Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Eric Herman Interview

One thing I forgot to mention in my recent post about Yosi was that he also has a kids' music blog. His latest post is an interview with a guy named Eric Herman. Along with the interview is a brand new Eric Herman collectible card, part of which is to the right, for all of you fervent players of the Eric Herman:The Gathering card game. To see the whole card and read the interview, click here.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Yosi is a fun and energetic performer from New Jersey. He's released four kids' music albums, and they all have some good songs, but seeing as today is Thanksgiving (btw, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!) and Thanksgiving is known for copious food consumption, I thought I would focus on Yosi's latest release, What's Eatin' Yosi?

When most rock bands release concept albums, they tend to be very grandiose kinds of subjects, like the repression of individualism on Rush's 2112, the class structure metaphors of Pink Floyd's Animals, and The Downward Spiral depicting Trent Reznor's um, downward spiral. But kids' music concept albums tend to be focused on things like "having fun" or
"lullabies" or "animals" (but not usually in the class structure metaphor way) or "socks" (well, I predict that socks will be next year's big theme of choice). Food-related songs do crop up quite a bit on children's albums, and the many different kinds of foods would seem to be a good source for material, so Yosi had a good idea with this concept.

What's Eatin' Yosi starts off with a rollickin' Nawlin's style romp called "Let's Get Cookin'". Yosi has a Buddy Holly kind of yelp and twang to his voice on this one, and it's a great first course for the meal, copping Hank Williams' "good lookin'/cookin'" rhyme on the refrain.

There are some other tasty morsels on the album... "Pass the Purple Pesto Pasta Please" is next, and the title says it all on that one. It actually builds up from that phrase to things like "Pass the purple pesto pasta in a porcelain pitcher," with Yosi ably twisting his tongue to get it all out. I might have gone with a porcelain platter, though, but I suppose pouring from a pitcher might be a faster means of pasta distribution. Regardless, it's a really cute song and a swingin' Dixieland sound makes this track a favorite of mine to snack on. "Chilly Chili" has a sweet Frank Zappa and the Wailers kind of vibe and a catchy vocal. The traditional song "Bulbes (Potatoes)" has a bouncy eastern European sound with some delicious clarinet on top by Mark Fineberg (who also adds some nice saxaphone on "Don't Doodle"). "Fresh Brown Eggs" is a chewy folk duet with Yosi and Brady Rymer. "Just Desserts" is a 50's style rock 'n' roll dish, served cool. "Schlurpknopf" is an amusing Rocky Horror style sci-fi number about the favorite food of aliens everywhere. "Spaghetti Worms and Meatballs" is an a cappella barbershop song that reminded me a little bit of The Music Man, A Mighty Wind and Arlo Guthrie (confirmed by the direct Arlo parody at the end).

Strangely, the album ends with a song called "I Just Love You", which has no reference to food at all (and it could have with that title, if he were talking about food). I suppose that might be the after-meal conversation, or meant to be a post-script in the way that "All You Need is Love" sort of 'answered' the Sgt. Pepper's album, but I'm not sure how it would connect with the food theme in any way.

Some things like "Chicken Noodle Soup" and "Eat, Repeat" didn't taste that good to me, but then again, I can't fathom why anybody would ruin a perfectly good piece of pizza by putting mushrooms all over it. But of course, some people love mushrooms. So who knows what you might prefer.
Some of the songs taste really good at first but kind of go on a bit long, so it's almost as though someone gave you a nice piece of pumpkin pie and you were like, mmmm, but then they kept feeding you more and more pieces of pumpkin pie over and over. But on the whole, it's a cool album with a good variety of musical food groups represented.

I'm not sure what the overall meaning of the concept is supposed to be, though, and there are some important questions left unanswered... Does Tommy's pinball proficiency make a difference to how much he likes chicken noodle soup? Did Ziggy Stardust eat schlurpknopf on Mars? Did Syd Barrett really come into the studio during the recording of "Spaghetti Worms and Meatballs"? We may never know. But that's the thing about concept albums... they can get you thinking in different ways. In this case, thinking about food... but let's face it, food is something we animals think of often, and probably still will be a major focus of our lives even in 2112.

