Radio Playlist: New Music October 2017

With the onset of fall comes the close of a Grammy eligibility window, so there are usually a bunch of releases up through September 30, then a bit of radio silence (so to speak).  I've got 35 minutes worth of that early fall rush of songs in this month's new music playlist. (Feel free to check out the September list here if you missed it.)

As always, these Spotify playlists are limited in that if an artist hasn't chosen to post a song on Spotify, I can't put it on the list, nor can I feature songs from as-yet-unreleased albums.  But I'm always keeping stuff in reserve for the next Spotify playlist.

Check out the list here (or right here in you're in Spotify).

**** New Music October 2017 (October 2017 Kindie Playlist) ****

"Wake Up!" - Brendan Parker

"Daddy's Beard" - Josh Lovelace

"Don't Let the Boogah Bug You Out" - Lard Dog & the Band of Shy

"Elephant in My Room" - Phredd

"Telephone - Dance Remix" - "The Laurie Berkner Band

"Amor Es Lo Que Siento Por Ti (Para Mama') - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer

"Taken Over by Robots" - The Dilly Dallies

"The Quest for the Missing Polka-Dotted Pink Sock" - Mista Cookie Jar

"Better Than You Know" - twinkle

"El Coqui / The Frog" - Mister G

"Go Well and Peace Be with You (Hambani Kahle)" - Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Video: "Little Baby Born Today" - Red Yarn

It was another stellar year for Andy Furgeson, AKA Red Yarn.  Born in the Deep Woods was one of my favorite albums from 2017, and it wrapped up the "Deep Woods Trilogy" with another set of modern takes on old folk tunes, which took as its inspiration in part the subject of parenthood.

Appropriately so, because Furgeson and his wife Jessie Eller-Isaacs got to enjoy the first year of their second child, a daughter.  And it's that daughter, who celebrates her first birthday this month, who stars in a new video for a song off Born in the Deep Woods titled "Little Baby Born Today."  She was a lot younger at the time Furgeson, Eller-Isaacs, and director Laki Karavias shot the video, but given the impending birthday, now felt like a good time to release it, says Furgeson.

As with the album itself, the video is about parenthood as much as it is childhood, so it may be just as interesting to the parents as the kids, but pretty shots of nature and appearances of hand-crafted puppets should be enough to keep the kids tuned in.

Incidentally, Furgeson notes that the entire trilogy has been reprinted with new, unified packaging (available here), and that he's already hard at work in the studio for the next album, tentatively titled Red Yarn's Old Barn.

But until then, you'll have to make do with the video, which I'm happy to world-premiere today.

Red Yarn - "Little Baby Born Today" [YouTube]

Ear Snacks Season 2! Read (Hear) All (A Little Bit) About It!

Ear Snacks logo

Ear Snacks logo

I know that saying that a creative endeavor is unlike anything else that's out there sounds like hyperbole, but Ear Snacks fits the bill.  There are lots of great podcasts for kids, but in its absurdist and often non-story-based style (not to mention its greater though not exclusive emphasis on preschool listeners), the labor of love from Los Angeles-area musical duo Andrew and Polly is unique.

And it's back for Season 2!

Now what exactly is Ear Snacks? Well, why don't you let a few kids tell you...

(I love that, by the way.)

In any case, with Season 2 starting TOMORROW!, I went straight to the source, Andrew Barkan and Polly Hall themselves (OK, just Polly), to find out more about Season 2 and how it's more of the same, but also different, from Season 1.  (Also, on a related note, make sure you check out "How Does This Get Made?," a discussion on, well, how the podcast gets made.  It's not geared towards kids, but totally kid-friendly, if they happen to pull it up on your podcast player.)

Zooglobble: Is there a theme to season 2, or is it more or less random like season 1?

Polly Hall: It's more or less random, though this season we are being much more intentional about how the episodes tie into developmental milestones.

Can you give a sneak preview of some of the episode topics?  How about just the first letters of each topic?

