I make no secret of my love for a good drum machine. I’m a huge fan of hip-hop and electronic beats. And though I have never pushed them on Maia, there is something about the thump of a bass that seems to get her going. Fortunately,  family music has many kid-appropriate artists that fit this genre.

That being said, I also thoroughly enjoy unplugging at times. And what better way to unplug then with some good ‘ole guitar-strumming, roots-flavored music? The family music genre definitely has a great history of artists making roots music, including the venerable Woody Guthrie. Fortunately, for those who have worn out their Guthrie, Pete Seeger or Ella Jenkins records, there seems to be a reemergence of new artists making rootsy, twangy, folksy, fiddle-filled tunes for a family audience. Three recent albums sent to me for review laid proof to this growing trend.These artists are all talented, seasoned players with experience making music for adults and children. Read on for a rundown of just a few of the albums bringing music back to its roots.

Ranky Tanky
Ranky Tanky

American string band Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem have already created three albums for adults, but have just released their first family effort, Ranky Tanky. Featuring 17 covers, the band selected a diverse group of songs from 100 years of American music including artists like Nat King Cole (“Kee-Mo, Ky-Mo”), Tom Petty (“Wildflowers”), Sheb Wooley (“Purple People Eater”) and Cat Stevens (“If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out”).

My Take: This album was another delight to add to our growing kindie-rock collection. The band’s seasoned experience in the adult market shows in this celebratory and beautiful patchwork of an album. I was so excited to share their vigorous, twangy version of “The Green Grass Grows All Around” with Maia, a classic tune from my own childhood. I would never have thought of a kids’ album with the beautiful, melancholic “Wildflowers” on it, but Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem take it, make it their own and put it in a whole new context. And I can see why “If You Want To Sing Out” is getting Kids Place Live support, a great album intro track and a song that is by no means for kiddie ears only.

Earthworm Ensemble

Earthworm Ensemble is a spin-off of alt-Americana band I See Hawks in L.A. Their self-titled album, released last February, mostly follows the folk, rock and fiddle sound of their adult tunes with some New Orleans funk, hip-hip and lo-fi rock mixed in. Earthworm Ensemble’s original songs have a subtle “green” focus, exploring a child’s viewpoint of nature and the universe while mixing in messages about topics like healthy eating.

My Take: Earthworm Ensemble is another distinctive effort, with artists who create something completely different for kids. The songs are each unique pictures, bringing life to gems like American-style story song “Traveling Train,” bluegrass science lesson “That’s What the Earthworms For,” and the jugband-style celebration of “Corn.” It’s hard to not love an effort like this, full of original and engaging songs with positive messages, imaginative musicians and some stylistic-shifts sure to please differing tastes.

Alastair Moock is no newbie to the music scene, already releasing 5 albums for adults, winning numerous songwriting awards and becoming one of Boston’s hometown musical heroes.  A Cow Says Moock is his first album for kids, despite years of performing for the pint-sized set. Featuring original tunes as well as covers from music idols like Woody Guthrie, ‘A Cow’ is full of high-energy rootsy folk rock, a sound his adult fans will be used to.

A Cow Says Moock

My Take: Moock has an inimitable sound, based solely on his gravely voice. While some performers seem to only bring out the sugary sweet voice for their kid rock, Moock rocks his voice with pride and has the lively, worthy songs to back it up. The album starts with a roar, or a moo, right away with “A Cow Says Moo,” a folk tune that I imagine is quite the hit at his many live events. “Two Mommies” is also a highlight, a great way to make children aware of the many types of families in this world. Moock is also inspired by his own twin daughters in the music and movement song “Two Little Babies (Dance Around)” and sibling celebration tune “Twins Are Twice As Fun.” It is excellent to see a Boston-based artist making waves in the family music scene, and pushing out a quality album. Look out Seattle!

Have a “new-roots” kindie album you love? Comment below!

As declared in my previous post, I get very excited when I hear of a cool kid’s project coming out of the Beantown area. While many of my Boston compadres may get giddy with pride over the Red Sox, this media geek does the same for companies and talent putting together quality projects for the kid demographic. So, I was thrilled to learn that my newly-acquainted chai buddy Dave Schlafman was the illustrator of a tween book series, Monster Squad.

Monster Squad Covers
Tween-friendly terrors: Monster Squad Cover Art

Written by author Laura Dower (From the Files of Madison Finn), the Monster Squad series is already up to book three, with the fourth set for a release this spring. The series focuses on a rag-tag group of four tweens recruited by director Oswald Leery to stop his own B-movie monster creations from wreaking havoc. It seems Leery accidentally brought them to life and only monster-loving Jesse Ranger and his friends can put them back where they belong.

Author Laura Dower clearly knows how to write for the youth demographic, with over 20 entries in her From the Files of Madison Finn series, a slew of non-fiction titles and even some licensed novels including “spooky” titles like Scooby Doo and Goosebumps. She is well-matched in artist Dave Schlafman, whose day job is creative director at children’s media company CloudKid Studio. CloudKid is already getting industry accolades for the ground-up creation of the PBS web property Fizzy’s Lunch Lab. Dave has also designed, animated and illustrated for youth-friendly clients like Hasbro Toys, Parker Brothers, WGBH, and American Greetings. After sitting down with him, it is clear he has a passion for this demographic and has a true desire to bring new and interesting character creations to them.

