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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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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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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