Yosi had a fun idea to go along with this album, by hosting a webpage with recipes from several notable kids' music performers, writers, and media folks. Click here to check that out, and look for my "Where's Waldorf Salad" and "Hippy Hippo Shake".

Yosi's website

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Sippy Cups

The Sippy Cups... wooooow, maaaaan... I don't exactly know where to start with this one. Their new album Electric Storyland is kind of all over the place, in many respects. Thankfully, many of the places it is all over are pretty cool ones, so I generally like a lot about the album. I do, however, have some strange feelings about some aspects of it, so I'm going to have to step carefully onto the giant chessboard for this one.

You knew it was coming, right? A hippie freak kids' music band. (And I mean 'hippie freak' in a most affectionate way, having been one myself.) In a way, it seems a perfect fit, as hippie freaks and children sort of share a similarly colorful sense of wonder about life and the world around them. And musically, there's some great gold to mine in them thar hills. I always leaned toward the more rock oriented hippie freak music, like the Doors and early Floyd and Zappa (though Zappa was brilliantly making fun of the hippie freak scene while also being a part of it), and that's definitely where the Sippy Cups seem to be coming from, so that's really cool for me. But much of their music is also more modern sounding, so it's not as though they sound terribly dated or retro, which is good.

The first song on Electric Storyland takes right off on the album's parody title with a perfect Hendrix homage called "Drinking from the Sky". There's a great guitar riff and funky groove to this one, with enough of a modern production sound to remind you of Lenny Kravitz doing a version of Jimi. There's a hint of a fake British accent on the vocal, which is a big musical pet peeve of mine (well, I mean fake British accents... real ones are fine), and that almost makes it sound like Oasis (not a favorite band of mine, at all), but not enough that I don't still like the song a lot. (Then again, maybe Sippy Paul is from Birmingham? If so, then I retract that charge.)

There are a wide variety of other songs on Electric Storyland. "Little House of Jello" is a Wiggle-esque number with a bouncy organ riff. "Springtime Fantastic" is a really great modern heavy pop-rock tune with jangly guitars and a very catchy vocal. "Move Your Pants" introduces Sippy Alison singing, which reminds me of The Wiggles' songs where Dorothy the Dinosaur sings. "The Snail Song" has a beautiful refrain, but I wonder what exactly it's trying to say... is a kid picking up a snail and throwing it in the air and then watching it fall to the ground? I'm not exactly sure, but that's kind of how it sounds, which seems a bit disturbing. "How to Build a Dog" is an interesting idea, lyrically, but becomes too much of a repetitive cacophony for me to ever want to hear again after the first listen. "Use Your Words" is kind of a Blur cop and has a good beat to it. "The Jellyfish" reminds me a lot of the tone and approach of some songs by The Tragically Hip, one of my favorite bands, so I like that a lot, and I'm choosing to find the "ettle" rhymes charmingly droll instead of just weird.

And then, in my opinion, the best songs on the album are among the last five. "Little Puffer" is a terrifically chugging train song with a great chord change on the "woo woo" of the train whistle. "I Am a Robot" is a really cool Pink Floyd meets Radiohead (well, those two bands don't have too far to meet in musical terms, I suppose) kind of story about a robot from outer space looking for what we call love. It's an A.I. or Short Circuit type of thing, and very well done. "Magic Toast" starts off sounding like Kate Bush's early work, and then in other sections sounds a lot like Jefferson Airplane, David Bowie, The Partridge Family and The Mamas and the Papas. I suppose on this and on some of the other songs, the band's influences are a little too transparent, but not so much so that the songs don't stand up on their own. "Flower Tower" would be at home on any Justin Roberts album, right down to the production tones and backing vocals. Closing out the album is "Time Out World", which is a top notch, Beatle-esque anthem. Great song, great pseudo-idealistic words. Great way to end the disc and make you want more.

