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.
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.
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.
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.
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.