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.