There are a few interludes between the songs with silly sounding characters, but other than one or two jokes that land in the second and third ones, they didn't seem to work that well for me. The second one, for example, is a skit with a bunch of new-age/hippie lingo, like "pachouli", "chakra" and "feng-shui". Sure, I'm all for making fun of new-age/hippie lingo, but the thing is, merely hearing those words may be amusing, but it's not necessarily comedy. And the first interlude where a 'Major Minor' mispronounces the Sippy Cups band name reminds me of when The Wiggles do some of their between song shtick. It's just not funny, really, probably not even for the 2 year-olds they're intended for. These guys are obviously creative and have a deliciously skewed perspective, but I would have liked to hear more actual humor.

This is great music in many appreciable ways, with a super tight and very adventurous band, and I love it for what it is, but there's something I wonder as I listen to it... Is it great music for kids? In some cases, like "Move Your Pants" and "Little Puffer", I'd say definitely yes, but for some other things like "I Am a Robot", "Drinking from the Sky" and "Springtime Fantastic", I'm not so sure. Some things sound more like music meant for adults with some vaguely kid-related lyrics. And the vocals are often very buried in the mix, just like a lot of adult music, so it wouldn't even make that much of a difference what the words are. And having just read the press release that was included with the CD, I can't help but think that was indeed the intention. Here are some quotes:
"Somewhere during the course of every Sippy Cups show, there is the moment when a parent meets the eye of another parent, and raises a pint glass in triumph." “We’re appealing to parents who are psyched to get back to the clubs and want to hear music they can connect to..." “Basically, we’re providing a service to parents whose lighters may be a little rusty, but they still have a spark.” So I'm wondering, is there a point when the "kid" is no longer the focus of "kids' music"? (Can I get a - "Won't somebody please think of the children??!!!") I've played this CD several times now in the house and in the car ('cause I like it so much) and my kids haven't responded at all to it, whereas they typically love a lot of other kids' music I play and start bouncing and dancing and asking me to turn it up and play it again (without any encouragement from me to do so). I mean, all kids have different tastes, and mine are probably under the target range that would most appreciate this CD, being only 4 and (almost) 2. But they typically like a wide range of kids' music, and I think that perhaps with other kids' music they have more of a sense that what they're hearing is meant more specifically for them, and they are excited and engaged by that (well, if it's good). I suspect they don't feel that as much in this case, for whatever reason. I mean, I love it, so I'm happy to play it for me, and I think that anybody who likes good music should get this CD, regardless. But you'll have to find out for yourself whether it's something your kids will respond to.

I also wonder about the... uh, gosh, how to put this... psychadelic aspect of much of their lyrics. Things like "Drinking from the Sky", "Little Puffer" and "Magic Toast" are likely to raise a few eyebrows from certain straight-laced parents out there, especially those who thought that Peter, Paul and Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon" was a little too edgy.

I do have to blast them outright for dissing The Wiggles in their press release, claiming that, "We're not in Wiggles land anymore." You'll notice I specifically compared some things about their CD to The Wiggles, both positively and negatively. I did that on purpose once I read that... just to goof on them for saying that, for one thing... but also to illustrate one of the points from my previous Wiggles post, that they really aren't all that different from them in some ways, even though they apparently would like to think that they are. And I'm completely serious when I say that some of those songs and interludes are Wiggle-esque. I wasn't just trying to force a connection to help make my point. It's not just the music and the interludes, though... From what I've seen and read about their live shows, they have costume characters and giant inflatables and very colorful "something's always happening" kind of stage shows... just like... The Wiggles. Perhaps most of all their name itself is Wiggle-like. The Sippy Cups? Their music, inasmuch as it is meant for kids, seems to me like it would appeal most to a much older range of kids than would use sippy cups. And the Sippy Paul, Sippy Alison, Sippy Mark thing... That's just way too cutesy in the Greg Wiggle, Anthony Wiggle kind of way.

So anyway, all that being said, I do think The Sippy Cups are a really great band, and they definitely do have cool tunes for kids. They may be best for kids aged 25-45, and those much older kids who hung out at the Fillmore West and flew their freak banners high back in the day in Berzerkeley, but they are cool tunes for kids, nonetheless.

