Itty-Bitty Review: Planting Seeds - Maria Sangiolo

PlantingSeeds.jpgIt is hard to make an "Earth Day"-themed album. Well, it's hard to make a good one, anyway, one whose musical enjoyment outweighs any "life lessons" the album hopes to teach (the teaching of which usually fails because the music fails.) I'm happy to report, then, that Maria Sangiolo's new album Planting Seeds is one of the few earth-themed albums families will want to listen to in April or even the rest of the year. This is partially the result of choosing good songs that happen to be about the planet we live on, and the plants and animals (including us) who reside upon it. It's only in that broader sense that putting Mark Erelli's version of the traditional folk song "The Fox" on an album "celebrat[ing] agriculture and sustainability" (to quote the back cover) fits. (Or the frustration with the bug world on Sangiolo's bluesy "Flashlights and Flyswatters" and Anand Nayak and Sienna Jessurun's "Noisy Cricket.") But it thankfully keeps the album from sounding like a lecture. The other thing that keeps it from sounding like a lecture is that the music is quite good. Sangiolo pulled in Nayak, who's part of Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, as producer, and like daisy mayhem's music, this album has a loose and relaxed feel, like a well-worn pair of jeans. Maybe the duet between Sangiolo and Nayak compatrior Steve Roslonek (aka SteveSongs) on Les Julian's participation song "Plant a Seed" took several tracks to record, but the genuinely humorous interplay between the two makes it sound like it was recorded live-to-tape in just one take. Sangiolo also is generous in sharing the album with many other artists beyond those already mentioned, include Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem on a couple tracks, Sally Rogers and Howie Bursen doing their best Pete Seeger on "Maple Sweet," and Alastair Moock and Lori McKenna on my favorite track on the album, "Didn't Know What I Was Missing." (Moock also co-wrote a number of the songs here.) The album is credited to "Maria and Friends," and the billing is apt. The album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. You can listen to samples here. Planting Seeds is a celebration of the earth on which we live, but it's also a celebration of community. Sangiolo's community of friends have put together a collection of songs worth listening to (and maybe, eventually, learning from). Recommended.

Little Boy Blue, Come Play Your Drums

Drums_Set.jpgIf this were a movie, the prologue would be set about thirty years ago, with an elementary-aged boy (not to give too much away, but it's me) playing an organ. It's an electronic organ -- not anything funky like a Hammond B-3, but a full-fledged organ with two rows of keys, pedals, stops, and foot pedals for the volume. What makes this scene slightly more remarkable is that I'm doing it at home on an organ that my dad built. That's right, my dad built an organ. It was from a kit, and I don't remember much of its construction. But I remember taking lessons, all the way through high school and three cross-country moves. At some point -- probably after I went off to college and my family was prepping for a fourth long-distance move -- we donated it to a church and aside from staying in the sanctuary until the organist finishes the postlude and an irrational appreciation of Saint-Saens' Symphony #3, I don't travel much in the organ world anymore. And I never picked up much of my dad's engineering skills. (His graduate degree = nuclear physics. Mine = not.) Roll opening credits, flash forward thirty years. We've noticed that Little Boy Blue spends a lot of time drumming. With his silverware at the dinner table, with his toothbrushes in the bathroom. (It's not for nothing that we put "D Is For Drums" on his birthday playlist.) "Let's get him a drum set for his birthday," I say. "You should make him one," my wife says. Now perhaps this sprang from having recently seen Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem in concert here in town. Rani's husband, drummer Scott Kessel, doesn't play on a standard trap kit -- he calls his set the "Drumship Enterprise" and it's entirely made of recycled materials. You can watch them in concert at Kindiefest here -- yes, that's a suitcase being used as the kick drum. It sounds pretty awesome, actually. Or maybe we were just trying to save money and find something that wouldn't echo through the house like a full-fledged set would. I don't know, but in any case, I started collecting boxes and other recycled materials for use as a drum set.

