Saturday, December 20, 2008

CD Short Takes

In an attempt to catch up on the enormous backlog of CDs I have received for this blog over the past year, here's the first batch of several "short take" CD reviews... with more such batches to come over the winter. Though I like to include sound samples and video clips with my feature posts, they can take a good amount of time to get together, so I'm going to skip those for these short takes and just post the artist's website links. In most cases, the websites should have sound samples available, or links to sites that do...

That Baby CD

I think the producers of this CD did themselves a disservice by naming it what they did... Presumably, it was meant to be a CD of mellowish
classic rock covers for babies to chill out to, but the songs are sophisticated (the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket" as an "I need some attention!" kids' song was a particularly brilliant choice) and the singing and arrangements are beautiful and contemporary, and my girls (aged 6 and nearly 4) play this album repeatedly in their bedroom while loudly singing along. So by all means, ignore the title, as this is just a great record for any age, really.

That Baby CD website

ScribbleMonster - Songs With No Character

According to the press release this is supposed to be a CD for parents, moreso than kids, which is presumably why they left ScribbleBunny and even ScribbleMonster himself off of the album in favor of the human voices of Jim and Jayne and Joyce. But I think most of the songs still work very well as kids' songs, so regardless, it's a really great ScribbleMonster album. Highlights include the Motown rocker, "Doing the Right Thing Isn't Always Easy, Doing the Easy Thing Isn't Always Right"; the hilariously awesome "I'm a Utility Pole (The World's Worst Dance Song)"; the incredibly touching board game metaphor, "The Game of Life"; and the great "look for the silver lining" message of "It Could Have Been Worse" (co-written with Monty Harper). I do miss the ScribbleMonster "fill-in-the-blank songs" from their previous CDs, but still, this a very entertaining album, through and through.

ScribbleMonster website

Eric Ode - When You Smile

This is, I think, Eric's strongest collection of songs yet, with a lot of fun tunes including the opener "Poor Planet Pluto", a poignant and topical story about the former
planet's status reduction from "planet" to "giant rock floating in space"; "Legendary Larry", a clever lounge jazz number about an incredibly average person; "Let a Little Light Shine", a rhythmically interesting and very catchy spiritual anthem; and the classic "This Song Has No Elephants", which may be the best Eric Ode song EVAR. The recorded poem tracks are kind of hit and miss for me, but musically speaking, this is a very solid and engaging album. (Kudos to Eric for the several poems of his included on Buck Howdy's Grammy-nominated CD, Around the Fire... and kudos to Buck, too, of course!)

Eric Ode website

Justin Roberts - Pop Fly

After five listens through, Pop Fly hasn't attached itself to me the way Justin's previous Meltdown album did after the first or second listen, but the fact that I've listened to it five times through should be indication enough that by any reasonable standard for kids' music, it's a really great album (and another favorite of my girls'). The opening title track is quintessential Justin Roberts; adventurous, melodic, memorable, wonderful... and though the rest of the album doesn't quite reach the same heights as that song does, there are several other gems, including the funny and folksy "Henrietta's Hair", "Field Trip" (complete with Roberts' signature v-v-v-vocal lines and "whoa-oh"s) and the ultra-smooth "Kickboard, Baby, Yeah".

Justin Roberts website

Ralph's World - Rhyming Circus

Though similar to Pop Fly in that it doesn't live up to the expectation created by its enormously awesome predecessor (Green Gorilla, Monster and Me), Rhyming Circus is still a solid entry in the genre. Ralph seems to use quite a few "hey, look at my Beatles reference!" references on this album, but the songs are very original and fresh, nonetheless. The rock anthem "Gotta Be Good" is my new favorite Ralph tune, and would probably be a hit for John Mellencamp, and other favorites are "Abby's Alphabet Soup", which nicely demonstrates the different sounds of each letter; "Do the Math"; "Finger is the Singer"; and "Edward, the Tap-Dancing Elephant".

Ralph's World website

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Video for "The Tale of the Sun and the Moon"

More new features and interviews are coming soon (Gunnar Madsen, Harmonica Pocket, Dog on Fleas and others), as well as some catching up on CDs released this year by favorites of mine (ScribbleMonster, Eric Ode, Justin Roberts, etc.). But right now, I have to pay the bills, so to speak, by doing some advertising for the main sponsor of this blog (me)...

My latest video, for "The Tale of the Sun and the Moon", has been uploaded to YouTube. You can check it out below, though I recommend clicking through to YouTube to click on the "watch in high quality" link, where the video quality will be better and the audio will be in stereo. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Interview with Ezra of Trout Fishing in America

This fall, Trout Fishing in America released their 15th CD (yes 15th!), Big Round World, and as a big fan of the duo for the last several years I was happy to discover that it is my favorite of all their albums so far. When a band or artist has released that many albums, you always look forward to the new release, and oftentimes you really like it because it's a group whose musical language you can identify with and appreciate, but it becomes harder after so many albums to really define things like "favorite" or "best". If anything, you might often be into the current album the most because it's the newest one and it's fresh. But in this case, I really think this is Trout Fishing's strongest album yet, which is saying a lot, considering how much I like their previous albums. And it was just announced last night that they have received their fourth Grammy nomination in the Best Children's Album category for Big Round World.

