Itty-Bitty Review: 10 - Funky Mama

10 album cover

10 album cover

Kansas City's Krista Tatschl Eyler -- AKA Funky Mama -- has been laying low in the kids' music world for a few years since the release of her previous album Sing! in 2010, but she's back in fine vocal form on her new album 10.

The album title is a recognition that 2015 marks the ten-year anniversary of the release of her first album in 2005.  But this is no retrospective of an album.  Instead, these ten tracks (appropriate, that) are celebratory.  It's nice to have her voice back in kids music -- Shawana Kemp of Shine and the Moonbeams is the only kids music artist who can belt out a song like Eyler can.  Eyler has a powerhouse voice and the best songs here take advantage of that.  "Action, Friends, Action!" is a horn-drenched movement song that demands movement from anyone within listening distance, while on "Safe Seat" is a blues-drenched song sung from the perspective of a student who just can't sit still (and might have gotten in trouble a few times at school for it).  She brings in some local guest artists to good effect -- Sugar Free Allstars' Chris Wiser funky organ on "Gonna Be Alright" and Rappin' Roy Scott's vocals on "Dance!" work particularly well.

The album and its kid-targeted subjects (e.g., dogs eating homework, the joys of eating corn, dancing) will be most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 8.  10 doesn't reinvent any kids music formulas, but one listen may remind that there's room for all sorts of kindie musicians, including those who know how to belt out a tune without fluttering off into American Idol silliness.  Recommended.

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

Review: Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over - Hilary Grist

Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over cover

Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over cover

It didn't occur to me until I sat down to write this review, but the label that has released the biggest, most diverse set of original music for kids and families over the past several years is a book publisher: Montreal-based The Secret Mountain.  They've released 23 albums over the past decade and more -- some totally in French (as would befit a publisher based in Montreal), some in English, some in languages from around the world.  Their book/CD collections have featured lullabies, folk music from around the world, even a couple books from the longtime kids musicians Trout Fishing in America.  And while some of the albums are re-releases of albums, dressed up with the accompanying book, many (like the Trout Fishing) albums are entirely new.

The 23rd and latest album from The Secret Mountain is a book/CD titled Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over, a "Bedtime Story and Dream Songs" collection from Vancouver-based musician Hilary Grist.  In both its music and its accompanying pictures, it is to my mind the most modern- looking and sounding release from TSM.  Grist has four folk-alt-pop albums for adults under her belt, and this new album sees her turn her attention to that most unconditional of love songs, the lullaby.  The title track is one of the most gorgeous songs you'll hear all year, for kids or not.  Its message of dropping worries, that tomorrow is, well, a chance to start over, is reassuring for sleepyheads of all ages, and Grist's vocals are somehow soaring without being totally inappropriate for a sleepytime disk.

With the exception of "Cradle Song," a reworking of Brahms' Lullaby, which concludes the album, the rest of the songs are original lullabies.  Some of them like "Fall in My Loving Arms" and "I'll Be There sound as if they might have been originally written for an adult audience (though not inappropriately so), others ("Say Goodnight" and "City of Green and Blue") feel more kid-centered.  Of course, the beauty of many of the best contemporary lullaby albums lies in part in the ability of the singer to pull together different songs to weave an overall mood of unconditional love.   And songs like "Float Away," "Le Petit Oiseau," and "Still" help produce that mood.  The album starts out a little "loud" for a lullaby album, but by the end, it's all very

The book features an original story about brother and sister Ira and Isabelle, who find themselves struggling to fall asleep and so take a boat far away but instead of finding a Sendak-ian collection of wild things, are greeted by a robin who encourages them to drop their worries and fly.  (The theme leads well into the title track.)  The siblings' clay characters were created by Grist, and the photographs -- a first for a Secret Mountain book as opposed to illustrations -- a distinctive mixture of collage and tiny models by an artistic team led in part by Grist's husband Mike Southworth.  Babies won't appreciate the photographs, perhaps, but their parents certainly will.  You can also hear Grist read the story as the album's first track.