What's happening this season on Ear Snacks?  Hands!  Puzzles!  Bad Guys!  And much more.  We'll keep the rest top super secret secret, but we are lining up some really fun guests to help us investigate science, music, art and culture in absurd & awesome ways.  Kindie music friends will be making regular appearances, starting with Jazzy Ash & TMBG's Danny Weinkauf and some podcast pals like Wow in the World's Mindy Thomas.  And to answer a question no one was asking -- yes, we are going to try to talk to conceptual artist John Baldessari.  Because stickers.

What are you doing to be more intentional about developmental milestones?

Ear Snacks Season 2 will still be built around super-fun topics for kids to explore, but each episode is also intentionally tied to an important milestone central to childhood and growing up.  We've met and sung with thousands of kids at this point and that "data set" really informs our work - but we're also weaving in our personal life, too.  As parents (to a 4-month old and 3.5 year-old), we're learning first hand from playdates, pre-school and the playground.  We know all about the big feelings that come while starting to make sense of the world - and this season we're trying to support kids as they're experiencing new situations, tackling new challenges and starting to connect with each other.  Don't worry, there aren't any lectures in these episodes!  Instead we take a sideways approach to topics like hitting, biting, differences and feeling confused that we think will equip kids to move through critical moments in an empowered way.

How has kids podcasting changed since you started Season 1?

The world of kids podcasts has changed A LOT since we started doing this in 2015.   Personally, we know that parents are seeking out and discovering podcasts for their kids way more now than they were a couple of years ago - proof we've seen from our audience growth alone.  We published our first episode of Ear Snacks in July 2015 and two years later we guess our weekly audience to be about 5,000 families and growing.  That feels like a lot of people to be talking to, since our own research - and research published by the non-profit organization Kids Listen, of which we are proudly founding members [Ed. note: As am I!] - indicates that kids in our audience range are almost always listening with at least one adult.  That's a lot of moms, dads, big brothers and sisters and lil' ones rocking out to our music, cracking jokes, knowing facts about seahorses and being curious about the world. 

There's generally more awareness now about this kind of content - perhaps partly because more attention is being paid to the medium by the press (see recent Common Sense and New York Times articles), or partly because more creators are entering the space including NPR, Panoply, and Peabody-winning Gen-Z Media - even Nickelodeon & Disney have podcasts for kids now.  Or a little bit chicken and egg?  We're excited to see more advertising and grant money (see Brains On! and Book Club for Kids) is becoming available to support the work we're all doing.  

There are even some podcast apps exclusively with kids content on the App Store now - Kids Listen, Leela and Panoply [Pinna] - and those are all great discovery tools for parents who are wondering, what should my kid be listening to?  

There's so much great audio out there right now for kids and it's even a little easier to find - but still not necessarily the first idea a parent of a pre-schooler might have when reaching for an activity.  A podcast for my pre-schooler?  Yup, there is one, and it's called Ear Snacks.

Monday Morning Smile: SpongeBob SquarePants, The Musical

SpongeBob SquarePants Musical cast album

SpongeBob SquarePants Musical cast album

There are optimists, and then there is the Eternal Optimist, SpongeBob SquarePants.  Indefatigable in nature, filled with energy, if there's anyone who doesn't need "Monday Morning Smiles" because they're already smiling each and every Monday, it's SpongeBob.  The Nick cartoon, which has been airing for more than 18 years, has been turned into a feature-length movie, and now it's been turned into a feature-length musical.

The musical opens on Broadway later this year, but the original cast album is released this Friday. Unlike a lot of musicals, the producers went to a variety of artists to write songs for the musical (with a single person, Kyle Jarrow, writing the "book").  NPR premiered the album late last week, and Linda Holmes wrote the review so I don't have to.  Of note is "I'm Not a Loser" by They Might Be Giants (no strangers to kids music).   But the highlight for me is absolutely killer "I Wish"-type song from Jonathan Coulton -- the song that introduces characters and their wishes which will be filled (or not) in the two hours to come -- it's called "Bikini Bottom Day," and it'll put a smile on your face as wide as SpongeBob's I'm sure.