The opening title track is immediately identifiable as "the Trout Fishing sound", with chugging acoustic guitars, bouncy rhythms and Ezra's big, round voice singing a memorable song about our big, round world. "My Favorite Jeans" covers more of a rock sound with Keith belting a funny ode to his favorite jeans, which leads nicely into "When You Get Dressed", a reggae/ska flavored track which may be the catchiest Trout tune I've heard yet. Ezra dispenses important advice such as "You don't wear a ski mask to the bank, or an evening gown to drive a tank". Other highlights (among many) include "Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks", a terrific inspirational anthem; "Too Good to Be True", a funny story with cool saxophone and upright bass accompaniment; "Curse of the Spinach", which cleverly describes the downfall of that formerly revered vegetable; and "Five", the album closer which beautifully describes how we all were once (or will soon be) five years old.

Earlier this year, my family and I were grateful to be able to spend some time with Ezra and his wife, Karen, and I took the opportunity to interview him about the new album and about Trout Fishing's music over the years...

Interview with Ezra Idlet

Samples from Big Round World:
"When You Get Dressed"
"Too Good to Be True"

Order Trout Fishing in America CDs here:

Our family with Ezra in front of the "Dreaming" treehouse...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Submissions are CLOSED

I probably should have done this a few months ago, but at this point I really need to officially close submissions for this blog. I already have way too big of a backlog as it is, and very limited time to devote to catching up on it. It used to be that I could at least listen to every CD that was sent me, and then feature what I could from them, but I've actually had quite a hard time keeping up with even listening to everything that I've been sent over the last several months. I feel terrible about that, and apologize if your CD happens to get missed when I finally get more caught up on things. I know that I've never promised that I could cover everything, anyway, but I really hate to have anybody send me CDs without even an expectation of them being listened to. So I need to draw the line and request that no new CDs be sent. If there is something in particular that I want to check out, I'll specifically make contact and ask for a promo copy, at which point I will promise to definitely cover that CD. And with that in mind, please don't ask me to listen to something to see if I would want to request a promo copy... I really need to be fair to the people who have already sent actual CDs and make sure I've covered what I can from them first.

The good news is that I have started working on some articles again recently, and have several things coming up, including interviews that I've mentioned before with Gunnar Madsen, Ezra from Trout Fishing and several others. And also, though I'll certainly be well behind with some of the newer things coming out (which I've always been, anyway), I've got quite a lot of great stuff to cover from the CDs I already have that will keep me busy enough for quite a while.

I will take my hat off to others who have been more consistent in keeping up with posting about kids' music (see my links below). Speaking both as a kids' music artist and as a fan of the genre, I really appreciate that. Unfortunately, I haven't even been able to read a lot of the kids' music blogs this year (I had to shut down my Google Reader during a particularly busy stretch, and I've only recently started adding back some things...), so I definitely feel out of the loop a bit. But you don't have to feel out of the loop like me, with others staying on top of things.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Imagination Movers

So it's been over three months since I've posted here, and I'm really sorry about that. I'm sure Brady Rymer hasn't minded having three months of "first post" coverage, but for the rest of you, I apologize for the lack of updates. I've just been super busy with recording and traveling and other stuff and I found it really hard to find the time to write up anything when traveling. On many days it was hard to keep up with the travelblogue, even.

But anyway, I am going to do my best to get caught up here, and the cool thing is that I have a nice list of things to add, including several interviews and many new CDs to cover, but that will mean that I'm going to have to keep it brief and mostly stick to capsule posts. There's probably a collective cheer going out, as my posts are probably too long as it is, but the thing is, in many cases I just prefer to write "articles" as opposed to writing something more succinct. If I'm going to write about something, then by golly I'm gonna write about it.

The Imagination Movers are a four-piece band from New Orleans, and they make an ideal subject for a transition into doing more "capsule" sized posts, because I'm not all that familiar with them or their music, so there can't really be all that much for me to write about. I had been aware of them vaguely for a few years and liked the few song clips of theirs that I had come across online here and there, but I didn't really have a lot to go on until seeing their new show on Playhouse Disney. We decided to check it out when it debuted and it's quickly becoming a favorite of my girls and I think it's a really fun show, too.

