Here's To The Dreamers (Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band's "Made in L.A.")

Made in L.A. album cover

Made in L.A. album cover

There's always been a touch of fantasy in Lucky Diaz's music for families.  From Diaz's first kids' EP's very first single, the strutting blues "Blue Bear," Diaz has often trafficked in a milieu that's familiar but not quite this world.  Filled with no small amount of anthropomorphic animals, Diaz's world is saturated with color and tastes like cotton candy.

The dream-like nature doesn't just apply to the animals, it applies to Diaz's thematic touchpoints.  Throughout his discography, Diaz returns repeatedly to the idea of dreams and aspirations.  This is a band who dreamt of creating a TV show, made an album that gave voice to the show whose heart was the songs about dreamers and hard workers like Jackie Robinson and Amelia Earhart, and then produced the show (and won an Emmy Award for it to boot).

It is this second meaning of "dreams" that Diaz and the Family Jam Band explore to tremendous effect on their latest album, the just-released Made in L.A..  As the center of film and TV production in the United States (and, arguably, the world), not to mention a major locus of music production Los Angeles holds a place in the imagination of artists and dreamers looking for their big shot.  La La Land is but the most recent fantasia on Los Angeles as the locus for dreams writ large.  Yes, as you can guess by the title, the album is an ode to the city of dreams, but it's also an ode to the dreamers that flock there.

The album kicks off with "The Magic Believers," specifically with Diaz singing, "I've got a voice in my heart / For some it's not much / But for me it's a start / But I will / Dream it out loud..." and fellow Los Angeles artist Mista Cookie Jar rapping "We come from the city by the sea called L.A. / Where people live to share their dreams on the center stage..."  It doesn't sound like anything Diaz has recorded before, dreamy and AutoTuned six ways from Sunday, and it's absolutely wonderful.

That's followed by "Silver Lake Stairs," another dream-like song.   This one, co-written by and featuring another L.A. musician, Todd McHatton, has more of a mellow chamber-pop feel and is capped by Alisha Gaddis expressing wonder at the top of the titular stairs and seeing all of Los Angeles spread out before her.  Lest the album get too ponderous, that's followed up by the summer anthem "Paletero Man" and the silliness of "Traffic," both of whom feature yet another well-known SoCal kindie act, Andrew and Polly.  Other highlights include Lucky's NorCal friend Frances England on "Echo Park," the guitar showcase on "Pato Loco," and the rave-up album closer "Fiesta De La Brea," which needs to be used by the La Brea Tar Pits for promotional purposes, like, yesterday.

If you haven't gathered by now, much like how movies might be the vision of a single person but require a cast of dozens (or thousands) to pull off, this album features a large team of Los Angeles-based musicians -- it really feels like a team effort, with each artist putting their own imprint on Diaz's guitar pop.   This isn't an album celebrating the city in name only -- with maybe only the exception of "Jelly," all of the songs on the 36-minute album provide a different angle on life in Los Angeles.  (The album's probably most appropriate for kids age 5 and up.)

Made in L.A. is the best album yet from Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, based on themes Diaz has used from the start of his kindie career, but with an even sharper pop sensibility and a very specific sense of place.  Filled with dreamy songs and humorous takes on life in Los Angeles, with pop hook upon pop hook, it's a celebration of a particular city that's got a universal appeal.  One of my favorite albums of the year and highly recommended.  Thanks, dreamers.

Top Kids and Family Podcasts (July 2017)

It's been a month since the last time I looked at ranking podcasts for kids, and the increased visibility of such podcasts, if not increasing, has maintained its momentum.  (For those of you interested, here is June's list of top-ranked kids and family podcasts.)  If you're looking for a podcast for kids, you could of course look at my list of podcasts for kids (now above 100!), but if that's a bit overwhelming, try the podcasts listed below.   Popularity isn't always synonymous with quality, but you could do much worse than dipping into the shows ranked below to start out.

In terms of big developments on the content side, I'm going to go with the debut of In Sight Junior, a kid-friendly spinoff of the popular In Sight podcast.  For those of you wondering when the burgeoning true crime genre would come to kids podcasting, the answer is "July."  (Note: it's not so much true crime as it is mysteries and legends.  Really, I've listened -- totally fine for listeners age 8 or so on up.)

July's list is ever-so-slightly smaller than June's record-busting list -- there are 18 ranked shows below, as opposed to 19 in June.  (That means 18 shows that appeared in the top 100 of both the iTunes and Stitcher "kids and family" charts.)  The total number of podcasts listed below is 35, tied with June.  A total of 3 podcasts below hit the overall iTunes Top 200 (down from 4 in July), while in the Top 200 Kids & Family chart on iTunes, the total there (39) fell short of June by 3 shows.  The Stitcher total of 27 is a new record, however.

As always: this is a blunt instrument, combining pure rankings from two fairly opaque charts, and for a variety of reasons has only marginal value as a measure of quality.  (Results compiled from Top 100 podcasts on United States iTunes and Stitcher "kids and family" charts on Thursday, July 27, 2017.  Podcasts that appear on both charts are listed with numbers; remaining podcasts only appeared on one list.  Of special note: Dream Big appeared on iTunes' overall Top 200, but not at all on Stitcher's family list, so for that podcast at least, this list certainly underplays its popularity.)  Anyway: grain of salt noted.

Two other reminders:

1.  If you're looking for a list that has most (or all) of these podcasts, check out my comprehensive list of podcasts for kids.

