Weekly Summary (7/14/14 - 7/27/14)

Review: Sing As We Go! - Charlie Hope

CharlieHopeSingAsWeGo.jpg

Singer-songwriting Charlie Hope has a bright, clear voice that appeals to many ears.  In attitude, temperament, and vocal quality, I've previously compared her to Raffi, and I think the analogy still holds.

On her recent release, Sing As We Go!, Hope continues with the formula that has won her fans on both sides of the Canadian-United States border.  Take a batch traditional songs, mix in a handful of poppy folk originals, add a dash of kindie royalty, and stir.  Hope's voice and producer Dean Jones' unfussy musical choices give a fresh spin to the traditionals.  A simple touch like the toy piano on the old camp chestnut "I Love the Mountains" helps give the song new life to the adult listener who may have heard the song more times than they probably should.  While some of the titles like "When the Ice Worm Nests Again" and "Little Rooster" might not sound familiar, the melodies probably will, with Hope occasionally writing some new lyrics for the songs.

The originals here are lovely -- from the lost '70s AM-radio tune "With You" (co-written and performed by Hope and Gustafer Yellowgold's Morgan Taylor) to Jones' "Harmony" (a duet between Hope and Elizabeth Mitchell) and Hope's own gentle ode to the parent-child bond "From You" -- and feel just as timeless as the actual classics they're next to.  (And speaking of kindie royalty, Molly Ledford, Randy Kaplan, and Chris Ballew aka Caspar Babypants also appear on the album.)

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7.  You can listen to extended clips from each song on the album here.  Also, I happen to find the album art here particularly delightful, an artful mix of hand-drawn, computer-drawn, and knitted illustration from Zooglobble favorite Charlotte Blacker.

I first listened to this album months ago, set it aside as real life took over, and when I came back to it recently in preparation for writing this review, I was struck by just how delightful this is.  It's traditional but not musty, sweet but not cloying, engaging but not pandering.  It's a gem of an album, definitely worthy of a comparison to Raffi.  Highly recommended.

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

BradyRymerJustSayHi.jpg

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 Escapist 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

AquiAllaLuckyDiaz.jpg

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]