Kindiefest 2010: Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem

RaniArbo_Kindiefest2010.jpgI'll be posting a bunch of stuff -- photos, videos, rambling thoughts -- from my weekend at the 2010 edition of Kindiefest over the next week or so. That's probably a dozen posts, so without any further ado... I liked Ranky Tanky, the first kids' album from Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, a lot, but didn't totally love the disk. I loved them in concert. It doesn't entirely surprise me, as I get the sense that their strength is their live show, four talented musicians making music together. But in Brooklyn they got the audience involved for each and every song until ending with a stunning a cappella version of "Wildflowers" that transfixed the crowd. If they can bottle just a little more of that live energy into their albums, they are going to become big, big stars on the kids music circuit if that's what they want. Here's their take on the title track from Ranky Tanky... Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem - "Ranky Tanky" (Live at Kindiefest 2010) [YouTube] One more after the jump...

Share: "Zudio" - Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem

ManyHandsTempCover.jpgA lot of Zooglobble readers probably already know about Many Hands: Family Music from Haiti, the compilation produced by Dean Jones and released on the newly-formed Spare the Rock Records label. It's got a crazy-good lineup -- Dan Zanes, Pete Seeger, Elizabeth Mitchell, They Might Be Giants, and tons more -- and will benefit the Haitian People's Support Project, which supports nutritional and educational programs in orphanages, schools, and temporary shelters throughout Haiti. Almost all of the music is new, and if the rest is as good as the free track from Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem that they're offering, it's gonna be a splendid disk. Rani and her band turn in a swinging version of "Zudio." Some of you may recognize it as "Sodeo" from one of Raffi's early, classic disks. I really like his version, but I like this one from the front, from the back, and the side side side. Stream or download the mp3 here.

Review: "Ranky Tanky" - Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem

RankyTanky.jpgThis is a disk that's been sitting on my desk for awhile, and I've actually listened to it a fair amount since receiving it a few months back. I feel slightly bad about this, some sort of cognitive dissonance between the desire to tell folks about a good CD and my inability to, you know, tell folks about a good CD. The Connecticut-based band Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem has been making music stringband music for a good decade now, but Ranky Tanky is their first album specifically targeted at families. It's a big stew of songs familiar and not, "traditional" and "un." The first 4 songs -- Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out," traditional tune "The Green Grass Grows All Around," the Meters' "They All Ask'd For You," and the pop novelty hit "Purple People Eater" -- illustrate the band's omniverous, genre-disregarding approach to music. They just find good songs and give them new life. In essence, while lots of artists talk about making music for families, relatively few of them have taken the Dan Zanes approach of making "age-desgregated" music truly expected to be listened to without irony filters. This album takes this path less-traveled. In the end, I think Arbo falls just a little short of Zanes, which is an admittedly high bar to reach. While the album maintains a genial vibe infused with warmth, there are times on the album where the jolt of a Father Goose or an out-of-left-field guest artist would have helped a bit. In true Zanes-ian fashion, the idea of an appropriate age range is a little odd with this disk, but think of it as being best for kids ages 3 and up. You can spin five of the tracks here and listen to clips at its CD Baby page. Ranky Tanky is one of those disks destined to be listened to long after the kids have grown out of their size 1 shoes. Fans of Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell will find the eclectic song choices and cozy arrangements to their families' liking. Though you were always sort of part of this family music world, we'll wish you a formal welcome, Rani -- hope you stick around for awhile. (It won't take me this long next time to tell folks.) Definitely recommended.

Video: "They All Ask'd For You" (Live) - Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem

RankyTanky.jpgI've been starting to listen to Ranky Tanky, the first and forthcoming family album from Connecticut's Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, so I was glad to see that Bill had captured them (not literally, just on video) recording an in-studio performance for a future show. They're making their way out west this spring; I'm looking forward to hearing them do a few tracks off the album here in Arizona in May. But here they are doing their cover of the Meters' "They All Ask'd For You" and making the N'Awlins classic song very much their own... Dig the fiddle. I always dig the fiddle. Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem - "They All Ask'd For You" (Live) [YouTube] Ranky Tanky track listing after the jump...