The Brass Tacks of Music Education

By Gregory Keer

When my eldest son came home one day during his first week of third grade, he lugged in a sinister-looking black case. My immediate reaction was that he had joined the elementary school mafia and was about to make us an offer we could not refuse after making him transfer to this new school. The reality was a bit more surprising. Our quiet, seemingly risk-averse son had brought home a trumpet.

“How did this happen?” I asked Benjamin.

“They asked if anyone wanted to join the orchestra, and I said yes,” he said with a shrug.

It was that simple. He had never discussed interest in playing the horn before and, because he previously took piano lessons without much commitment, we assumed music was not his thing.

That was OK. I was thrilled enough for the both of us. Having spent much of my adult life regretting that I had given up piano as a teen and then devoting 30 years to idolizing musicians and writing album reviews, this moment was celebratory. My sons would play music.

Over the next three years, Benjamin practiced with a ragtag orchestra of kids, most of whom had never played an instrument before. However, their teacher, Mr. Geiger, steadily and expertly trained them so they got pretty darn good. Maybe some parents dread the warbly, sometimes out-of-tune seasonal concerts, but my face hurt from all the smiling I did while listening to Benjamin play in the brass section.

Our middle son was a little more intentional when it came time for him to choose whether or not to join the school orchestra.

“I’m going to be better than Benjamin,” he said, never shy about his competitive spirit.

Yet, when he came home with his own black case, this one contained a clarinet.

“Why not the trumpet?” I asked.

“Dad, I’m my own person and the clarinet is more me,” he reasoned.

Jacob performed with gusto and enjoyed being one of only two to play the instrument in the group. He didn’t practice much, but he made the most of the rehearsals and his flair for pouring his outgoing personality into the reed instrument.

Then Ari’s turn arrived. Like his brothers before him, our third child selected his own instrument, the trombone. Seriously, that thing was taller than my tyke, yet my boy was determined to master it. Of all my sons, Ari showed the most joy in playing, even though it proved a challenge to get skilled enough to blow the notes the way he wanted to. Often, he’d get frustrated.

“I’m really not any good,” he would sometimes say.

“I don’t care,” I would reply. “Just keep playing.”

I could have told him that the sounds he was creating were akin to those generated by a flatulent walrus. However, his drive to improve focused my encouragement of him. If he wanted to get good, I would not dampen his spirit. Even if it meant going to another room to rehabilitate my ears.

And keep playing he did, month after month. He got to the point of more proudly pulling the instrument out to show off his version of “When the Saints Come Marching In” and “Winter Wonderland.” And no kid waved more excitedly when we would see him in the back row of the orchestra on performance days.

While Benjamin petered out on music by sixth grade and Jacob took up the guitar on and off for the years past elementary school, Ari kept going. In the first year of middle school, he joined the beginning orchestra with which his skills really began to take flight. Much of this had to do with an attentive teacher who always found extra time for his large array of students. It is also attributed to Ari’s outside-of-school lessons with a patient and creative piano teacher and a marvelous trombone teacher. This brass instructor nurtured not only Ari’s playing, but helped him to transcribe music by ear and explore the classics of my own true musical love, jazz.

Recently, Ari emerged from a trombone lesson saying he wanted me to select one of my favorite jazz tunes each week or so for him to learn. To say that I got a little dizzy from the extra oxygen that request filled me with is not an exaggeration.

As this new school year rolls forward, I remain committed to the extra dollars and driving time it takes to give Ari as much music education as he wants. My wife and I may have led our children to the water of music, but it has been their own curiosity and willingness to take risks with their creativity that has given them a means of extra expression and an enduring love of music’s affective powers.

If I have advice for parents on this subject it is that, whatever your own musical interest is, make the effort to expose your children to playing music early and then support their pursuits to the utmost of your resources. You never know what will happen. Likely, it will be something beautiful.