I think that most successful lullaby albums work for both the target age range of kids ages 0 through 5 as well as their parents, and by that measure Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over succeeds quite well -- it's a lovely collection of songs, with some memorable images to match.  Here's hoping The Secret Mountain continues to bring new artists like Grist into their fold in future years.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a copy of the book/CD set for possible review.

 

Itty-Bitty Review: Sundrops - The Harmonica Pocket

Harmonica Pocket album cover

Harmonica Pocket album cover

The Seattle-area duo The Harmonica Pocket (songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Keeth Monta Apger and his wife Nala Walla) have always been led by an animating interest in the natural world, but never quite as fully as on their fourth family album Sundrops, which is officially released today.  The theme -- sunshine and rain -- is a pretty genius one (especially for a Pacific Northwest band) and the dozen tracks here explore (mostly) the beauty of both sun and rain.

The album starts off particularly strongly -- the country-folk of "Sing In the Sun," followed by the pure pop goodness of "Raindrops," which features fellow Northwest musician and co-producer Johnny Bregar on the Hammond B3.  That song, with the lyric "We'll dry off someday / It's just water anyway," and "It's Gotta Rain (If You Want a Rainbow)," give you a good sense of Apgar's songwriting attitude.   (They also feature the small band Apgar and Bregar brought in to fill out the sound.)  Much of what follows is also an enjoyable, amiable folk-pop shuffle through the natural world -- I particularly liked "Digga Dog Kid" (a duet with Chris Ballew AKA Caspar Babypants, who knows his way around songs about being outside) and their reworking of "You Are My Sunshine," featuring many new lyrics.  I didn't like "Are You a Monster Too?," which didn't seem to fit in at all amongst the sun and rain songs, but since I greatly adored "I Love Ukuleles," a song featuring wordplay around the phrase "I love you..." (and Marcy Marxer on ukulele as well, natch) perhaps I just didn't like "Monster," period.

The 40-minute Sundrops is most appropriate for listeners ages 3 through 7.  Its mellow sound and open-hearted lyrics will make a nice accompaniment for both rainy afternoons and sunny Sunday mornings.  Recommended.

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

Itty-Bitty Review: Turkey Andersen - Turkey Andersen

Turkey Andersen debut album cover

Turkey Andersen debut album cover

The debut EP is the proof-of-concept of the recorded music industry.  It's not intended to be perfect, it's just supposed to be an introduction, something that says, this could work - this does work.

Such is the case with the debut self-titled EP from Turkey Andersen.  Who is Turkey Andersen?  Well, I don't think he and Northampton, Massachusetts musician Henning Ohlenbusch have ever been seen together at the same time.  More importantly, though, in the course of 8 songs and 16 minutes, these songs put smiles on faces and quirky, poppy earworms in brains.  "If a Sandwich Was a Sandwich" is the most brilliant 30-second song ever ("If a sandwich was a pillow then the bread would be the pillow case," the song starts out, and maintains that level of rational absurdity for another 25 seconds).  The centerpiece of the album is "Time Travel Clothes," all about the trouble you can get into if you wear the wrong clothes while traveling through time.  (We've all been there, right?)  I also find "Hot and Stuffy" very funny and also educational about how to get a room to the right temperature.

You can stream the album here.  It'll be most amusing to kids ages 3 through 7.  Its combination of TMBG quirkiness and songwriting with Jonathan Richman-esque earnestness and vocals is pretty much instantly appealing.  If this debut is proof-of-concept, then I think it's proven that Turkey Andersen needs some investors.  More, please.  Definitely recommended.

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

Itty-Bitty Review: Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue - Papa Crow

Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue

Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue

I praise the willingness of musicians to follow wherever their idiosyncratic muse takes them, and by that measure, few kids musicians would receive higher praise than Michigan's Jeff Krebs, aka Papa Crow.  It's not that he changes musical styles dramatically from album to album -- you can hear his gentle folk-pop on his fine albums Things That Roar and Full Moon, Full Moon and you can also hear it on his EP about farting and tooting, What Was That Sound?.  It's the subjects that are wildly different.

