Itty-Bitty Review: Clap Your Hands - Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang

ClapYourHands.jpgIt's been too long since we've heard from Los Angeles' Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang. They released the fine Get Up and Dance in 2007 (review), but aside from a track on a 2008 Disney compilation, silence. So, good news -- they've just released Clap Your Hands, their fourth album, and, yeah, they still rock. Well, not specifically for you -- Gwendolyn's music is still pretty much targeted at preschoolers, though perhaps a kindergartner or two might want to listen in and dance along. Sunny pop (with a few other genre explorationss thrown in) plus preschooler-oriented lyrics, that's always been the GTG formula, and they don't stray from it here. "Clap Your Hands" is essentially a movement song wrapped inside horns and harmonies -- it'd collapse under the weight of its simple lyrics ("You know me / I like to clap my hands / Clap, clap my hands") if it weren't an insanely catchy and well-produced tune. "Alright, Okay, Just Fine" swings while explaining feelings and emotions at a preschool level. "Smile, Smile" sounds like a lost track from a Muscle Shoals kids record. The gentle rocker "Evens and Odds" is the best song about the subject (sorry, TMBG), while "Mix It Up" mixes together crayons and diversity along with an insanely catchy chorus. The album's not perfect (I'm lookin' at you, "Speak-A-My-Language"), but there are a lot more hits than misses. The 27-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 6. You can hear clips of the album at its CD Baby page. Clap Your Hands will have you doing that along with your kids in spite of yourself. Tons of fun for the preschoolers you know and love. Definitely recommended.

Review: OMG or LOL? Three Disney Disks

Let me start this review by suggesting that, for all its sins real or imagined, Disney Music purveys more original music for kids and families than any other label. It is possible to avoid a fair amount of that if you don't actually watch cable TV on a regular basis, but they put out a lot of music on a regular basis, and for all age ranges. Not to mention a back catalog the envy of just about anybody. How much you actually enjoy it all depends in part on your age, but I've got three recent Disney releases here, and at least one of them is worth your time. CampRock.jpgI admit it. I'm old. Not, like, Social Security old, but old enough that if I use the phrase "OMG" I mean it ironically. I am old enough, however, to have a kid who, though she isn't quite out of the "kids music" phase yet, will start listening to music I haven't introduced her to. So I understand quite clearly that the soundtrack to Camp Rock, the latest Disney Channel original movie, premiering on a gazillion different channels this week, is Not For Me. It is for kids just a little older than my daughter. They'll spend their own allowances on it, or maybe their parents will get it for them. And what they'll get is an attempt to duplicate the High School Musical magic, except this time in a slightly more rock-oriented retelling of Cinderella. The album features some tracks with Joe Jonas solo (he's got a leading role in the movie) as well as a Jonas Brothers track. There are some songs by 16-year-old Demi Lovato, who has the lead female role and seems to be Disney's leading contender for a Miley Cyrus with a less pop and more rock edge. The songs are fine enough, and most of the songs won't drive you to change the station if you hear them on Radio Disney (OK, maybe "Hasta La Vista," ugh), but you're not going to remember them 15 minutes after they're over. There's nothing as memorable as "Breaking Free" or "Fabulous" or "You Are the Music In Me," all of which are decent pop songs. In the end, it's not really for me, but it never really was.

KidVid Tournament 2008: The Jimmies vs. Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang

While some other "March Madness" starts today, we're already on Day Thre of KidVid Tournament 2008, in which we have a matchup from the Woody Guthrie Region -- the #1 seed "Spanimals" from The Jimmies from their debut Make Your Own Someday versus the #4 seed "You Can Be Anything" from Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang (off their self-titled debut). Vote in the comments below. One per family, please. Play nice. Votes due by 9 PM West Coast time today (Thursday). The Jimmies - "Spanimals" Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang - "You Can Be Anything"

Video: "You Can Be Anything" - Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang

I can't say that "You Can Be Anything," off Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang's non-holiday, self-titled debut CD, is my favorite track off that CD. (Gwendolyn, make a video for "Anatomy," stat!) But the newly released video, if you're about 3 years old, seems like it hits a whole bunch of sweet spots. Animation, fire trucks, other kids dancing -- yeaaaaaahhhh.... Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang - "You Can Be Anything" (link is now updated) And for the adults, about 36 seconds in, your topic is whether ELO merits the #8 ranking. Discuss.

Review Basket: Christmas CDs

Here are a handful of new Christmas CDs that have crossed my desk that might be worth your time... and even possibly in time for you to listen to before, you know, Christmas... For the most part, the CDs below are going to be of greatest interest to the artists' fans, but if you're looking for a Christmas album that might be especially of interest to kids, you might want to start here. (If you're looking for Christmas CDs in general, by all means go here -- goodness, that is impressive.) Austin's Biscuit Brothers released their first Christmas CD, Have a Merry Musical Christmas, this year, and fans of the slightly goofy and slyly educational TV show will not be disappointed. For the most part, it's Biscuit Brothers originals -- a funny Tiny Scarecrow on "The Best Christmas Ever, " a sweet and jazzy "Together (a Christmas Waltz)," an expanded vocal role on "Have a Merry Musical Christmas." It's all appealingly goofy. Might not be the best entry point for a listener unfamiliar with the Brothers, but it's a fun cookie of a CD nonetheless. From the folks who brought you 2006's awesome Family Hootenanny CD comes Holiday Hootenanny, a 2007 collection of tunes from Detroit-area artists benefiting Detroit's Capuchin SoupKitchen. Definitely not a traditional CD in most senses of the word -- if you're looking for a swinging Ella Fitzgerald or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, keep looking because even the most traditional tunes sound off-kilter in Danny Crow-Haw's brief interludes here. While not as awesome as the first CD, the last 3 tracks -- American Mars' Dylanesque "The Little Baby Jesus," co-producer's Deanne Iovan's band the Come Ons' "More," and Ultimate Ovation's awesome rendition of "It's Christmas" (which reminds you where Motown was founded) -- are almost worth the price of the CD by themselves. Sample here. And there's more...

My Favorite Kids and Family Albums of 2007

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...