It’s been a while since I shared my music picks and it’s time to play catch-up with a rundown of kids’ music on my Island radar. Get out your music player and get ready to do some Spring cleaning!
Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights – What A Zoo: We loved Joanie’s last album, so when she added animal-themed songs, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and a cover of “Froggie Went a Courtin,” we knew we were in for more of her trademark top-notch pop. We weren’t disappointed!
Moona Luna – Piñata Party: New York-based songwriter Sandra Velasquez’s bilingual kids’ project is sure to be part of our backyard summer soundtrack. This non-stop Latin-flavored album even features a cameo from Dan Zanes.
Putumayo Kids - Acoustic Dreamland: Yet another quality compilation from the Putumayo brand, this one under their “Dreamland” genre. Full of soothing acoustic lullabies from singer-songwriters both kindie (Frances England) and classic (Lucy Kaplansky), this one works for babies, kids and even restless adults.
Daddy A Go Go – Grandkid Rock: Satisfy your classic rock and kindie rock pallet with Daddy A Go Go’s all-ages friendly release. Sure, references to Backstreet Boys may be slightly outdated, but this is called Grandkid Rock after all.
Brady Rymer - Love Me For Who I Am: Brady’s latest album was made with the goal of creating a “deeper understanding and appreciation of children with autism and other related conditions.” A wonderful project idea filled with sweet and sophisticated pop/rock tunes like the title track, “Picky Eater,” “Bein’ With You” and Laurie Berkner duet “Soft Things.”
Jamie Broza – I Want A Dog: Broza had me chuckling from the first, title track on this album of pop/rock/Latin jazz tunes. I Want A Dog keeps its fast, funny pace with interspersed skits, interviews and pet sounds. As an added bonus, Jamie will donate 20% of profits to the North Shore Animal League America of New York.
Groove Kid Nation – The Wheels on The Bus: Dad Rodney Lee launched the LA-based Groove Kid Nation project as a clever way to introduce kids to instruments. Groove Kid takes traditional songs and infuses them with Lee’s own brand of retro soul & funk , all tied together with some subtle music education and original characters based on classic nursery rhymes.
The Boogers – Let’s Go: The Ramones of kid rock are back! They stick to the same formula of their last release, and that is a only a good thing. A mix of punk-pop originals and rock-hard remakes of classics like “London Bridge,” The Boogers are a true fist-pumping original.
The Billy Kelly Show – The Family Garden: Billy Kelly has a posse. One listen to his album and a visit to his website, and it is clear why. From his original songwriting to his sense of humor and sketches, Kelly is starting to build a kindie rock brand. His latest release features more original quirky pop confections that tickle the funny bone and please your more refined music tastes.
Ham & Burger – Pharm Phresh: Hip-hop for kids is usually a mixed bag, with some artists totally missing the mark. Ham & Burger have avoided the patronizing tone of other efforts by reworking old staples with a hip-hop funk twist. They know how to get the (birthday) party started, and even end up throwing in a few original tunes as well.
Luv Clowns! – Love Clowns: Whatever your stance is on clowns (scary/funny), this band clearly has a sense of humor and knows how to write an entertaining tune for the family. Based on a fictional bunch of rock-n-roll clowns, the album is part acid trip, part pop treat.
King Britt - Baby Loves Disco: The traveling dance party now has its own soundtrack. We are a beat-loving household, and this album filled the dance music gap in our kindie playlist. Despite a few demerits for the “We Are A Family” remake, this album is a total success. DJ King Britt serves up kid-friendly, dance-floor ready tunes including original tunes about ice cream and playground time, while crafting an irresistible take on the classic “Hey D.J.”
The Baby Grands – The Baby Grands II: Grand, indeed. Ben Rowell and Chuck Nash produce powerful pop, rock and country-tinged tunes for those magic minivan moments when the whole family is rocking out together. The Baby Grands were made for the “open road,” satisfying all members with their sound.
Jeremy Plays Guitar – Use Your Words: Jeremy Zmud and his band received “best of” status in 2010 from Daily Candy, People Magazine, and The LA Times for this sunshiny kindie pop release. Over the 14 tracks, the talented Jeremy Plays Guitar keeps it interesting with slight genre shifts and topics that will hit home (“Use Your Words,” “Your Turn, My Turn”). They even bring in the fabulous Madeleine Peyroux for the jazzy “Keep My Cool.”
Debbie and Friends – Story Songs & Sing Alongs! DVD: Debbie has finally compiled her charming animated videos together into one collection. Whenever we pop this new release in, out little one is glued to the screen as Debbie and the gang do to their animated, musical takes on classic stories like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack & The Beanstalk. ‘Story Songs & Sing Alongs!’ is another great music DVD for your collection and excellent counter-programming for TV-wary parents.