The Sippy Cups website

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Google Reader

There's a great new kids' music band called Google Reader, and I just listened to their debut album called Labs and it's really quite good.

Hardy har har.

Of course for some of you who have already used RSS this will not be news at all, but I just recently discovered that whole thing and how easy it is to use something like Google Reader to collectively keep up on different websites and blogs that I would otherwise have to check individually. With the free Google Reader (you'll need a G-mail account to use it), you just input the 'username' of the blog (which is the first part of the blog's web address - for this site it is cooltunesforkids), then click the Subscribe button and it should hook you right up. In addition to Blogger, you can also set it up to work for blog updates on MySpace, Live Journal and other sites, and for any website that has an RSS feed, such as news sites.

So instead of checking each of those websites and blogs individually to see if there's anything new, you just go to your Google Reader bookmark and it will show you if any of them have new content, which you can access and read directly from there. I have about 20 different blogs and websites set up through there so far and I just leave a Firefox tab with that open behind whatever else I have open. It even refreshes itself to check for changes and the tab will indicate when there are new items. Very cool!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Yay for me!

Well, I wasn't sure how else to title a post about how I won something without sounding all big-headed (though my hat-size is, in fact, very large), but hopefully "Yay for me!" works okay.

Anyway, I won a toaster! Well no, not really... but the song "Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Redbeard" from my
Monkey Business album did just win the "Best Children's Song" for this year's Just Plain Folks awards. It was totally unexpected, as I had only mentioned the nomination for that briefly on my newsletter and certainly hadn't been campaigning for votes or anything. Turns out a lot of different people must have just liked it a lot and voted for it. (I suppose it may have helped that voting for the awards was going on right around International Talk Like a Pirate Day.) Here's a link for all of the winning songs, and you can currently hear "Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Redbeard" in full at this page and hear a sample below.

I've gotta give mucho credit to the great Kenn Nesbitt, who wrote the poem that the song was based on and worked closely with me on the lyric version (and performed the part of Bluebeard), and to my wife Roseann who helped with the writing and co-produced the song with me (and performed the part of Yellowbeard, the parrot). I guess I'm supposed to receive some kind of trophy for that. Sweet. Roseann and I can share our part, but the problem is how to cut up a trophy to get Kenn his part??

Actually, that is a cool looking toaster. I kind of wish I did have one like that...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Cat in the Hat (1971)

I had to make a distinction in the title by adding the "(1971)", because I want to make it clear that when I say "The Cat in the Hat" I am definitely not referring to the 2003 film version starring Mike Myers. That had some moderately funny moments and thankfully gave a name (Conrad) to the boy in the story, which had been bothering my daughter Becca for a while, but it was largely a crude mess of a movie. But having read the books about the hat wearing feline night after night to my girls, we had to rent that film and also borrow the older animated television version from the library and see how they were. The film version went right back after watching it once and I ended up buying the video of the animated version which we've happily watched over and over and over. And I'm probably going to buy the DVD of the animated version as well. So that should say it all right there.

The version I'm referring to is a 26 minute show produced for television in 1971. Among the show's producers were Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones (both known for animating and directing Looney Tunes),
David H. DePatie (who along with Freleng created the Pink Panther animations), and some other guy named Dr. Seuss (who also wrote the script). Starring as "The Cat" was the great novelty singer Allan Sherman (who had one of the earliest kids' music hits with "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh"), and providing the voice of the fish was the legendary voice actor Daws Butler (the voice of Snagglepuss, Yogi Bear, Elroy Jetson, Quick Draw McGraw and many others). So there was definitely some great talent on board for this project, and with Seuss himself a big part of the production you'd think it would probably capture the spirit of his work pretty well, right? Well, it definitely does, and then some. Actually, I suppose you could say that the Mike Myers movie captured the spirit of the Seuss book and then some, but the "and then some" would be meant in a bad way. This "and then some" only adds to the enjoyment.