You can also hear his folk-pop on his latest EP, Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue.  His subject this time? The nonsense poems of 19th century writer Edward Lear.  Accompanied with nothing but his vintage 1947 Gibson guitar, Krebs tells these stories through melodies he's written for the album.  Lear might be most well-known for his poem "The Owl and the Pussycat," which Krebs includes here, but the strongest songs to my ear are the leadoff track, the sea-shanty-like "The Jumblies," and the blues-y "Calico Pie."  (Special shout-out to Krebs for recording the 110-line "The Courtship of the Yonghy Bonghy Bo," which Krebs reports took him 54 attempts to reach a suitable take.)

The album will be most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 8.  You can stream and purchase the 19-minute EP here.  Kids will need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy the songs here -- they do require some attention -- and these may work better mixed in with other songs, rather than in one set.  But it's a fun album nonetheless.  Settings of 150-year-old poetry to song is probably not the way to kindie fame and fortune, but I'm glad that Papa Crow has chosen to explore this particular side path.  Recommended.

Note: I was given a (digital) copy of the album for possible review.

Review: Flight of the Blue Whale - Pointed Man Band

Flight of the Blue Whale album cover

Flight of the Blue Whale album cover

When you look at the Amazon page for Flight of the Blue Whale, the second album from Portland, Oregon's Pointed Man Band, here are the three genres in which Dan Elliott (who in the great indie rock tradition has taken on a band nom de plume for his music) has slotted the album:

- Children's Music

- Avant Garde & Free Jazz

- Miscellaneous

That, readers, is a review -- and an accurate one -- in seven words.  Oh, were we all able to be so concise!  But citations of Amazon genre categorizations are not why you visit this site, so onward I press.

In my review of the debut Pointed Man Band album Swordfish Tango from 2013, I wrote that the album was a "combination of Tom Waits and Shel Silverstein, the Beatles and Parisian cafes, the music [smelling] of hardwood floors and flannel and wood construction blocks."  The follow-up is both slightly more mainstream and weirder, if that's possible.

Flight of the Blue Whale tells a story in song of a red fox who operates a small clock and watch repair shop, comes home to find moles invading his garden and the town, and goes off on an adventure to... well, it ends with a flight of a blue whale.  What happens in that ellipsis is, frankly, a little confusing and I don't even really think that's the point.  Bottom line, the more conventional narrative drive of the story -- whose moral is about taking time to dream and not just work -- is just a structure on which to hang these songs.

And the songs are just as odd as their predecessors.  The album kicks off with perhaps the most straightforward track, "Red Fox," an indie-pop tune featuring an infectiously catching organ motif, but from that track, we move on to the stomping sound of "Moles on Parade" and the accordion-drenched near-instrumental "Valse de Taupier," one of a couple waltzes on the album.  Sometimes Elliott sounds like Tom Waits (as on "Moles" and "Baleen Curse"), but more often his voice will remind listeners of a certain age and sensibility of David Byrne, as on careening "The Plan" and the modern big band sound of "Tunneling to Paradise."  The title track (another instrumental) sounds like a Parisian cafe dragged begrudingly out to the seaside.

The 33-minute album will be most appreciated by kids ages 5 through 9.  You can listen to the album here.  (I also think the album artwork from Brooke Weeber is lovely and complements the album and story itself.)

Flight of the Blue Whale is most definitely not an album that will please all listeners.  It is, as I've noted, a little confusing in places, esoteric in its musical choices -- it's not eager to please.  It is, however, joyful and all those things I just mentioned are also its strengths.  Some kids and families will adore this album -- they are the families who probably really liked Wes Anderson's take on The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  (Note: We were one of those families.  This album is in some sense a spiritual sequel to it.)  So, not for everyone, but maybe for you.  Definitely recommended.

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