Review Two-Fer: Charlie Hope / Laura Doherty

LetsGoPlay.jpgLaurie Berkner is without a doubt the brightest female star in kids music (and quite possibly the biggest star, period), so I've been surprised that there haven't been more artists who've attempted to follow in her footsteps. There are obviously lots of successful female artists, for the most part, however, artists like Elizabeth Mitchell, Frances England, Molly Ledford, and Ashley Albert have taken different paths than Berkner's taken, that of melding bright pop takes on traditonal kids' music with catchy new melodies. But if your family enjoys Berkner and would like to know if there's more where that came from, the answer is, yes, indeed, as Charlie Hope and Laura Doherty are two of the best artists making music for the preschoolers in your life. Songs, Stories and Friends: Let's Go Play!, Hope's third album for families, mixes traditional tunes ("Wheels on the Bus," "Ants Go Marching," "Robin in the Rain") with some of the shiniest pop tunes you'll hear this year. "Best Friends" and "One That I Love" are sparkly and joyful, with Hope's bright, clear voice carrying the tune. Caspar Babypants repays the favor of Hope dueting on his recent album by helping out with "Alouette," while Hope's mom tells the story of "The Bear Family." Perhaps the best track might be the kicky "What I Like To Do," which uses kids' voices to great effect as individual kids sing about what they like to do, punctuated at the end with Hope singing "What I like to do / is sing songs for kids." There's little to dislike about the album, though it sounds to me like Hope's voice gets auto-tuned a bit, not like Cher in "Believe," but just slightly more than I like to hear (and Hope probably needs). Aside from that personal bugaboo, I like the album a lot. It's 45 minutes long, targeted at kids ages 2 through 5. ShiningLikeAStar.jpgOn her second album Shining Like a Star, Laura Doherty plumbs a slightly less traditional, slightly less pop-py line than Hope, with such as with the wurlitzer-like keyboard on "Rocket Ship," the country/western-dusted "Quiet as a Mouse," or the circus organ on "Ferris Wheel." Like Hope, Doherty's blessed with a clear voice that elevates the material -- her samba take on the Joe Raposo classic "Sing" is excellent. Targeted at kids ages 2 through 6, the songs on 33-minute album are very preschool-subject-focused ("Hula Hoop" is about, you guessed it, hula hooping), which may eventually limit the number of times you can handle hearing Shining Like a Star with your kids, but it'll take you longer than with most albums to reach that point. That even happens with Laurie Berkner albums eventually. Even though they remind me (in a good way) somewhat of Laurie Berkner, Charlie Hope and Laura Doherty are charting their own course in the kids music world. Even if they never reach the heights of popular success Berkner has, on their latest albums, both artists show off their talents in a way suggesting they, too, may be around for years to come. Recommended.

Video: "Party Day" - The Laurie Berkner Band (World Premiere)

PartyDay.jpgThe Laurie Berkner Band have a new DVD coming out later this month. It's called Party Day! and it features 12 all-new videos of longtime Berkner favorites (see: "This Hat") and new ones (see: "Where Is The Cake?"). It also comes with a 5-song EP, which includes a new acoustic version of fan favorite "My Family." Today, I'm proud to have for you the world premiere of Berkner's "Party Day" video. The video for this "title track" features a ladybug, banana slug, a beetle, and an ant, along with Laurie and the band and the kids dancing around in some silly hats. (Trust me, the hats make a little more sense in the context of the DVD.) It's a fun little song and video, not to mention representative of the DVD's top-notch production quality. Party Day! is released on July 26th.

Share: "Soft Things" - Brady Rymer (feat. Laurie Berkner)

LoveMeForWhoIAm.jpgFirst an adorable video, now Brady Rymer is offering a free song featuring a duet with Laurie Berkner. The song is called "Soft Things" -- besides it being a pleasant, mellow tune, it deploys one of the most under-appreciated instruments in kindie music, and that's Berkner's sweet, clear voice. It's from Rymer's forthcoming album Love Me for Who I Am, due out April 12. Download it below for the price of an e-mail. (Which, it should be noted, goes off to Brady, not me, in case you were wondering.)

Billboard 2010 Top Kids Albums Announced: Like Another World

KidzBop18.jpgI know that people sometimes criticize the Grammys for being not quite attuned to the "real world," especially in the genre categories, but most readers of this site would probably look at this year's list of kids music nominees as being more familiar and representative of the year in family music than the list of Top Kid Audio (as Billboard calls it). The Top 25 list is headed up by Kidz Bop 18 and followed up by... er... Kidz Bop 17. Kidz Bop gets a total of 4 albums on the list. Disney gets a stunning 15 albums on the list, including 3 Hannah Montana-related disks (one being a karaoke disk). Add a couple Nick/Viacom show soundtracks, the Chipmunks, Charlie Brown Christmas, a Cedarmont Kids album, and a no-name collection of kids' Christmas sing-along songs, and what you're left with in terms of what you might think of as an actual independent artist hitting the charts is, er, nothing. Now that's not entirely true. One of those Nick/Viacom soundtracks is Music Is Awesome, Vol. 2, the Yo Gabba Gabba! collection, though it could be argued that that's just a college rock album marketed slightly differently. The other album is They Might Be Giants' Here Comes Science album, which has spent a whopping 52 non-consecutive weeks on the Kid Audio chart since its release in September 2009. But it could be argued that TMBG's other fan base helps out considerably as does Disney's distribution power, which no doubt helped get the album in places most kindie artists can only dream of. Compared to last year, the genre didn't do appreciably better when compared to the industry as a whole, given that 3 of the Top Kid Audio albums charted in the Billboard 200 in both 2010 and 2009. But the broader issue is that it's impossible to fully measure the genre's impact. I wouldn't be surprised if Justin Roberts' Jungle Gym (which reached as high as #10 and spent a couple weeks on the Kid Audio chart is being underreported if a lot of his album as sold via toy stores, for example, or at Justin's shows (I don't know if he's self-reporting to SoundScan). And Laurie Berkner's Best of... must have just missed the cut-off, because her album spent a full 3 months in the Kid Audio Top 10, and has spent 28 weeks there total since being released in late June. One wonders, however, whether kids' music would have wider visibility in the industry if it figured out some way to better quantify all the albums being sold (or if SoundScan reduced the fee to become a reporter). I would guess that the percentage of "unreported" sales is higher in this genre than in others, and that maybe a few more artists (rather than TV and movie soundtracks) might squeeze their way in were those "unreported" sales finally reported.

Thanksgiving Feast, Family Music-Style

First you'll need to get to where you're going. Jim Cosgrove is offering up a free download of his song "Gobble Across the USA" here (enter "gobble" as the checkout code). As Cosgrove notes, it's not really a Thanksgiving song, but it features a lot of gobbling and a lot of food, which seems appropriate enough for me. Then, once you get there, the prayer, courtesy of Bill Harley. His poem is called "Thanksgiving Prayer" and regardless of your religious affiliation (or lack thereof), I think you'll appreciate it. [And here's a second blessing of sorts, this one coming from the Harmonica Pocket -- it's called "Give Thanks" and you can download it here.]