Ketchup Report, Road Trip Division A couple artists are currently embarking on pretty remarkable journeys. Heidi Swedberg is currently in Haiti bringing to the Global Family Orphanage in Les Cayes not just a couple dozen ukuleles (offered cheaply by Kala Instruments and purchased by the St. Brendan's Ukulele Club via bake sales) but also ukulele technique. As Swedberg notes the ukes are "compact; a box of 12 can fly at the cost of a suitcase." Swedberg said her first song would be “Ton-ton Buki”, the Haitian version of “Freres Jacques” - I'm sure they're long past that by now... Second, Minnesota's Okee Dokee Brothers are heading down the Mighty Mississippi as we speak, part of their album-writing/portaging experience. They've received a bunch of publicity for the concept (guess it was more newsworthy than that time I drove down I-35 from the Twin Cities and sang along to a bunch of songs on the radio). You can follow their Mississippi blog here. The link below features an interview and a live cut of "Auctioneer" and an in-development track "Can You Canoe?" More videos, songs, and concerts after the jump...
Time once again for all the news that didn't fit into a separate post due to time, interest, contractual, or legal obligations -- it's your favorite pun-titled file folder of a blog post, the Ketchup Report! Yaaay! (Cue Kermit the Frog wild arm-flailing here...) The World of Happiness single, the "We Are the World" of the kids' biz, "A World of Happiness," is here. Except your kids might actually want to listen to this new song when they become parents themselves. Sales of the single, produced by Tor Hyams and Joanie Leeds, benefit Autism Speaks. The single includes a whole host of folks besides Leeds and Hyams -- Molly Ledford (who gets the honor of leading off the track), Frances England, Ralph Covert... it just goes on and on. A bunch of the participants will be recording a concert later this month for broadcast on Sirius/XM Radio later on. Anyway, it's $1.29 well-spent right here. I could probably start a whole separate post listing all the recent crowdfunding projects in the kids music world. Heck, it's almost getting to the point where I could start a blog listing all the recent crowdfunding projects in the kids music world. I've been partial to Kickstarter, of course. The two most recent projects have been a Professor Banjo and his successful second-album project and Ryan SanAngelo and his not-one-but-two-Kickstarter-projects. But other sites do the same basic thing. Van Oodles didn't quite succeed in making a video for a song of his, but LA indie-rockers Ellen and Matt and Chicago's Laura Doherty are both looking for funds for their next disks. Should you feel so inclined, help out Ellen and Matt here and Laura for her new album Shining Like a Star in the widget there to the side. -- For a limited time, Doctor Noize's "Bananas" iWhatever app is free. Download the ever-so-slightly-educational app here. (Note: may no longer be free.) -- Finally, with Earth Day coming up, a it's time for Earth Day-related tunes. Dan Zanes has a new, original tune, "Hail the Creatures" written by Zanes for a new exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo. You don't need to be near Philly to enjoy the track, just near an iTunes-enabled gadget that can download this, with proceeds benefiting the Zoo. (More details on the tune and the Zoo's new exhibit here.)... Bill Harley is offering a free download of "Keep It Green" from his 1996 album Big Big World -- you can get it here... And finally, DARIA is offering a mini-CD of 6 "earth friendly" songs, free just for the price of an e-mail address (and an earth-friendly suggestion).
