Monday, August 27, 2007


Scribblemonster is a super-cool kids' band from the Chicago area. In my article about John Hadfield, I mentioned how his music seemed to have a sharp dichotomy between two different styles. Well, Scribblemonster performs several different styles of music, but they seem to have an even more dramatic distinction when it comes to the overall sound they have. The first two songs on their second album, Chocolate Milk, are a perfect demonstration of that.

The first song, the title track, is a power chord anthem which almost seems like a style parody of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll". Jumping right out at you through the speakers is the voice of ScribbleMonster, which is indeed very "monstery", sounding something like Dave Mustaine, Harvey Fierstein and MacGruff the Crime Dog if they all gargled with turpentine. It probably is a bit scary of a voice for the youngest or most timid of kids, but then again, if you're putting on a CD called "Scribblemonster", you should probably expect a scary monster voice, and this certainly delivers that along with a heavy dose of crunchy distorted guitars.

You might think from the first track that this is going to be one of the only original heavy metal albums for kids, but then track 2 makes you wonder if maybe you actually bought a compilation CD and Scribblemonster only had the leadoff track. "Beautiful Day" is an upbeat acoustic pop tune with jangly guitars and the decidedly ungruff and quite beautiful voice of ScribbleKitty. This song is catchy and cool and well-written and performed, just like "Chocolate Milk", and yet couldn't be more different from that track unless it was an Indian raga performed with kazoos and featuring a chorus of peacocks (I've yet to hear a children's music act do that convincingly).

But the more you listen to Scribblemonster, the more you realize that those two very divergent sounds, and many more, are just part of the whole experience. So it was probably very wise sequencing to put those two tracks up front like that, so you didn't get too familiar with one voice before being presented with the other. But ScribbleMonster and ScribbleKitty are actually only two of the four Scribblemonster voices... There is also ScribblePiggy, who has a bit more of a bluesy tone to her, and ScribbleBunny, who is more of a cute little boy character. ScribbleMonster and ScribbleBunny are both voiced by James Dague, who also writes and produces most of the Scribblemonster material. I'm not sure how he pulls off performing the two different voices live, but I'd like to see him try. (ScribbleKitty is Joyce Stuart and ScribblePiggy is Jayne Saniat).

All together, the four characters make for an interesting group, and I love the way they interact throughout the very hooky songs. And Scribblemonster has several songs that cleverly leave room for kids to interact directly with the song. For example, on "The World's Greatest", each of the Scribbles sing a verse about what their character would like to be (i.e. "I'm gonna be the world's greatest dentist" or "greatest singer" or "greatest plumber"), and then they leave a verse with just the music, so that kids can sing about whatever they want to be. It's sort of like karaoke mad libs. On the song "I'm a... (Anything I Like)", they sing the first part of the line, but leave the end for the kids, such as, "I'm a box of... (???)". It's especially funny to hear ScribbleMonster singing the verse that goes, "I'm a girl named... (???)" This has become a fun game for us to play on the road, because you can make up just about anything. For example, my two year-old created this gem, "I'm stinky and I'm a foot." I don't know if James came up with the idea for this type of song, but I can't recall hearing this kind of thing before, and regardless, they do a really great job with these.

Throughout both of their albums, Scribblemonster has a terrific blend of melody, rhythm and subject matter that is perfect for kids. Their first album, Best of Friends, is a little rougher in terms of its production, but has just as many great songs as its successor, like "Wishin' Around", which has a wonderfully soaring melody; "A Monster Goes Rrrargh!", which has a monster going "rrrargh!" (see video below); and "Hooray!", which is one of those aforementioned "make up your own verse" songs.

Scribblemonster has also performed some notable guest appearances, including their popular track "I Wish I Lived in Michigan", which appears on Kevin Kammeraad's epic 49 track CD about the state of Michigan called A Curious Glimpse of Michigan, and backing Monty Harper on the title track of his Get a Clue album.

Scribblemonster website

Monday, August 20, 2007

Randy Newman

Randy Newman has had quite a varied and successful career as a singer-songwriter and film composer. He has won virtually every major award there is in the entertainment industry, including Oscars, Grammys and Emmys. In recent years, Randy has become even more well known for his songs in popular children's movies.

