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

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

May is proving to be bounty not just for moms, but for music lovers at all levels of a family. We kick off our children’s music reviews with an ensemble that made my list of favorites last Mother’s Day month, Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band. Few bands make me happier than Lucky, Alisha, and the gang, who do so, this time, in Spanish. !Fantastico! marks the group’s first recording todo en español and it’s full of the same style-hopping music they’ve been delivering on their English-language albums. Among the most savory bits here are the surfer rock of “Gato Astronauto,” the Go-Go’s-like “A Bailar,” and the Louis Armstrong-meets-the-Delta-Blues “¿Que Dices?”

Another of my all-time fave family music people is Dean Jones, who’s been busy producing recent albums from Ratboy Jr., his celebrated group, Dog on Fleas, and a new disc (reviewed below). The Grammy-award winning kindie rock impresario fills When the World Was New with wonder and beauty. Standout tracks include the title song, which asks kids to imagine the world before civilizations; “Stand With Me” (with Shamsi Ruhe on vocals), which offers a vision of working together, and “Join a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band,” which suggests ways to explore passions and what’s around us. Jones has once again produced a record that challenges and soothes youthful ears. We are so fortunate to have him making music for us.

The brand-new project produced by Dean Jones comes from Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke, a songwriting and performing duo who have been crafting clever tunes together for more than two decades. On Pleased to Meet You, their second full-length family album, humor and sophisticated arrangements boost such songs as “Raised by Trolls” (given a Ray Davies-style feel by British born Mr. Clarke), “Wander Round the World” (firmly rooted in Americana with Texan Key Wilde leading on vocals), “Eggplant Man” (strangely catchy), and “Falling Star” (a simple gem featuring Wilde on ukelele).

Additional goodies for this month include Whatever I Want to Be, by Ilana Melmed and the Young Avenue Kids. This album has Melmed and remarkable kid voices singing original lyrics to classical music by everyone from Rossini to Grieg. Lastly, Roger Day teaches children about coastal ecology in a DVD of musical performances called Marsh Mud Madness. Filmed at the Savannah Music Festival and at the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, the production is swimming with fun and thoughtful songs about the indigenous coast-dwelling plants and animals.

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Honor Autism Awareness Month With Song

April is National Autism Awareness Month, which is intended to inform the public about autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to AutismSpeaks.Org, “ASD affects over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years.” AutismSpeaks.Org also points out that, “ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.”

To celebrate the the lives of those with autism, singer-songwriter Brady Rymer has put out a joyous video for his piece, “Love Me for Who I Am.”

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

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

April showers us with several refreshing new albums for this month’s children’s music reviews. We begin with a group whose name gives me the creeps, but whose music keeps me coming back for more. Despite its low-lying monicker, Ratboy Jr., comprised of Hudson Valley residents Timmy Sutton (vocals, guitars, and more) and Matty Senzatimore (drums, vocals, keys, etc.), offers a pretty heroic blend of rock with a slight punk edge on Champions of the Universe. Produced by Dean Jones (this Dog on Fleas frontman is a kids’ music hero, himself), the best giggle-inducing and roots rockin’ tracks include “High 5 Your Shadow,” “Where Do Monsters Go?,” and “Guitar Pickin’ Chicken.”

Miss Nina (Nina Stone) enlivens her Sha Do Be Doop recording with songs that range from hip-hop to pop. Among the more outstanding selections are the ones inspired by classic children’s books, including “How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight,” “The Brown Bear Rap,” and “Wild Things” (the latter based on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.) Trained in dance and music, Miss Nina is also a music educator who applies her know-how to deepen the effectiveness of the songs, here, that make young kids want to sing and dance.

Among the month’s other worthy CDs are Latin Dreamland, Putumayo Kids’ latest release, which features the consistently superb selection of songs of various artists, this time from such countries as Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. And, the folks from Recess Music give us Share, the newest in The Best Foot Forward Series, which has 15 tracks to celebrate sharing. The all-star contributors to this record include Rene & Jeremy, Dog on Fleas, and Charity and the JAMBand.

