Itty-Bitty Review: Just Say Hi! - Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

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It occurred to me as I listened to Just Say Hi!, the latest album from Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could, that I'm not sure I've ever seen Rymer frown.  I'm sure he must occasionally -- maybe -- but I can't recall anger or frustration when I've seen him play live or at kids music events.  For the most part, it's just a big grin.

Rymer's music for families has typically had that gregariousness, noticeable even in a genre that has more than its fair share of happy, gregarious folk.  On his new album, Rymer doesn't change course as he serves up another 11 tracks of feel-good roots-rock.  It's not that the whole album is butterflies and unicorns, relentless peppy.  Rather, songs like danceable "Just Say Hi!" ("Don't be afraid of the unfamiliar / Look 'em in the eye / Give 'em a smile, and / just say "hi!") and the anthemic "Tomorrow's People" have Rymer's positive attitude baked right in, faces turned toward the sun even when things aren't perfect.  While I could do without the goofy "Pet Song (We Thank You)" because the silly voices sound out of place on the album, for the most part earnest songs like "Red Piano Rag," a ragtime (natch) about Rymer's piano-playing Grandma Helen, or the zydeco-tinged "My Home," stand up to repeated spins.  And of course The Little Band That Could still sounds great.

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 10.   You can hear the 38-minute album here.  Look at that album for Just Say Hi!.  See that big grin on that monster -- that's Rymer's smile in cartoon form.  I think your family will probably be smiling after listening as well.  Definitely recommended.

Monday Morning Smile: "Cookie-Tin Banjo" - Benjamin Scheuer and Escpaist Papers

I've previously featured "The Lion," a delightfully-animated video from Benjamin Scheuer and his band Escapist Papers, as a "Monday Morning Smile."

Now I'm featuring "Cookie-Tin Banjo," a delightfully-animated video from Benjamin Scheuer and his band Escapist Papers, as a "Monday Morning Smile."  The song is a tender ballad featuring delicate fret work on the guitar, and the animation (directed by Peter Baynton based on illustrations by Nicholas Stevenson) is of a different, fuzzier style, but the upshot -- an achingly lovely portrait of fathers and families -- is the same.  In fact, in its celebration of music through the generations, it's even more apropos for this site.

Benjamin Scheuer and Escapist Papers - "Cookie-Tin Banjo" [Vimeo]

Review: Aqui, Alla - Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

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Is there any stopping Lucky Diaz and Alisha Gaddis, the couple at the heart of Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band?  The release a couple months ago of Aqui, Alla marked their sixth album in little more than three years.  That's on top of the TV show, the nonstop touring, and, oh yes, the Latin Grammy for for Best Spanish-language Children's Album for Fantastico!.

The answer, then, is probably no.

Unlike Fantastico!, which almost exclusively featured Spanish-language reworkings of their previous English-language hits, the new album features all new songs (plus "De Colores," because of course).  Diaz and Gaddis returned to team up with Gilbert Velasquez, who produced Fantastico!, and they somehow manage to merge Diaz' natural indie-pop sound with the sounds of Tejano music.  I mean, anytime you can bring in someone like Flaco Jimenez on accordion (on the leadoff track "Viva La Pachanga"), you just sit back and enjoy the result.  While most of the tracks are bouncy, danceable tunes, the album ends on a more mellow note, with the tender "Aqui, Alla" (about the multi-varied backgrounds of many Americans) before finishing with "De Colores," which isn't really a dance song (though Diaz et al. come close to turning it into one).

The one downside to the album -- and it's not going to be a downside for everyone -- is that the album comes with no way for the English-language speaker to bridge the gap between the music and their own experience.  For the Spanish-language speaker, of course, that's not an issue at all, but I found myself wishing that explanations of the songs in the promotional material were included in the album packaging.  You can enjoy the music without knowing a whit of Spanish, and yes, you can find lyrics and translations at Diaz' website -- but I think some of those families would enjoy it more if there were more of a guide right there with the CD.

The brief 26-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 8.  You can hear the album here.

I love finding out what Diaz and Gaddis are cooking up next for families who love kids music.  The duo could have totally rested on their laurels with one Spanish-language album and left it at that, but they came back with Aqui, Alla, which is better in almost every way.  It gives me hope that a third album of their hybrid Spanish-language indie-jano (that's "indie" + "Tejano") will grace shelves and iPods at some point.  (And I'd encourage them to do even more to bring us non-Spanish dancers along for the ride.)  Definitely recommended.

Video: "Echo" - The Okee Dokee Brothers

By the time you read this, hopefully I will have crossed a small portion of the Appalachian Trail as part of our family's summer vacation.  Maybe we'll just essentially drive across it, or maybe we'll have time to walk a mile on America's most famous trail.

So I'm using that as an excuse to post one of the videos from The Okee Dokee Brothers' latest album, Through the Woods.  It's an album inspired by and partially written during the duo's trek along parts of the Appalachian Trail, and this song, "Echo," has, as you might expect from its title, a sing-along chorus.

I do not plan on jumping into a large body of water from a multiple-story-tall cliff, however.

The Okee Dokee Brothers - "Echo" [YouTube]

Interview: Raffi

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Raffi is the man whose music literally created the kids music section -- his first kids music albums, starting with Singable Songs for the Very Young, were so popular that record stores created new sections for his music.

