It 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.
Steve Roslonek, better known now as SteveSongs, now has a new role (or a new AKA) as Mr. Steve, one of the morning hosts on PBS KIDS, on which he performs interactive songs music about the day's theme. He also has a new DVD out, The Marvelous Musical Adventures. He's touring behind the DVD. There is no truth to the rumor that he is also playing on the Red Sox, but it does seem like Roslonek's got a busy, busy schedule right now. Nevertheless, he found a few minutes to chat with me recently. Read on for his musical background, how his Mr. Steve spots have evolved, and how being Mr. Steve is like visiting Canada. Zooglobble: What music did you listen to growing up? Steve Roslonek: Oh, Schoolhouse Rock, the Muppets, Sesame Street... My parents listened to everything from James Taylor to Motown, to Men at Work. What was your musical playing background?
Y'know, now that kids' music is the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas, and the kangaroo's Underoos, you can't take three steps without running into some new kids' music program. Except now they're moving into even older or less traditional locations. Such examples (and suggested alternative locations) include: Enzo Garcia -- playing at Golden Gate National Park's Crissy Field. If your kids don't like the show, you can always tell them that Alcatraz is but a short ferry ride away. (Uh, wait. They'd probably like that. Never mind.) SteveSongs -- playing at the Life is Good Festival in Fenway Park. No word on whether he'll do "Sweet Caroline" for the kiddos. Please take this opportunity to tell your kids how inferior Fever Pitch the movie is compared to Fever Pitch the book. Hot Peas 'n Butter, Little Nashville, and Babaloo -- playing at the On the Waterfront festival in Rockford, Illinois. If your oldest kid keeps complaining about his brother and how he coulda been a contender over and over and over, just explain to him that you'd be glad to Leave. This. Stage. Right. Now. and take him to see "The New Cars" (playing Saturday night) and explain to him ad nauseam how there's no way that can be better than the original lineup. Also, you had to listen to music at home on something called a stereo when you were his age and so can he please take off the headphones right now.
Let me begin by saying that I had heard "Marvelous Day!" the song long before I heard Marvelous Day! the album. And the song... well, it just sounded like one of those pull-out-all-the-stops attempts at a hit that just, well, didn't work. Too forcibly goofy, too many kids in the chorus, too much or too little of something -- whatever the case, I didn't like it. So I approached the SteveSongs' album, their fifth, originally released in 2005 and rereleased this week by Rounder Records, with trepidation. Which is another way of saying I skipped the opening (title) track and held my breath. Well, I needn't have been so worried. For the most part, the album will have broad appeal to families. SteveSongs' namesake, New England-based Steve Roslonek, and his bandmates, primarily Anand Nayak, have crafted some fabulous pop melodies here. "Elephant Hide and Seek" is an uptempo ska-inflected tune while "Sprytle the Turtle" is one of many solid kids' pop songs here. My favorite track on the album is a song called "Ducks Hatching," which Roslonek and Nayak co-wrote with "Mrs. Grimsley's 3rd grade class." OK, they're not exactly George Harrison to Roslonek and Nayak's Lennon/McCartney, but the resulting song, about a classroom waiting for some duck eggs to hatch, has got a killer chorus and great usage of a kids' chorus to build out the sound. (It is, by far, the best song you will ever hear with the word "incubator" in it.) Lyrically, the songs target the kids fairly directly. Rather than writing songs that might fully engage the adults listening, Roslonek and his partners prefer to throw in funny asides and puns to tickle the adults' funny bone. "Fast Monkey," a silly song about contrasts, has a cartoony-voiced something-or-other called (I think) "Silly Minilli" who would drive me nuts if it weren't for the fact that his asides are quite amusing, almost echoing the thoughts of the adults listening. (He appears briefly on a couple other songs, too.) The lyrics are well-done and large-hearted, but they're definitely of much greater interest to your kids than to the adults. The band has a nice sound for the pop melodies, but Danger, Will Robinson! there are lots of (talented) kids' voices on this disk, sometimes taking leading roles. Your kids may enjoy this but you may grow weary of them. (The voices, not your kids, silly.) Kids ages 5 through 9 will most appreciate the songs (and lyrics) on the album. You can listen to samples from the 52-minute album here. Marvelous Day! is filled with strong melodies and fun, uplifting lyrics. There are enough moments of adult interest to sustain multiple listenings, which is good, because your kids will probably want to listen to this a lot. Recommended, if only for your kids' sake.
I skipped July, didn't I? Slacker. Well, it would've been a short list (at the time, anyway). But August? August is shaping up as a little more crowded... August 1: Go Baby Go - Baby Loves Jazz (Various Artists) August 1: If I Could Be... - Meredith Brooks August 8: A World of Music - Toucan Jam August 8: What's Eatin' Yosi? - Yosi (national release) August 22: Marvelous Day - Stevesongs (re-release on Rounder Records -- say that three times fast) August 29: You Are My Little Bird - Elizabeth Mitchell (on Smithsonian Folkways) But wait, there's more! September will see the release of new stuff from Trout Fishing in America and ScribbleMonster (maybe). And then there's October, October 3rd in particular, which is shaping up to be a very crowded release date. The third album from Milkshake, Play. [Edit: I've been told the album may come out just a leeeetle bit later.] The third album from The Sippy Cups, which has, hands-down, the best kids' music album name of the year, Electric Storyland. And the DVD/CD release from Ralph's World, Welcome to Ralph's World. Actually, I've seen that listed on various e-tailers' sites as both 10/3 and 10/10, so it could be either. We shall see...
Just wanted to point out that Bill at Spare the Rock announced today that SteveSongs would be appearing in-studio on his June 17 show. I've been told that Steve's latest album, Marvelous Day!, will be re-released by Rounder Records this summer. More details (and review) later this summer. Anyway, kudos to Bill for getting both Steve and Milkshake to appear on the air with him.