© 2017 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Adolescence, Arts Education, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Music, School | 1 Comment

Purple Pain

By Gregory Keer

PrinceIn 2011, I published the following piece about taking my sons to a Prince concert. I don’t get a lot right in my typical daily parenting, but this is one I nailed. Forcing my kids to see a musician who has meant so very much to me in my sense of the musically possible and the downright moving was one of my better calls. When he died, both my elder sons texted me the news as Prince’s concert and his work had become a shared experience. Man, I will miss the Purple One. Long may his music live. Long will his music live.

As a 14-year veteran of Father’s Day, it’s time to admit I am frequently as immature as my children. I throw tantrums about things like my sons’ inability to acknowledge my voice until I raise it and the fact that I still can’t get through a night without a child waking me for water or (after climbing into our bed) “accidentally” kicking me in the groin. Yet, nothing sets me off as much as accusations of unhipness. Here’s a text exchange between my thirteen year old and me: Me: We’re seeing Prince tonight. The $25 seats are too hard to pass up! Benjamin: ??? I dnt really wnt 2 Me: He is a legend and amazing in concert. Benjamin: blehhh nooo Frankly, I had already anticipated this reaction, along with my son’s top reasons for refusing to see the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince:

  1. Prince is 53 years old.
  2. Most of his big hits charted during the 1980s, a decade my son imagines featured men wearing powdered wigs.
  3. Pursuant to the last point, Prince looks kind of like a girl. Male music stars should not put on eyeliner or prance around in high heels. Rather they must show their colors in tattoos and sort-of wear pants (but not around their waists).
  4. Prince plays too many types of music to be that good at any one of them.
  5. He is one of Dad’s favorite artists and thus must be shunned because, as an adolescent, Benjamin fears identifying with the very human being he is most trying to distinguish himself from.

Given my understanding of these points, I should have showed patience with my eldest son. Better yet, I should have been content with the feedback from my nine year old, who cheered when I announced I was taking him to his first genuine rock concert. After all, Jacob is the one who asks me questions about music-star backgrounds, recognizes classic tunes within the first few notes, and joins me in singing Daddy’s favorite songs in the car.

But I could not leave well enough alone. In the hours before leaving for the show, I argued with Benjamin about why he had to go. Over time, our exchanges escalated:

(Mild contention) Benjamin: I don’t like Prince’s songs.

Me: You’ve listened to a few seconds of two songs.

Benjamin: That was enough.

(Medium disagreement) Me: Prince will be remembered long after your foul-mouthed rap stars are gone.

Benjamin: I don’t have to like everything you like. And you don’t know anything about rap.

Me: Actually, I was listening to rap when it was invented.

Benjamin: Rap has gotten so much better since a hundred years ago.

(Full-on yelling) Benjamin: I just don’t want to go! I’ll be bored!

Me: You have to go! I paid for your ticket!

Benjamin: Fine! I will go, but just because I would feel guilty the whole night if I didn’t!

At the concert, it was a mixed bag to have Benjamin with us. We got there at 7pm and were upgraded (that night of the tour was not sold out yet) from the upper-deck to a dozen rows from the floor. “These are the best seats we’ve ever sat in,” Benjamin said as he eyed the nearby stage, shaped in Prince’s glyph symbol.

After a prolonged lead-in, the Purple One made his dramatic entrance, which had Jacob and me standing in ovation with a crowd of people of all ages. The man behind “1999” and “Kiss,” was then every bit as entertaining as I imagined. His voice soared, his guitar wailed, and his backing musicians rocked. Benjamin refused to stand much during the dancing everyone else engaged in, but I did catch him occasionally looking transfixed by a brilliant musician who transcends time.

With the performance starting so late, I had to pull myself — and my energized middle son — away early from a show that went on past 1am. As I drove home with my boys asleep and my ears ringing from “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Housequake,” I wondered if Benjamin had a better time than he expected.