Go here to listen, if only for 6 minutes.

Looking Forward by Looking Back (Dan Zanes' "Lead Belly, Baby!")

Lead Belly, Baby! album cover

Lead Belly, Baby! album cover

When most people think about Smithsonian Folkways' kids' artists, I'd guess that the first names that come to mind are Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger, with probably Woody Guthrie close behind.  But if I were to make that trio a quartet, I'd add Lead Belly to that list.  Lead Belly (born Huddie William Ledbetter in 1889) was a master of the 12-string guitar, and starting in the mid-1930s until his death in 1949, he recorded for a wide variety of labels.

His outsized influence on blues music generally masks the fact that he only recorded one album specifically for kids for Folkways, and that was an album released more than a decade after his death.  But in 1999, Smithsonian Folkways released Lead Belly Sings for Children, a collection of songs Lead Belly specifically recorded for kids in the 1940s along with other tracks that fit right in.  The liner notes describe it as "essential listening for all ages," and in this case, the hype fits.

Nearly three quarters of a century after Lead Belly started recording for Folkways founder Moses Asch, Dan Zanes has joined in.  As part of the typically detailed and lovingly-produced liner notes to the album, Zanes writes of being seven years old and discovering a Lead Belly record in the basement of his local library just as he was getting interested in the guitar.  In Zanes' telling, Lead Belly's music played no small role in Zanes' path toward becoming a musician.  In other words, this is a labor of love.

Now much of Zanes' all-ages musical path has felt like it came out of love and not any sort of calculated attempt at super-stardom, but this album does feel to me just slightly more personal, as if going back to one of his first inspirations helped Zanes tap into his own inspiration.  In time-honored folk tradition, Zanes adds his own voice and approach.  “Bring Me a Little Water, Sylvie” is given a slightly more uptempo, lilting feel.  Zanes has always been willing to make a space for hip-hop on his albums, but he's opened up a lot more room for it now.  There are many reasons that might be appropriate, but probably the most appropriate is that the arrangements breathe new life into these tracks.  The original Lead Belly recordings, after all, were primarily the man and his guitar -- they sound great, but there can be a certain monotony to those tracks.  But the arrangements here are wide open: in addition to the music store's worth of instruments -- concertina, saxophone, cowbell, mandolin -- five of the tracks feature guest raps.  

As with most music Zanes releases, this album features a couple dozen guest artists.  Some are famous -- hey, there’s Billy Bragg on “Rock Island Line!”… Is that really Chuck D offering up a verse on “Skip To My Lou?" to name but a couple such appearances.  But just as important to the overall feel are the guest turns by the musicians we’re probably less familiar with, like Jendog Lonewolf’s rap on “Julie Ann Johnson," while Memphis Jelks, invited onto “Skip To My Lou” by Chuck D., just about steals the show from the elder statesman.

If there’s anything I miss from the album, it’s the voices of kids.  Folkways albums for kids have always had lots of participation by kids -- Lead Belly Sings for Children is no exception, as it includes a number of tracks featuring Lead Belly singing to and with kids.  In contrast, aside from “More Yet,” there’s no chorus of kids on Zanes’ album.  (“Little Goose” makes an appearance on the intro to “Polly Wee” along with Father Goose, but that’s not really what I mean.)

After a series of themed albums that were musically satisfactory but less than fully… party-filled, Lead Belly, Baby! most closely replicates the freewheeling spirit of his early DZAF albums, the ones that propelled him into kids music stardom.  While in many ways this album will sound familiar to those fans of those albums (nearly twenty years old at this point), Dan Zanes is also walking some different musical paths than he was twenty (or thirty or forty) years ago.  If looking back to one of his earliest musical idols helps kick off another series of musical explorations into the future, then by all means bring it on.  Highly recommended.