I use the term "children's movies" with some hesitation, because while Pixar's films are particularly geared toward children, I consider them among the finest movies of any type, and I'm 38. I can sit and watch any of the Pixar movies on my own, repeatedly, and thoroughly enjoy them.
When I was traveling on my own for about a week recently, and had a few hours free, I felt no hesitation whatsoever to go and see Ratatouille all by myself. My favorites, in particular, are Monsters Inc., Toy Story 1 & 2 and Finding Nemo, but I think they are all terrifically entertaining.

Toy Story started the ball rolling for Pixar's tremendous run of success, and Randy's songs and scoring are a big part of what helps to drive the story. Randy's songs are unassuming in their approach, usually with a basic pop arrangement and his uniquely twangy voice that can only be self-referenced. Randy Newman's voice sounds like... well, like Randy Newman. They are simply great songs, with a catchiness that belies their sophistication and melodies that are sublime and inspired. "You've Got a Friend in Me" is the signature song for the Toy Story films, and it welcomes you right into the world of Woody and Andy. It's a perfect hummable theme song with a heart, as Randy eloquently sings, "Some other folks might be a little bit smarter than I am, bigger and stronger, too. But none of them will ever love you the way I do. It's me and you, boy."

The next song in the film is the funky rock song, "Strange Things", where Woody is realizing how Buzz is taking some of Andy's attention away from Woody. I love that the film's producers chose Randy to create new songs specifically for the movie instead of just filling in a bunch of soundtrack songs and calling that a "score". Sometimes that kind of pop soundtrack can be just right for a movie, and certainly there are several songs that might have fit okay to underscore the general feeling there. But it's especially perfect to have Randy's specific lyrical descriptions like, "I was on top of the world, it was right in my pocket. I was livin' the life, things were just the way they should be. When from out of the sky like a bomb comes some little punk in a rocket. Now all of a sudden some strange things are happenin' to me."

The other song in Toy Story, "I Will Go Sailing No More", is later in the film when Buzz is realizing that he is indeed a toy, and it is a beautifully dramatic and dynamic piece tha
t reminds me of some of the achingly powerful Roger Waters tracks on The Wall. Each of the three songs on Toy Story couldn't be more different from each other, and yet each is brilliant and perfect for what it is and for what it is supposed to be achieving in the film.

There is only one new Randy Newman song in Toy Story 2 ("You've Got a Friend in Me" is reprised a couple of times), but boy, is it a doozy. "When She Loved Me", sung wonderfully by Sarah McLachlan, is so touchingly sad it makes you want to weep for the plight of forgotten toys everywhere. McLachlan, known for her breathy pseudo-yodeling vocals, was a perfect choice to give voice to the memory of Jessie, the Yodeling Cowgirl, and Newman's melody and arrangement in this song is truly stirring. Newman actually won his Oscar (after 13 nominations) for the fun jazzy pop tune "I Wouldn't Have Nothing if I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc., but my feeling is that he deserved it more for "When She Loved Me".

Other songs Randy composed for children's movies include the songs for the great version of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, "That'll Do" from Babe: Pig in the City, and "Our Town", which James Taylor plaintively sang (as he does so well) in Cars. Pixar is scheduled to release Toy Story 3 in 2010, presumably with Randy Newman doing the music again, though his involvement hasn't been confirmed for that yet. He is definitely doing songs and music for Disney's much-touted return to traditional 2D animation with "The Frog Princess" in 2009.

Randy Newman website

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Roseann Endres

I ended my recent article about Robbi K by saying, "A husband and wife producing children's music together... How about that?!" I was making a wink smile kind of comment about my wife and I producing my kids' music, but I realize that it may have been a bit of an oblique reference for anyone who didn't know that.

Yes, my wife, Roseann, and I produce my kids' music together, and I realize that it's not just us and Robbi K and her husband, Bakithi... Gwendolyn and her husband, Brandon, produce the music for Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang, and I believe that Ellen and Matt (who I've been meaning to feature here at some point) also produce their music in addition to performing together. I'm sure there are other kid-music-producing couples, too. (Please let me know if I'm missing any.) And of course, there are many spouses out there who play an important role in the careers of their musical counterparts, though that may not specifically include the music production aspect.

