Dads Croon Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”

Following their cover of the Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World,” the gents at recorded this version of Mariah Carey’s holiday chestnut, “All I Want for Christmas.” Everyone from Marines to a pop in footsie PJs unabashedly warble along in this dad music video.

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Free to Laugh with “It’s OK To Do Stuff”

With its songs and stories of individual expression and diversity, Free to Be…You and Me made a strong impact on my childhood in the ’70s. Marlo Thomas’s star-studded music and video production (which included the talents of Mel Brooks, Diana Ross, and Alan Alda, to name a few) continues to speak to kids, today. Its impact goes beyond making all kids feel included in a sometimes fractured world — it has inspired a bunch of talented contemporary comic writers to produce It’s OK to…Do Stuff. As a huge Free to Be… fan I am equally offended and entertained by this parody. This is what happens when we grow up in the “land that I see where the children run free” and end up fans of things like Avenue Q. Produced by Rob Kutner and the Levinson Brothers, and aimed at parents — and their snarky adolescent kids — it features Steven Page (formerly of the Barenaked Ladies) on  “Be Yourself…Unless” and Kimmy Gatewood and Colin Hanks (“Divorce Makes a Family Twice as Big”), among other notable contributors.

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

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

With a couple of extra days off this Thanksgiving break, take some extra time to listen to music with your kids. Try some classical music such as Mozart, Debussy, or Beethoven. Then sample the work mentioned in these children’s music reviews, which have a decidedly orchestral concentration.

Justin Roberts isn’t content with having risen to the heights of kindie rock stardom with hook-laden pop tunes. Now, he rises into the clouds of transcendent lullaby music full of poetic images and lush orchestration. Lullaby is an event-caliber album, featuring singers from the Chicago production of the musical Hairspray and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Roberts does indeed call Chicago home). On this lush recording, some of the more sparkling tracks are the gracefully imaginative “Count Them As They Go” the string-happy “Heart of Gold,” the Van Morrison-influenced “A Wild One,” and the timelessly gorgeous title song.

Wacky wordplay pairs with a wide-range of musical styles, including (you guessed it, orchestral) on Zak Morgan’s The Barber of the Beasts. Sporting elements of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends-style poetry, this album is a total blast to listen to and demands more than just casual sampling. At least once, sit down with your child(ren) and enjoy everything from the classically-inspired “Overture” and the title track to the growling rock of “Snow Day.” The CD booklet has vocabular guides for all the verbal fun going on in the lyrics.

The always adventurous world-traveling Putumayo Kids label delivers a new collection, World Sing-Along. Laden with inviting tunes such as Jorge Anaya’s dance-worth “La Cucaracha,” Father Goose’s island take on “Jig Jog Jee,” Frances England’s cozy interpretation of “That’s What Friends Are For,” and Dan Zanes and Anjelique Kidjo’s refreshing version of the Harry Belafonte classic “Jamaica Farewell.” A portion of the sales will be donated to a child-health cause, so the album will do double duty in this time of thanks-giving.

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Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews for October

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

We in the Keer house have been fans of Charity and the JAMBand since my two oldest were grooving to 2006’s Rock Your Socks Off. Charity Kahn and her bandmates perform songs with lyrics of peace and family togetherness layered with any number of funky, dreamy, rocking, and rolling sounds. Disarming listeners with her with youthful voice, Charity has a drive in her music that rings with such genuine belief in the Family Values her songs speak of that it’s hard not to be transported to an idyllic state of mind. Among the 13 diverse tracks are the Lenny Kravitz-like propulsion of the title track, the folk lilt of “Lovingkindness,” the Bangles-esque “Valentine,” the electronic jazz-rock of “Flower of Power,” and the bluesy anthem of “We Are the Ones.” The rhythms and song craft are so good on this album, it’s one of those discs adults can shamelessly listen to even when the kids aren’t around.