Then I stopped the internal debate to prove my hipness. It really didn’t matter. This night was more about wanting to share music I loved with my kids. It was a gift to myself. One day, Benjamin might appreciate that his dad took him to see a legend in concert. But on this night, I was just happy to have my sons standing with me in the “Purple Rain.”

Posted in Adolescence, Columns by Family Man, Father's Day, Music | 3 Comments

Family Man Recommends: Best Children’s Music of 2013

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

I’m joining the Top Ten fray with my annual list of the Best Children’s Music albums of the year. For 2013, the entries had to be released between Nov. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013. The links below go to the FMR review or directly to the artist Web page if there is no applicable review. Some reviews are in the QuickPicks, so read through for the appropriate title.

  1. Justin Roberts – Recess
  2. Heidi Swedberg – My Cup of Tea
  3. Shine and the Moonbeams – Shine Your Shine
  4. Frances England – Blink of An Eye
  5. Dan Zanes & Elizabeth Mitchell – Turn Turn Turn
  6. Alastair Moock – Singing Our Way Through
  7. Lucky Diaz y La Familia Musica – !Fantastico!
  8. Paul Spring – Home of Song
  9. Lori Henriques – The World is a Curious Place to Live
  10. Recess Monkey – Deep Sea Diver

Honorable Mentions: Dean Jones – When the World Was New, Joanie Leeds – Bandwagon, Ratboy Jr. – Champions of the Universe, Milkshake – Got a Minute?, The Not-Its, KidQuake!, Francie Kelley – Where Do You Want to Go Today?, Julianna Bright – Cat Doorman Songbook, Caspar Babypants – Baby Beatles, Lloyd H. Miller – S.S. Brooklyn, Trout Fishing in America – Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers, Key Wilde & Mr. Clark – Pleased to Meet You, Bill Harley & Keith Munslow – It’s Not Fair to Me, Bob McGrath – Bob’s Favorite Sing Along Songs

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Family Man Recommends: Quick Picks for December

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

The Dream Gates of the UnderworldHeading the year-end recommendations is Lisa Sniderman’s What Are Dreams Made Of? A wildly creative brew of story and song by the San Francisco-based 2012 finalist for the John Lennon Songwriting Award, among other honors, Sniderman provides a sequel to Is Love a Fairy Tale?, which follows the adventures of Aoede the Muse and her adventures in Wonderhaven. What Are Dream Made Of? is an imagination-inspiring, sometimes trippy journey through the “land of darkness and light” that sounds like something Pink Floyd, Regina Spektor, and J.R.R. Tolkien might dream up if they were aiming for elementary-school age kids.

Gift for SophieIf you’re looking for more story-and-music blends that appeal to the preschool on up crowd, sample the wares from The Secret Mountainwhich releases a range of projects that travel across diverse cultures. Available in book-CD or e-book packages are W is for Wapiti: An Alphabet Songbook and Songs from a Journey with a Parrot – Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes from Brazil and Portugal. A Gift for Sophie, one of The Secret Mountain’s newest productions from Canadian singer-songwriter Gilles Vigneault and illustrator Stéphane Jorisch, offers insight into the power of gift giving in the tale about two friends. Musical guests include Martha Wainwright, Thomas Hellman, Paul Campagne and Jessica Vigneault.

Posted in Books, Children's Music Reviews, Creativity, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Family Music Reviews, Music | Leave a comment

Family Man Recommends: Quick Picks for November

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

This month’s FMR: Quick Picks include some holiday-oriented goodies and a couple of other tasty morsels. One of my favorite music people, Debbie Cavalier, releases her third Debbie and Friends album, Variety Show. The album features more of her brightly colored story-based songs (“Cinderella” and “Pinocchio”), along with original tunes (such as the holiday-themed “Santa and Baby (Santa’s Little Helper)”. With the rare confluence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah (known popularly as Thanksgivukkah) comes Mami Doni and The Acoustic Jewish Holiday Collection CD/DVD. Because this upbeat and diverse collection of everything from dance music to bluegrass covers three holidays (including Chanukah, Passover, and Shabbat), it’s the winter gift for all seasons.

