Two great musical surprises recently landed on my doorstep. Sent to me for review, both albums and artists came with accolades, but had been flying below my personal kindie radar. When the moment came for the family to listen to the albums, both had us instantly impressed.

Despite my ignorance, Banjo to Beatbox by Cathy & Marcy and Christylez Bacon is certainly no “hidden gem.” Already grabbing Grammy nods and awards from organizations like Parents’ Choice, NAPPA, and Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, many fans of quality children’s music should already be in the know on this project. As for the talent behind it, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer have been making family (and adult) music together for almost 30 years, picking up 2 Grammy Awards and 11 Grammy nominations. Fink and Marxer met newcomer Christylez Bacon during their mentoring program at the Music Center at Strathmore in Maryland. After discovering that Bacon’s gift for beatboxing and rhyming actually lent itself to their acoustic-driven banjo sound, this collaboration was born.

Burnt out on “coffeehouse” music in the 90′s due to several college radio gigs, and only semi-aware of Cathy and Marcy’s work, I went into this album skeptically. Yet, as soon the first chords of lead-off track “Jubilation” hit, I knew I was in for an interesting ride. A party song for tots, this tune mixes Cathy and Marcy’s skilled singing and instrumentation with Bacon’s beat boxing, and adds in some spirited chanting from kids. An accompanying music video (see below) featuring puppets of the three artists helps position this track as a standout. Speaking of standout tracks, “Soup, Soup” gives beatmasters like Timbaland a run for their money with Bacon’s rhymes and vocal percussions layered perfectly over Cathy and Marcy’s song about a visitor demanding “soup, soup.”

Cathy & Marcy also contribute some more traditional banjo tunes that will satisfy fans of their previous releases. Tunes like “Froggy Went a Courtin’” and “Barnyard Dance” are cute story-songs sure to entertain the little ones while having adults sing along to the bluegrass and ragtime-inspired sound. Christylez also gets his moment to shine in the modern retelling “Hip-Hop Humpty Dumpty” and how-to track “It’s The Beatbox.” By the time Banjo to Beatbox was through, I had opened my mind to the bluegrass genre in and out of kids’ music.

Another surprise came in the form of King Pajama’s Something Sweet LP. I consider myself somewhat tapped into the latest in family music, and was not at all aware of this Brooklyn-based crew. King Pajama was formed by  husband and wife team Jason and Jena Lechman based on their belief that the power of music can bring families together. Working with accomplished vocalist Nina Zeitlin, as well as a band of skilled musicians, helped bring the project to life.

The first thing that caught my attention with this project was Nina Zeitlin’s vocals. As soon as she launched into the acid-jazz style intro song “Outer Space Boogie” I realized I was on familiar ground that was near and dear to me. A fan of electronica and lounge style music, Zeitlin’s strong, jazzy vocals are the type I usually hear bringing life to the “chill” music genre. Already on board after this cool groove, equally delightful was follow up song “Pieces.” This folky-pop song uses examples like tomatoes (a fruit, not a veggie) and Pluto (not a planet after all) to introduce the complicated concept that all things in life can’t be compartmentalized.

Other instant favorites included the blues-rock lament to the unappreciated “Doormat,” a piano ballad to a “Heavy Coat” and even a bossa nova “Guacamole Time” celebration. It is easy to appreciate a band that genre jumps, and does it with such ease. And throughout, King Pajama never feels the need to down-age their music and lyrics and scare off adult listeners.

Banjo to Beatbox and Something Sweet are certainly two albums to explore. The creative mixes of musical genres on both albums are certain to pleasantly surprise you too.

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Realizing the holidays were approaching, our daughter notified us she “only wanted Princess stuff.”  She then added to that, “real princess stuff, Disney Princess.”

I realize I am the parent, I could put my foot down, maybe even sneak in some wooden puzzles. But, in truth, it is not like she asked for a Tiffany bracelet or a Hannah Montana doll. And on the positive side, Maia’s favorite princess is currently Mulan, teaching her some other (slightly Disneyfied) culture than that which exists under the sea and in a castle. Plus, underhanded plans are already in the works to sneak in some non-Disney branded Princess paraphernalia, and as long as it is pink and royal-looking she will be a happy toddler.

