Sunday, July 29, 2007

Roger Day's new CD, Dream Big!

The great Roger Day, one of my favorite children's music artists (click here for my previous feature on him), has released his third CD, called Dream Big!, and it adds several more Roger Day classics to the kids' music catalog.

Roger has a way of making memorable, easy to follow and also very musically fulfilling songs, and the first several tracks on Dream Big! are terrific examples of that, including the poppy title track with its enthusiastic exhortation for kids to sing loud, jump high and dream big; "Rumble in the Jungle (The Elefunk Song)"; the mid-career Beatles with string quartet sound of "Zachary Hated Bumblebees"; the laid-back charm of "I Like Yaks"; "Roly Poly", with a Buddy Holly/Bo Diddley riff that appropriately employs The Crickets as the backup band and has a hilarious line about not knowing "Bo Diddley squat"; and "Uno, Dos, Tres", with a catchy and beautiful Spanish melody.

The album is only hit-and-miss for me after that point. I give Roger mucho bravery points for his rapping on "Turn Off the TV" (my wife and I have instituted a strict "no middle-aged white guy rapping" policy for my albums). I'm not sure how well the song will work, but if you're trying to get your kids to watch less TV, I suppose it can't hurt. "Hello Sunshine" is nice in a Turtles meets The Osmonds kind of way, but also sort of innocuous (in a Turtles meets The Osmonds kind of way). "Zoe's World" would have made a perfect 80's sitcom theme. "Happy Hippos Hopping" and "The Greatest Day on Earth Day" sound very similar to each other, and remind me a bit of Ralph's World's more cutesy folk-pop songs. "Life is a Miracle" is a very engaging reggae anthem, and "I Love You (More than My Shoe)" is a fun old-style tune reminiscent of "The Goodbye Song" from Roger's last album, Ready to Fly.

The later songs that didn't grab me as much are still decent and well-produced by any other standard, so to say that they aren't as good as the earlier tracks or as some of Roger's other hits like "Mosquito Burrito" and "Open Up the Coconut" is not to say that they're not good. It's just that the bar has been set very high. Altogether, it's a really fun album, and it's great to hear some new music from Roger, especially considering that Ready to Fly was released waaaaaay back in 2001.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Mr. Billy

Mister Billy is a very popular children's entertainer from Wisconsin. He performs over 300 shows a year, which is an amazingly busy schedule for any performer, but especially for someone doing energetic live shows for kids. Obviously, he is great at entertaining kids in a live setting, but his CDs also stand up on their own, with a lot of great songs and energy, and a nice variety of styles and approaches.

Much of Mr. Billy's music has the feel of classic rock 'n' roll, and he appropriately rips on guitar, with many cool riffs on his songs. Vocally, he's got a twangy blues rock delivery, which can also be very expressive when needed. If I had to pick another artist that he reminds me of, it would probably be ZZ Top, ranging from their early raw music ("La Grange", "Cheap Sunglasses", etc.) through their more commercial later music ("Legs", "Sharp Dressed Man", etc.), and also on another end of the music spectrum, he's kind of like Howard Jones.

Mr. Billy has released four CDs, and while most of them are electric guitar-based, his latest album, Batteries Not Included, is all acoustic, though still with a lot of the same rock feel to it. It starts off with "Good Morning", which has a catchy and funky feel and includes a very nice counterpoint section. This is charmingly quirky and reminds me of my friend Kent Olmstead, who writes and produces cool indie rock with the band Fast Sundae. "Clap Your Hands" is a participatory rock anthem, which largely cops the "Satisfaction" riff at one point. "We Went to the Sea" chugs along nicely with an enthusiastic chorus of kids. By and large, Mr. Billy seems to be targeting the younger range of kids with these songs, and he does a really good job of appealing to their interest and attention.

Songs like "R-I-N-G-O" and "The ABC Blues" are kind of fun the first time for me and then don't really hold any interest beyond that, but kids would give them more longevity, and ultimately that's what matters. Other covers on the album are either hit or miss, and my definite preference for Mr. Billy's recordings are his original songs, which are very memorable in their own right. My favorites are in the middle of the album, starting with "Something Fishy", which is a take on the old "Teasing Mr. Crocodile" song and has a cool Grateful Dead with minor chord harmonies kind of sound. Next is "Chug-a Chug-a Choo Choo", a very catchy blues rock hit with an amazing sped up fiddle break (see video below). "I Heard Said the Bird" is a really fun 50's rocker a la Elvis and the Stray Cats.

The album closes with two more great songs. "Bernie the Bubble Breathing Dragon" has some terrific chord changes and a nice "don't play with fire" message. "Goodnight Sun" is a gorgeous lullaby. There is another Grateful Dead comparison here, but this time in the sense of some harmonies that don't quite lock in together. But just because the harmonies are a little off on "Box of Rain" or "Uncle John's Band" doesn't mean they aren't still great songs to listen to, and the same thing definitely applies for "Goodnight Sun".