The luminous Elizabeth Mitchell offers her elegant The Sounding Joy: Christmas Songs in and out of the Ruth Crawford Seeger Songbook in time for the festive season. On the 24 songs, Mitchell — whose gentle voice and warm instrumentation are enough on their own — benefits from guest artists like Peggy Seeger, Natalie Merchant, Dan Zanes, and Joan Osborn. Finally, we have the surprising treat of Pacha’s Pajamas: A Story Written By Naturewhich is about magical PJs that transport a young girl into a jungle festival hosted by animals. The featured artist, tween rap star Bentley Green, is joined by an all-star cast, including Mos Def, Cheech Marin, and Les Nubians.

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Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews – September 2013

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Swedberg imagesOur October reviews begin with one nutty and wonderful project by Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band. Led by the singing and ukelele-playing Swedberg, who made a comic name for herself as George Costanza’s Seinfeld fiancee, My Cup of Tea brims with whimsy and theatricality. Among the sparklers of the thirteen tracks are “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “Istanbul” (a reworking of the classic They Might Be Giants piece), and “Boogie Man.” Swedberg and her band are having so much fun making great music, it’s hard not to get caught up in it — and claim this is one of the year’s best musical surprises.

SS BROOKLYN_COVER (1)Already known as a kindie music innovator with the Deedle Deedle Dees, Lloyd H. Miller steps into the spotlight with S.S. Brooklyn. Marked by a stripped-down production, with the help of producer Dean Jones, to let Miller’s messages and musicianship breathe, the disc centers on the creativity and history of the New York borough of Brooklyn. In fact, this collection rises from the number of Sing Along With Lloyd performances Miller has done to support Brooklyn in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Good intentions meet good performances on such tunes as “I’m Gonna Light Up the World,” “Working on a Bridge,” and “Big Trip.”

Palindrome imagesSmiley Face Sticker is the debut project of the witty wordsmith who calls himself Mr. Palindrome (real name: Natan Kuchar). Based in Australia and educated at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mr. Palindrome makes some nifty tunes out of a lot of nonsense through the title track and songs such as “Backwards Alphabet,” “Alove Alliteration,” and “Onomatopeia (On-O-Mat-A-Pee-Yah).” Listening and playing along with the verbal gymnastics should be great fun for parents and pre-school to early grade-school kids.

Ohmies imagesWith its mission to inspire greater “physical health and overall well-being” in preschool-aged children, the Ohmies is a live stage show and a developing TV series from creators Laurie Miller and Ben Tollefson. Character-driven music from their show is now on record, produced by Tor Hyams, and includes the movement motivating “We’re the Ohmies,” “Wag Your Tail,” and “So Much Fun Together.”

Other discs notable for this rundown of children’s music reviews include new releases from prolific performers. One the groundbreakers of family music, Tom Chapin, delivers The Incredible Flexible You, a masterfully crafted project with songs aimed at helping children with the ins and outs of social interaction. And Chris Ballew, known to a legion of children and parents as Caspar Babypants, makes the Beatles catalogue his sandbox for Baby Beatles. Ballew is both faithful and playful as he reinvents this tunes for young ears.

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Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews – August 2013

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

TroutWe drop our line of music reviews into the water with Trout Fishing in America, whose 16th album of wordplay and music whimsy comes out shortly. Keith Grimwood (the less-tall one who plays basses and warbles) and Ezra Idlet (the very tall one who performs on guitars and sings) have a bottomless well of enthusiasm for the genre of family music, as the dozen songs on Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers proves. Tongue twister tunes like the title track, story songs such as “The Late, Great Nate McTate” (one of my favorites from anyone this year) and “My Sister Kissed Her Boyfriend,” and true-to-kids’-lives pieces including “Don’t Touch My Stuff” are all imbued with earthy folk-rock strains and sing-along charm. This is a sit down and listen treat to interact with and talk about with the kids.

