Review: All Kinds of You and Me - Alastair Moock

All Kinds of You and Me album cover

All Kinds of You and Me album cover

I think Alastair Moock is the rare artist for whom taking on Free To Be... You and Me, the classic 1972 album and book from Marlo Thomas, would be a safe choice.  That's because Moock's last album was Singing Our Way Through, the celebrated and Grammy-nominated album Moock recorded while he and his family helped his daughter Clio fight leukemia.  The album sang to kids and families going through tremendously difficult times with grace and even a little bit of humor.

But still, yeah, just about anything would seem lighter after that.  And with Clio's leukemia in remission, for this latest album, All Kinds of You and Me, Moock turned instead for inspiration to that 1972 classic which celebrated gender individuality, equality, and neutrality.  That album inspired him (he speaks to it most directly on "You and Me") and now he's trying to pay it forward.

My favorite songs on the album are the ones that wear that desire to honor the album and its impluses lightly.  "It Takes All Kinds," which leads off the album, is an infectious song about a boy who wears a dress, a girl who loves worms, and a cat who drinks wine. It's a song about acceptance, but the chorus -- "It's me, it's you, it's us, it's true / It's life, it's fine, it takes all kinds" -- doesn't hit the listener over the head with the message of you should accept others.  Generally, the idea of "should" is far away from the album's lyrics, which is to its credit.  "Kenya Imagine?," which could have become a very "should"-filled song about thinking of others around the world and how everyone has the same needs, reaches its apex when Moock and Jennifer Kimball sing "Love!" repeatedly (a dozen times, to be precise) -- it's a reminder, not a command.  And "Everything's Upside-Down But Me" is another strong track in which the title is not really a metaphor - it's a most Shel Silverstein-like song.

Moock gets strong assistance with his folk-with-a-hint-of-rock from 75% of Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, with producer Anand Nayak playing on many tracks (and duetting on the horn-aided "All in a Day"), Scott Kessel, and the always-welcome Rani Arbo providing vocals on a number of tracks.

The 45-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9.  You can stream the entire album here.  (And for those of you still buying your music in the physical format, always nice to see album art from Key Wilde.)

Unsurprisingly for an album born out of an acute medical crisis, Singing Our Way Through was an album intensely focused on the here and now.  With the medical crisis past, with All Kinds of You and Me Moock turns his attention to the world his daughters will grow up in.  At its best, the new album features the same grace of its predecessor with a level of high spirits that encourages others to envision the same world Moock sees for his daughters.  I think Marlo Thomas would be proud to hear it.  Definitely recommended.

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

Review: Hot Air - Recess Monkey

Hot Air album cover

Hot Air album cover

I've come to think that the biggest risk Recess Monkey takes is the opposite of most bands' risk: rather than waiting too long between albums, the Seattle trio's insane level of productivity offers its own perils.  Producing an album a year (if not more) like clockwork might almost make listeners think of the albums as interchangeable cogs rather than unique creative expressions.

With their new album Hot Air, the band has released one of their more stylistically varied albums.  With song subjects -- or at least titles -- loosely grouped around an airborne topic ("Lighter Than Air," "Paper Airplane," "Head in the Clouds," to name just a few song titles), the band covers broad distances (see what I did there?) musically.  From the soft-rock of "Lighter Than Air" to the Beatlesque tunes of "Paper Airplane" (White Album) and "Head in the Clouds" and "Morning Sun" (Sgt. Pepper's) to the XTC ripoff (lovingly, I'm sure) "Thunder & Lightning," there are many approaches, and in a more sophisticated way than the "buffet" style kids albums sometimes employ.  "Oh Lando" might be viewed as a shameless (and spoiler-filled!) courting of the Star Wars fanboys and fangirls in their retelling of The Empire Strikes Back, but there have been much worse attempts.  There isn't a single song that's the can't-miss hit of the summer (and "First Things First," though it may be popular in concert, wears out its welcome quickly to the adult listener), but on the whole it's yet another solid collection of tracks that will appeal to varying degrees to a wide sector of the kids' music world.

The 39-minute album is most appropriate for kids 4 through 8.  The album comes packaged -- for those of you who still buy albums -- with a DVD that ties the songs on the album together into a movie -- a series of music videos, really -- about a boy who grows up to enter an air race with a homemade balloon and encounters a penguin... OK, does the story really matter?  (Not really.)  It adds value and so your preschoolers might enjoy it, but it's not essential to enjoyment of the album.

To go back to the opening question, yes, I think there's a chance that Recess Monkey's rock-solid consistency and productivity has led to folks -- including me -- to take their music for granted.  As much as it feels weird to me to say this, I kind of wish they'd take a year off just to see how it affects their musical output -- and their fans' reactions to a longer-than-normal recorded absence.  Regardless, Hot Air is definitely recommended.

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

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.