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”).

Posted in Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Music | Leave a comment

Dads Serenade Us With “A Whole New World”

In preparation for Father’s Day, we have a new funny dad music video as those brave souls at Life of Dad give us a cavalcade of paternal types singing Alladin’s “A Whole New World.” Come on, you know you want to sing along…

Posted in Family Music, Father's Day, Humor,, Video | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Music | Leave a comment

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.”

Posted in Family Music, Music, Special Needs | 1 Comment

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.

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

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 –

Posted in Child Development, Education, Family Music, Music, School | Leave a comment

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.

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

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.

Posted in Children's Music Reviews, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Humor, Music | 1 Comment

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.”

Posted in Blog, Children's Music Reviews, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Music | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Blog, Children's Music Reviews, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Music | 1 Comment