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...
No secret that we're big Biscuit Brothers fans 'round these parts. Currently we're watching their Go Make Music Vol. 1 DVD just about daily, with Little Boy Blue asking constantly, "Watch tuba?" (one of the episodes is loosely tied around a tuba that is inexplicably producing high notes rather than low ones). So it was with a "woohoo!" that I read in the Brothers' latest newsletter that they're working on new Biscuit Brothers episodes to air starting in early 2009. Not only that, they've produced Christmas and Holiday specials for airing this year. Perhaps a DVD for those of living in areas with PBS stations insufficiently clued in to start airing the show isn't far behind... I'd also note that although I happen to think our soiree in Austin next weekend will be lots of fun (6 PM Saturday the 27th at Ruta Maya, just $5, hint hint), I'm also very impressed by the lineup the Brothers have put together for their Austin Family Music Festival the following Saturday, October 4th. Besides the Biscuit Brothers, the Festival will feature performances by Mr. Steve (aka SteveSongs), Lucas Miller, Super Pal Universe, and maybe coolest of all, Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison. Plus lots more. So go to Family Music Meltdown a week from today and AFMF two weeks from today. Or move to Austin.
We're continuing our ongoing series of previews of the artists who will be playing the Austin Kiddie Limits stage at the 2008 edition of the Austin City Limits Festival. Today it's Big Don. (Previous artists: Buck Howdy with BB, Uncle Rock, Jambo, The Jimmies.) First, the technical specs... -- Official Website -- Videos -- Myspace page -- Zooglobble archives, though this entry is it for the moment. For those of you thinking you can't break into Austin Kiddie Limits, Big Don (aka Austin hip hop artist Don Robinson) proves ya wrong. How do I know? When I was at Austin Kiddie Limits last year, I got a copy of Big Don's Big Beat... because somebody was passing them out to any interested party. I'm assuming Tor Hyams was one of those people who got the CD, too. Anyway, the album is nothing too complicated, just good, solid hip hop for preschoolers, mostly. I have no idea how he'll be in concert, but I'm looking forward to bopping along. Big Don plays at 2:30 on Friday and 11:30 Sunday. Big Don - "Humpty Dumpty"
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.
Austin's Biscuit Brothers are best seen on TV or live. There's a definite theatrical sensibility in the episodes you can watch on selected PBS stations or on DVD, and they've been performing live even longer. (The live shows were the inspiration for the TV show, in fact.) As good as those shows are, though, trying to capture the essential Biscuit nature on CD is a little tougher. Their previous disk, Old MacDonald's EIEI Radio, sounded a little bit like a (long) TV episode, with a little emphasis on the educational component of the TV show. It usually worked OK, but there were points where it seemed like there were some visuals missing and it wasn't as entertaining as watching the show. Now, with their just-released Family Favorites, they're taking a slightly different approach, essentially forgoing attempts at direct education and an episodic structure, and putting together an album of fun songs, some of which were originally recorded for the TV show, some of which are new for this album. While the result is definitely not like the show in its overall structure, the album does a fine job of capturing the Biscuit Brothers spirit, energy, and humor. The album starts off with a great version of the "Wabash Cannonball" -- its soaring chorus is a high point of the album -- and proceeds to wander through some time-tested tunes. Irving Berlin ("Alexander's Ragtime Band) and George M. Cohan ("Grand Old Flag" and "Yankee Doodle Scarecrow" -- OK, that last one has been modified a bit from the original) help the 20th century make an appearance, while "Old Dan Tucker" gets a smooth, polished performance from the band. Indeed, one of the pleasures of the CD is listening to the Brothers' fine voices and Allen Robertson's musical arrangements in song after song. And while the Biscuit Brothers' primary musical approach is renditions of folk songs, they're talented enough to make the alphabet song sound a bit like the Fifth Dimension on "Alphabet!" And, yeah, Tiny Scarecrow, one of my favorite kids' show characters of all time (and one who gets high marks from my kids, too), gets his share of air time -- he's appropriately goofy on the "World's Shortest Dance Break," he negotiates the rapid-fire lyrics on "Tiger Rag" -- so that pleased me. In the let's-make-a-silly-rhyme "Schnitzelbank," he makes a Rene Magritte reference about floating apples -- high and low in the same song. These songs are really an all-ages setlist, but given a couple of the titles, let's put the target range at kids ages 2 through 9. You can hear clips from the 34-minute album at its CDBaby page. If you're already a Biscuit Brothers fan, you've probably picked up Family Favorites by now -- and if you haven't, you should. For those of you who aren't sure about the Brothers, I think this is a fun album you can enjoy even if you've never seen the show -- it's the best audio introduction to the Biscuit Brothers. Recommended.