The Mover guys have a lot of charm and do a great job acting and performing on the show, and the show itself exudes the light comic feel of The Monkees. There's not an abundance of humor, but there definitely are some comic moments throughout every show, which automatically jumps it ahead of The Wiggles TV shows and videos. I've always been a fan of The Wiggles' music, but the content of their shows and videos have seemed lacking to me in terms of comedy. Sure, they're geared toward very young kids, but other shows like Sesame Street always found ways to appeal to that same age group with a lot more comedy included (meaning both kids comedy and adult comedy). The Imagination Movers have a similar appeal as The Wiggles, though they are probably aimed more toward preschool and lower elementary aged kids, as opposed to the toddlers that The Wiggles are probably a better target for.

The show depicts the Movers (Scott, Smitty, Rich and Dave), their puppet friend, Warehouse Mouse, and their (well characterized) boring neighbor Knit Knots and his niece, Nina, as they try to solve various problems using basic problem solving and imagination (a subject I've always been very interested in). And though I've only seen a few episodes, I've already been hooked on their music from the show. It's very straightforward pop and rock, with a little funk and not-too-terribly-bad-for-kind-of-dorky-white-guys rapping thrown in, and the hooks are quite strong and memorable. There's a vibrancy and fun to their sound that reminds me of bands like BNL and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, as well as some funk-rap akin to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. My favorite songs so far include the opening "Imagination Movers" theme song (don't you miss theme songs on TV shows??), the rockabilly-esque "Brainstorm" anthem, the super catchy and bouncy "Jump Up" and the upbeat countrified "7 Days a Week".

Now that I've been introduced to the Imagination Movers through their TV show, I look forward to hearing more of their great music. I hope the show is a big success for them!

You can hear several Imagination Movers songs and see some videos through this link on their website.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Brady Rymer

I hadn't heard too much of Brady Rymer prior to hearing a preview song ("Road Trip") from his newest album, but once I heard that, I knew I had to hear more. I was about to request a copy of Here Comes Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could when it showed up in my mailbox. I like when that happens... I've listened to the whole album a few times now and each time it's put a really big smile on my face and always inspired me to want to sing and dance along. Of course, my dancing is dangerous enough, but especially dangerous when I'm driving, which is usually when I'm listening to music... so I've just opted for the singing along part, and reduced the dancing along to some head bobbing and such.

Here Comes... is nothing but gems. Of all 13 tracks, there's only one that I don't really love ("Get Back Home"), and even that one I still kind of like alright. The album starts with a self-referential "here we are, kids" kind of track plugging Brady's Little Band That Could. There are a lot of tracks of this type that I've heard on kids' albums over the years where the band or artist introduces themselves with the first song (the Hipwaders' first album leadoff track comes quickly to mind as one of my favorites), but sometimes they can wear out their welcome if they're any longer than the average TV theme song. This is one of the few ones I can think of that works very well as a full three and a half minute song, with a catchy hook and some nice chord changes in the bridge that keep it all chugging along nicely.

The aforementioned "Road Trip" is next and it's just a flat out showstopper. In my interview with Ralph Covert, he talked about the "vocabulary of rock and roll", and this whole album and the "Road Trip" song in particular shows that Brady is obviously very fluent in that language. He may not be charting any new territory... you can hear him going where Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger and others have gone before... but he's not merely retreading it, either. It all sounds very fresh and he definitely embodies the music completely.

The third track is "Jump Up (It's a Good Day)" and it's the catchiest tune of the set (which is saying a lot, as there are many good hooks throughout the album). If you're ever feeling grumpy, just put on this album, and if you're not feeling bouncier than a Tigger after the first two songs, you will be once this track hits. In Brady's previous life, he fronted the jam rock band, From Good Homes, who opened for Bob Dylan and Dave Mathews and other big name acts (I saw them open for Bob Weir's Ratdog band in Buffalo back in the mid-90's), and that kind of infectious rhythm and blues jam rock thing really shines through on this one.

Other standouts for me include "It Was a Saturday Night", which combines several different 70's rock styles into yet another great song; "One True You", a pretty anthem about why kids look and act the way they do in relation to their family (I really like how the song starts with "I see your Mom in you, I see your Dad in you, etc." and then goes to "I see faith in you, I see joy in you, etc."); "Again", another very catchy and upbeat tune that uses a false ending to great effect; and "Good Night, Daisy", as beautiful a lullaby as I've ever heard, and a song I've played several times in a row just to get lost in its magnificent elegance.

Brady's vocals are a little twangy and he sounds sort of like Lyle Lovett at times. It's a unique voice for the kids' music genre, and he certainly has the chops for pulling off these songs with the right phrasing and attitude. His "little band" is really great, too... always serving the song and coloring everything vibrantly throughout.

I'm going to have to remain noncommital about Brady Rymer's previous albums until I hear more of them, but there's no doubt that Here Comes Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could is a real treat and worth hearing again and again. Just be careful dancing while you're driving, please.