But since I've mentioned Roseann, I wanted to give you a better glimpse at what exactly she does in respect to my musical career. I get all of the applause at my concerts and most of the accolades for the CDs, but I would like to applaud her for all of her efforts and talents behind the scenes. You might get an interesting glimpse into the dynamics of a husband/wife entertainment team, and I might score some major love points with the Mrs., which never hurts!

If Roseann were applying for a job somewhere, and using her work with me as a reference, the list of her job functions could look something like this...

Producer, songwriter, copy writer, casting director, stage manager, musical director, marketing research, PR manager, business relations, video producer, child psychology and development research, video director, camera operator, child wrangler, costume designer, mascot performer, puppeteer, business adviser, artistic adviser, performance adviser, promoter, agent, networking, event planning, graphic artist, mechanic, electrician, handyman, talent coordinator, assistant to the artist, cashier, retail sales, quality control supervisor, performer, vocalist, business founder, entrepreneur, photographer, stylist, roadie, groupie, navigator, image consultant, operations manager, physical therapist, first-aid caregiver, nutritionist, human resources, sounding board, development team, muse, ego booster, ego leveler, backseat driver, map reader, relief driver, bargain hunter, customer service, billing/collections, legal adviser, set designer, comedy writer, temporary pickle jar opener (until my arm and finger injuries heal).

And then of course there are the all-important jobs of wife and mother.
Certainly there are more job descriptions that I could add for her, but that gives you some idea of the many things that she does. It would take too long to elaborate on all of those job descriptions, but I'd like to add a few notes about some of those aspects.

Producer: Roseann is definitely an equal partner in terms of the producing aspect of my music. We have similar tastes, but we also have some individual preferences that make for a good blend. We have some arguments now and then about certain things, but when that happens, we've found that it's usually a case of properly communicating what it is that we want or don't want (which isn't always easy to do), and then finding something that works better. We try not to just compromise when there is a difference of opinion, but to find another solution that makes the whole thing better for both of us.

A good example of that is the song "Ants in the Lunchroom" from Monkey Business, where I really liked the song as it was but Roseann kept insisting that it felt too "heavy". I felt like that early Rush meets Jethro Tull kind of sound was cartoonish in this case and worked well for the idea of the song. We butted heads for a while on whether the song should be on that album (and if we didn't get beyond that argument, it wouldn't have been included). But then I had the idea to add the ant voices as part of the recording. I did a basic demo of that and Roseann loved it and realized that it added the cartoonishness that she wasn't feeling before and took away the feeling of heaviness that she didn't like, without taking away the heaviness that I did like. Roseann actually scripted most of the ant parts for the final recordings that she and Kenn Nesbitt performed, and we both ended up liking that song a lot better the way it turned out, and that track became a favorite for many kids from that album. We have had a lot of similar experiences while producing our albums, where there's usually something better to be gained from whatever conflict there might be.

Roseann is also a great producer when it comes to knowing when to say things like, "This song needs more cowbell!" or "Why on Earth are you using cowbell on this song?!" She has a great ear for pitch and instrumental balance and a terrific feel for what kids will respond to, or not. She generously lets me be the mad scientist and go experiment with sounds and parts, but she is also able to give some great direction and offer many creative ideas of her own, which often helps to complete the songs. I don't recall Roseann contributing too much to the writing of "Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Redbeard", but she was a big part of producing how the recording turned out, such as getting together the intro/outro parts with the big kid's interjections with the narrator, which I think added a lot to the self-deprecating nature of that track.

Another very significant production contribution Roseann had was to use just one really cute sounding little girl (who she found in her capacity as "casting director") as my audience for the recording of "The Elephant Song". I kept thinking we should use a live version or to bring in a throng of kids to respond together, to capture some of the frenzied and insistent responses that the song elicits in a live setting. But she felt that for the CD, it would be best to have a more controlled focus, because she wanted to feature the song better and she also felt that while a parent at a concert might laugh and enjoy watching their kid go bonkers, on an audio recording with a group of kids, that could be grating. Roseann was also instrumental (in her capacity as a "child wrangler") in getting Meghan, the girl who did the recording, to deliver a terrific performance that would be received well.