So, on my excursions to hunt down various Princess presents, I came across some licensed products that lend themselves quite naturally to the brand (Barbie-style dolls, pajamas, DVD players, pop-up castle tents, even toothpaste). However, I have chanced upon a few that left me with a slight feeling somewhere between bemusement and professional curiosity. I wondered how important it was to stay true to a classic brand, respect the back-stories and remember the magic that originally made these films so successful.

Before I share my list of Perplexing Princess Products, let it be known I am in no means an anti-Disney anarchist. I can’t wait to bring Maia to Disney World, show her all the movies I watched as a kid, and take her to each new one as it comes out. But, it is hard not to poke fun at some of the licensed products coming out of the House of Mouse, whether or not they are ringing up sales at the registers.

Ten Perplexing Princess Products

1. “The Princess and The Frog” Comfy Throw Blanket – Yup, it’s a Princess Snuggie, or Snuggler to be more accurate. The current As-Seen-On-TV product we all love to laugh at is now available at your local toy store with your favorite new princess image on it.


2. My 1st Disney Princess Baby Ariel Doll – With this release, Disney is going “retcon” on us. If I recall, Ariel did not have legs until her later years. I understand this may be categorized as nitpicking, and the target demographic may not be so concerned, but ignoring a classic back-story devalues a much-loved license.

BabyArielDoll3. Princess Ariel Bride Dress - I am okay with princess dress-up, but a bride’s dress borders on “Toddlers and Tiaras” level creepy. I understand the value of role-play, and Maia loves to pretend her Princess dolls are getting married. But seeing her walk down the “make pretend” aisle in a white dress that “includes a bonus veil to make you feel like you are headed down the aisle with your own Prince Eric” is messing with my head a bit too much.


4. Any Disney Princess Enchanted Nursery Toy - This whole line is based off the concept that Belle, Beauty, Cinderella and their princes all played together as toddlers. Seeing The Beast as a toddler in his outfit did make me chuckle, but the words “brand erosion” come to mind when seeing some of these dolls.

Disney Princess Enchanted1
Disney Princess Enchanted Nursery Pairs

5. Enchanted Nursery Sea Shore Snow White - A build off of the previously mentioned line, this has Snow White “dressed up and ready to go” for a day at the beach. Sunglasses and sparkle bathing suit are included. Again, I go back to the story of Snow White and question whether she had access, deep in the woods, to the latest Ray-Bans and La Blanca products.


6. Snow White Vacuum & 7. Snow White Ironing Board Seat – Speaking of Snow White’s resources, I am sure she would have loved this vacuum and ironing board when cleaning up after those 7 slobs. Unfortunately, the “real” Snow White had to do with her helpful animal friends and some elbow grease. Fortunately, today’s girl has more options, and the little Snow White of tomorrow will have some practice with these Princess-branded toys.


8. Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment – After borrowing this from a friend, I anticipated the Princess crew would help us celebrate the season with some new holiday content. But watching it, all I found was recycled bits of old Disney content with brief intros. We are given a chopped version of the previously-released Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas DVD, an edited short from Fantasia 2000, some above-average 1930′s era cartoon shorts, a Little Mermaid story with no animation and two songs with clips from the Princess films.


9. Disney Princess Plush Rocker – No direct tie-in to any princess is clear here, as we know none of the royal girls were riding flamingo-colored horses. The color pink seems to be the only connection to anything princess.


10. Disney Princess Nursery Doll Set – Sure, girls love playing mommy to little baby dolls. So, why not slap a Princess logo on a doll and sell it as a branded Princess item? Also available to keep your baby comfy: princess branded cribs, swings, beds, feeding sets and more.


Your thoughts? Any Princess products you love? Or think are over-the-top? Feel free to comment!

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