Listen To This: "Spring Day" - Karen K and the Jitterbugs

Karen K and the Jitterbugs' "Spring Day"

Karen K and the Jitterbugs' "Spring Day"

As a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, I am careful not to talk about how wonderful the weather is on social media because I don't want to seem like I'm taunting my friends in more northern climes in the winter months.  (Really!  I actually prefer the weather in northern climes!)

I say all that as a way of introducing "Spring Day," a brand new song from Karen K and the Jitterbugs.  From its opening guitar riff aping Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69" to the abundance of "la la las," it's a pure pop confection celebrating the arrival (please!) of spring days.  But as I look at weather forecasts of highs in the mid-90s this weekend, forgive me if I'm already dreaming of songs celebrating fall.  Stream the song below and pay what you'd like for the track.

Karen K and the Jitterbugs - "Spring Day" [Bandcamp]

Review: The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow - Big World Audio Theatre


Let's give a hearty "Ahoy, mateys!" for the crew of Big World Audio Theatre, whose debut story and music collection The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow set sail earlier this year.

(Let me also promise you that the rest of this review will be free of sailing-related puns.)

Based in Portland, Oregon and headed up by Laki Karavias and Jason Reuter, the Theatre (really, a loose collective of area musicians and artists) turned to Kickstarter to raise monies for the production and release of the album.  The result is a lovingly crafted album and physical product that tells the story of Captain Gregory and the S.S. Bungalow's trek across the Atlantic Ocean to find the Lullaby Islands and the treasure found there.

Voice actor Kevin Barbare narrates the story, which is filled with enough dramatic plot turns, gentle good humor, atmospheric sound effects, and occasional Princess Bride-style meta-commentary to keep the target audience hooked and any adults tuned in amused.  The chamber pop-folk, featuring the occasional stringed instrument, horns, and pedal steel, runs the gamut from peppy to slow as befitting the story's twists and turns (sometimes in the same song, as in "Life Is Good."  "Follow the Albatross" sounds like it could have been culled from an Uncle Tupelo album.  One song, "Aquinas," commemorating a long-loved pet, is particularly sweet and moving in a way few kindie songs are.  While the songs are meant to serve a story, speaking as someone who primarily listened to the songs alone, they stand up well on their own.

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9.  The story version of the album is nearly 75 minutes long; a second disk featuring only the song tracks clocks in at about 32 minutes.  (You can listen to the whole thing here.)  The physical version, featuring Ward Jenkins' illustrations, is solidly packaged -- for multiple reasons, the CD would make a lovely gift.  (I have no doubt that if they ever chose to go the vinyl route, that would look - and sound - splendid as well.)

The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow was clearly a labor of love, with a fine attention to detail.  I would love to see one of those multinational entertainment conglomerates figure out how to spread this far and wide, though I know that's unlikely.  Instead, we'll just have to hope that Big World enjoyed this labor of love enough to make them want to attempt another.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I was given a copy for possible review.

Video: "The National Tree of England" - Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly


Spring has sprung, and that means it's time for the release of Trees, the brand new album from Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly.

[Commence celebration.]

I encourage you to read my interview with the duo, and listen to the whole darn album, but before, after, or during (maybe not during) doing so, you can also watch a Brand New Video animated by Mr. Kelly himself.

[Commence celebration.]

I really love this song.

Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly - "The National Tree of England" [YouTube]

Review: Watching the Nighttime Come - Suz Slezak


Lullaby albums can be a nice way for an artist who typically records music for adults to slide into the kids music world -- maybe record a few public-domain lullabies and/or some love songs appropriate for tender ears, and with relatively little change, presto, you have a lullaby album!  The potential downside is that you get a bunch of songs recorded too loudly and with little of the magic that makes parents repeatedly put  good lullaby albums back into the CD player night after night.

Suz Slezak certainly could have gone that route.  Along with her husband David Wax, she's part of the folk-roots rock band David Wax Museum, but Slezak chose to record and release Watching the Nighttime Come, her first kids' music album, a lullaby album, under her own name.  She could have easily gone the route I outlined above, but instead this new album is remarkable for how much Slezak the vocalist fades into the background and lets Slezak the musician step forward.  I tend to think of the start of the album as being the aural equivalent of the album cover -- playful as day's last light fades and, well, waiting for nighttime.  Slezak's songs "Where Did You Come From" and "You Got Love" are dreamy tracks, but ones on which her vocals take something approximating center stage.

As daylight fades, however, the overall feel of the music, rather than anything vocally-based, becomes most important.  The heart of the album -- "Jessie's Waltz," "Tallis Canon," and "Caballito Blanco" -- are, respectively, an instrumental, a 6-minute version of a 450-year-old hymn, and a Spanish-language lullaby.  Those are not the artistic choices of someone who just wants to create a lullaby album with a snap of her fingers -- those are the choices of an artist who's deliberately creating a hushed mood.  That mood on the album eventually breaks somewhat, as all nighttimes break.  Here it's with a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye."

The album is going to be most appropriate for kids ages 0 through 5, but like most good lullaby albums, it's far more all-ages than a lot of kids music.  You can stream the 31-minute album here.

This is a somewhat idiosyncratic lullaby album, and if you're looking for renditions of the same set of lullabies you might typically hear on collections of sleepy songs, you should probably move on.  But I think this is exactly the kind of idiosyncratic that regular readers of the site will dig a lot, and even if you think you want yet another version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on CD, I'm pretty sure that Watching the Nighttime Come will fit in nicely amidst your family's CD collection.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a copy of the album for possible review.

Review: Night Night! - Caspar Babypants


The family music of Chris Ballew -- recorded as Caspar Babypants -- has been so consistently good over his past eight Caspar albums.  (I don't think I've ever been as pleased with the result of any prediction of mine as the one from six years ago that suggested Ballew "might make a whole bunch of great CDs for the family.")

So when I got an advance review copy of Night Night!, his ninth album, out today, my question wasn't whether it'd be any good -- the quality goes without saying -- but whether he could translate his tightly-contstructed hook-filled melodies into lullaby form.

Because, as you might gather from the title, this is supposed to be a cool-down album.

I hope Ballew doesn't take this the wrong way, but his album is forgettable in all the right ways.  What I mean by that is the music, while catchy, isn't necessarily one bouncy hook-filled song after another.  Rather, it features a more consistent -- and obviously far mellower -- tone.  The opening track "Just For You," is a lovely song featuring words of unconditional love (one of the backbone topics of lullabies), as is "Sad Baby," but for the most part the strength of the album is that the songs almost imperceptibly slide from slightly bouncy with lyrics from the wandering brain of a child who's just turned out the light all the way to album closer "Made of Light," whose minimal lyrics and ambient sounds would fit right in amidst the contemplative "space music" of Hearts of Space.  (It's a cousin to the ambient music Ballew has started posting.)  So while there are fewer "classic" individual CB tracks, perhaps, as an album with a specific purpose in mind, it's kind of brilliant.

The 50-minute album is targeted at kids ages 0 through 5 or 6, though many of the tracks would probably fit on a relaxation album for a broader, older age range.  Night Night! is a stellar lullaby album with a set of soothing sounds for whenever a break is necessary.  Highly recommended.

Note: I received a copy of the album for possible review.