A quick mention here that Roseann the video director and graphic artist also designed the video for "The Elephant Song". It was originally meant to be nothing more than a demo, so she threw some pictures together on the MS Paint program, with the help of our daughter, Becca, to show me how it might work. But once we put it all together, we decided to show the "demo" to some other people and it took off from there, though she's still a little embarrassed that her initial rough sketch drawings are what is being seen around the world.

Songwriter: I give Roseann co-writing credit on all of my songs, because there is often something specific that she's added to every song. That may be minimal for some songs, such as, "That phrase needs to be reworded... How about this, instead?" or "How about a different chord there?", but there are also several songs where we've worked very closely together and her contribution has been very significant, and those have turned out to be some of my most popular, including "There's a Monster in My House", "The Elephant Song", "Bounce and Flap and Twist", "Cowboy Bergaleoukaleopaleous" and "No Big Deal".

Performer: Roseann has performed the following parts on my albums... The "Awww!" on "In the Box"; monkey sounds on "The Monkeys"; the parrot on "Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Redbeard"; backing vocals on "Crazy Over Vegetables" (which she also arranged); the mother on "I Am a Robot"; the legal speak on "Prune Juice"; some of the ant parts on "Ants in the Lunchroom" (Kenn Nesbitt did most of them); the mother in "Cowboy Bergaleoukaleopaleous"; co-lead vocals on "Steve the Superhero".

Stage manager/performance adviser: Roseann has been crucial over the last several years as an observer at my live shows, to help me improve as a performer and fine-tune my shows to be the most entertaining experience they can be, which can vary quite a bit depending on the audience, the venue and the particular circumstances of the event. Sometimes it feels a little disheartening when I feel like I just had a terrific show and then she tells me afterward about something I said or did that didn't work so well or could have been better, but I have learned to graciously accept her notes and use them to do better next time. Conversely, once in a while I feel like a show didn't go so well, but she might tell me about some things that I didn't observe that were very well received.

On rare occasions, she might even come up and give me an instruction during a show which is helpful to get things going in a better direction, or to keep things going in the right direction. For example, at a recent show I wasn't aware that most of my audience were European immigrants and weren't English-speaking, and so when I was getting a little frustrated that I had little reaction from the kids early on, she sensed that and told me about it after she found that out from the sound guy. And so for the rest of that show, doing more physical/dancing songs went over much better than the story/joke songs had early on. Roseann has some background in early childhood development and child psychology and experience working with special needs kids and has observed a lot from that which she has brought to our involvement with entertaining children.


I could go on and on about the specific things that Roseann has done and continues to do on a daily basis to help me do what I do, but this has probably been long enough.
Hopefully I've scored enough bonus points with her already. Suffice to say that I'm incredibly grateful to be married to such a wonderful woman and to be able to work together with her and for the life and the love that we share. Also, as I talked about in this article about how I got into kids' music, I probably wouldn't be doing this at all if it weren't for Roseann's faith in me and encouragement, and I'm particularly grateful for that.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Eric Herman and the Injurable Hand

It hasn't been the best year for personal safety...

First, the broken arm, and then last week I cut a nice chunk out of the tip of my middle finger with a shaving razor.

I know what you're probably thinking... Eric, you're not supposed to shave your fingers. But it's just that every night when the moon comes out, they get really hairy, and... Well, actually I was rummaging through a bin on the top shelf of our bathroom closet in the RV and there was a razor in there with the safety cap missing. That'll teach me to leave safety caps off and to go rummaging through uncharted bins.

Fortunately, the gouge is over on the side of the fingertip and shouldn't affect my long-term guitar-playing. It's healing well and should be okay before too long, but it has made it difficult to play guitar at my recent shows. "The Elephant Song" just doesn't sound quite right with two-finger power chords. And there's a gesture that is created now when my hand is playing the guitar neck that, well... it's not the nicest thing for family shows, if you know what I mean.

So anyway, with the arm brace still on my right forearm and the finger splint on my left hand, I've decided not to sing any "safety" songs this year, for fear of looking hypocritical.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Robbi K

In her career, Robbi K has performed and recorded with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Rod Stewart and Mary J. Blige, just to name a few. She's also performed on big-time TV shows like Oprah and David Letterman. She has quite an impressive resume, and with her amazing vocal talent and engaging personality and sense of humor, she could really do anything at all in the entertainment world. But Robbi was inspired by a children's theatre production in 1981 to make children the main focus of her musical talent, and the children of the world are very blessed for that choice of hers.