There seems to be a resurgence in family-music projects that aim to teach as well as entertain. Sometimes, it comes off forced and clunky, but The Mighty Sky transcends most standards with its fluid blend of song and science. Nashville-based singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman — who has written pieces for such luminaries as Bonnie Raitt, Neil Diamond, Trisha Yearwood, Elton John, and Emmylou Harris — offers an eclectic mix of sonic styles to accompany the songs she’s written with Annie Roboff and lyricist Rocky Alvey, the Director of the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory. From the atmospheric title tune and the do-wop-tinged “The Moon” to the rockabilly-lighted “Rockin’ Little Neutron Star” and the earthy “Zodiacal Zydeco,” this album inspires interest and learning about astronomy as it provides musical uplift.

David Tobocman is a clever songwriter (he currently composes for the cartoon Robot and Monster), but he takes a simple, straightforward approach to making music for young kids. Light rock, bluegrass, and folk underpin Tobocman’s songs on Escalator, from the upwardly mobile tune for which the album is named and the wildly imaginative “Custom Family Spaceship” (which suggests an intergalactic family vacation) to the down-to-earth “Gonna Be a Garbage Man” and the optimistic “Peace Sign.”

Beauty abounds amidst the Blue Clouds of Elizabeth Mitchell’s newest album. With grace and quiet purity, the Smithsonian Folkways recording artist interprets wide-ranging classic songs from the likes of David Bowie (“Kooks”), Bill Withers (“I Wish You Well”), Jimi Hendrix (“May This Be Love”), and Van Morrison (“Everyone”). While strings, flutes, and the angelic voices of Mitchell and her daughter Storey (Mitchell’s husband, Daniel Littleton, plays guitar and other instruments, here) populate the music, the artwork of Remy Charlip characterizes the CD cover and booklet and the words of Brian Selznick (the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret) introduce this affecting project.

We conclude this month’s children’s music reviews with multi-award-winner Ben Rudnick, who is on his tenth family-music album, but the vitality of the songs on this recording prove the singer-songwriter has yet to run out of good ideas. Catch such fine tunes as the rootsy “A Little Boogie,” the island-hued “Where Are the Dragons,” and the cowboy-swaying “Scribbling.”

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

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Everyone wants their information fast and to-the-point, so I’m going to file all my entertainment reviews under the FMR: Children’s Music Reviews heading for the fordseeable future. This month, I must begin with the release of The Magic School Bus: The Complete Series. While episodes still air on TV following its original 1990s run on PBS, this package of 8 DVDs is as worth owning as the Schoolhouse Rock series in the way that both are highly fun to watch while they educate. The Emmy-winning show is about an eccentric teacher (Ms. Frizzle, voiced by Lily Tomlin) who takes her students in the ever-morphing school bus on scientific field trips over land, in the sea, in space, and even inside the human body. My seven-year-old can’t stop watching and even my teenager had a viewing party with his buddies. An activity book and parent’s guide adds to the value of this edutainment powerhouse.

Toggling over to the music side, I’m particularly pumped about Ozomatli Presents Ozokids, the first child-oriented album from L.A.’s brilliant multicultural group, Ozomatli. Heavy on informative lyrics, liberal with the rhythm, and diverse in its musical styles, Ozokids offers everything from the hip-hop Latin sound of “Moose on the Loose” and the reggae-infused “Germs” to ’80s-style funk of “It’s Your Birthday” and the electonica “Sun and Moon.” The Emmy-winning ensemble, who are legendary for their live shows, manages to capture authentic musical richness on every track.

Multiculturalism is having a great month, as evidenced by Aaron Nigel Smith’s Welcome to the Village! This superb collection features not only great guest stars (such as Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner, Lucky Diaz, and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo), but hundreds of child singers from cities around the U.S. and from a school near Nairobi, Kenya. This uplifting and mind-expanding album’s highlights include a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man Gave Names,” a blues gem entitled “Copy Cat Scat,” and a gentle reggae version of Jewel’s “Hands.”

For the very young, I recommend a solo CD, Songs from the Sandbox, from Stephen Michael Schwartz, who made up one-third of children’s music hall-of-famers Parachute Express. Schwartz knows how to inspire imagination with nifty pop hooks, as shown on the lively “Statues Dance” and the swaying “Valentine Tree.”

Lastly, we have New York City-based Shira & Friends, who deliver a five-song EP called When You’re a Kid. Shira Kobren, a performer and music-and-movement teacher, makes a colorful splash on this high-energy recording. “Dance, Dance, Dance” stands out for its interactive theme of various kinds of dancing and “I Want a Monster” offers a rockin’ case for taking in a monstrous pet.