FrancesEnglandFrances England is one of those artists I could listen to with or without the kids. On her new release, Blink of an Eye, England’s honeyed vocals wash over songs filled with keen observations that capture the wonder of life at a more in-the-moment pace. Produced by Dean Jones, the new album skews a little older to match England’s own kids’ ages, but maintains the clear, poetic themes of family life she has touched on over her previous work. The title song, with its message about the brief-but-precious nature of childhood, features fellow musical angel Elizabeth Mitchell, “Bicycle Built for Two” has England duetting with the wondrous Molly Ledford in a 10,000 Maniacs-sounding track, and “Little Wings” beats energetically with the support of Caspar Babypants. England has made a gorgeous record, filled with superb songcraft and parental wisdom.

dZeM_TurnTurnADV_coverDan Zanes & Elizabeth Mitchell, with Mitchell’s band You Are My Flower, carry us down a sparkling river of American roots music on Turn Turn Turn. As always, these two titans of kindie music make each song feel like it’s being performed in a living room or backyard. Strumming strings and singing together, Zanes and Mitchell interpret old beauties, including “Turn Turn Turn” (by Pete Seeger), “Wim Wam Waddle,” and “Sail Away Ladies.” The collaboration also brings to life such originals as Zanes’s “Now Let’s Dance” and Mitchell and sister-in-law Anna Padgett’s “Honeybee.” The only thing better than hearing this collaboration on record is seeing them live on tour.

A couple of other notable releases of late include Gratitude Attitude, a thanks-themed collection from the Best Foot Forward series. The album features songs from Debbie and Friends, Bill Harley, and Cathy Fink, among others. Music therapist and musician Jeffrey Friedberg has assembled an eclectic crew of performers for 15 Songs Every Kids Should Know AboutThis is a great group of tunes for preschoolers as it runs the gamut from a Cajun version of “Shoo Fly” to a rockabilly treatment “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

For more of the latest children’s music reviews, mosey on over here.

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We’re Not “Just Kidding” About Family Concert Sweepstakes

1098250_545738725492014_317931531_nAs a long-time advocate of parents sharing music with their kids, I’m happy to be part of promoting a new sweepstakes that might send you and your family to New York City to see a live performance at Symphony Space. Cue the orchestra, here are the from the sweepstakes press release:

Beginning today, Symphony Space and SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s Kids Place Live will launch a nationwide sweepstakes offering a family weekend getaway trip to New York City, plus other great prizes.  Announced today on the “Absolutely Mindy” show on SiriusXM Kids Place Live channel 78, and running through August 21, the No Kidding? Just Kidding! sweepstakes details are posted at Prizes are as follows:

  • Grand Prize: A family weekend getaway in New York City, October 4 to 6.  One lucky family will win the following prize package, valued at approximately $3,500: air transportation for four from anywhere in the continental United States, two nights at the Hotel Newton on Manhattan’s Upper Westside, four tickets and backstage passes for Symphony Space’s debut event of the Just Kidding season, with The Story Pirates. The winning family will also get to meet Absolutely Mindy from SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live.  Meals at Big Daddy’s, Two Boots Pizza and the Thalia Café are also included. PLUS: The Story Pirates will perform a story written by the winning family’s children.
  • Five Second Prize winners will each receive a library of CDs from every musical artist performing at Just Kidding this season, plus new children’s books from Symphony Space’s Thalia Kids’ Book Club and a Just Kidding t-shirt.
  • Everybody Wins!  All entrants will receive a free digital download, featuring more than a dozen songs from this season’s Just Kidding performers, all top artists in the national family music scene.