The show begins with the same premise as the book, where two kids with nothing to do on a rainy day are visited by a strange cat who basically wants to cause trouble and mess their house up. But then it takes a very different direction, where the Cat is quickly asked to leave and is about to go when he realizes that his precious "moss-covered, three-handled family grudunza" is missing. This leads to more lunacy from the Cat and more aggravation for the fish, and best of all it leads to several wonderful songs, which are the best part of an all-around terrific show.

The first song as the kids are sitting around grumbling that there is "absolutely positively nothing to be done" is definitely the most throw-away of the show, but the songs really build from there. The next song is the Cat's dramatic lament for his lost grudunza, and it's with this song that you start to get the idea of how special this show is. With a sublimely nice melody, we have the Cat singing oh so very earnestly, "I'll never see my darling, moss-covered, three-handled family grudunza anymore." There's a just barely under-the-top brilliance to it that has to be seen and heard to be appreciated.

From there the kids, the Cat and the fish are busy searching for this so-called grudunza (which elicits a great line from the ever-skeptical fish, "I'll tell you this... it's not in the unabridged dictionary!"). That leads to a fun bouncy show-tune styled number called "Calculatus Eliminatus", which is the Cat's scientific method for finding something that is lost. The idea is to eliminate and mark all of the places where the missing object isn't, thereby revealing where it must be. More grumbling by the fish follows, which leads the Cat to sing the self-loathing anthem, "I'm a punk, a crutunkulous shnunk." This song is vaguely in the style of "...Mr. Grinch" and although I like it a lot, it's kind of a time filler compared to the other songs and doesn't really advance the plot at all (not that this show is really about 'intricate plotting', though). Following that, the Cat tries to relax the very stressed out fish by singing an exquisite lullaby called "Beautiful Kittenfish". This song is gorgeous with its simple melody, even with silly lyrics directed at the fish like "bloop bloop bloop bloop bloop, bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep".

With the fish asleep, it is the Cat's chance to get serious with the grudunza search, and he enlists the help of his bizarre cohorts, Thing One and Thing Two, who can supposedly find "anything under the sun", which introduces the next song. The song jumps nicely between the Cat's steady marching rhythm and the Things' more frenetic pace as they complain that "there's always some fish, some sour-belly fish, whose only one wish is to flatten the fun". It's amusing to think that everywhere the Cat and his Things go, there's a complaining fish trying to thwart their efforts to have fun.

By this point the fish has had quite enough, and is almost hysterical, yelling "Get those Things out of this house!", to which the Cat replies, "But what is a house without Things?" The fish claims that the Cat isn't really a cat ("whoever heard of a six foot cat?!") and that the strange thing he is wearing on his head can't really be called a hat, can it? This leads to what would be called "the 11 o'clock number" in musical theater terms, or in other words, the big number just before the ending that everybody will remember and hum on the way home. And this song certainly delivers in that respect and is a real showstopper. Starting off with a cute sing-song melody, the Cat demonstrates how he would most certainly be considered a cat wearing a hat in any country around the world. "In English 'cat'/'hat'. In French 'chat'/'chapeau'. In Spanish 'el gato in a sombrero'." This part is repeated and built upon enough times that you'll remember it after the first time you've watched it, and even learn some important things, such as that "cat in a hat" is "gwonka in a bonkequank" in Eskimo. Throughout these verses there are brief musical interludes that are homages to the countries mentioned, including Spanish mariachi and German polka. The charm of the song actually starts to win over the fish and he joins in, even offering the Russian translation of "chapka" in a "shlyapa". This leads the song into another direction, one-upping itself as a chorus fervently sings, "He's a cat of many countries. He's a cat of many hats. Many, many foreign countries and an awful lot of hats." This song goes on and on and must be several minutes long, and yet it is thoroughly enjoyable at every turn. My only disappointment is that it ends at all.