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

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Just a couple of children’s music reviews this month as the summer winds down and school starts up. With its theme of teaching kids to be “wise, fair, and generous hearted,” Someone Else’s Shoes seems ready-made to help children begin a new school year with old friends and new acquaintances. This is the third CD in the “Best Foot Forward” series from Nancy Doan’s Recess Music label. Featured on the 15-track disc are Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer (“Give a Little Love Away”), Jamie Broza (“Be Nice to Old People”), and Dan Dan Doodlebug (“There’s No Such Thing as Normal,”  one of my favorites, here). Albums of love and tolerance like this make you feel a little better about this crazy world we live in.

Harmonica Pocket, a Puget Sound-based band, offers their latest recording, full of acoustic simplicity and charming lyrics for the baby to preschool set. Recently minted parents Keeth Apgar and Nala Walla anchor this group and infuse their songs with personal experience, especially on “Diaperman.” Seattle-area musicians with big kindie rock creditials help out on many of the album’s pieces, including Recess Monkey’s Jack Forman (on “I’m Gonna Count,” among others) and Chris Balllew (aka Caspar Babypants guests on “Monkey Love”).

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Children’s Music Review – Barry G. and the Dream Jam Kids

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Expanding on his popular work with the Dream Jam Band, Barry G joins forces with a top-notch
chorus of children on the album, Huh-uh. A father of twins and a music educator, Barry G (whose full last name is Gellert) has a marvelous sensibility for making music that speaks to young children.

The 10 songs on this recording traipse all over the American musical map, going from the urban influences of rock and roll to the rural sounds of roots-based country. Much of the album is interactive, encouraging kids to move to the music and dream along with what moves them in the tunes. Among the stand-outs here are the jangly title track, the bluesy “Act Like and Animal,” the sea-faringly silly “The Captain Was a Monkey,” the traditional folksy “Hammer Ring,” and the balladic “Are You Sleepy.”

Produced by Grammy nominee Rick Chertoff (who has worked with Joan Osborne and Cyndi Lauper), the project is polished but nonetheless feels personal. Barry G addresses his young audience with the guidance of an adult who can seamlessly enlighten kids while also urging them to have a good old time. and– $14.99 (CD)/$8.99(Digital) – Ages birth to 7. You can also check out videos at myKaZootv.

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Randy Kaplan – Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Even if I didn’t like Randy Kaplan’s music so much, I’d have to tell you about it because my kids would never forgive me. They’ve been big fans, particularly because of Randy’s sense of humor (witness songs on previous albums such as “No Nothing” – ) and “Don’t Fill Up on Chips”). I became such an admirer of the man’s work that I rated his The Kids Are All Id project the best family music of 2010.

Now, he’s gone and made me have to review another album of his, Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie. An homage to those Kaplan calls “the Superheroes of American Blues,” this recording is more powerful than a locomotive in the way it drives kids through a range of blues sounds – hearkening back to the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s — while it entertains them with his trademark lyrical wit. Throughout the album, Kaplan uses a blues persona, Lightnin’ Bodkins to help teach kids about such blues legends as Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bessie Smith, Blind Blake, and Muddy Waters. For the CD package, there are also 20 pages of liner notes for even more enlightening information about the influences on this collection of country blues and ragtime tunes.

Among the many blues-licious tracks on this jam-packed album is the Dixieland-style opener “They’re Red Hot,” which indeed starts things with high energy. Kaplan is as much a storyteller as he is a musician, as evidenced on the harmonica-infused “Runaway Blues” (about a childhood dalliance with leaving home) and “In a Timeout Now” (featuring child participation on some yodeling). Other “listen first” worthy songs are the rollicking “Ice Cream Rag,” the standing-up-to-a-bully tale of “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon,” and the rootsy sound and heartfelt words of “Green Green Rocky Road.”

Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie is ambitious in its effort to educate young listeners about some of the most significant indigenous music America has produced. It’s also funny, insightful, and loving. Who would want to miss out on all of that?– $11.99 (CD)/$9.49 (Digital) – Ages 2 to 11. You can also check out videos at myKaZootv.

