Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dance Time With Alphabet Rockers (video premiere)

As tough as it was to admit, I am no longer the target audience for MTV. In fact, I haven't watched any programming on the network in a number of years. If you include VH1 in that conversation, I believe it's been almost 20 years since "Behind The Music" was a regular series.

The MTV Music Awards were on recently and I set the DVR to record the show, since I'm taking the teen to see Katy Perry next month and wanted to see if she would perform one of her new songs. I wound up fast-forwarding everything before and after Pink (getting a Vanguard Video award for seven albums over 15 years). Shocking to me that Pink is now in the discussion as a video visionary with people like Michael Jackson – and receiving the award ahead of the Foo Fighters. But the show is no longer catering to me; it's for two generations removed. And that goes for some of the children's music that I receive.

If you want a cocktail with equal parts affirmation and inclusion, the Alphabet Rockers are back with their latest CD, RISE SHINE #WOKE. The messages are clear, the lyrics speak to current social conditions, and there's even a sound bite of Barack Obama to drive home the sentiments. RISE SHINE #WOKE is 17 tracks of kid power, from "Don't Wait" to "I'm Proud" to "Different" to "Stand Up For You." Core duo Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd clearly set out on a mission. Who am I to stand in the way of a movement.

RISE SHINE #WOKE is available on September 1 from the Alphabet Rockers' websiteAmazon, and iTunes.

Here is the debut video from the CD, "Shine":

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Jack Forman: Solo Monkey Prepares for Recess

It's always sad when an animal escapes from the zoo. However there should be much hoopla over monkey maven Jack Forman's first solo CD apart from his Recess Monkey compadres, SONGS FROM THE MONKEY HOUSE.

I don't want to oversell, but my kids are big fans and we're super supporters of the band, having seen them multiple times in different venues in multiple states. And Jack is a familiar voice from his show on SiriusXM Kids Place Live. In fact, The songs are inspired by calls to his show. So the CD, coming September 29, is on our "must listen" list. And we shall. At which point in time, I'll get back to you.

In the meantime, the widget is below so give it a listen on your own. And we'll get together to compare notes in 2-3 weeks!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Quick Hits: New LARD Song, Twinkle's Time to Dance

LAD Dog and the Band of Shy announced a song of the month program way back in the winter of 2017. They almost immediately fell behind schedule (releasing a song for April, for instance, in the last few days of the month). But now the reason has beamed down from Planet Belopio – the band is released a new, full album at the end of September. So you can download this month's free song, "Dreamers," and then get the full CD, with the same title, DREAMERS.

The psychotropic and phantasmic LARD Dog (Steven Erdman) continues to evolve and the Tower of Power horn sound on "Dreamers" provides a welcome blast of summer just as kids are going back to school (and will almost certainly begin daydreaming in earnest).

Yes, life is a dream for LARD Dog and the Band of Shy. And this merry group of dreamers even puts aside most of the esoterica and opts for empowerment for "Dreamers." You can sign up for their mailing list and get the song by clicking through this quaint link.

When Lady Gaga released a CD with Tony Bennett a few years ago, a number of dance-oriented performers jumped in to fill the void. One of those acts was Twinkle and Friends, who are back with their new CD, JUST DANCE (itself the title of a Gaga song).

Even as Gaga has returned to the forefront with a CD and tour (and Super Bowl performance), Twinkle seeks to entertain and get the kids hopping, bopping and moving. JUST DANCE is a full-fledged LA-based production experience for pre-teens. It's age appropriate and comes with original and remix versions of "Kidz Rock," featuring Mista Cookie Jar.

Twinkle and her husband/producer James Dallas met back when both were under contract to Hollywood Records and refer to themselves half-kiddingly as "the original Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez." Um, am I dating myself by saying I remember Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake as a couple?

Twinkle cites a staggering and intimidating number of influences (from Cher to Shania). That's a lot to cram into 31 minutes of original music, including a remix. But self-confidence is one of the lessons that Twinkle promotes, so a bit of self-promotion is not out of character. Check out the video below and see if you want to check of Twinkle and Friends.

JUST DANCE is available on October 6 from Twinkle's websiteAmazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Just Dance":

Friday, August 25, 2017

Welcome Tobocman, Great to Hear You Again

I have two distinct memories from my deep dive into the land of children's music; one for each of my sons. The first time we heard Bill Childs' Spare the Rock podcast, he played Roger Day's "It's A No-No to Kiss A Rhino." Eight-year-old Ben looked stunned, started laughing, said "Again," and made me play the song 3-4 times in a row, laughing continuously. Eight years later, after I had started reviewing CDs, we heard David Tobocman's "The Owie Song." Two-year-old Matt looked stunned, started laughing, and looked at me expectantly. Ben (now 16) stepped in and said, "Play it again, dad." And we did.

Five years is an eternity in children's music. But finally David Tobocman has released his fourth children's music CD, GONNA BE GREAT!! The title itself encourages reviewers to enthusiastically endorse the disc; and it's pretty darn good. For 25 years, David has made a living recording music for film and television. Along the way, he's released four CDs for kids. GONNA BE GREAT!! has been long-awaited in my household and the kids listened over two nights of dinners, as if we were studying audio transcripts ultimately resolving the "Where's Waldo" conundrum.

David manages to sneak in some subversive themes, such as "Something Called King Lear." He describes taking his daughters to see the Shakespeare play, then having them descend into behavior akin to Regan and Cordelia from the show:

It's just like Romeo and Juliet or like them Clampetts on TV.
Don't let anybody tell you where you're at. It isn't where you ought to be.