The Pop! For Kids Project: Not an album (yet), but a blog, and a great one at that! The Pop! For Kids Project has indie pop artists from all around the world contributing songs aimed at children. All MP3s posted by curator Dennis Greeuw are created just for this project, and are free to download.
I still have not been able to convince some friends and family to check out some of today’s modern family musicians. They may politely listen to my pitch, but are probably going to just go and buy the newest Laurie Berkner album and leave it at that. These skeptics, who may be scarred by too many force feedings of Wee Sing Silly Songs and Raffi, don’t realize the good tunes of which they are depriving their families.
Hence, the point of this post: a summary of four strong entries in the genre. Each of these albums – and their creators – strongly represent my position on the family music scene. Today’s scene is built upon a group of artists creating uncompromising, non-condescending music that makes attempts to include the whole family in its writing and production.
Bunny Clogs – More! More! More!
Bunny Clogs is the side project of Adam Levy, frontman for “adult band” The Honeydogs and his other side project Hookers $ Blow. Levy worked on this project out of his home, with his daughters Esther and Ava Bella contributing vocals and his son Daniel designing the cover art. More! More! More! was also put together with help from students at the music school Levy teaches at, the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis. The album itself has a strong absurdist comedy theme and is stylistically quite diverse, touching on folk, hip-hop, electronica, brit-pop and even Brazilian-flavored pop.
If you rocked Beck’s Odelay in the 90’s, love the iPod “shuffle” feature, and enjoy quirky, well-written pop tunes, then Bunny Clogs is your jam. As soon as I heard the hip-hop Yiddish-inspired “Shpilkas” track online, I knew I was in for an original effort. And once I got the album in my hands, I wasn’t let down. From the breezy, veggie-themed “Olive’s Olives” to the nonsensical electro-rocker “3 Dogs and a Pancake,” this album is non-stop great writing and production that showcases all the different sounds that exist in modern music. Adam also has the amazing ability to make his voice stretch from a Prince-style R&B funk (see “Confessions of a Teenage Lima Bean”) to indie-rock troubadour (see “Midtown Greenway”). More! More! More! came out a couple years ago, but it is never too late to hang with the Bunny Clogs.
Listen to samples on MySpace
Ratboy Jr. – Smorgasbord
Timmy Sutton and Matty Senzatimore make up the duo Ratboy Jr., born out of the Hudson Valley, NY region that gave us kindie rock acts like Dog on Fleas, Uncle Rock, and Elizabeth Mitchell. Already getting lots of attention for their live, interactive shows, equal amount of attention should be paid to their new release, Smorgasbord. With a sound that will remind you of diverse references like 90’s rockers Everclear and Sublime, your favorite jam band and a day at the Bonoroo festival, Ratboy Jr. should be the official kindie rock summer soundtrack.
Sutton and Senzatimore’s summery sounds perfectly match the theme of many of their songs. Songs like “Worms,” “Dirt,” and “Living in the Trees” celebrate free-range summer fun, all to the tune of their refreshing rock songs. I can even see the aforementioned ‘Trees’ riding the modern radio waves several years back – with the song even catching the attention of some people in my car who do not have kids, but loved its laid back vibe. And for those who hear “music-and-movement” and roll their eyes, it is hard to feel “too cool” when participating in their “Clap Your Hands” southern rock jam. Another standout track is “Bear Bus,” a celebration of the imagination that had me thinking of rap-rock-funk fusionists like Soul Coughing and Cake. The music on Smorgasbord feels as organically constructed as the themes of many of their songs (outdoor play, imagination, animals), and truly sets this band apart in the kindie music space.
Listen to samples on MySpace
The Boogers – Road to Rock
If the words “jam band,” “hip-hop,” or “electronica” are not “moshy” enough for you, than meet The Boogers. Winners of a 2009 National Parenting Publications Award, this act was started by musician/developmental psychologist Paul Crowe (a.k.a. “Crusty Booger”). Paul spent the 80′s and 90′s punk-rocking as a bassist with various Chicago bands. Meanwhile, he was able to complete a PhD in Developmental Psychology at Loyola University. This, his passion for punk rock, and his three sons were the springboard to The Boogers record. Not surprisingly, the sound of The Boogers is tied in very closely to two artists Crusty once shared the stage with: Dee Dee and Marky Ramone.
Ramones-style punk rock is clearly the musical inspiration for the 20 songs of reinterpreted kids’ classics and inventive originals on Road to Rock. Their own creations include the manic music and movement song “This Song is About Transportation!,” the tuneful mosh-friendly ode “I Like Bananas,” and the chant-along “Um Tut Sut.” The Boogers also have a gift for taking tired standards and making them fresh again with, of course, a punk rock core. I never expected to appreciate and enjoy “The ABC Song” in an iPod mix, but these guys pull it off. Ditto for reinterpretations of other classics like “Twinkle, Twinkle”, “Bah, Bah, Black Sheep,” ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “Working on the Railroad.” The Boogers are your go-to for straight up punk rock fun, with no ballads, folk-rock melodies or slow jams thrown in for measure to slow things down. I look forward to creating some living room mosh pits to their future projects as well, and can’t wait to hear what they offer on more of their original songs.