Robbi's latest album, her second CD for kids, is called Music Makes Me Happy, and it's an outstanding collection of songs for kids, covering a wide variety of styles including world, jazz, blues and gospel. Robbi sites Paul Simon's Graceland as a seminal album and influence for her. I would say exactly the same thing about Graceland's influence on me, and so it's interesting to me how different people can be influenced in very different ways by the same work of art. This is not to say that Robbi's music (or mine) sounds much at all like Graceland, but the idea of exploring and trying to be unique and creative with a variety of musical approaches is certainly prevalent throughout Music Makes Me Happy, and in that sense, I can definitely recognize that influence.

The CD begins with a fun percussion song as Robbi and a small group of kids "Feel Da Beat". "Summer's Here" is next and is a catchy calypso style song in the vein of "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid. "Eating Some Pizza" shows off some great kid singers describing what makes them shout "Hallelujah!", and I particularly love how the background singers sing the "hallelujah" phrase. This is a really cool track and my only complaint is that the kids singing are mixed a little too low to understand throughout. The kids they got to perform on this album are right on with their pitch and timing and the production showcases them well throughout the rest of the album, but I wish I could have heard them a little better on this track.

Robbi's take on "The Legend of John Henry" has an upbeat Motown feel, very reminiscent of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone". Next up is "Music is My Friend", which is probably the only track I didn't really enjoy on this album. I think that people make too much fun of the music from the 1970's, when there was actually quite a lot of great music happening then, but this reminds me of the kind of 70's songs that didn't endure very well. Musically, it's kind of catchy, so that's not the major issue, but lyrically it seems to include some forced and rather odd phrases, such as, "It can take down up. Fill an empty cup. Fill it with magic stuff." and "Music brings a charge, makes the small seem large. Rides you on a barge." Rides you on a barge?? A very strange choice for a lyric... Robbi didn't write this song, so I'm not going to hold it against her, but regardless, those kind of lyrics combined with the lite jazz pop of the music make the song a little difficult for me to warm up to. I like that this is yet another style that she is experimenting with, and I like the general message that music can be very uplifting to your spirit, but it just doesn't seem to measure up with the strength of the rest of the album for me. But to say that this is the only song I don't really care for is in itself quite a recommendation for this CD, as even some of my favorite albums have two or three tracks that I'm not all that crazy about.

"Favourite Things" is a swing jazz version of the song from The Sound of Music, and Robbi shows off some nice phrasing, for example, pausing in just the right way to make a line like "schnitzel with noodles" sound cool instead of hokey. The band is sizzling hot on this one, and the musical performances and Robbi's arrangements throughout the CD are terrific. My favorite tune, the "Got Me Laughing Blues", definitely got me laughing with some brutally honest examples of things that make Robbi laugh, including her brother's little butt and passing gas.
"Music Makes Me Happy" is an upbeat and joyous blues number (yes, blues can be that way!) and features several different people joining in to celebrate, including children's music artist Brady Rymer and blues legend Guy Davis.

"Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy!" begins with a Barney impersonation that seems to imply that the song will be a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but you could certainly take it at face value to be a musical depiction of the seesaw mood swings of a kids' life. I like the contrast between the happy and mad sections, and how they change into each other. The feel of the happy part reminds me of Vince Guaraldi playing piano for a polka band, and then the mad part has shades of things like Fiddler on the Roof and even Frank Zappa. It's an unusual combination, but somehow it works well and is a fun diversion.

"I Love My Teacher" (see the video below) has a chorus of kids (including Robbi's daughters DiDi and Mbali) singing in an old doo-wop style (with Bowzer from Sha Na Na appropriately guesting), doing a fitting tribute to teachers everywhere. I can remember idealizing a few of my teachers growing up, and I think this song speaks well to that kind of kids' perspective. A lot of kids, especially elementary aged kids, really do think of teachers as being in a different realm entirely, which is why it was always so weird when you happened to see your teacher at the supermarket. I'd think... What is Mr. Edholm doing here? I thought he lived at the school and studied science books all night?! And lines like "I'm so glad that I'm her child" made me realize that the kids could also be singing this to their parent or parents, who are certainly the most important of all the teachers in their lives (a relationship which is completely reciprocal, since kids teach us so much).