While "Dalia" is the story of an elephant who ice skates, subtly explaining the "everyone is special" conceit, David takes some very obvious concepts that would draw an asterick in parenting manuals and turns them into songs. How many adults needs to really admonish "Don't Put Money In Your Mouth." Scratch that – after writing the previous sentence, I've heard from two people who said that was an issue for their young ones. A similar concern would be "Take The Spider Outside," although my kids just accompanied me on an errand specifically to buy a new fly swatter to take care of various and sundry bugs in our domicile.

GONNA BE GREAT!! winds down with the inevitable family/bedtime/ballad, in this case called "Smile For Me." However it's a friendly take on picture-taking and private and public displays of affection, as David simply sings, "We're not on TV, it's only you and me, don't say cheese, just smile." I may not get another iconic memory from this CD, but there's still a chance for your family. Hit the Soundcloud link and see if things are gonna be great for you and your youthful music aficionados.

GONNA BE GREAT is available at David Tobocman's website, Soundcloud (with a bonus song), Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for David's song "America's Our Country." Appropriate for our times:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Timeless Kids Tunes as Ralph's World Strums Time Machine Guitar

There was a time when Ralph's World was ubiquitous in our household. Ralph Covert and his band played for several years in a row at Symphony Space and even headlined a Kindiefest event in Brooklyn (I've recounted the story of our double-shot seeing them the same day). In recent times, however, Ralph got more engaged producing a video series, "Time Machine Guitar," and cut back on travel outside his home state of Illinois. His last completely original CD was released in 2010. That is, until this month, with the debut of the soundtrack CD, TIME MACHINE GUITAR, which features songs from his video project.

"Time Machine Guitar Adventures" is an interstitial series along the lines of "Schoolhouse Rock." The 5-6 minute episodes feature Ralph and his puppet friends, Rani, Malcolm, and Beauregard, going back in time for lessons in history and the musical stylings of those eras. A 28-page CD book accompanies TIME MACHINE GUITAR with background information on the historical figures on the album and notes highlighting the musical influences.

TIME MACHINE GUITAR gets a little cutesy with "Toymasters of War" (guess who is the inspiration), but finds its balance on songs like "Gato Negro" (African rhythms fused with Cuban chords and salsa/mambo beats) and "Blue Airplane" (a sweet tune in the style of Sam Cooke - typo alert for the booklet). Ralph also plays a callback to his bandmates in the Bad Examples (still rocking since 1987) with "Christopher Columbus Sailed."  Ralph even manages to squeeze in some honest sentiment with a song to his son, Jude, "Color Outside the Lines":

There are journeys that you will make
There are places you'll go that I've never seen
There are times you will bend and break
There are times you'll find the strength you will need.
Color outside the lines
If you draw from your heart, the light will outshine the dark
If you seek you will always find, if you color outside the lines.

TIME MACHINE GUITAR reminded me how children's music allows me to flash back to all the different times and places where we've seen Ralph's World perform – aside from Symphony Space, there's been Jalopy in Brooklyn and the Disney Block Party (outside the Nassau Coliseum, like a kindie version of Warped tour). These are good memories and it's too bad I didn't start recording performances until the last outing, at Kindiefest. At least Ben got on-stage to sing with Ralph and a host of luminaries at that show. Good times. Nice guy. Fond memories. Neat concept. Timeless TIME MACHINE GUITAR.

TIME MACHINE GUITAR is available at the Ralph's World website and iTunes.

Here is the first episode of "Time Machine Guitar Adventures." More are on Ralph's YouTube channel once you click-through:

Monday, August 21, 2017

Back to School With the Bazillions

Let me educate you! Or rather, let me entertain you, and in the process you might be educated. That's the hallmark (akin to the hall monitor) of the Bazillions. The Minneapolis-based family band (headed by married teachers Adam and Kristin Marshall) have released their fourth CD, ROCK-N-ROLL YEARBOOK and it's a years' worth of family curriculum in 12 songs (and 35 minutes).

In the past (shall I refer to the CDs as lower grades), the Bazillions have devoted songs of punctuation, science, and math. They "bring the brainpower" with tracks such as "Wide Open World of Adjectives" and
"Queen Ellen of the Spelling Bee," which teaches proper grammar in the context of a character profile:

I before the e
Not after c
She tells me that's a rule
Drop the silent e
When adding i-n-g
That's another yeah yeah yeah

But the group also deals with more kid-centric topics such as choosing ones' own clothing ("That's My Style"), the end of the school year ("Summer's Here," closing the CD with a final bell and cheers), and friends moving away ("Keep Your Identity Safe"). What I first thought was an eye-rolling "stranger danger" message turned out to be a moving, fist-bumping "saying goodbye" song, as Adam Marshall implores his friend that "you're gonna turn around your new hometown and I'll keep your identity safe when you move away."

The Bazillions know the kids they're targeting will grow up and away from their music. However they want the information to penetrate those developing noggins. And the best way to do that is with music that sticks in the cranium like a pervasive earworm. Um, of the best kind. And I mean that in the best possible way. Give your child a sandwich and they'll ask you to cut off the crusts. Give your child ROCK-N-ROLL YEARBOOK and maybe they'll ask for guitar lessons. Live and learn, right?

ROCK-N-ROLL YEARBOOK is available August 25 from the Bazillions' website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the video for their new song, "Back at School." Full disclosure - my kid made the cut:

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.