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...