The final track is a beautiful medley called "The Peace Song", which is gloriously arranged with angelic voices and lush strings, as the Latin words for "Give us peace" are interspersed with references to classic gospel songs like "Amazing Grace", "His Eye is on the Sparrow" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands". Robbi's voice has such versatility throughout the album, strongly belting out jazz and blues and also showing much beauty and restraint on a track like this. All told, Music Makes Me Happy more than proves its title, providing an enlightening and entertaining experience through the joy and power of music.

I should mention that Music Makes Me Happy was co-produced by Robbi and her husband, Bakithi Kumalo (who also plays bass on the album and who has played bass for many years with Paul Simon. You know that famous bass solo on "You Can Call Me Al"? That was Bakithi.). The arrangements and instrumental performances are varied, colorful and altogether quite enjoyable, without ever getting in the way of Robbi's vocals, and the overall production is top-notch. There's no doubt that Bakithi and Robbi make a really great team. (A husband and wife producing children's music together... Hey, how about that?!)

Robbi K website

Thursday, August 02, 2007

John Hadfield

If I were a kid, John Hadfield would be someone who I would camp out overnight to buy tickets for. Well, that's probably not a good thing for kids to do... I mean, the camping part is fine, but waiting in line all night for concert tickets isn't typically the most wholesome activity. Then again, maybe you can talk your Scoutmaster into having the next Boy Scout campout in the parking lot in front of Ticketmaster instead of at Lake Wikihaha. Then it might be alright...

But do people even do that anymore... sleep out for concert tickets? I used to do that once in a while, but it got to the point where I'd tell a friend, "Dude, I slept out for Soundgarden tickets last night and got seats in the 10th row!" and then he'd be like, "I called in for tickets this morning and got 8th row." And it's probably even more like that now with internet ticket sales available. I'm not sure that the idea of sleeping out and forming a line at the ticket window is really much of a guarantee of the best seats anymore.

But anyway, John Hadfield... Yeah, he's like the performing equivalent of Elvis, David Copperfield, Steve Martin and Bozo the Clown. In his show he sings, cracks jokes, does magic tricks, walks on stilts, clowns, bakes pies, carves wood sculptures with chainsaws while juggling them... you name it. Well, maybe he doesn't quite do all of that, but it sure is a heck of a variety, and you can tell from his promo video (see below) that he does it all with great flair and creativity.

John Hadfield is another example of goofiness being alive and well in children's entertainment. His latest album, Robot Monkey Head, is full of goofy songs and silly noises and is altogether quite delightful. I can imagine some snooty kids' music aficionado somewhere pooh-poohing this kind of material, and I can only feel sad for their lack of humor and sense of kids' sensibilities when it comes to what really entertains them. As I said in the Barry Louis Polisar article, most kids will eat that goofy and silly stuff right up.

The opening title track is kind of weird as it describes John's earnest desire for a battery-powered, life-size, wireless robot monkey head. He patters the words over mysterious synthesized beats, reminding me of a cross between Oingo Boingo and Falco. There are some amusingly bizarre lines like, "You'd be my missing link. Your neck leaks when you drink," and "I'd tell you funny knock-knock jokes and demonstrate karate, but you could never punch or kick, 'cause you don't have a body." Clearly, John has tapped into the brains of kids and is giving them the kind of absurdist humor that they love to discover and are apt to repeat over and over.

Musically, John seems to have a dual personality. About half of the songs on Robot Monkey Head are in a style that is sort of 80's rock/pop/techno/synth oriented, and the other half are folky/bluegrass/acoustic in nature. He probably could have split them up, added a few more tracks of each kind, and made two entirely separate albums, and you might think they were made by two completely different artists. But sequenced as they are, going back and forth between one style or the other, you eventually get used to it and accept the dichotomy. And kids, of course, are able to change gears on a dime, so I can't imagine that being any problem for them.

Much as I love rock and various incarnations of that, my preference for this album is actually for the folkier songs. I think they are far more cohesive and enduring, with the synth rock songs sounding a bit dated and disjointed at times. But to say something sounds "dated" is another thing that's probably more relevant to adults... kids won't necessarily have the same frame of reference to think, oh that's so (insert year here).