Brady Rymer's website

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Loquat Rooftop (Randy Kaplan)

Randy Kaplan's debut kids' album, Five Cent Piece, was one of the coolest totally out-of-left-field things I've discovered since doing this blog. In essence, Randy is the Arlo Guthrie of children's music, and while the obvious comparison to Arlo Guthrie makes Randy's general approach a little less than unique, Randy always adds much of his own originality and personality and style and humor into that approach, and I can't imagine anyone else doing that kind of thing as well as Randy does for a kids audience. In fact, hearing Randy spin more of his hilarious yarns on his terrific new CD, Loquat Rooftop, I can't help but think that perhaps time is running backwards and the references should be the other way around... Maybe Arlo Guthrie should really be called "the Randy Kaplan of storytelling songs for adults". The spirit and humor and style of that approach is always designed to tickle the fancy of the kid inside us... it's just a question of the subject matter involved as to what the audience's age range will be.

Like its predecessor, Loquat Rooftop includes some originals and some covers. The covers include similar Tin Pan Alley and classic rock 'n' roll fare as the covers on Five Cent Piece (and one particular gem, the Randy-fied "Clothes Dryer"), but a significant thing about this new album is that the originals are the real standouts this time around. With Five Cent Piece, I liked Randy's originals, especially "Shampoo Me", but they were all, well, a little weird. Likably weird, but weird, nonetheless. There's still some real strangeness to the originals on Loquat Rooftop like "No Nothing" (featuring a monkey named Kxchc, who was raised by ducks) and "The Ladybug Without Spots" (who solves that problem by having watermelon seeds glued to her back), but there's an effusive charm that shines through each of them. The feeling of enjoyment is always first and foremost with these originals, as opposed to the Five Cent Piece originals, where I enjoyed them, but only in spite of them all being a little strange. And some of the new originals are more straightforward sounding and are quite beautiful, like the title track (the melody of which reminds me a lot of a song that I'm not sure I've ever heard before), "(Don't Say) Anything At All" (I love how he demonstrates what he's talking about with his little kid voices between the verses) and "Gotta Get Gone", the bluesy closing number.

A great thing about Randy is that he is not afraid to be downright silly with his voices and jokes when he knows that will serve the material and the intended audience. And by the intended audience, I don't just mean kids... adults eat up well-crafted goofiness, too (Monty Python, Steve Martin during his standup career, the Airplane!/Naked Gun movies, etc.). Certainly, this adult and his wife have laughed out loud many times while listening to this album. Some things like "The Sour Song" are kind of one-time laughs, as brilliant as they are, but other things are funny again and again, and Randy's eloquently witty wordplay and vocal phrasing is always a joy to listen to. He has a real knack for comedy and entertaining through his music, and I can't wait to hear what he'll come up with next.

Buy Loquat Rooftop on CDBaby

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New releases and upcoming interviews...

So this seems to be the season for new kids' music CD releases... Several of my favorite artists who I've already covered here have recently released new albums, or are about to release their new CDs. (I'm glad I'm not releasing my new album right now... Whew!)

I've been listening to a lot of these CDs on the road recently, and I hope to be able to cover each of them at some point, at least in capsule reviews if not something more in depth... But for now I'm going to just list them below and let you check them out from the links. Also, there are several other new CDs that I've received and will have to add to my ever-growing "hope to cover here at some point" list, including Brady Rymer, Gunnar Madsen, Mr. Eric, Recess Monkey and others.

Also, I have some cool interviews coming up with some people I've met up with on my recent travels, including Frances England, Gunnar Madsen, Tito of the Hipwaders and Gwendolyn and Brandon from Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang. I'll begin transcribing our conversations in May and will post those as soon as possible.

New CDs recently or soon-to-be released...

Randy Kaplan - Loquat Rooftop

Daddy a Go Go - Rock of All Ages

Ralph's World - The Rhyming Circus

Eric Ode - When You Smile

Justin Roberts - Pop Fly

Mr. Billy - Six Leg Songs

Frances England - Family Tree

They Might Be Giants - Here Come the 123s

Also, Ginger Hendrix had a major new release recently... a baby girl.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I've never really used my MySpace page for anything... the interface is very difficult to work with and it's not really the most "kid safe" environment. So I put up some very basic info there and kind of left it at that for a while. To my dismay at times, people tried to contact me through there and I didn't get the message for several months because I just never logged in very often. Whoops!

But I was looking for somewhere to post a little travelogue for my family's travels for this tour I'm doing... I like how Monty Harper posts a little about each of his shows on his blog, and I realized it would be nice to be able to better remember some details about the different places we go and where I perform. So rather than start some new thing on LiveJournal or wherever, or taking up too much space on this blog when what I'm posting doesn't always relate to kids' music, I figured, eh, I might as well use the blog on the MySpace site I have. So if you'd like to see what I'm up to, go to my main MySpace page and click the link in the middle right of the page that says "View All Blog Entries", or click the individual entry links if you'd like.