It's hard to review benefit albums because the worthy cause behind most such albums makes reviewing the music itself difficult. Who wants to say the album's bad if the cause is good? In the case of Joey's Song for Kids, Volume 1, luckily, the songs are mostly pretty good. First, the cause -- the album benefits The Joseph Gomoll Foundation, which raises money for epilepsy research and advocacy in honor of Joey Gomoll, who died suddenly at the age of 4 while afflicted with Dravet's Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. After his passing, his dad channeled his energies into establishing the Foundation and getting literally dozens of artists to donate songs (mostly unreleased ones at that) for a series of benefit albums, some with music for adults, some for kids and families. Which brings us to the music itself. The first few songs, while certainly competent, aren't terribly exciting, staying in a bland album-oriented-rock rut. If you've heard a dozen or more different versions of "The Wheels on the Bus," for example, Lowen & Navarro's version isn't going to stand out at all. But a few songs through, maybe around April Smith and The Great Picture Show's fun and bouncy "Say, Say, Oh Playmate," the album gets more interesting and mostly stays that way. Jon Dee Graham's previously-released "Hippopotamus," is a great little acoustic country-folk tune, and Ellis Paul (no stranger to family music) turns in a wistful "Mr. Teetot." Special mention also goes out to Gurf Morlix's previously released "Dan Blocker" - not specifically a kids song, but the one most likely to be stuck in family's heads. The album is probably most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. (For those of you without kids in that age range, you may also care to try the similarly-titled Joey's Song, Volume 1, a collection of songs for adults from the same types of artists - Neko Case, HEM, Robbie Fulks - found on the kiddo version, though I think I preferred the kids' album.) In the end, beyond the worthy cause, Joey's Song for Kids, Volume 1 stands on its own merits musically. Good intentions aside, it's an album that will likely be played after the initial charitable impluse has subsided. Bring on Volume 2. Recommended. Disclosure: I was provided a copy of the album for possible review.
Do Fun Stuff is hardly a new idea -- there's a long lineage of compilation albums featuring adult artists recording songs for the swing set, er, set, arguably starting with Free To Be You and Me more than 35 years ago. Even the indie rock genre has been part of the act (see: Yo Gabba Gabba!, See You On The Moon, Colours Are Brighter, Play, and three For The Kids albums, just for starters). This album, the brainchild of music blogger Ryan Marshall (Pacing the Panic Room), is a worthy new addition to the tradition, the equal of many of those collections. Marshall used to work in the music industry and still has friends there, such as the indie-pop band Rabbit!, who contribute 5 of the album's 13 songs. They're some of the best tracks, such as the uptempo leadoff "Pass It On," the rock ballad "Always a Blue Sky," and the lullabye closer ("Sleep," and natch). But the other artists pitch in nicely in a similar indie-pop vein. A few of the songs tell a story or have some greater moral (hate to spoil it for you, but in Davey Rocker's "Morton the Caterpillar," Morton ends up becoming a butterfly), but it mostly has a gentle springtime bouncy feel. The songs here are most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 7. (Spin the tunes in the widget below.) This digital-only release is also noteworthy in 2 other ways: 1) it managed, albeit briefly, to hit the #1 spot in the iTunes Children's Music store, which is pretty amazing for an indie release, and 2) more importantly, it's a benefit album for which 100% of the proceeds will go towards funding graduate students who will do additional research into the Smith Magenis Syndrome, a developmental disability (Marshall's stepson is diagnosed with SMS). Little of that would matter if the album wasn't good. But it is good, worth your time and money. Fans of those indie-rock-for-kids albums above will definitely enjoy Do Fun Stuff as well and even if you don't know your Frightened Rabbit from your Rabbit! methinks your family can still rock (and mellow) out to the songs here. Recommended.