If you've read this website over the past five or six months, you know how big a fan I (and the rest of my family) have become of Austin's Biscuit Brothers. They've recorded four CDs and make the not-infrequent concert appearance in the Austin area with their top-notch, often rootsy versions of American classics and originals, packed with not a small amount of wit for both kids and parents. But it's their PBS TV show in which they really shine. Each episode of the show typically tackles a different musical concept -- tempo, harmony, folk songs, emotion in music -- and illustrates that concept through a variety of ways. The two brothers Dusty (Jerome Schoolar, the executive producer) and Buford (Allen Robertson, the musical director) are the genial guides; sister Buttermilk (Jill Leberknight, jack-of-all-trades) reads from "The Big Book of Music" (it's a really big book); and Tiny Scarecrow (a puppet voiced by Damon Brown, the director) often plays the fool, demonstrating a concept via exaggeration or general silliness. It sounds dry on paper (or, er, the screen), but it's anything but. Just watch Go Make Music! Volume 2, a collection of 4 episodes from the show's second season (2006-2007) released this summer, and tell me you and your family members a) don't learn something, and b) don't enjoy it. It's explicitly educational, to be sure, but there's such joy and fun on the screen that you don't mind learning (or re-learning) even the most basic of concepts. In the episode titled "Dynamics," all about how loud and soft music is, Tiny Scarecrow and Buttermilk share a duet where Tiny doesn't quite get the concept of loud and soft at first. It's funny to hear Tiny singing "I am singing softly, softly, softly" at the top of his nasally voice, but it gets the point across to the young'uns quite clearly. Or in "Conduct Yourself," the Brothers go on a "Conducting Adventure" illustrating exactly how important conductors are to drawing good or bad musical performances out of people (or how confusing it can be to having two conductors). If there's a base musical style used for illustrating concepts, it might classical music, but the show employs a whole host of styles, particularly folk and roots music when just playing music. By this, the second season, the show has certainly settled into its routines for each episode, and so the favorite segments -- "Instrument of the Day," Crazy Classics," the end-of-show song in Symphony Barn -- all make their appearances here. The production is, once again, first-class. To artists who think they can just put together a DVD without much effort, I encourage you to watch these shows and look at how many people it takes (or how much effort it takes) to put one of these disks together. A few technical notes -- the disk contains four 27-minute episodes from the season's second (13-episode) season. It also includes all 12 "Instrument of the Day" segments from Season 2. Strung together, I found listening to the segment theme a dozen times in about 24 minutes a little tiring, but individually (either option is available), I think they're great little 2-minute lessons about, say, the clarinet. There's also a brief DVD "Easter egg" that's worth finding. The shows are going to be of most interest to kids 3 through 8. Unfortunately, there's nothing showing the Biscuit Brothers in action on Youtube or anywhere else on the web (a segment or three from "The Best of Symphony Barn" episode would be perfect uploaded there, hint hint, guys). But trust me. You can buy all sorts of Biscuit Brothers stuff here. We watch the two DVDs from the show quite a bit. I watch Go Make Music! Volume 2 and can't help but think that this show a) could be huge, and b) should be huge. They have just the right mix of educational goodness, entertaining productions, and musical talent that make the show a real treasure. Definitely recommended.