Edit 4/29/08: I've now mirrored the travelblogue over at this Blogger address: for those of you who don't want to deal with MySpace. Also, Blogger allows video posting, so I'll probably add some video clips to those posts now and then.

Monday, April 07, 2008

David Tobocman

If David Tobocman's I Count to Ten and other Very Helpful Songs album included the song, "Home", and several tracks of 80's hair-band B-sides performed by the TAO (Tuscalusah Armpit Orchestra), I would still have wanted to feature it here. "Home" is an incredibly touching song that makes me want to immediately run over and kiss my wife, hug my kids, pet my cat, not yell quite so much at my fish, and otherwise be extra grateful for the home and love that I feel blessed to have in my life. A piano ballad sounding something like Fastball singing "Desperado", the song alone is so heartwarming that it's almost heartburning, and the beautiful video created for it, with pictures by Valerie Walsh (see below), just takes it over the top into heartmelting territory. When listening to this song and watching the video, you may need to wear some protective shielding to prevent irreperable heat damage to your heart.

Thankfully, the rest of David's album is really great, too. I'm not sure that any of the other tracks are quite as earth-shatteringly awesome as "Home", but then again, the Stones never had a hit quite as big as "Satisfaction" and they still had a halfway decent career for a little while after that point, eh?

The album begins with "I Count to Ten", which sounds like a cross between "Stepping Out With My Baby" and "Hit the Road, Jack" and has a nice message about taking a break when you're feeling angry before acting out. "Jammies Song" is a folky pop song a la Jimmy Buffet, with some nice chord breaks. "Brush Your Teeth" is a funky soft shoe jazz with some slithery piano. "My Rainbow" is another beautiful ballad, more upbeat than "Home". The voice on "Favorite Son (Every Day)" doesn't quite match the music as I was hearing it... something more like Barry White or Marvin Gaye might have fit better for me... but it's pretty nice, regardless, and David does an admirable job rapping for a white guy with a beard. "Buttons and Bows" is a hilarious ditty directed at nudist toddlers who don't understand the importance of wearing clothes in public. "Gigi, My Pet Giraffe" has some sweet melody and reminds me a little of the phrasing choices that Ralph of Ralph's World sometimes uses. "Dreamin' the Dream" is a finger-snappin' jazz tune (there is no actual finger-snappin' on the recording, but you'll want to do that when listening... and maybe throw in some jazz hands, as well). The album closes with an exquisite acoustic guitar ballad called "To Love You", which provides more hugs for my girls, kisses for my wife and pets for my cat...

David has a pretty extensive list of credits of contributing music for TV shows (including That 70's Show, 3rd Rock from the Sun and Family Law), performing and engineering on a number of albums by artists including Adam Sandler, Liza Minelli, LL Cool J and Cher, and doing session work for the likes of Lou Reed, Diane Warren, the Beastie Boys, k.d. Lang and Luther Vandross. I Count to Ten is his first foray into creating music for children, but I hope he produces more kids' CDs because the world can always use more great music for kids and my wife and kids can always use more hugs and kisses. Not that I'm a slouch in that regard, by any means, as I'm sure they would attest to, but more is always better. :o)

David Tobocman's Very Helpful Songs website

For samples of all of the songs on I Count to Ten, go to this page on David's website.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mr. Richard

Mr. Richard is a very popular kids' music performer from Florida who has released three CDs of music for kids. Last year, I received Richard's 2nd CD, Tummy Talk, and I enjoyed that, especially the first track, the title track, which has an incredibly catchy funky-bluesy guitar riff, a kickin' pre-chorus ("when your tummy starts talkin' a mile a minute, that's the time you know you gotta put something in it"), and an utterly infectious groove to it. It's an all-around terrific anthem to the noises your stomach can make when it's hungry and was an instant classic for me in the kids' music realm. In fact, I think I may have liked the whole album even better if I didn't keep comparing the rest of it to that first track, which was so hard to measure up to.

Fast forward ahead to this year when Richard's 3rd album, Polka Dot Puzzle, arrives in the mail. I was looking forward to checking it out, having already seen the great video for one of the songs, "Cheese" (see the video below), and the album definitely lived up to my hopes and is a terrific volume of kids' music with a lot of humor and musical fun.

Richard has a tremendous ability for generating catchy guitar riffs, and the jumpy acoustic opening figure on Polka Dot Puzzle's second track, "Treehouse", is a nice example of that. The emphasis on "E" in the chorus ("tree-E-house") is a little strange, but it's a good hook, nonetheless. "The Woo Woo Truck" is a very cool tune in the vein of The Violent Femmes, describing what to do when you hear a fire engine coming by.