I wanted to feature Mr. Billy and Monty Harper subsequently, because they have worked together on a few projects. The pair collaborated on both "Chug-a Chug-a Choo Choo" and "Goodnight Sun", and one of my favorite songs on Monty Harper's new Get a Clue album is "Can You Guess?", featuring Mr. Billy's arrangement and instrumentation.

I also received Mr. Billy's Greatest Hits album, which includes a wider variety of styles and sounds, and features his electric guitar sound. "Seuss on the Loose" has that modern ZZ Top sound that I mentioned before.
"The Ants in Your Pants Dance" is kind of like a cross between Huey Lewis' rock songs and "Hand Jive" from Grease, and is thankfully nothing at all like my own song of the same name (another example of what I said in my recent Idea Tree 2.0 post, that the same idea or title can yield totally different results). "First Day!" is partially a parody of "Summertime Blues" with a bit of a Scorpions riff and ably tackles the tough job of making the first day of school seem like a great thing. For some kids it is (and for parents, definitely), but for many a little propaganda like this might help ease the long walk out to the bus stop after the all-too-brief summer fun. "I Like Dinosaurs" has a really great riff and a B-52s 80's rock feel. "Let's Go Writing" has a bass riff that's kind of a fast version of "Peter Gunn" and a sweet vocal echo on the hook. "Bubble Trouble" goes some interesting directions and has very clever sound arrangement. "Don't Call Me a Bird" is a neat riddle with a Sting/Bon Jovi/Howard Jones flavor.

You can gather from some of my descriptions above that Mr. Billy is pretty heavily influenced by 80's music, running the gamut between 80's rock and metal and 80's synth pop and new wave. So
that might be a determining factor as far as how well parents will take to his music. But regardless, kids will find a lot to love in Mr. Billy's songs, and they might be a good way to transition your kids into listening to your old Flock of Seagulls and Men Without Hats albums.

Mr. Billy's website

Monday, July 09, 2007

Snail's Pace and a Bloggy Birthday

I'm happy to announce the release of Snail's Pace, my fourth CD of cool tunes for kids. I was about to say "my new CD", but it's actually somewhat of a compilation of the more laid-back tunes from my three previous albums, with six new tracks, so it's only partially "new".

The new tracks include a new recording of "The Elephant Song", featuring my girls, Becca and Evee; "Scat Cat", which I've mentioned and previewed here before, featuring the amazing scat vocals of Sam Payne (and the "Scat cat!" yelling of some of you!); "Nightlight", a new version of a pre-kids' music song of mine (which was in the top 10 for quite a while on the old charts); "For the Beauty of the Earth", a classic hymn; and my version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", with some original lyrics and music. There is also a bonus download track included, called "The Cruelest Lullaby". (That was originally going to be the final track on
Monkey Business, but we thought there was a chance that it might be too scary for some younger kids who wouldn't get that it's meant to be very tongue-in-cheek, so we rewrote it as "Rest Easy Now".)

Snail's Pace can be ordered at this page, and if you already have my first three CDs, there is a special deal available to only get the new tracks as a ZIP file or as individual downloads. Snail's Pace includes a bona fide lullaby or two, but it's really more of a "quiet-time" or "chill out" kind of album, and also has some spiritual undertones here and there. It was a lot of fun to put together and work on the new tracks, and I was able to do a few minor edits and mixing tweaks to some of the previously released tracks (which is always nice to do if you can find the time and reason to do so). I hope y'all enjoy it a lot.

I wanted to mention, also, that the cover of Snail's Pace was designed by my daughter, Becca, who was three at the time. Roseann and I were talking about what the title of the album should be, when Becca walked up with a picture of a snail that she had drawn on her magnetic drawing board. We quickly took a picture of it (those things aren't really the most permanent mediums of art!) and the snail on the cover of the album was taken directly from that original picture, though Roseann colored it and added some shading and did the background (with Becca's help).


I'm also happy to announce that the one year birthday of this blog was last week. I checked the stats recently and it has grown almost exponentially in readers since the beginning, so I'm really glad to see that. But although I know that a lot of people are reading the posts and articles here, I would love to see more commentary, so please feel free to add your thoughts.

It turns out that I've been averaging just over a post a week this past year. A post a week was my target goal, so that's cool, although it's probably seemed to be less than that with periods of inactivity here and there. I expect the average to go down a little bit again over the busy summer months, but I'll try to make up for it over the fall and winter. I do have a few new artist features and articles ready to go, so I'll be posting those every so often and adding whatever else I can when I have some free time.

Thanks so much for stopping by here and welcoming me to the kids' music blogging community. I look forward to sharing a lot more with you in the coming year!

Very best,
Eric Herman