Review Four-fer: Hullabaloo, Alphabeticians, Mister G, Monty Harper

As you would probably expect, I get many more disks than I could possibly have time to review (unless somebody decides that they want to nominate me for a MacArthur Fellowship). Given my time constraints, there are many reasons why I don't review an album, including it stinks or I can't figure out what to say about it. But there are a number of decent albums with a particular point of view that don't get reviewed in a timely manner just because life goes on. Here, then, are four albums, each with a different approach to the genre -- your family is likely to dig at least one of them. RoadTripHullabaloo.jpgSan Diego-area musician Steve Denyes is a prolific songwriter (see here for a side project of mine he originated), cranking out a Hullabaloo album at least once a year. His latest record Road Trip tackles the theme of, well, car travel (natch), with thirteen tracks covering the experience (truckers' horns, traffic jams, the unfortunate demise of bugs on the windshield). The opening title track is a fun country-rocker, while the rest of songs take a slightly mellower, folkier, Johnny Cash-ier approach. (You can stream the album here.) The album is most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 7. In one sitting, the songs begin to run together, but there are a lot of songs here that would work well in a mixtape for your next trip. Recommended for: your next trip to Grandma's house, your afternoon errand-run. AlphabeticiansRock.jpgMoving up the coast to Portland we find The Alphabeticians, a duo consisting of Eric Levine and Jeff Inlay, AKA Mr. E. and Mr. Hoo, which gives you a little sense of the goofiness that this duo trades in on their formal debut Rock. A little bit of the Pixies and R.E.M. (literally, in the case of the song "Eric Saw Peter Buck's Girlfriend and Then He Saw Peter Buck"), with a healthy dose of They Might Be Giants, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Schoolhouse Rock mixed in. It could use a little more polish production-wise in spots, but there are some great songs in there (I recommend giving "Metaphor" and "Monkey on my Shirt" a spin at the album's streaming page.) The album's most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 8. Recommended for: the sassy younger kids on TV sitcoms, families who have at least one TMBG album (kids' or adult's) around the house, kids who want lots of alphabet practice.

Monty Harper / Kickstarter

Sounds like a Billy Joel rhyme, doesn't it? Nope, it's just the latest volley in kids music crowd-funding, this time from Oklahoma musician (and longtime friend of Zooglobble) Monty Harper, who's looking to raise $9,000 for his latest project, Songs from the Science Frontier. Harper promises songs about "phototaxic bacteria, stress hormones, wheat genomics, bacterial biofilms, bat taxonomy, wind energy, acrocanthosaurus neural spines, x-ray crystallography, and luminescence dating!" (Take that, TMBG! You pikers!) For those who don't know what half those things are [raises hand], you may also be interested to note that fellow Oklahoman Sugar Free Allstars' Chris Wiser is slated to produce. The prize levels are fairly standard (though I love the cheap joke of the $160 level), but perhaps the most innovative promise is the final one.
The fundraising deadline for this project, August 21, also happens to be my birthday! If we reach the $9,000 goal before that date, I will throw an online birthday bash for all my backers via live video feed, during which my wife, Lisa, has promised to smoosh a chocolate cake in my face! You want to see that! You know you do!

Multimedia Notes From All Over

I know that bar on the right side of the main homepage is a bit on the long side, but it's time for some updates... Planet KidVid is a new enterprise from longtime Friend of Zooglobble Monty Harper and kids' musician Mr. Billy. If they keep up with the posts, this could be a website that causes lots of families to go over their allocated "screen time." The Harper family is evidently trying to take over the web as Monty's wife Lisa and her daughter Evalyn have established the Kids Music Planet podcast. What is slightly different about this podcast from many other kids' music radio shows is that they play multiple selections from a few albums. So if for some reason my review of an album isn't clear enough you can decide for yourself. ;-) Belinda and Hova finally seem to have settled on a new internet location for their Greasy Kid Stuff playlists. If you go to their website, you can also find out all about their Mar. 18th "Grease Ball" with Captain Bogg & Salty, The Jellydots, and The Sprockettes. You can also hear They Might Be Giants' penned-just-for-Belinda-and-Hova "Greasy Kid Stuff." I've also added Fred Koch's new children's music-related blog to the sidebar. Fred is another longtime listener and reviewer of kids music and I'm glad to see him start up a blog. Regular readers will certainly be aware of Amy's appearance on WNYC's Soundcheck on Tuesday. Amy made a lot of excellent points (and ones I mostly agree with) and is to be commended for always sounding coherent, a not at all easy thing to do live on the air. Listen to the 20-minute segment here. Finally, children's media publicist (and, well, fan) Beth Blenz-Clucas talked about a couple of her clients and other kids' musicians and topics on Vicky and Jen's Grammy-related podcast. The podcast also includes discussions with Richard Perlmutter (he's working on Beethoven's Wig 4, apparently), Dan Zanes, and Ezra Idlet from Trout Fishing in America. (Beth was also kind enough to mention this website as a good resource...)