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Celebrate Music Education Month

Self-expression is more important than ever, which is one reason why giving kids an education in the arts means so much. As parents, my wife and I have regularly donated to our children’s school to keep music (as well as other arts) being taught to all the kids so they can sing, play instruments, and just have fun doing more than just fiddle with an iPod. Music benefits children’s minds in so many ways, including the improvement of their math skills as well as their communication abilities. March is Music in Our Schools Month (spearheaded by the Nation Association for Music Education). For just a sample of what teaching music to children can accomplish, watch this video of kids from the Manassus, Virginia school system –

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

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

The Baltimore-based kindie rockers, Milkshake, headline the children’s music reviews for this month. Their new album, Got a Minute?, is the group’s fifth for kids, following their 2009 Grammy-nominated Great Day. For this project, each song’s playing time hovers around that proverbial minute, with a few eclipsing the two-minute mark. Remarkably, each tune fulfills Milkshake’s standard of excellence, with eclectic musical styles and lyrics that apply to kids (mostly of the tween-age variety). Standout tracks include the title song (with its driving electric guitar), “We Just Wanna Have Fun” (with a bagpipe charge at the forefront), “One Day” (featuring lead singer Lisa Matthews’ daughter, Jesse, singing her original composition), “One of a Kind” (with band co-leader Mikel Gehl’s son, Eric, on drums), and “Practice Makes Perfect” (with its message about effort). On Got a Minute, Milkshake offers real and rock steady music that represents the band’s growth and the development of the audience that has been listening to them for all these years.

As a longtime English teacher, it’s hard to resist the debut recording of Paul Spring, Home of Song, a singer-songwriter and English instructor. Produced by Dean Jones (of Dog on Fleas) and Joe Mailander (part of the Grammy-winning duo of the Okee Dokee Brothers), the album marries great roots-based music with superb storytelling. WIth an easygoing voice that sometimes reaches the transcendent timbre of Rufus Wainwright (especially on the title tune), Spring traverses the road on “Sloppy Jalopy,” flies high with literary references on “Peter Pan,”  and sunnily enlightens us about friendship with “Sherlock Holmes.” The CD is a true find and I could not be happier to recommend it as one that will likely appear on my “best of” list by year’s end.

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

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

The Grammys just wrapped and, I must say, I enjoyed the primetime show immensely. I particularly loved the performance of the Black Keys with Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band blasting through “Lonely Boy.” For the Best Children’s Recording, one of my favorite duos, the Okee Dokee Brothers, won for Can You Canoe? against a field chock full of stellar nominees.

For this short month, my children’s music reviews begin with one of the other 2012 Grammy nominees, Bill Harley, who has concocted yet another album of kid-friendly mirth and mayhem. This time, Bill is paired with Keith Munslow, who shares Harley’s hybrid status as a singer-songwriter-storyteller. The recording is called It’s Not Fair to Me and employs everything from ’60s-style rock (including surfer rock) to folk sounds in accompanying humor-drenched songs about fairness, whining, dogs, unflattering imitation, and stylistically offensive sweaters.

The Not-Its have one of the kindie-rock world’s best band names, so it makes sense for them to have one of the best recordings of this young year. KidQuake! rocks forth with a title song about the power kids generate, then speaks the truth about a “Temper Tantrum,” and recalls The Who’s pinball wizard themes with “Full Tilt.” The guitar-heavy quintet balances things nicely with vocal harmonies that vividly illustrate elements of modern families.

Rounding out the recs is Francie Kelley’s Where Do You Want to Go Today? A multi-award winner for her previous CD, Wake Up and Go to Sleep, the sweet-singing Kelley offers a globe-circling journey through songs that travel to “African Skies”, an “Irish Dream”, and the Argentine-inflected “Tarantula Tango” – a cleverly worded tune about an arachnid disrupting a backyard camp-out.

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

The new year is already rich with musical goodness, as these children’s music reviews attest. On the debut children’s album from Julianna Bright, Cat Doorman SongbookBright’s voice has the fluid ease of Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary) and a gorgeous sense of imagery as evidenced by songs such as “All the Birds” (“…all the trees are blowing in the breeze only to lean closer to you”) and “Turn Around” (…”Let the meter move us, turn us, take us up and ever make us new”). Bright sings with the whimsy shown in the illustrations she made for her album on “Peaceful,” channels Tori Amos for the piano blues tune “Madame Claire,” and sings over a ukelele on “Let’s Get Dressed Up.” This is quite a beautiful first effort from the Portland-based artist.