This week, Raffi releases Love Bug, his first kids music album since 2002.  His voice is in as fine a form as ever, and his gentle music will likely stir up fond feelings in the hearts of Raffi's "Belugagrads," those who grew up listening to, say, Raffi's Baby Beluga album and who now bring their own kids to Raffi's concerts.

Raffi and I chatted on the phone as he came back from a walk.  It was an appropriate lead-in to an interview about his new album and his views on the (in)appropriateness of information technology and social media for kids.


Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?

Raffi: Of my father singing and playing accordion in Cairo, where I lived for the first ten years of my life.  I loved to hear him play -- he would hold court with his big, booming voice.

I first sang in the Armenian Church choir in Toronto with my dad when I was eleven, twelve years old.

In my teenage years, I listened to the Beatles.  I bought a guitar from a pawn shop when I was sixteen and sang in 3-part harmony with friends.  We listened to Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan...

What are your memories of being outside, in nature?

When we lived in Cairo, I remember we'd get into our two-tone Studebaker and drive up to a cafe, the Cafe du Vue de la Pyramide -- the "Cafe with the View of the Pyramids."  We'd play in the Cairo sands.

When I first came to Canada, to Toronto, it was quite different for me to experience sliding on ice.  

My father took us to see the fall colors outside of Toronto.  I loved it, so much so that I won a poster contest with my drawing of the woods.  I was thirteen years old, and my poster won the Smokey the Bear Fire Prevention Contest from over 5,000 entries.  I remember it like it was yesterday… it was titled "Keep It Peaceful."

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It's been more than a decade since you last released an album of kids music, though you've been recording other music and commenting a lot on social media -- what made you want to go back and record a new album (Love Bug)?

I think it's going forward, actually.  I always make music when I feel a new stirring, and I felt like I wanted to do one for the Belugagrads, the term of endearment for millions of fans.  I wrote these songs about the joy of the real world.  It's the first Raffi album in the digital era.

The [title track] itself came from a little guitar riff, you can hear it in the song, and for the first time I played the piano.  I recorded the whole thing in my living room, and about 80% of the whole album was recorded at my home in Salt Spring Island, an island of about 10,000 people between Vancouver Island and Vancouver.

You've written about the potential dangers of information technology and social media, particularly for kids under 13, in your book Lightweb/Darkweb.  How did those themes manifest themselves in the new album? 

It was clearly a response to the digital overreach in our lives.  It prompted a full-on celebration of the real world.  [That connection] is the primary purpose of being human.  It has nothing to do with InfoTech [Information Technology] devices.  Those devices are not designed for kids' hands and laps.

My position -- that those of developmental experts like Terry Brazelton and Penelope Leach -- is that kids' primary attachment should be people -- that's what a child needs to bond with.  The internet is the opposite -- it's shiny and flat.  It's too seductive, too powerful an intrusion.  The reports of tech device dependency and addiction in young people bears me out.

It's hard for middle-aged people to avoid.

Yes.  Younger kids need to learn how to use these.  It's not fair [to them].

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You know, you could go back and listen to albums like Singable Songs for the Very Young at the start of your nearly 40-year recording career, and the listener would find those same themes of connection and natural world there, too.

Sometimes I think, why record a new album now?  Have I already said it all?  But there's room for creativity, to say things in new ways.  Like, that impulse to hug someone, where does it come from?  In "Love Bug," from viruses.

Have you noticed any changes in your live audiences from when you were last performing consistently?  More faces turned down, looking at black or white rectangles?

Not at all -- it's a remarkably similar vibe compared to when I was doing it in the '90s.  We ask the audience to turn their cell phones off, not record anything.  The audience is all singing along.

I play a lot of the familiar songs, respecting the kids' needs for their familiar toys.  Most of the adults are Belugagrads, so they're experiencing it in two ways, both as parents as well as in their hearts from childhood.

I'm a very lucky man.

Any other plans after the release of Love Bug?

Well, I'd like to eat lunch.

Ha!

Then there's dinner...

Ha!

That's one of my favorite subjects… But there are more shows coming -- I hope to announce some shows in the United States soon, they're more "select shows" rather than touring.

There are new songs brewing, I'll be recording a new CD this fall.  It's a very creative time for me right now.  I'm loving the power of music within me and the embodied joy young children are.  I hope that my fans find diverse pleasures [on Love Bug], different moods to hear.

Photo credits: Billie Woods

Itty-Bitty Review: First Songs - Danny Lion

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Dan Flannery may be best known in the kindie world for being half of the well-loved duo the Flannery Brothers, but he has an alter ego as a dandelion-brandishing lion superhero.

Wait, what?  I must've been confused by the album cover.

The Flannery Brothers aren't defunct by any means, but Dan has taken his master's degree in Child Development and job teaching preschool classes and music and turned that into Danny Lion, his very preschool-focused music alter ego.  His debut DL album First Songs from late last year is a half-hour and a dozen songs of genial silliness for your favorite preschooler.  Super-simple -- there's a song about having a "Banana on the Head" that is exactly about that -- but that's the point (and the charm) of the album.  The instrument list includes ukulele, bass, and cajon, and… well, that's it, really.  It's just songs like and "Puppies in Cars" and "Dance Happy" which will, well, put a smile on your and maybe even Pharrell's face.

The album will appeal to kids ages 2 through 6.  You can listen to the whole album here.  This is simplicity done right -- letting the humor and happiness shine through.  Definitely recommended.