The Monster Squad
The Squad’s All Here

Between working on Fizzy’s and planning his next project, Dave was kind enough to let me throw a few questions at him regarding the Monster Squad book series. Oh, and while Monster Squad has no relation to the cult 1987 film of the same name, Schlafman was quite a fan of the kid-targeted horror film.

Nugget Island: How did the Monster Squad project come to be?
Dave Schlafman: I always wanted to get into publishing, but always thought I needed an agent. I was contacted out-of-the-blue by a Grosset and Dunlap (Penguin) book designer who stumbled on my website. I did a round of sketches (as a tryout), and the author, editor, and art director loved my silly characters. It was a perfect fit for everyone involved.

NI: What inspired the look and feel of the Monster Squad illustrations?
DS: I always start my projects with research, so I looked at old movie posters and horror movie characters. Then, I just dove right in. I wanted the style to be cartoony but not too cartoony. It was great working with the art team from Penguin, because they let me run with EVERYTHING. They gave me a lot of creative freedom. I first designed/illustrated the covers, which gave me a chance to explore the character designs of the monsters – did lots of really rough sketches. Once, it came time to illustrate the interiors, I had a good handle on things. It was a really fun process.

NI: Were you a monster/genre film lover as a kid?
DS: Yes! I loved My Pet Monster, The Monster Squad movie, and even horror movies – LOVED Tales from the Crypt. As a kid, I was drawn to anything that was out-of-this-world “fantastic”. Things like M.A.S.K., Nintendo Classics, M.U.S.C.L.E. Men, etc. My childhood definitely has a huge influence on the type of work I’m doing now. I think the ’00s were a time of really “dark” content for kids – maybe a post 911 influence. I hope the next 10 years can bring the innocence back with silly adventures that kids can lose themselves in. Monster Squad is a perfect example of the type of media that inspired me as a kid.

NI: How much did you collaborate directly with the author?
DS: Laura Dower reached out to me early on in the process and we were able to have some great back-and-forth, but most of the creative notes came from the publisher. Laura and I touched base every few weeks to talk about things, which was beyond helpful. She’s full of amazing energy and we hope to collaborate on a project together in the future.

NI: What are the future plans for the Monster Squad series?
DS: I hope Laura and I will be able to work on more of these – but no word from the publisher. The fourth book is due out April 15th.

NI: Has this project opened the door for any other kids’ book projects?
DS: Not professionally. I’ve been working on a number of book proposals and ideas, but I’ve been pretty busy over the last six months producing my first animated series for PBS. Once things slow down, I’m hoping to find a book agent and explore children’s publishing a bit more. One thing at a time!

Check out the Monster Squad series now on Amazon. Also, take a peek at some sample illustrations below, straight from the pages of the series.

Monster Squad Sample Illustration

All images courtesy of Penguin Group USA

Sunny pop from the Asteroids Galaxy Tour. No, really.

We are huge proponents of quality kids/family music in our house. However, I also celebrate adding a few adult songs to your kiddie-centric playlist.  Specifically, appealing to your child’s blossoming music tastes while appeasing your need for some songs that are NOT about the ABCs and 123s. Below, is a summer-tuned, shuffle-friendly playlist of music that wasn’t written with kids in mind but that Maia and I thoroughly enjoy bobbing our heads to. Yes, it is slightly biased to my music tastes, but I promise this summer-riffic playlist will have you smiling too!

Basement Jaxx - We love blasting this electronic duo’s greatest hits. Their music is full of bubbly, fast-paced grooves with a decade-plus songbook to handpick toddler-friendly grooves from. Maia’s favorite is the chant-like “Bingo Bango.” New summer-themed single “”Raindrops” is also rising up our charts as well.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour - This Danish band has several songs on their new album “Fruit” that are made for warm summer days. Our family favorite is “The Golden Age,” where lead vocalist Mette Lindberg’s vocals are mixed with a unique combination of rat-pack era jazz and hip-hop beats.

Passion Pit
Boston boys make it big

Sonny J – This English singer/songwriter/ DJ/ producer has a year-old album full of songs that are sure to get the family moving. The Jackson 5-meets-Fatboy Slim track “Can’t Stop Moving” is the true summertime standout on this sampledelic album. The video itself is worth a view too, recalling 70′s era “Sesame Street” musical numbers.

Passion Pit – One of the biggest breakthrough acts of the spring,  this Cambridge, Mass-based band have a few songs from their new Manners LP that are perfect summertime jams. The surefire hit is the synthy, beat-driven “Sleepyhead” with its  sing-along chorus.

Madonna - Don’t hate. We’ve got mad love for Madonna in my house. We have been playing Maia a lot of the newer stuff. “Do you like to boogie-woogie?” is one of her favorite lines. And no,  “Justify My Love” is not on the playlist.

A few more warm weather-inspired recommendations that Maia seems to have taken to, and that I am more than happy to play if the lyrics are appropo:

Ting Tings – (See previous post)

The Little Ones - L.A. indie pop (and “Yo Gabba Gabba” guests)

Phoenix – French pop/rock band

Annie – Norwegian electropop singer

Miike Snow – Swedish pop/rock/electronica band

Cut Copy – Australian synthpop band

Goldfrapp - British electronic music group

Backseat Fun!
All smiles in the backseat with Dad on the decks