The New York band Astrograss has, at least in its music for kids, always had an affinity for words -- after all, its first EP for kids (review here) set its bluegrass-y jazz (or jazzy bluegrass) to the lyrics of Shel Silverstein. So it's no surprise that the first song the band's made available from their upcoming album, tentatively called Let Me Stay Up All Night continues with the fanciful wordplay. Called "There Their They're," it includes the zen-like phrase, "Someday, when I learn to spell 'spell'..." and is set to Astrograss' adventurous musical stylings. Plenty of kids' bands say that they don't sound like anyone else -- Astrograss is one of the few that can back up that claim. Listen to (and download) "There Their They're" here. Let Me Stay Up All Night is out March 9.
Compilations are notoriously hard things to compile. Any fool can put together a CD of good or popular songs, but their appeal as a single entity often fades after time. (Really, who listens to those Now! CDs, like, six months later?) The key is finding some loosely unifying theme or spirit to guide the collection. Park Slope Parents The Album (Vol. 1) has just enough theme to carry the day. The 17-track collection plucks chooses songs old and new, released and not, from mainly New York City artists. There are a few tracks that deal with life in New York City -- David Weinstone (Music for Aardvarks) contributes his simple "Subway" ("Bing bong / the doors open on the train / bing bong / All the people pile in") while Michael Leyden has a more rocking take in "I Hear a Train." Any compilation should also be measured by how well it does in helping you to discover new artists, rediscover chestnuts from old artists, and getting new tracks from your favorite artists. In terms of discovering new artists, Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel's "The Season Song" is a perfect pop tune from an adult band (whose members both teach in schools) writing a kids' song (specifically for this album). Dan Zanes contributes the "The Monkey's Wedding" from his Parades and Panoramas disk while Daniel Schorr's "Good Boy with a Bad Reputation" (off his first album) is a great example of his countryfied Dwight Yoakam-esque rock. And the new tracks. These, my friends, are why you should get yourself on the CDBaby waiting list and order the disk. Smack dab in the middle of the disk are two great new cuts. The Deedle Deedle Dees contribute their ode to New York City roadways (had to balance out the public transportation songs, I suppose) with "Major Deegan," which was recorded for their upcoming album. The loping song sounds timeless, especially with those "whoo-whoo's". And The Quiet Two continue their surreal attack on kids' music with the loopy and giddy "When I Dream." AudraRox's reggae song of tolerance "Moms & Dads" and the sometimes-out-of-control (in a good way) "Drunken Sailor" contributed by Astrograss (with backing vocals from AudraRox's Audra and Jen) are just as good. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the sweetest track, the album closer "Fools Will Try." Somehow these Brooklyn parents got Ralph Covert to contribute a track from his 1997 album Birthday, and it's nothing less than some of the best advice you can give to a child. This is one of those songs that should appear on a lot of new parents' mix CDs... The album is probably most appropriate for kids 3 through 8 (who probably don't care less about the appropriateness of a compilation and who just care whether a CD has good songs, which this one does in spades). The album is a fundraiser for Park Slope Parents, an informational website for parents in Park Slope, Brooklyn. For those of you who don't live in New York City, I'd recommend the CDBaby page, where you can hear samples. (The cover, by the way, is by children's author and illustrator Mo Willems, who contributes drawings that are more "Knuffle Bunny" than "Pigeon.") Though collected for kids living in New York City, Park Slope Parents The Album (Vol. 1) is appropriate for families visiting New York City, learning about New York City, oh, heck, lovers of good music. It's a great collection of music and it's definitely recommended.
This is not your father's bluegrass. I mean, I don't know whether or not your father listened to bluegrass -- mine didn't -- but I know for sure that this wasn't it. On its Astrograss For Kids EP (2006), the New York-based band Astrograss takes bluegrass as a jumping-off point for jazz-like improvisation. (It's safe to say that were they to record "Wabash Cannonball" it wouldn't sound like many versions committed to record.) Add to that the fact that they've decided to set their tunes to the lyrics of Shel Silverstein, and the EP is one of the more unusual kids' CDs released this year. I think the adventurous nature of the songs fits Silverstein's slightly skewed sensibilities, with poems about "Hungry Mungry," who's so hungry he ends up eating the entire universe, or "The Dirtiest Man in the World," about, well, you can figure it out. Probably the easiest song for kids to grasp is "Hurk," with a motley (in the best way) kids' chorus shouting lines such as "I'd rather play tennis than go to the dentist" -- it's a simple melody, with not-so-complex improvisation. I actually thought "Hungry Mungry" might be too long or too complex, but I can see the band live possibly keeping kids' attention throughout the entire story song. "The Generals" is gorgeously arranged, though perhaps a bit too slow to keep the kiddos' attention. (Again, live, it might be a different story.) I think Silverstein's poetry is targeted mostly at kids ages 5 and up, so that's what I'll peg the age range of the music. You can listen to "Hungry Mungry," which I should note might actually be my least favorite track, as well as their sprightly version of "Jump Up!" with Dan Zanes here. Astrograss For Kids is probably not the first album you'd think of to start a kids' music collection -- it's not quite as accessible, perhaps, as other albums. But if you're looking for something different for your family's collection, for acoustic music with a definite modern sensibility, this album may be up your alley.