Entries in the No Kidding? Just Kidding sweeps must be received by August 21, 2013 at 9 pm EST. The sweepstakes will be open to anyone in the continental United States, except where prohibited. Other restrictions may apply. The Grand Prize winner must be able to travel to New York City over the weekend of October 4 to 6, 2013, and attend the 2 pm Story Pirates performance at Symphony Space on October 5, 2013. The grand prize offer is not valid for any other dates. Grand and second prize winners will be announced on August 30, 2013. Partners in the No Kidding? Just Kidding sweepstakes include Hotel Newton, Kidville, Parents Magazine, Big Daddy’s and Two Boots restaurants.

About Just Kidding: Presenting everything from break dancing to ballet, along with planet-hopping puppetry, electroluminescent dinosaurs, and new tunes from the nation’s hottest kindie rock artists, Symphony Space announces a wide-ranging mix of live performance for its critically acclaimed Just Kidding series. The 2013-14 season launches on October 5th with a kid-driven sketch comedy performance by The Story Pirates, and runs most Saturdays and some Sundays through April ’14. Details are at

For more on children’s music and other stuff Family Man Recommends, click here.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Children's Music Reviews, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Family Music Reviews, Music, Sweepstakes & Promotions, Traveling With Kids | Leave a comment

Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews for July 2013

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

JustinRoberts-Recess-imagesWe hopscotch to our new rundown of children’s music reviews with the welcome return of a Family Man favorite. Maybe kids don’t really care about great songwriting. They just know they like a tune when they hear it. I can tell you that kids love Justin Roberts’ music, as evidenced by boppin’ audience members at his concerts, the robust sales of his numerous CDs, and the consistent call-in requests to the SXM’s Kids Place Live channel. But a lot of adults admire superb musical craft and, man, does Justin Roberts have it. Each song on his newest recording, Recess, offers music and lyrics that change and surprise in neatly wrapped, highly kinetic packages.

Of the 12 tracks on Recess, a number of the outstanding examples are the title tune, with it’s Billy Joel tinges and words that glorify the beloved classroom break, and “I’ll Be an Alien,” with its Beach Boys harmonies performed with Roberts’ very awake bandmates, the Not Ready for Naptime Players. “My Secret Robot” has a ’60s British Invasion rock style in its account of a boy’s mysterious metal friend, and “The Princess Wore Pink” gets all medieval in this piece about a royal girl who starts a color craze. Whether he’s rockin’ out or getting all pensive, Roberts keeps us engaged with sounds and images that make summer cooler and brighter all at once.

Moock-imagesSInging Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids,  which comes from a personal place and leads its listeners to a public stage that showcases the strength of children who are battling/have battled cancer. Boston singer-songwriter Alastair Moock, who has quickly become one of the family music world’s rising stars, could have been leveled by the news of his five-year-old daughter Chloe’s diagnosis of leukemia in July of 2012. Yet, he found the power to write songs to inspire his child and the many other children and families who endure cancer. These pieces are beautiful, emotional, and honest.

On the first song, the quietly lilting poem “I Am the Light,” Moock says, “C is for cancer, that’s growing in me/A is for able, that’s what I will be/Able to bend like a tree in the wind/My branches are strong even though they are thin.” Moock shows the many facets of the experience, from the playful “When I Get Bald,” “B-R-A-V-E,” and “Take Care of Your Grownups” to the inspirational “Home When I Hold You” and “This Little Light of Mine.”  Lending their talents to this gorgeous project are Elizabeth Mitchell, the Okee Dokee Brothers, Rani Arbo, Chris Smither, and Aolfe O’Donovan.

LoriHenriques-imagesTwo other unique recordings complete this month’s children’s music reviews, including a new release from pianist-composer-singer Lori Henriques. With The World is a Curious Place to LiveHenriques exhibits her signature flair for witty lyricism, quirky vocals, and complex-yet-accessible jazz piano. She provides insights on carrots (“Crunchy Privilege”), language (“Le Francais Est Magnifique”), and philosophy (the title song). Then, there’s Crosspulse Percussion Ensemble, whose album I Like Everything About You (Yes I Do) brims with percussive and vocal sounds in their most natural state. This project of a non-profit arts organization based in Oakland, California, mines musical gems from around the world, from the U.S. to Africa, on such tracks as “Walkin’ the Dog,” “Yamawele,” and “Breaths.”