"Bubble Bath" has an amazing squirrely funk riff and some nice horn licks as Richard adds a laundry list of the things you can make with the bubbles in your bath; a bubble beard, a bubble wig, etc. "Straw Slot", about a kid with a missing tooth, sounds like John Mellencamp meets the Byrds and has yet another catchy guitar riff and funny lines like "I look like Alfred E. Neuman when I smile".

The "Pots n' Pans" track is one that is probably more "appreciated" than "enjoyed", what with its Stomp-y clinging and clanging of actual pots and pans throughout, but it's a nice testament to the rhythmic and musical possibilities available all around you.

The song "Pooch Smooch" is a real blues-rock gem with some wonderfully distorted harmonica, and there's a fun video for that which you can see below. One quibble about the production of the song... There's a point in each chorus when there are kids screaming in reaction to the dog kissing them, but the screaming is a really loud, blood-curdling kind of screech that seems to imply the terror of "I fell into a pool of sharks with a big gash on my leg" and not "my dog just slobbered all over me... ewww, gross!"

"Butterfly Day" is a jangly pop tune sung along with Molly Ledford that reminds me of the great pop songs for kids that Roger Day produces. The album also begins and ends with "Hello, everybody" and "goodbye, everybody" tracks, which is something you hear now and then on kids' albums, but these are done very well and do invite you into the album and leave you feeling good at the end.

It wouldn't be right for me to cover Mr. Richard and keep it real without mentioning that, well... if he was a contestant on a show like American Kids Idol, the celebrity judge equivalent of Randy Jackson would probably be using the term "pitchy" quite a lot. But Mr. Richard has a similar vocal vibe to Barry Louis Polisar, where okay, his vocals aren't the most polished, but his vocal delivery is still very cool and just right in a way that sort of represents the spirit or voice of a kid.

It's time to go off on one of my tangents here... it's been a while... Thinking of the impact of the song "Tummy Talk" as the first track on that album, it brings to mind the importance of the track order on CDs and what a difficult decision that often is. I recall many years ago making an observation that a lot of albums from my favorite bands and artists seemed to have the big hit song as the 3rd or 4th track. I'm sure there are a million exceptions to that, but remembering that observation now I think the reasoning for that may be that if you always put that big first single as the first track on the album, then it might create an expectation for the album that is difficult to live up to. Also, a lot of times the hit single song might be a little poppier than the rest of the tracks on a rock album, or it might be a ballad on an album of otherwise upbeat songs, so if you put it first then there is a false sense of what the album and/or the artist is really about.

So with that thinking, the best track to put first is probably something that is cool and inviting and memorable and representative of the artist and the album, and makes you want to listen further, but isn't really the knock-out song that the first single is intended to be. By the time you reach that knock-out track at the 3rd or 4th slot, you're already hooked big-time and though the rest of the album still may not match up to that hit song, initially, at least... you're likely to appreciate it for what it is and will probably grow to love some of the other songs more than that big hit, once they get under your skin.

I'm not necesarily saying that Mr. Richard should have put the song "Tummy Talk" 3rd or 4th on his Tummy Talk album instead of 1st... Maybe it would have been better, from my point of view, at least... But he did what he felt was right for his album for his taste and for his fans and so that's fine. And certainly an argument can be made that people are fickle with what they listen to and if something doesn't really grab them right away, there goes your chance to grab them at all... in which case maybe your very best track should be the first one on the album. I should also admit that I am absolutely not an expert in this regard, having second-guessed the track order on three of my four kids' CDs and even resequencing one of them when reordering more copies after its second run. I can say that my next album feels just right in its track sequencing in terms of the flow that it has, and I think that may be the most important consideration, as opposed to thinking about what songs are the standouts and where they fall in the mix.

Anyway, just thought I'd share a few thoughts about that, since it came up... It may even become moot before too long as musical buying and listening habits seem to gravitate more and more towards the downloadable single, as opposed to the album. I hope that the album never dies entirely, though, as it is always nice to share a lengthier slice of musical time with a talented artist who has created a group of songs that work really well together... like, for example, Mr. Richard's Polka Dot Puzzle!

Mr. Richard's website

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Buck Howdy

Buck Howdy is unique in the children's music world. Yes, there have been some good country-music styled kids' acts coming out in recent years, including Little Nashville, Farmer Jason and the Bummkin Band, but there hasn't really been a notable old-fashioned cowboy personality like Buck... at least not that I'm aware of.

Buck is nothing if not personality, and his aw shucks friendly uncle from Tennesee kind of voice pulls you right in and holds you captive throughout his CDs. It's a delivery that seems effortless in its charm but also sounds like the genuine article of a man who has spent many years rustling, wrangling, roping and other such things that cowboys do. I get the impression that Buck could tell a story about sorting coupons that would keep kids totally enthralled around a crackling campfire.