The first of the folky tunes is "Uncle Tony's Dentures", with a knee-slapping country hook and a funny story about where those dang teeth could've got to. "I Like Beans" is next and has a great "Shaving Cream" misdirection, where you're expecting one word and get another. Yes, this is in essence a fart song, and a great one at that, so be forewarned that there will likely be squeals of laughter induced in your children should they be allowed to hear this. I say "should they be allowed to hear this" because I know there are some parents out there who try to limit the "crude humor" that their kids are exposed to. I don't hear that too much in relation to kids' music, but quite often in relation to kids' movies and TV shows, so I'm sure it translates through all children's media, or at least, it should. I suppose limiting the intake of crude humor isn't a bad idea, and I certainly have no right to question what anyone thinks is good or bad for their kids.

But let's face it... farts are funny. The combination of the sound and the smell makes for a unique experience that is virtually irresistible as comic fodder. Of course, the timing and the character involved often has something to do with whether it's funny or just plain gross. I'm thinking of the Monty Python sketch where the Queen of England is at a very formal event and excuses herself to the bathroom, and then you hear all kinds of gaseous expulsions... That's hilarious, because the Queen is so prim and proper. But on the other hand, your weird Uncle Frank, who already smells a little strange to begin with, asking kids to pull his finger... that probably falls under the "just plain gross" category. But farts are the great equalizer of all humanity... rich, poor, young, old, men, women, beautiful, not-so-beautiful... Everyone farts, or at least has farted at some point. So why should bodily humor like that be considered off-limits for kids? I'm amused to think of some parents who might be diligent about keeping crude humor completely away from their kids, but who themselves enjoyed the Austin Powers movies, or who were among the well-dressed adult audience who were laughing uproariously at George Carlin's fart routine when I saw him at an upper-scale theatre venue in New York. In other words, apparently kids are just too young to really appreciate the intricate sophistication of fart humor?? Yeah, that must be it.

"The Duct Tape Festival" is the next folky tune and is a Charlie Daniels style story song about a very real festival held every year in Avon, Ohio. I love the rolling melody and plaintive feel of the song, as if his very happiness depends on whether he will attend and how many duct tape jackets and wallets he will be able to sell. My favorite of the folk tunes is next with the very catchy "Bad for the Roads, but Good on Chicken" (see video below), discussing the pros and cons of salt and featuring a funny-sounding local-yokel background chorus singing "good on chicken!" The song includes some poultry-insensitive lyrics like, "If it's icy when I go for a ride, and I hit some chickens when I start to slide, I pull out my sodium chloride, 'cause it sure tastes good on chicken." John is careful, though, in the final verse, to recognize that some may not like to eat their feathered friends, while asserting his own pleasure in doing so: "Now chicken is a food that's good to eat, unless you're a vegan or you don't eat meat. So keep your chickens out of the street, 'cause you know I love my chicken!"

The last of the folk songs is the very clever "The Rhyming Song", which like all the others is very memorable and employs another lyrical misdirection, playing beautifully with our rhyme scheme expectations.

Highlights among the rock/synth tunes include "Stink Monkey", a nice modern retelling of the old Struvelpeter German stories my mother used to tell me, showing the consequences of what happens when you don't bathe or brush your teeth; "Bunny Foo Foo", with an unlikely bully character in a Tone Loc groove; "Best Friends", which adds yet another unique take on the idea of imaginary friends; and "Ready, Fire, Aim!", which has a great message about thinking first before you speak or act on something. That's a very cool tune in its own right,
though it seems a little out of place in its style and approach, being rather serious and sounding more like modern punk or like Neil Young when he turns on the heavy distortion.

Musically, Robot Monkey Head is sort of like having a peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich. They are both great sandwiches on their own, but a little strange put together. But John's humor, charm and engagingly goofy voice are the glue that bind it all together (mmm... peanut butter, tuna fish and glue!), and considering the subject matter is often pretty strange, it ends up working just perfectly.

John Hadfield website

I usually include MP3 samples with my features, but I really want to encourage you to see John's great video promo below, which includes several samples from his songs.

"Bad for the Roads, but Good on Chicken" live video (below)