disperse all those thoughts into ancillary bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Probot, and Them Crooked Vultures.

Danny Weinkauf, on the other hand, is mostly known as the bassist for They Might Be Giants. Heard of them? They're celebrating their fourth decade and Danny has been there since 1998 (Wikipedia has a pretty cool band timeline). He also played with Fountains of Wayne and has hundreds of tracks to his credit. More immediately, he has a thriving "side business" as the lead in the Red Pants Band with Steve Plesnarski and Tina Kenny Jones, producing three CDs. The latest, TOTALLY OSOME! is out there, I mean, really out there, right now.

TOTALLY OSOME contains 14 songs (and two snippets) that demonstrate Danny's versatility and inventive songwriting. The earworm singalong fave, "Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day" kicks off the collection, with the verses contradicting the chorus of what is allegedly a happy family day at the beach:

We wake up super early, dad's cranky as can be.
The drive takes us forever, I really have to pee.
My mom makes us wear sunblock, I hate the way it smells.
My foot's already bleeding, I cut it on some shells.

Music has become more of a singles-based business and Danny utilized this methodology to release "Sunshine" as well as three other tracks, the female empowerment anthem "I'm A Girl (Step Aside)," "It's Your Birthday," and a power-pop ode of SiriusXM Kids Place Live host Mindy Thomas, "Superpowered Mindy." Danny has done these dedicated numbers before. I used his tribute to songwriter Ben Folds, "The Ballad of Ben," as part of my son's bar mitzvah video a few years ago.

Danny's engaging experimentation is on display with two takes on "Put Down That Smartphone" – a straight-ahead charging rocker and a tongue-in-cheek 80s themed "modern" version. "Ray Scott Thanks A Lot" is a doodle in the style of the man known for scoring Looney Tunes. One of my favorites, "The Bah Bah Song," deconstructs the process of getting together, playing instruments, and deciding exactly what a song is going to be about. Many tracks feature the sparkling vocals of Tina Kenny Jones (wife Michelle and kids Kai and Lena also make appearances). Kai is showcased on "A Song About Anything," and could carry the family business forward for another generation.

if you want a CD that you can crank up and make passerbys wonder, "What are they making their kids listen to?" then this is a TOTALLY OSOME! recommendation for you. The kids won't mind rocking out and you don't have to worry about subliminal messaging or hidden product advertising. Best of all, they might be giant Weinkauf fans.

TOTALLY OSOME! is available from Danny Weinkauf's website, Bandcamp, iTunes, CDBABY, and Amazon.

Here is the video for "Eyes in the Back of Her Head":

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Friday, August 4, 2017

Unhuggable – Caspar Babypants
Fourth Day Of July – Red Yarn
Kid Of The Week – The Not-Its!
2 If I Ever Was A Child – Wilco
Rainbow Tunnel – Alison Faith Levy
Humans Are Still Evolving – Dean Jones
One Day By The Riverside – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ghostbusters – Andrew & Polly
People Watching – Dean Jones
One – Aaron Nigel Smith
Superman – Bob and Luc Schneider
One After 909 – Caspar Babypants
Who's Your Favorite Beatle – LARD Dog and Band of Shy
Sunshine Sunny Sun Sunshine Day – Danny Weinkauf

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Do You Talk To Yourself – Dean Jones
The Only One – Brady Rymer & The Little Band That Could
Forever Young – Andrew & Polly
Sourwood Mountain – Red Yarn
Small Bird – Caspar Babypants
Cloud Skateboard – Mo Phillips
Hammer – Aaron Nigel Smith
Echo Park (Featuring Frances England)  – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Just Say Goodbye – Wilco

LARD Dog: Having Fun in the Colander Sun

There's a Beach Boys documentary from the early 1980s that haunts me.

Brian Wilson is shown at the height of his paranoia and sorrow (and goes surfing with the Blues Brothers). But he describes how his brother Dennis would coax him to write songs with McDonalds hamburgers. "He'd give me one hamburger for every song," Brian explains. Then he shows the crew a closet of reel-to-reel tapes and other materials and you realize that Wilson fed his enormous hunger by writing HUNDREDS if not thousands of these quick tunes.

It's not easy to write one song. Now imagine promising to write and release one song a month – and give it away to your audience. That's the 2017 challenge for Lard Dog and the Band of Shy. They release their July song on the cusp of August. "Colander Sun" describes their love of wearing a straining container on the head. It's an orange slice of SoCal hijinx with the usual LARD Dog wordplay.

Grab "Colander Sun" here for free this month. Other earlier songs are also available.

The Band of Shy is also hosting a selfie contest, with a LARD Dog t-shirt as the prize. Just tweet a picture wearing a colander as a hat. Winners are selected at sole discretion of Lard Dog. Just e-mail your photo to or post on Instagram with hashtags #LardDogColander #LardDog (so they can find it). Contest deadline in August 30, 2017.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Imagination: A Penner for Your Thoughts

Ever see Twin Peaks? One of the most haunting elements about the show was the music by composer Angelo Badalamenti. And the theme song, "Falling," which was sung by Julee Cruise. Showtime has revived the show. And most episodes end with a female vocalist singing some ethereal song of a similar ilk.

I thought of Twin Peaks while listening to IMAGINATION, the new children's music EP by Los Angeles singer Jess Penner. You get six classic covers, such as "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" and "You Are My Sunshine" as interpreted by Jess. You also get the original title tune and closing track, "Forever In My Heart," which gave me flashbacks to those David Lynch closing segments. In a good way, mind you.

Penner grew up listening to oldies and folk music and toured in a Christian rock band, so her influences are pretty diverse. Her music seeks to deliver a positive message without being preachy. An LA professional, she shares her knowledge of the recording industry on SongCents, her blog. Recent posts discussed anxiety and how to make an impression with your press kit.

It isn't easy to balance being a stay-at-home mom of two and an independent female songwriter. But Jess Penner is doing it with grace, charm, and simplicity. All it takes is a little IMAGINATION.

IMAGINATION is available on August 11 from Jess Penner's website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for the title track, "Imagination":