As many of you know, for more than a year now my reviews here are also used at the Land of Nod's Music Store, which has a fine selection of music for the kiddoes (in addition to, you know, furniture). But I'm not monopolistic, so it's in that celebration of the marketplace that I'll point out that the kids music retailer The Pokey Pup (whose owner Bryan Townsend is a longtime -- two-year -- Fids and Kamily judge) is hosting a Summer Contest series of giveaways. Stuff from They Might Be Giants, Gustafer Yellowgold, Recess Monkey, Jellydots, and more. No purchase necessary -- go check it out. And, lest I forget the Land of Nod, you Father Goose fans will want to check out his recently-released Land of Nod Nodcast Podcast. It's definitely got a much more laid-back vibe than the others in the series, but I think his fans will dig it.
It's time once again for me to list my favorite kids and family albums from the past year or so. As I noted in last year's list, I don't put tremendous stock in individual "best of" lists, because taste is idiosyncratic. (Please note the title here is "favorite," not "best," a deliberate choice of words.) The idiosyncracies of taste are one reason why I came up with the idea for the Fids and Kamily Awards. The fact that I think Recess Monkey's Wonderstuff is one of the year's best CDs might be more easily dismissed if it weren't for the fact that a good number of 19 judges happened to agree with me. As for my list, the top 10 below reflects my Fids and Kamily ballot. But as with last year, limiting a list of favorites to just 10 albums would leave off a number of very, very good albums. In fact, as a whole, 2007 was even stronger than 2006, making this year's decisions even more difficult. Although I lost count some time ago, I'd guess that I probably heard 250 to 300 new albums this past year -- even at 20 albums, I've left off some great music from this list. So without further ado...
Ask anyone who attends a Dan Zanes concert and they'll tell you that the most energetic point in the show is the entrance of longtime Zanes collaborator Father Goose. When he strides onstage, Father Goose (known to others as Rankin' Don or even Wayne Rhoden) works to bring the whole crowd to their feet. Now, with the recent release of his first album for Zanes' Festival Five Records, It's A Bam Bam Diddly!, one of 2007's best kids and family music albums as judged by this year's Fids & Kamily Poll Father Goose has started to carve out a name as a family music ringleader in his own right. Father Goose recently answered a few questions about his musical upbringing and approach on his latest CD. Read on for what music he listened to growing up ("The Gambler?"), how he put together his latest album, and what exactly he does while waiting to go on stage at a Dan Zanes show. Oh, and read on for a free download from the latest CD, courtesy of Festival Five Records. (It's for a limited time, so grab it while you can.) Thanks to Father Goose for taking the time to answer the questions... Photo courtesy Arthur Elgort ********** Zooglobble: What music do you remember listening to or singing growing up? Father Goose: Growing up in Jamaica, which is known as the birthplace of reggae music, you would be surprised of the many other genres of music that are played on the island. I sang along to our superstars Bob Marley, Toots & The Maytals, Lee "Scratch" Perry and out of the USA I listened to Tom Jones, Kenny Rogers, James Brown and numerous others, even some from Europe. Who (artists, parents, etc.) were your biggest musical influences? My parents were great in that they did not set any limits as to the type of music I would listen to. That in itself was a blessing because without them my musical voyage would not have begun. When did you decide you wanted to become a performer?
A hazard in reviewing kids' music is the need to be conversant with a broad range of musical styles. For "adult" music, editors generally wouldn't have the same person reviewing classical music and metal, but in this field, well, anything goes. So when the press release for It's A Bam Bam Diddly!, the first CD for Rankin' Don aka Wayne Rhoden aka Father Goose on Dan Zanes' Festival Five Records, lists a whole bunch of special guests, they are names that don't mean anything to me. Unless you're an expert in Caribbean or dancehall music, they probably won't mean anything to you, either. And you know what? You won't care -- you'll think the album's great. In essence, this album is exactly what a Dan Zanes album might sound like if Zanes made a Caribbean album. Zanes is like the Jon Stewart of the kids music field -- he's helped invigorate the genre and has surrounded himself with a bunch of talented musicians who get his approach. And so just as Stephen Colbert has branched out on his own, Father Goose has created his own world here. In fact, just like Zanes on his kids' CDs, Father Goose often stays in the background on this disk, content to be the ringleader and letting the other artists shine. Father Goose introduces the winsome "Panama," but it's guests Gaston "Bonga" Jean-Baptiste and longtime Zanes artist Barbara Brousal who carry the vocals. Two of my favorite tracks -- "Long Time Gal" and "Nah Eat No Fish," which both sound very much like they could appear on a Zanes CD -- feature Judith Murray and Aggie. It's not to say he's not around -- Father Goose adds humorous counterpoint to the Dan Zanes / Sheryl Crow duet on "Flying Machine" and has spoken-word interludes on Zanes' rendition of Harry Belafonte's moving "Island in the Sun." But he's content to blend in on songs like the lovely waltz "Jane and Louisa" or "Chi Chi Buddo," with the title phrase getting stuck in your head. In fact, these aren't really downsides to the CD, but you should be aware that it's definitely not the "Father Goose Show," in case your kids are huge Father Goose fans from the Zanes CDs. Nor is it really as uptempo and high-energy as the role he plays on Zanes' CDs and (especially) in concert. It's really for slightly older kids, and while it's not sleepy-time music, it's not bounce-around music either. I think the songs here are best for kids ages 4 through 9, though perfectly OK for younger kids, and, frankly, this really is an all-ages album in the best Zanes-ian tradition. You can listen to some samples from the 53-minute album here or elsewhere around the web. I feel bad about mentioning Dan Zanes' name so much, because It's A Bam Bam Diddly! is a strong album, and Father Goose really deserves credit for being such a great ringleader. I think in part it's because I know a lot of people might be interested in this CD because of their previous enjoyment of Zanes' CDs and to those fans I say, "get this album -- you won't be disappointed." But just as Stephen Colbert has created his own career outside of Jon Stewart, with this CD Father Goose shows he's a force to be reckoned with, too. Great stuff and hopefully the start of a great run of CDs -- definitely recommended.
Dan Zanes takes a small step toward creating family-music empire, albeit in a very inclusive way. News from Zanes in his newsletter that the next Father Goose album, It's a Bam Bam Diddly, will be released in October. In addition to help from Dan's band and many others, Sheryl Crow also makes an appearance on the disk. I'm pretty sure Crow never said the phrase "it's a bam bam diddly," which is now my favorite album title of the year. Zanes also mentions that he's recording the next Dan Zanes and Friends CD, which will be called En Espanol, for release in 2008. He says it's "a very different type of project but even at this early stage it has a very high emotional content." No word on whether Sheryl Crow will appear on that disk as well.
Remember when I said that I thought there was room for some more small kids' music labels? Well, Dan Zanes has obviously been thinking along the same lines, because in his latest newsletter he's announced that he's signed up both Barbara Brousal and Father Goose to do albums for his Festival Five label. Now, Zanes has released a couple less-kid-specific albums of his own, and re-released an old album featuring David Jones, but this is the first step toward creating a family music empire and total Zanes-ian domination. Or maybe it's just a couple CDs from his bandmates. CDs which ought to be cool, to varying degrees. I'm going with the latter option. Anyway, it more than made up for hearing that Brousal won't be making the Tucson stop on his upcoming tour. (Oh well, Charlie Faye's voice is pretty good, too.)