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Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews for June 2013

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

This edition of our children’s music reviews lifts off with the debut album from Shine and the Moonbeams. While my musical taste is eclectic, I tend to reach for R&B first, which is the foundation for this superb collection from leader Shawana Kemp and her band. The ensemble has been building buzz for a couple of years, following live and guest recording appearances (including the recent albums by the Pop Ups and Sugar Free Allstars), so the quality of this album is an example of potential fulfilled. From the Latin rhythms of “The Melody in Me” and the Hammond-organ infused “Imagination” to the ’70s soul sound of “Kilimanjaro” and the smooth ’80s feel of “High Five” (already getting airplay on satellite radio), there is no denying the quality of Kemp’s voice and the easy appeal of lyrics fit for the whole family. This is the retro-yet-new groove album of the summer.

Joanie Leeds, with her band the Nightlights, rocks forward with her latest release, Bandwagon. Leeds and her group travel over all kinds of stylistic roads, such as the country of the title track, the garage-band sound of “Are We There Yet?” and the folk-rock of “Let’s Go.” Two other tracks of note are “Canon Song,” which spotlights guest vocalist Dean Jones, who also produced the album, and “Little Cloud,” with Rachel Loshak (of the Gustafer Yellowgold family) lending her voice. Then there’s “Nutritious,” a version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” which has all the markings of a kindie hit for its healthy lyrics on top of the classic melody.

Summer is never happier than when it’s refreshed by a new Recess Monkey record. Deep Sea Diver surfaces with ocean-inspired songs, including the wacky “Fish Sticks” (about a percussive fish), the funky “Shrimp,” the sea-shanty “The Seven C’s” (one of the most lyrically clever of the collection with its references to a band of friends whose names all start with C), the beach mellow “Seagull,” and the Southern-rockin’ “Seahorse.” The Seattle trio, which features longtime members Jack Forman and Drew Holloway as well as new member Korum Bischoff, has a seemingly endless well of smart pop for young kids and this album certainly is worthy of their musical IQ.

A special addition to our Father’s Day edition is Bob McGrath, a man who has been a father figure to millions via Sesame Street. His voice is as full of character and clarity as ever while he takes on 15 timeless tunes such as “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “Wheels on the Bus,” and “Skinamarink” (one of my wife’s favorites). On Bob’s Favorite Sing Along Songs, the instrumentation  that goes with McGrath’s inimitable voice is so good that it warranted second versions of the tracks with just the instruments. The whole package makes for a terrific interactive experience with preschool age children.

Finally, here’s a few really quick picks: Just ahead of the July 4th holiday is an apt soundtrack of sorts, American Playground, from the marvelous Putumayo Kids label. An all-stars-and-stripes cast of kindie rockers cover songs that reflect the richness of American musical traditions. Listen to artists such as Elizabeth Mitchell (“Keep on the Sunny Side”), Randy Kaplan (“Forever Young”), and Buck Howdy (“You Are My Sunshine”)….Boxtop Jenkins just won an Independent Music Award for his album “You’re Happier When You’re Happy,” a percolating melting pot of rock, bluegrass, and folk. Playing along with Boxtop (whose real name is Franklin Bunn) are special guests the Indigo Girls and Shawn Mullins…Mr. Saxophone’s new album I Sneeze in Threes is a pleasant surprise of a project from Dave Farver, a music educator from St. Louis who plays sax and guitar. Along with the pop catchiness of the title track are several parodies, including “Luke, I’m Your Father” (done to the tune of “Smoke on the Water”).

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