KidVid Tournament 2008: Gustafer Yellowgold vs. Asheba

The final day of the first round of KidVid Tournament sees a matchup from the Pete Seeger Region, with the #1 seed -- Gustafer Yellowgold's "Pinecone Lovely" (off the Have You Never Been Yellow? CD/DVD) -- taking on the #4 seed, Asheba's "No More Monkeys," most recently found on Putumayo's Animal Playground disk. Who will win? That's up to you -- vote in the comments below, one per family, please. The voting deadline is 9 PM West Coast time tonight (Friday). And vote nicely. Gustafer Yellowgold - "Pinecone Lovely" Asheba - "No More Monkeys"

A Tale of Two Songs (and Videos)

There are at least a couple videos for songs off the latest Putumayo collection for kids, Animal Playground (review). The first is for Asheba's "No More Monkeys," a song which I freely admit that I don't like (and that, frankly, is putting it mildly. Which I do a lot.) The video is not without its charms, however, and I think it's fun for kids. Now, the true discovery on the disk is the Be Good Tanyas' "The Littlest Birds," which was the leadoff track on their debut Blue Horse. This video, while kid-appropriate, isn't the most exciting in the world. But the song -- that song is great. So here's the deal -- tell them you'll let 'em watch "No More Monkeys" if they watch "The Littlest Birds." Because parenting is all about compromise. (Thanks to Z Recommends for the heads-up on the Be Good Tanyas video.)

Review: Animal Playground (Putumayo) - Various Artists

AnimalPlayground.jpgI’ve long believed that Putumayo’s strength -- at least in its kids’ music releases -- is compiling good, if not entirely challenging, mix CDs. They’re not trying to compile an anthology -- if they throw in a few good songs you’ve never heard of amidst the familiar ones, then they’ve succeeded in their modest goals. On that count alone, their new Animal Playground disk, released this week, is a typical Putumayo release, mixing some familiar animal-themed songs in with the unfamiliar in a combination that will make it easy for a parent to pop in the CD and for the kids to enjoy. On the familiar side is Asheba’s “No More Monkeys,” which I will admit to loathing. I like some of Asheba’s music, but there’s something about the slightly hyperactive rhythm of this particular track that sets me on edge and my finger for the skip button. I know, the kids love it (so much so, Putumayo’s included a video for the song on the disk), but I don’t. Somewhat less familiar (but more enjoyable to me) is the Wee Hairy Beasties’ “Animal Crackers,” a fun and bouncy leadoff track. I've also thought that Putumayo's popularity (as opposed to their strength) has a lot to do with flattering mostly white middle- to upper-middle class people that they have a funky, global perspective. (Putumayo may just have best CD covers in the record business in that regard.) But just because that might be true doesn't mean that Putumayo's not good at finding fun tracks from around the globe. They are, and this album is no exception. The Be Good Tanyas, a Vancouver band which had never really interested me before, gives the album its best track, a gently bopping song anchored by the chorus’ phrase “The littlest birds / Sing the sweetest songs.” (It’s the “Sheep” of this album, for those of you who recall Putumayo’s last Playground disk, Folk Playground, and its standout Zoe Lewis track.) The foreign-language tracks are fun, though, really, Putumayo could have put these songs on a future collection called, say, Robot Playground or Sports Playground and you or your child would never have known the difference. I doubt many parents will use Putumayo’s liner notes; Ze’ Renato’s swinging “Cantiga do Sapo” is Brazilian tune apparently about a frog, though it could just as well be about a dog, or rapid inflation in South American economies. A couple exceptions -- the 30-year-old track “Nella Vecchia Fattoria” from the Italian group Quartetto Cetra is unmistakably “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” And Ladysmith Black Mambazo does a peaceful “Mbube,” better known here as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” They might be in foreign languages, but even your 3-year-old who’s limited to a 100 words of English will recognize and enjoy those tracks. Given the language barriers on many of these tracks, the 36-minute album is pretty much an all-ages affair, though the English-language tracks make it more of a disk for 2- to 7-year-olds. You can hear samples of the tracks here. Animal Playground is a decent collection of music and one that most families will listen to and find some favorites in. You might be able to make a better mix tape, but it’ll probably be in far fewer languages. That’s not a good reason to get this (or any) album, but it’s not a bad thing, either. Recommended.

Chicago, Chicago, It's A Toddl(er)in' Town

So Lollapalooza and Kidzapalooza happen this weekend in Chicago. Like a few others, I was offered press passes, but I couldn't take advantage of them. Something about my son getting baptized this weekend. Sorry, Perry, maybe next year. But that doesn't mean I can't plot who I'd see were I actually there. (Which I'd really, really, like to be.) Now, if I were going on press passes for Kidzapalooza, I'd feel obligated to attend most of the Kidzapalooza shows, with certain exemptions: 1) I only need to see each artist once. 2) I'm entitled to miss one Kidzapalooza artist to catch a Lollapalooza show I'd absolutely hate to miss. I'd also note that this would be the solo version of the show -- were I actually with a 5- and 1-year-old and a wife, the number of shows I could check out would be greatly reduced... And apparently I don't need to eat... Friday, August 4 11:30 - 12:00 ScribbleMonster -- play the Michigan song! I love the Michigan song! 12:00 - 12:15 Remo Drum Circle -- kids. drums. chaos.

Review in Brief: Children are the Sunshine

asheba3.jpgTrinidad-born and Bay Area-based, Asheba released his third kids music album, Children Are the Sunshine (2006), earlier this month. Asheba's music draws on his Caribbean heritage, employing reggae and calypso styles on kids' standards and his originals. The strong points of the CD? There are some tracks I enjoyed -- the reggae-fied version of "All Around the Kitchen," for example, or an original version of an alphabet song ("ABC (Alphabet Story)"). But his CD fails to draw enough attention to Asheba's reported strengths as an improvisational artist or storyteller. There isn't always enough musical variety within a song to merit the 4- to 5-minute track lengths of many song, and sweet story songs like "Picoplat Calypso" were more the exception than the rule. And I was disappointed that the album didn't include a single song with steel drum, which Asheba can play. Asheba is reputedly very popular in the Bay Area, and is working on a Putumayo Kids recording. I hope that that next album, especially with the backing of Putumayo, allows Asheba to use a broader array of instruments and larger number of musicians, thereby drawing out more of the qualities fans see in his live shows. Children Are the Sunshine isn't a bad album, it just doesn't do enough to showcase Asheba.

Austin City Limits Festival: Hey, We're Humid, Too!

The Austin City Limits Festival announced their 2006 lineup today and it includes kids music artists you might know such as Sara Hickman, Terri Hendrix, Joe McDermott, Imagination Movers, and Asheba. Take that, Lollapalooza! And just as with Lollapalooza, there are a good 30-40 other artists worth your time. The 2006 edition will be held Sept. 15 - 17. And, as an ex-longtime resident of Austin, I can assure you that it could (OK, will) be just as humid as Chicago in early August. But the pace is much more relaxed. And you're right around the corner from Chuy's Barton Springs location... (Of course, I post this knowing that the idea of families flying to Austin for the weekend for a concert festival is a bit, erm, far-fetched for all but the most devoted and affluent. But still.)