There are pitfalls in trying to be objective in reviewing music, especially in the close-knit world of kindie music, where if everybody doesn't know everybody (yet), the degrees of separation are small enough that it makes Kevin Bacon look like a loner. And while I deal with that constantly here, adding a layer of "good works" on top of it all, well, consider this then your grain of salt for the two albums discussed here. First off is Austin's Mr. Leebot, whose latest album Erratic Schematic is fundraiser for an orphanage in Ethiopia from which Mr. Leebot (AKA Lee Davila) and his wife recently adopted two babies. As I've previously mentioned, the idea of adoption is important to me, so I was predisposed to like this album from the get-go. While Mr. Leebot's sound -- think of him as DEVO's kids music side project -- may not be for everyone, he's started to ever-so-slightly fill out his sound (I like the New Wave sound of "Cleaning Theme"). As a whole, it's Leebot's best album yet. And the track at the heart of the album -- "Our Family" -- should be heard far and wide. (Listen to it here -- just scroll down the page.) The album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. You can listen to samples here. As for an album geared toward a slightly older crowd, how about Hamlet? That's for high schoolers, right? Well ,The Deedle Deedle Dees' Lloyd Miller would beg to differ, having helped his wife's second grade class to write a musical based on the play. Miller recruited Dog on Fleas' Dean Jones and a couple of the Dees to record the music along with kids in the class. The result, Hamlet: The Album, is alternately rockin' ("Something's Rotten!") and pensive ("Tush, Tush") -- a little bit like the play itself, no? In best Fleas/Dees fashion, the album is ragged around the edges, the Band or the Stones mixed with a Shakespeare and Sesame Street. I'd much rather listen to these kids sing than any number of auto-tuned KidzBoppers. The album will be most appreciated by kids ages 6 to 11. And if the story behind the album isn't appealing enough, perhaps you'll be heartened to hear that all profits from the album will go to Japan earthquake relief. Listen (or order the album) below. While neither Erratic Schematic nor Hamlet: The Musical have a broad enough appeal for me to endorse the albums unreservedly for all listeners, both are solid enough albums to merit a listen even without the totally worthy backstories. I think a lot of readers will find a lot to like here. Give 'em a spin, maybe even your ducats. Recommended. Disclosure: I received a copy of Erratic Schematic for possible review.
I remember Mr. Leebot was playing a small gig Bill and I set up and now he's playing the big-time Kindiefest conference. Lee turned in a fun, energetic set (especially considering he's, y'know, a robot), but perhaps the liveliest part of the performance was when Tito Uquillas, Chris Wiser, and Tor Hyams came out to join Leebot for some robot dancing on, er, "Robot Dance." "Sensory overload," indeed -- they had some dancing skills heretofore unknown to us... Mr. Leebot - "Good Bot" (Live at Kindiefest 2010) [YouTube]
I don't think Austin's Mr. Leebot is a closet fan of The Itchy & Scratchy Show (though I do believe he would turn in an excellent cover of their theme). But on this new track (it's not even on his not-yet-officially-released new album Robot Dance), he does show off some dance moves that would put Leon Kompowsky to shame. Mr. Leebot - "Itchy Scratchy" (Live)
I've written a lot about the Austin Kiddie Limits stage at this weekend's Austin City Limits Festival, but I'd be derelict if I didn't mention Family Music Meltdown 2, the show Bill and I are throwing early Saturday night at Ruta Maya Coffeehouse. Five great Austin bands for just five bucks. That's a great band per buck (or for free if you're an infant). Regardless of how you spell it, it will rock. The set order will be as follows: Super Pal Universe (acoustic) Mr. Leebot Telephone Company Laura Freeman Joe McDermott and the Smart Little Creatures There's no better excuse to keep your kiddos up late than to have 'em dancing 'til 9 PM. Heck, even if you can only stay for an hour or so, it's a heckuva deal. For more details on these fine Austin artists, read on...
Everybody loves cupcakes, blowing out the birthday candle, and most of all, great music. Jay from Lunch Money outdoes himself (last year's poster) with this, the poster for this year's Family Music Meltdown. (Though the type is sorta hard to read in this JPG version, it looks awesome in its 18 MB glory.) Saturday, Sept. 27th -- doors at 5, show at 6, and tickets just $5 (infants free). With Super Pal Universe, Joe McDermott and the Smart Little Creatures, Laura Freeman, Telephone Company, and Family Music Meltdown name-creator Mr. Leebot. (And who knows who else might show up?) Woo. Hoo.
They Might Be Giants are probably an inspiration for a number of musicians, having not only figured out how to make music for more than 25 years now, but also managing to open up new audiences for their music -- fans both 34 years old and 4 years old. So it's not surprising that some kids musicians even sound a little bit like TMBG, or at least embrace their wide-ranging sound, and it's a couple of those musicians I'm going to talk about here. The first, and most TMBG-like in sound, is Austin's Mr. Leebot, whose recently released debut Activate! sounds like all the tracks that were left off of TMBG's debut CD (or were heard on Dial-A-Song). Mr. Leebot (aka Lee Davila) has, as you might expect given the name, a very synthesized sound. "Good Bot" could have been part of Devo's kids' album, while "Brock Brock Chicky" is pretty much what I would expect a song about animals as created by a robot would sound like. But it's not totally synthesizer driven -- "I Want A Car" is early Green Day and "Dig Up the Roots" has an earthy, sun-tinged vibe. (Oh, and there's some Bob Wills-ian western swing in there, too.) The 25-minute album improves as it goes along, with "Power Up!" and "Come On Along" a couple of highlights -- fun tracks that will get kids bouncing along. You can listen to samples of all the tracks here or full tracks for a few songs at his Myspace page. Now if Mr. Leebot sounds like TMBG from 20+ years ago, on his debut Playground Fortune Teller, the Bay Area's Hank Hooper (aka Dren McDonald) sounds a little bit like the band maybe 15 or 10 years ago, a little more adventurous. The soulful cry/yodel of the chorus "That's My Chicken," the rap-for-wordplay's sake of "Raptor Cracker Rap," the country-tinged "Fly Away Pie" -- they don't really sound alike. Sometimes it al coalesces, such as on one of the better kids' baseball songs you'll ever hear, "Hey! Batter!," with its litany of different baseball phrases. Other tracks, like "How Lucky Can You Get" or "Robot Man," have more of a synthesizer, early TMBG-pop sound. (And still other tracks, like "Look Ridiculous" sound like Dial-A-Song experimentation that could have been left off the album.) By comparing Hooper to TMBG, I'm emphasizing his willingness to try new styles of music, not in terms of, "OK, now I'm going to craft a perfect reggae song about brushing my teeth," but simply as avoiding being pigeonholed. The 41-minute album comes packaged with a short paperback picture book whose drawings and text can be seen here, or you can hear samples here or here, along with a few full tracks here. I don't think either album is the type of album that will appeal to every family. I've tried to give a sense, though, of who I think would appreciate these disks, both of which have a number of strong tracks and are often fun, rarely boring. (The targeted age range, by the way, is probably ages 3 through 8.) Beyond the sense of fun on both Activate! and Playground Fortune Teller, the albums are recommended to listeners who, even if they don't like They Might Be Giants, are looking for disks that don't sound much like a lot of other kids' music out right now.