Speaking of campfires, Buck pays homage to some classic campfire fare with two of the songs on his second kids' album, Giddyup!, released in 2005. The CD opens with "S'mores", a fine fiddle-y ditty (see the video below), and the fourth track is "Baked Beans", which may be the best flatulence-related song ever (I propose a championship fight between that song and John Hadfield's "I Like Beans"). In "Baked Beans" you can just about hear Buck smiling and holding back his own laughter as he sings, and it really conveys the feeling that he's having as much fun performing the song as we are hearing it.

On the bouncy title track, Buck sings some cleverly silly lines like "I was going to a dance and I had to practice. Why oh why did I do it with a cactus?" and he gives a fun lesson for chasing the blues away by singing like animals on "Baa, Neigh, Cock-a-Doodle Doo". Giddyup! also features some prominent guest performers including Trout Fishing in America's Keith and Ezra providing backing vocals on "S'mores" and "Giddyup" and Laurie Berkner singing beautifully along with Buck on "Happy Trails". There is also one of the best parodies I've heard on a kids' album listed as the bonus track, but I don't know that I can give it away being that it's titled "Bonus Track". I really should have seen the chorus line coming, but it still made me laugh out loud when I first heard it.

Giddyup! was the first Buck Howdy album I'd heard (he also released Skidaddle! in 2002) and I was instantly a big fan. Buck released the follow-up, Chickens, last year, and in addition to more great songs, he also added a fine singer to his act (BB, pictured above). Chickens has a lot of what might be called "Western swing", with an almost jazzy feel to a number of the tracks. There's still a predominance of country to the sound, but there's a bounciness and arrangement to some of the tracks that emphasizes the "swing" as much as the "Western".

also has a lot of chickens. "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens" is a winner and is so heavy on the swing that you might have expected Glenn Miller to have orchestrated it. The title track is a little bit unfortunate, though... It plays with expectations where it sounds like it's about a philandering husband but really he's just a farmer who loves taking care of his chickens. It's a clever turnaround and it's the type of innuendo that kids aren't going to get anyway, so it's no big deal in that sense. But the thing is, it's not a great subject for adults, either, with lines like "I buy ‘em food and give ‘em drinks, along with lots of lovin'. Then those girls lay out the treats by the dozens." Using distasteful imagery as some kind of metaphor or correlation still includes the distasteful imagery on the surface. So the song is enjoyable but for me it left a little bit of a bad taste in terms of the subject matter. Rounding out the chicken-related material on the album is the instrumental bonus track. You can probably guess what it is by my mention of "instrumental" and "chicken-related".

There are a lot of other great tracks on Chickens, including "Wiggle, Waggle, Wave", a super-swingy ode to friendly greetings; "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda", a catchy, easy-going tune about doing things you're supposed to do before you regret the consequences; "I'm My Own Grandpa", Buck's engaging version of the old novelty hit about the ultimate family paradox; and "I Can't Imagine", a sweet ballad duet which really shows the complement of Buck and BB's voices.

Chickens was nominated for a Grammy last year and shows an interesting change from the more straightforward old-time country feel of his earlier albums, perhaps making it more accessible to a wider audience. With his great delivery and sense of humor, I'm intrigued to see what kind of yarns Buck will spin next around the campfire.

Buck Howdy website

Friday, January 25, 2008

My Lucky Day video

My wife, Roseann, did the animations for a new video in a Schoolhouse Rock kind of style and it turned out really nice. It's for the song "My Lucky Day" from my Snow Day! album. The song was co-written with children's artist Eric Ode.

Please add your comments and if you liked it enough to rate it 5 stars, let me know and I'll send you a link for a free MP3 download of the song. Here's the link to the YouTube page where you can comment or rate the video, or you can just watch it below...


Coming up, I'll be doing features on Mr. Richard, Ira Marlowe, Dog on Fleas, Johnette Downing, Debi Derryberry and a few other things that have come in recently. I'm having trouble keeping up with everything, though, so I can't promise when those things will be covered.

I'm actually thinking of closing the submissions for a while... especially as I'll be on the road for about 4 months straight starting the end of March and won't be able to get anything that comes in the mail, anyway. I'll still be keeping up on what's coming out in the kids' music world through Zooglobble and CDBaby and elsewhere, and if there's something I'm interested in hearing more of, I may request a promo copy to be sent wherever I am. But as of March, I don't want any new CDs sent when there's no chance I'll get to hear them for several months, and as I'll have enough of a backlog to get caught up on in the meantime. I'll make a post about that and change the "Submissions" page when the time comes... As for now, though, please feel free to keep sending new releases and I'll look forward to checking them out on the road this spring and summer.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Gustafer Yellowgold

For a long time, my appreciation for Gustafer Yellowgold hadn't really been sparked, in the same sense as I described for Frances England's music... I had read a lot of glowing accolades but had only heard a few brief samples, and thought, "It sounds okay..." But I hadn't been blown away enough to get really excited about it. In the case of Frances England, it just took one listen through the actual album, beyond just brief samples, to have her infectious and brilliant songs imprinted on me. With Gustafer Yellowgold, all it took was a viewing of one of his DVDs. To use terms usually reserved for the world of magic and sorcery, I was utterly enchanted, spellbound, mesmerized and charmed.