2. If you're interested in the future of podcasts for kids, you might be interested in Kids Listen, a grassroots organization of podcasters and folks like me interested in helping high-quality audio for children thrive.  We're looking for other interested folks -- producers or otherwise -- to join in!

With that out of the way, let's get to the chart.

1. Wow in the World

2. Stories Podcast

3.  Brains On!

4. Storynory

5. (tie)  The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

5.  (tie)  The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian

7. Story Pirates

8. Tumble

9. Story Time

10 . Eleanor Amplified

11. Peace Out

12. Ear Snacks

13.  Little Stories for Tiny People

14.  What If World

15.  But Why?

16. Short and Curly

17. Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child

18.  The Cramazingly Incredifun Sugarcrash Kids

Others (listed alphabetically): Activated Stories, Bedtime Stories, Biddy the Duck's Bedtime Stories, Book Club for Kids, Children's Fun Storytime Podcast, Circle Round, Disney Story Central, Dream Big, Family Folk Tales, Goop Tales Stories, In Sight Junior, Official Adventures in Odyssey, Road Trip Radio, The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd, Saturday Morning Theatre, Sparkle Stories, The Story Home

Video: "Hot Nights" - Gustafer Yellowgold

Yay for new Gustafer!  That's right, our favorite animated friend from the sun is back.  September 8 sees the release of Brighter Side, the eighth Gustafer Yellowgold release from Morgan Taylor.  The album promises a look at both Gustafer's childhood on the sun along with more peeks into his current life in Minnesota.

"Hot Nights" is a funny take on really hot evenings featuring a melody and production that would slide right into '70s AM radio.  Speaking as a resident of desert Arizona, I can relate to the subject matter.  Speaking as someone who's listened to a bit of '70s AM radio, I can relate to that as well.

Anyway, enjoy this video, because unlike the other seven Gustafer releases, this new album is a music-only release and so there won't be a video for every song.  (I am very pleased, however, to see that there will be a video for "Baconstein," a sequel to one of the all-time great Gustafer songs "Cakenstein," along with at least one other.)

Welcome back, Gustafer!

Gustafer Yellowgold - "Hot Nights" [YouTube]

Video: "Paletero Man" - Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

Made in L.A. album cover

Made in L.A. album cover

There's nothing not to like about the first single from the brand-new Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band album Made in L.A.  "Paletero Man" is every bit as refreshing as the ice cream popsicles the paletero man sells to "todo los chiquillos."

The song's now got a snappy new lyric video featuring art from longtime Diaz collaborator Micah Player, one more reason for the song to lodge in your brain.

By the way, I know the album is called Made in L.A., but if you happen to find yourself in the Phoenix area, I definitely recommend Paletas Betty for all your paletas needs.

Anyway, enjoy!

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band - "Paletero Man" [YouTube]

Video: "Froggie Went a Courtin'" - Caspar Babypants

It's a little hard to hear because of his history with the pop-punk Presidents of the United States of America, and because his Caspar Babypants project has such a whimsical pop sensibility, but Chris Ballew's work as Caspar Babypants is very, very folk.  His originals generally have a simple core, easily replicable as sung work by the novice.  And he's very committed to reworking folk song classics and giving them new life.

Jump for Joy album cover

Jump for Joy album cover

For "Froggie Went a Courtin'," perhaps the hoariest of folk song chestnuts, Ballew ditches the amphibian's sword and pistol, and replaces them with a ring and bouquet -- because Froggie's asking to get married, duh.  It's not that this new version is any better than the thousands that have come before it (though it's better than a lot of them), but his willingness to make the song his one is folk as anything.

The song is on his forthcoming album Jump for Joy! (out August 18), and as with many of his videos, features Ballew's own drawings.  (Look for Beatle John.)

Caspar Babypants - "Froggie Went a Courtin'" [YouTube]

Video: "Hambone" - Jazzy Ash feat. Uncle Devin (World Premiere!)

Swing Set album cover

Swing Set album cover

I'm excited for Jazzy Ash's newest album Swing Set to reach the public's ears in a couple weeks, but in the meantime you can get a taste of the jazz-inspired set for your favorite preschooler right now in this world premiere video.  It's for the well-known call-and-response song "Hambone" and features Washington, DC kindie artist Uncle Devin.

Jazzy Ash and Uncle Devin at Big Ego.

Jazzy Ash and Uncle Devin at Big Ego.

Now normally I'm not a huge fan of studio-based videos, but I really like how in this one the viewer can see how album tracks are really recorded.  Instead of band members all facing in the same direction, no music stands to be found, this one feels real -- Devin with his lyrics written out on a piece of paper singing out the call while he's hand-clapping, Jazzy Ash (aka Ashli Christoval) closing her eyes trying to focus on her response, and in the back Sarah Reich, who sometimes performs with Postmodern Jukebox, stomping.  (Anthony Shadduck is the bassist, similarly concentrating.)  It's a learning experience, even if the video isn't necessarily meant to be.

Anyway, I really like the song.  (That's always a big one for me.)  And as for the track itself, Christoval notes that,

The “Hambone” rhythm is based on the West African hand-clapping tradition called Juba, which was carried to the U.S. by slaves. The “Hambone” lyrics were added later, as a reflection of the early African-American experience. Because the song is passed on through oral tradition, there are many versions of the lyrics, some more “family friendly” than others. Almost all versions have a similar theme: A man has had a long, hard day. He’s reflecting on things he wish he had. Then, he sits down to a big meal and gobbles it right up!

Swing Set is out July 21.

Jazzy Ash - "Hambone" feat. Uncle Devin [YouTube]

Photo credit: Brock Christoval