But then the mother's car horn is heard and the kids and the fish realize that she is coming down the street and whatever is to be done about the huge mess in the house? As in the book, the Cat leaves and then quickly returns with his many-armed clean-up machine. You would probably expect this to be an extremely hurried operation, but the Cat is nothing if not cool, and he cleans everything up calmly and confidently while singing a wonderful torch song that is sweetly sad and also beautifully poignant, "Sweep, sweep up the memories, those old untidy memories of what we had one day." I'll bet Babs (Streisand, not Bunny) could have had a hit with this song, as it is perfectly in the vein of things like "The Way We Were". And then, the gwonka in the chapeau is gone, and the mother returns with a surprising revelation. And then the video is rewinded and watched again. And I don't mean that necessarily with my kids, although they love it... But I like this show so much that I thoroughly enjoy watching and listening to it on my own, repeatedly.

The songs for the show were created by Dean Elliott, and they are astounding and memorable at every turn. Elliott also wrote the songs for the cartoon version of "Green Eggs and Ham" and "The Sneetches", which came out in 1973, but the songs in that sound kind of cheesed out, as you might expect from music in the 70's, and they don't have nearly the same appeal for me. Thankfully, that kind of 70's cheese hadn't kicked in too hard yet by 1971, so the Cat in the Hat songs were just brilliant and timeless songs, enjoyable for any time or era. If you haven't seen this yet, then by all means find out if your local library has a copy and check it out (make sure it is the right one, though, as there is also a "Cat in the Hat" video which is just someone reciting the book verbatim with pictures from the book as a slideshow). And if you like this as much as I do you'll want to go directly to one of the following links or to eBay and get yourself a copy...

The Cat in the Hat (1971) DVD on

Seuss Celebration DVD on (which includes this and other Seuss shows)

Monday, November 06, 2006

John Carlin

The first thing that I thought when I put on John Carlin's First Time for Everything album was, wow, how did he get Randy Newman to sing on his album? Then I realized, ah yeah, that's actually John singing. So whether or not you like Randy Newman's vocal style might influence whether you go any farther with this album. But Randy's style doesn't make we want to sneer and mutter "Newman!" under my breath, so I continued on. (Okay, that's two Seinfeld references in a row... I promise no more for a while.) And as it turned out, the Randy Newman voice is just one aspect of John Carlin's vocal ability. He has a great variety of sounds and styles in his vocal palette, and although sometimes it sounds a bit too much like he's doing an 'impression', when he sings naturally it's really quite cool.

John is also a very good songwriter, in particular on the incredibly infectious "Runaround", which reminds me of Cheap Trick's guitar rock hits. I also really liked the "Groovin'" groove of the title track, with its cool "wee-ooh" backing vocals and it's David Lee Roth meets Louis Armstrong vocal style. I was a little disappointed by the 'rhyme' of "thing" and "thing" in the chorus (couldn't he have used "sing" or "wing" or "bling bling"?), but that might not bother too many people. "Bein' a Dog" has a good acoustic vibe and is a great participation song in the spirit of Barry Louis Polisar's "I Wanna Be a Dog". I appreciated the strangely mysterious intro to "I Like You", until it turned out that it wasn't just the intro, but the whole song goes on like that. It's very much a 'musical tension' kind of thing, and I'm all for that, but at some point it felt to me like it really needed to go somewhere else, if only briefly. Imagine if you heard an amazing gospel choir sing a majestic "Hallelujah" chorus and at the end they did a big long "ahhhhhhhhhhh" but never did the "men". The musical part of your brain would be tearing its hair out. The final track "Not Alone" is a sweet and melodic charmer with some cute lyrics like "Twinkling in the dark/There must be a billion stars shining down from heaven/Is there one for me?/And will I ever learn to be as wise as I am when I'm seven?"

On First Time for Everything, John also adds a few traditional song renditions, including "Waltzing Matilda", "This Little Light of Mine" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb". These songs really show off the nice natural singing voice and interesting phrasing that John has, and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is reimagined in a very nice way.

The album was recorded by John in a rehearsal studio and the production is kind of uneven. The acoustic songs sound great, but the others could have been a little more polished. There are a few things that I wasn't entirely crazy about on this album, but for the most part I really loved it, and I think John Carlin will definitely be one to listen to as he continues to produce music for kids.

John Carlin website