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Family Man Recommends: Quick Picks for July 2012

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Hard to believe we’re already in mid-summer, but the musical holiday goes on with several new releases worth giving a spin. It all begins with Spicy Kid by Lunch Money, one of my very favorite kindie-rock groups. Singer-songwriter-band leader Molly Ledford consistently writes songs of relevance for kids, and this time has composed an album that speaks to the parent-child relationship, with pieces about a spunky child (the title tune), a parent who helps a very young one communicate with the rest of the world (“Translator”), and a kid who knows when mom is trying to keep information secret (“S.P.E.L.L.”). Not only is the music spicy and sweet, but each song is a conversation starter with children.

Another personal favorite, Eizabeth Mitchell, has done wondrous versions of classic songs on her previous albums. Now, she focuses on the folk-music legend Woody Guthrie for her album, Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie. In this centennial celebration of Guthrie’s birth, Mitchell — along with her string-playing husband and singing daughter — lovingly interprets “Riding in My Car,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “Little Sugar.”

Steve Denyes and Brendan Kremer are the duo — who have been friends since kindergarten — known as Hullabaloo, who deliver their ninth album (there’s also a “Best Of” collection). Raise a Ruckus indeed offers plenty to sing and play about with its blend of country, rock, folk, and blues. Songs of humor and happiness abound, including the title track, “Look at You” (inviting kids to make animal sounds), “Trash is Treasure” (about a bird making the most of what’s thrown away), and “Rocket Shoes” (using sneakers to propel imagination). Guest appearances by the aforementioned Molly Ledford, Buck Howdy, Dennis Caplinger, and Marcy Marxer augment the rousing atmosphere.

Melissa Green’s experience as a music and movement teacher for children seasoned her for a recording career that appears ready for a much higher profile, thanks to the polished pop tunes and excellent production on Sing Loud. Green’s CD ranges from the ’50s rock sound of “Baby, I Love You” and the Katy Perry-esque title song to the country blues of “Board That Train” and rockin’ cover of “We Got the Beat’ (with guest singer Brooke Shields). This album has enough substance and slick to entertain kids all the way up to their pre-teens.

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Family Man Recommends: Quick Picks for June 2012

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

In this Father’s Day edition of the FMR: Quick Picks, I lead off with a dad from Southern California, Jeremy Toback, who has a new CD with his musical partner, Renee Stahl. Renee & Jeremy harmonize beautifully on A Little Love as they perform acoustic versions of a lovingly selected collection of classic songs, ranging from pop chestnuts such as “Daydream Believer’ and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” to alt-rock stand-outs like “Shiny Happy People” and “Give it Away.” Yes, this is one that grown-ups can listen to without the kids as well as use to give kids a lesson about great songs and wonderful interpretations.

Last year’s featured review for June was a Recess Monkey offering. Here they are again with In Tents, proving that these Seattle singer-educators are both prolific and amazingly consistent in making fantastic music. Sixteen tracks juggle and fly through the air of a circus theme through songs such as the title track, “Odditorium,” “Carousel,” “The Dancin’ Bear,” and “Crystal Ball.” I really don’t know how these guys can be so clever in music and lyrics with a new CD every year, but I don’t care as long as my kids and me are having a great time.

The Okee Dokee Brothers are a duo that have earned a non-stop litany of accolodes for their bluegrass music for kids. It is so very well deserved, but you can decide for yourself by listening to Can You Canoe: A Mississippi Adventure Album. The recording is the result of a month-long canoe trip taken by the “brothers,” Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing, who were inspired to write such songs as “Haul Away Joe,” “The Bullfrog Opera,” “King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O,” and “Small and Simple” (featuring Elizabeth Mitchell).

A few other treats worth mentioning for Father’s Day gifts are: Songs in the Shade of the Flamboyant Tree, a marvelous French-produced book-and-CD package of French Creole llullabies and Nursery Rhymes; the latest from Caspar Babypants, Hot Dog (filled with witty songs by one of my favorite kindie music makers); and Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project, a CD of songs by Broadway composers and performers made to benefit breast cancer research, support, and education.

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