Boosted by his energetic and giggle-inducing tunes on the 2006 release Marvelous Day, Steve “SteveSongs” Roslonek earned a role as “Mr. Steve,” a co-host for PBS Kids. His latest effort, Orangutan Van, is an even better collection of songs for preschool to elementary-school-aged kids. It all starts with the interplay Steve has with his alter-ego puppet, “Silly,” on the alphabet song “‘A” is for Silly.'” The groove-fueled “All in This Together” reflects the inspiration Roslonek draws from Martin Luther King, Jr.” And “Soaring With Reading” motivates young ones to delve into the imaginative landscape of books. With a theatrical flair, sharp musical arrangements, and lots of humor, the recording shines.

Speaking of shining, the sparkle from Ella Jenkins is as bright as ever as she continues to deliver meaningful music to kids. Now 88 years old, her wisdom about what makes children move and learn is parallel with her passion on a Smithsonian collection of 15 classic Jenkins songs. Get Moving features “Hello,” “Who Fed the Chickens,” and “Play Your Instruments.” Accompanying the CD package is a fascinating explanation of the movement and education theories behind Jenkins’ work.

A couple of other nifty listening choices are the mini-album from Papa Crow, What Was That Sound?. This blows most EP’s away with its theme of, well, farting. It’s funny and more pleasantly musically fragrant than your average flower-themed album. And, last but not least is the maiden voyage of Brooklyn-based Tim and the Space Cadets. Anthems for Adventure’s highlights include the two-part tune, “The Anthem” and the Sirius/XM Kids hit “Superhero.”

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Family Man Recommends: Best Children’s Music of 2012

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Happy Top Ten Season, everyone! It’s time for the annual FMR list of the year’s best children’s music. I say this every time, but it’s always true that there are a ton of great musical works that don’t get mentioned here or on other lists. My hope is that the rundown encourages you to explore these recordings and find your way to others as well. The selections all had to have been released between November 1, 2011 and October 31, 2012. Note that links lead to either 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. Read and get listening!

  1. The Pop Ups – Radio Jungle
  2. Randy Kaplan – Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie
  3. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo – Make Believers
  4. Okee Dokee Brothers – Can You Canoe?
  5. Recess Monkey – In Tents
  6. Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band – Potluck
  7. Elizabeth Mitchell – Little Seed
  8. Sugar Free Allstars – All on a Sunday Afternoon
  9. Dog on Fleas – Invisible Friends
  10. Lunch Money – Spicy Kid

Honorable Mentions: Aaron Nigel Smith – Welcome to the Village!, Bill Harley – High Dive, Renee & Jeremy – A Little Love, Ozomatli – Ozomatli Presents Ozokids, Mo Phillips – Monster Suit, Elizabeth MItchell Blue Clouds, Various ArtistsScience Fair, Caspar Babypants – Hot Dog!, Laura Veirs – Tumble Bee, Gustafer Yellowgold – A Year in the Day

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Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews for December 2012

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

I’m not always keen on holiday music, which makes me a kind of musical Scrooge, I guess. So, this year, I’m getting in the spirit because of some really good choices for the month’s children’s music reviews. One is Renee & Jeremy’s Sunny Christmas, a six-track EP from the fine and mellow duo whose A Little Love cover album brightened last Spring. The harmonizing pair once again put their warm, sometimes atmospheric spin on songs written by others, with a genuine affection for the tunes and the holidays. The title track, which was a seasonal hit last year, stands out amongst such chestnut as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.”

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Judy Pancoast takes Christmas on the road with performances at the home of regular folks around the country for her House on Christmas Street tour. She’s performing songs from her new album, Christmas With Mrs. Claus. Original pieces (such as “Where is Santa Claus?”) mix with storytelling and traditionals.

A couple of special Chanukah songs to light the way come from Billy Jonas, “Let There Be Light”,  and Laurie Berkner, “Candle Chase.” The ever-joyful and productive Berkner also has a full-length album, A Laurie Berkner Christmas, which includes a host of wonderfully rendered holiday classics.

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Fids and Kamily Music Awards for 2012

The Fids and Kamily Music Awards returns with its aggregation of 26 family music reviewer picks. All the albums under consideration had to be releases between November 1, 2011 and October 31, 2012, which left a dizzying number of choices. As one of the proud critics for this poll, I’m happy to contribute to its intention of honoring great kids’ music and promoting it to the world. For 2012, 15 albums were ranked and the number one choice was the Okee Dokee Brothers for their work on Can You Canoe. Many thanks to Stefan Shepherd of Zooglobble, who keeps inviting me to this party of award nominators.

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