If you have any tie to the family music genre, then you are undoubtedly aware of Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, the compilation put together by Dean Jones and Bill Childs to benefit a variety of Haiti efforts. So there are really two components worth discussing here -- the music itself and What It All Means. Oddly enough, I'm going to dispose of the big picture question first. The biggest worthwhile component of the project is that it'll benefit the Haitian People's Support Project, which supports nutritional and educational programs in orphanages, schools, and temporary shelters throughout Haiti. It's an especially important task in the wake of the devastating earthquakes there early this year. Beyond that, the album is pretty much the first family-music-by-family-musicians benefit album ever. Sure you have the For the Kids series, for example, but those consist primarily of songs recorded by "adult" musicians dabbling in the family music field. The fact that so many "new school" family musicians (and a few "old school" musicians) came together so quickly on this project speaks to the supportive nature of the genre, which bodes well for the future. All of which I ignore when it comes to reviewing albums. My view tends to be, if you want to support a cause, support it directly with your money, time, and other talents, rather than doing so indirectly. (Or be forced to support a cause you disagree with because you support that indirect thing.) Luckily you don't need to compromise with Many Hands -- while I imagine the Venn intersection between families who like the new family music scene and families unaware that there was even an earthquake in Haiti would be small, you could give this album to those families, and they'd very much enjoy it. Because it's a compilation, there isn't the coherency of theme you might get from a single artist (or a compilation focused on, say, the songs of a single artist). Essentially it's a really good mixtape, and the list of good songs here far outweighs the list of duds. Rather than list all of the really good songs, here are 3 that I think are particularly noteworthy: 1) Lunch Money's "You Are Here" is, as I've noted already, one of my favorite tracks, both for its album-appropriate theme of connection as well for its mostly-sweet, a little bittersweet melody. 2) Jones' duet with Hudson Valley poet Jerrice Baptiste is another sweet and thematically appropriate tune, with Jones' falsetto and Baptiste's more spoken-word vocals about building a nest underlaid with a folk-electronica melody. 3) Jonathan Coulton's "The Princess Who Saved Herself" is neither sweet nor thematically appropriate. It does, however, if I'm allowed to use this phrase on a family music website, kick ass. It's everything a parent of a daughter would want said daughter to hear in formative music-listening years. (Except for the reference to math rock. Really, who likes that?) There are more good songs -- how could I review an album with songs from They Might Be Giants, Pete Seeger, Dan Zanes, and Elizabeth Mitchell and other luminaries and not even touch on their tracks? -- and, as I said they definitely outnumber the so-so ones. The album's probably most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. You can get the album in a lot of places, including Amazon, iTunes, and, starting in September, Whole Foods. Simply put, Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti is the year's best family music compilation and one of the year's best kids music CDs, period. Buy two: one for your friend and one for your own family. Many families will thank you. Definitely recommended. [Disclosure: I was provided with a copy for possible review. I also premiered a stream of an album track. And Bill's a friend. The kindie music world is a close-knit one. That's why you have this album here.]
Ah, Putumayo Kids, you compiler and purveyor of music from around the world, you must be running out of themes, right? Rock & Roll Playground? Isn't there another region of the world you need to unearth some musical treasures from? What's next - Pop Playground? Hip-Hop Playground? (Actually, please get on that, stat.) Most regular readers have heard many of these tracks (or at least the artists), but credit Putumayo for having the sense to string 'em together in a happy-happy pop-rock mixtape with few if any duds. For example, Taj Mahal -> Dan Zanes -> Charity and the JAMband = win. (Or, Rhythm Child -> Rosie Flores -> Uncle Rock = win.) Best for kids ages 3 through 8 (samples here), you could probably put together your own 34-minute playlist, but why bother when they've already done the work for you? Recommended. Having said all that, Jazz Playground is my favorite of all the Putumayo "Playground" series disks, and that's saying something. The nature of jazz is such that it covers lots of styles and permits fresh interpretations of songs we've heard dozens if not hundreds of times before, and as a result, there's a nice mix of new and old, providing new perspectives -- and isn't that one of the major points of the Putumayo concept anyway? The album deftly navigates the line between over-reliance on English language voices (which you can get anywhere) and non-English language songs (which can be hard for English speakers to fully appreciate, no matter how funky the liner notes are). Beyond that, it's just plain fun through and through, from Zooglobble favorite Lewis Franco & the Missing Cats doing his swing original "Stomp, Stomp" to Chris McKhool's fiddle-based take on "Spider-Man" to the Latin jazz of Jose Conde's "Cumbamba." And on down the line. Best for kids ages 2 through 8, the 31-minute album (again, samples here) goes onto my shortlist of essential jazz-for-kids albums. Definitely recommended.