Download free MP3s on their official website
Sugar Free Allstars – Funky Fresh and Sugar Free
The funk/soul brothers of duo Sugar Free Allstars have been serving up music for families for five years now, playing venues throughout Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and Arkansas. Comprised of Chris (Boom!) Wiser and Rob (Dr. Rock) Martin, they already have one successful kids’ album on their musical resume (Dos Niños), as well as a live concert DVD (Gettin’ Funky with the Sugar Free Allstars). The Sugar Free Allstars have quickly become family music darlings, selected for inclusion in this year’s Kindiefest after a wave of great reviews for their new album, Funky Fresh and Sugar Free. The first thing that caught my attention with this band was the fresh sound they brought to the genre: a mix of organic funk and soul-infused rock.
Funky Fresh and Sugar Free stays true to the Sugar Free Allstars’ sound, featuring their unmistakable trademark vocals. The album does take some interesting turns, including the chant along rock-hard first single “Rock Awesome” and a southern rock take on a music and movement song, “Train Beat.” But have no fear, Allstars purists! These guys get as funkadelic as ever, including the classic Allstars throwdown “Tiger in My Backyard.” “Little Red Wagon” is another funk-infused rock number, a sunny celebration of family time. “Hey Now, It’s Your Birthday” is another classic, a fill-in-the-name party song that should be a staple at kindie music-lovers’ birthday celebrations. These guys even dare to take on the Beatles’ “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” but give it their own fresh arrangement. Sugar Free Allstars deserve the buzz coming their way, and I expect these guys to continue to make their mark in the family music arena.
Listen to samples on their homepage.
If you are still feeling uncertain about wading into the family music genre, just check at the links to the samples above. Once you listen to the work of these bands, you will discover that resistance is, in fact, futile. Best of all, you are training your little ones’ ears to a higher pedigree of music that could make them intolerant to factory-produced pop tunes once their teen years kick in.
While the attention given to children’s music typically focuses on the newer artists, I think it is important to remember some of the pioneers of this genre. And no one represents a “founding father” of the genre better than Barry Louis Polisar.
Polisar started writing and recording for children in 1975, and has since gone on to an accomplished career creating books, poems and music for kids. He has toured elementary schools and libraries for 3 decades, written songs for Sesame Street, won 4 Parents’ Choice Awards, scored reoccurring gigs on The Learning Channel and even performed at The White House. Most recently, Polisar found a career resurgence after his 30-year-old song “All I Want is You” was used in the opening credits of indie film breakout hit “Juno.”
The success of this song led to many of his old fans being reunited with a musician they remembered fondly from their youth. Aaron Cohen, lead singer of indie group The Radioactive Chicken Heads, was so influenced by Polisar as a kid he decided to pitch the idea of a tribute album to other artists. What resulted was the 60 song, 2-disc set, We’re Not Kidding! A Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar.
Artists attached to the project interpret his songs using their own styles. Hip-hop, electronica, folk, jazz, Klezmer, and bluegrass are just a few of the genres touched upon by the international group of participating musicians. Any listener approaching this album, each with his own distinct musical pallet and preference, is sure to find handfuls of gems to add to his iPod.
An instant favorite in our house was Nashville trio Vesper’s version of “All I Want Is You,” the aforementioned song that brought Polisar back into the spotlight. We also enjoyed DeLeon’s take on “My Brother Thinks He’s a Banana” with goofy-good lyrics on top of a sophisticated indie-rock sound that mixes in Sephardic music. NYC-based Ham and Burger‘s delightfully nonsensical “Don’t Put Your Finger Up Your Nose” had the type of funky electronica beat that is always a hit with Maia. There was even a rockabilly-style version of “Never Cook Your Sister in a Frying Pan” from Robbins In A Tree-O that had us appreciating a genre we usually don’t give much thought to. And, of course, what would a tribute album to a kid’s musician be without some family music talent on board to honor the artist? Grammy-nominee and Kidzapalooza /Austin Kiddie Limits creator Tor Hyams contributes to the album as does punk rock kindie act The Boogers and acoustic-rock duo Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke.
This album is truly a delight for older indie-rock lovers and their music-loving offspring. My wife and I get to explore and discover new bands and their different sounds while my daughter enjoys the genre-jumping, comical lyrics and non-stop fun. Best of all, a long overdue tribute is paid to an artist who inspired many of the modern-day musicians we love – both in and out of the family music genre.
We’re Not Kidding! A Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar is for sale on iTunes, Amazon.com and CDbaby.com. Check out some free samples now on Barry Louis Polisar’s website.