Gustafer Yellowgold is the cute cartoon creation of singer/songwriter Morgan Taylor, who writes and records Gustafer's musical musings and also illustrates and provides the storyboard direction for the DVD animations. There are two Gustafer DVDs,
Wide Wild World and Have You Never Been Yellow? (for which he gets a half point off for parodying the title of an Olivia Newton-John album). Gustafer comes from the sun, as the introduction song ("Cooler World") on both DVDs describes, and has traveled to Minnesota, where things are apparently quite different than on the sun (he was aiming for somewhere a little colder). The songs and videos, full of wit and whimsy, relate Gustafer's experiences and wonderment with various things he discovers in his new Earth life, and so we share the same wonderment through the simple but clever animations and generally mellow but engaging songs. The subjects can be a rather odd assortment, including pinecones, mustard slugs, eels, cake, cheese and beards, and there isn't really any narrative or theme connecting everything, other than Gustafer observing and commenting on his new world. But every song/video is its own little amusement, and they each work terrifically in that sense.

In terms of influences for the general idea and animation style of Gustafer, one might guess that Morgan Taylor has probably watched Harry Nilsson's classic animated story,
The Point, once or twice (or fifty times). In that story, a round-headed boy named Oblio finds himself in a world where every other creature and object must have a point (literally, as in a pointy head or a particularly pointy nose). Being that Gustafer is the odd one on Earth, I imagine that Gustafer's rather pointy head might be an homage to that show. Regardless, Gustafer is very much an original and the combination of classic storybook illustration and animation almost has more of the feel of Ken Burns' pan-and-scan documentaries, with objects gently and creatively moving around each other. This is clearly 2D animation, but there is very nice use of object layering and every animation choice is used to great effect.

Musically speaking, the Gustafer songs seem to be happily ensconced in 60's/70's acoustic melancholy, hearkening to Harry Nilsson, James Taylor (presumably no relation) and The Beatles circa
The White Album and Yellow Submarine. While the production and sound is clearly from that era, the songs themselves are true originals, with hooks and chord turns that aren't overt, but reach out and tickle you enough to keep your interest throughout. Morgan's voice is often double-tracked into a sweet syrup, and his delivery and tone is akin to both Neil Young's plaintive acoustic singing and Billy Corgan's whispery breathings. Personal taste leans my ears toward the former, and not so much the latter, so I prefer the Gustafer songs (or parts of songs) where Morgan sings out fully, like on the transcendent anthem, "Pinecone Lovely" (video below). But regardless, Morgan has a beautiful sense of contrast between the different songs and song sections, in terms of varying his vocal delivery to fit the needs of the moment.

Would the songs alone stand up, without having ever seen the animations? For adults, yes, but I don't think they would work as well for kids without having any connection at all to the imagery. But the Gustafer package is clearly meant to be a fusion of songs and images (and his live shows always feature the animations on a video screen), and kids and adults alike can certainly appreciate the combination as intended, in a very big way. Stephen Sondheim is often criticized for not having any "take home" songs from his musicals ("Send in the Clowns" being the notable exception), but his songs are meant to work perfectly within the context of their shows. That is their primary working environment. I think the same can be said for the Gustafer songs working best along with the environment of their video accompaniment. However, having seen the video several times, kids will definitely have a big attachment to the songs and can thereafter enjoy them strictly from the CDs (which are included with the DVDs).

The Gustafer DVDs have been big hits for my girls, who request them often along with their other video favorites like the Pixar movies and The Wiggles. My 5 year-old, Becca, has even given Gustafer the rare honor of a space in her dreams. Every night, as part of their bedtime routine, our girls like us to ask them what they're going to dream about. (Apparently, they're really into "directed dreaming".) Well, there have been a few nights recently where Becca specified "Gustafer" as her dream choice. A budding artist and animator, herself, she has also stated that she wished she had created Gustafer (heheh... Me, too!).

In addition to the Gustafer videos and music, Morgan Taylor also provided a few songs for a nice compilation of children's music by the ArtsCetera organization, called Sing, Shout & Clap. Click here for song samples and to order the CD.

Gustafer Yellowgold website

"Your Eel" from Wide Wild World -

"Birds" from Have You Never Been Mellow? -

"Pinecone Lovely" from Have You Never Been Mellow? -