That Blogging, I Hear It's Popular These Days

I've previously mentioned Brady Rymer's blog, which, though updated only sporadically, is a fun read. There are a few other musician-authored blogs I've been reading for weeks if not months now, and I've been failing in my kids-music-news duties by not mentioning them before. The best kids' musician-penned blog I know of is Monty Harper's blog, which includes links to his podcasts and gives some insight into the working world of a kids' musician. Harper's good humor, noticeable in his songs, is evident here, too. A couple other artists who have more recently started blogging, of a sort, are Eric Herman and Yosi. Both take a slightly different approach from Rymer and Harper -- they've focused (thus far) on other kids' music artists. Herman's blog talks generally about assorted kids' artists, both well-known (Ralph's World) and not, and why he's enjoyed them. Yosi's blog focuses more on specific albums that he reviewed for a parenting magazine in New Jersey. Harper has been blogging for a while now (longer than this site, even), so he understands what it takes to write a blog on an ongoing basis. We'll see whether Rymer, Herman, and Yosi want to keep it up. (And believe me, after that initial burst of expression, it's easy to let the blog just die a slow, painful death.) Now there are other ways to communicate with fans -- Justin Roberts is a fairly regular newsletter publisher, for example, and Dan Zanes' newsletters, while not as regular, always have a nugget or two of good (or fun or useless, or all three) info. And Myspace, of course, has its own blogging capabilities. But I'm actually surprised that more artists haven't plunged into the blogosphere. It does seem to me a fairly cheap and easy way to establish connections between the artist and the audience, especially one that may be growing, at least in terms of the ability of an artist to reach a national audience. Monty, Eric, Yosi, Brady -- has it helped? Or is it a useless, time-consuming pain in the rear?

Review: Paws Claws Scales and Tales - Monty Harper

We at Zooglobble love librarians. We especially love children's librarians. Turning on kids to the excitement of reading (and listening) -- way cool. If you're a children's librarian and you're not aware of Monty Harper, you should be. Harper has carved himself out a niche writing albums filled with library-friendly children's music. His latest album, 2006's Paws Claws Scales and Tales, is another album specifically targeted to the Collaborative Summer Learning Program, a "grassroots consortium of states working together to provide high-quality summer reading program materials for children at the lowest cost possible for their public libraries." All of which is very nice in an "isn't reading wonderful" sort of way, but you're asking, is it any good? And the answer is, yes, it is good. Even if you're not a children's librarian. Now, Harper's subject matter from which to draw lyrics is narrowly constructed -- talk about pets and reading/libraries. It's a very square peg he's trying to pound into the round hole of good music. It's a testament to Harper's skill as a lyricist and storytelling that the references to reading typically don't come off as sounding overly forced. The title track refers to four popular animal characters in children's literature and each verse should be fun for kids as they guess which character Harper's singing about (a conceit Harper's used on previous albums). "Villa Villekulla Hula" sings about Pippi Longstocking while the peppy "Dog Books" refers to a few classic canine-related tales. Harper really shines, however, in those songs which he's not trying to sing about both pets and libraries. My favorite track is the country-ish, inspired-by-a-true-story "It's Hard To Love a Reptile," which would be a fabulous song on any album and includes the classic lyrics "It's hard to love a reptile / When you know that she don't love you back / When your gazes connect and you start to suspect / She's been thinking of you - as a snack!" "Eleanor Gerbil" is as close Harper can get to the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" without paying Michael Jackson royalties. "Hummingbird Hum" is a sweet Beatlesque tune sung with his daughter. (As for "Fred's Frog Flippy," about a frog who just won't hop, I would've much preferred it if Harper had taken the opportunity to write a Talking Heads homage called "Making Flippy Hoppy.") In general, the music is kids' pop-rock. The enhanced CD includes some bonus tracks, but the real reason to use the enhanced CD is to read Harper's detailed songwriting notes for each song. The care with which Harper constructs his songs and especially his lyrics is evident. He's also open about where he would've liked to have done more. (For example, on "Eleanor Gerbil" he mentions how a real string quartet would've sounded much better than the synthesizers employed on the track, and it's true that one of the CD's few weaknesses is the mostly synthesizer-driven nature of the sound.) Given the reading-focused nature of the lyrics (which are extensive), I'd recommend the 36-minute CD for kids ages 4 through 9. You can hear samples at the Reading Songs website. If you're a children's librarian, I highly recommend Paws Claws Scales and Tales, even if you're not participating in the CSLP. If you're not a children's librarian, I still think you and your kids will like the album, which is fun musically and sophisticated lyrically. Recommended.

Please Release Me (May 2006 Edition)

An admittedly selective (or perhaps not) list of upcoming children and family music releases: May 2: Beethoven's Wig 3 (Richard Perlmutter), Eat Every Bean and Pea on Your Plate (Daddy-A-Go-Go) May 9 (or 16): Catch That Train! (Dan Zanes and Friends) May 16 (without a doubt): Johnny Cash Children's Album (Johnny Cash, natch) May 20: Paws, Claws, Scales & Tales (Monty Harper) -- kids' librarians, check out for more info May 23: Folk Playground (Putumayo, Various Artists) We'll be reviewing many of these CDs in the weeks ahead. We'll be reviewing a whole bunch of other stuff, too, so if the stuff above doesn't tickle your fancy-bone, maybe something else will. In addition to these releases, we expect new albums from a bunch of Zooglobble favorites, but we'll wait until we hear something more definite before mentioning it. Cautious are we. Talk like Yoda we do sometimes.