Video: "Constellation Jig" - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer (World Premiere!)

Zoom a Little Zoom cover

Zoom a Little Zoom cover

While I think one of the things I've appreciated most about kids music over the past decade plus is the genre's expansion into new sounds, it's a little sad that there isn't as much history, so to speak, aside from the many traditional folk songs that reinterpreted many times over.

So I was glad to hear that Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, key players in the kids music field for many years, were honoring some of their forebears with their forthcoming album Zoom a Little Zoom! A Ride Through Science.  The new album takes songs from the classic set of albums called Ballads for the Age of Science.  Those albums, also known as the Singing Science Records, featured songs by lyricist Hy Zaret and composer Lou Singer, performed by Dorothy Collins, Smithsonian Folkways artist Tom Glazer, and more.  They Might Be Giants covered a couple songs off the album, so it's not totally unfamiliar, but as songs that essentially beat Schoolhouse Rock by a full decade, they're important in the history of American kids music.

Fink and Marxer don't cover every song off the albums, but the ones they do, including this one, "Constellation Jig," (very Irish, natch) get contemporary arrangements commissioned by Zaret's son Robert. The accompanying video is lovely, with lots of detailed animations (including, of course, the constellations themselves) to accompany the lyrics.  I'm happy to world-premiere the video below.  And if you want to pick up the album, which comes out this Friday, March 30, feel free to check out iTunes or Amazon.

Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer - "Constellation Jig" [YouTube]

Monday Morning Smile: "Heroes" (David Bowie) - Choir! Choir! Choir! feat. David Byrne

You will notice that this website has been... not so active recently.  That's mostly due to "real life" taking up most of my time.  The day job, parenting, a desire to keep myself healthy -- I value all of those things higher than this website.  But the minute I saw the latest post in David Byrne's journal, I knew that it would make its way here.

The post recounts Byrne's experiences singing with Choir! Choir! Choir!, a Canadian group which organizes public singing with formal arrangements.  Recently he sang David Bowie's triumphant "Heroes" in New York City with members of the public briefly rehearsed by Choir! Choir! Choir! and the result is, well, my favorite rendition of the song, and a reminder to me, of the joy and communal feeling that drew me to kids music its performers in the first place.

[Also, to say that I'm really excited to see Byrne on tour this spring is an understatement.  Even if there's no public singalong involved.]

Choir! Choir! Choir! featuring David Byrne - "Heroes" [YouTube]

Steve Denyes and 20 Kindie Artists Write 20 Kindie Songs in 20 Days

Steve Denyes with guitar

Steve Denyes with guitar

Sounds like a logic problem, right?  "If Steve Denyes and 20 kindie artists write 20 kindie songs in 20 days, how many days would it take Steve Denyes and 1 kindie artist to write 1 kindie song?"

The answer -- contrary to what logic would tell you -- is one day.

Or, to be more specific -- today.  That goes for whenever you read this, because for the next 20 days, Denyes (best known as the main guy in San Diego's Hullabaloo) and a guest artist will pick a song title out of a hat and, by 5:00 PM daily, write, record a post a song based on that title.  Actually, both Denyes and the guest will each write a song, so it's actually 40 songs in 20 days, but Denyes' title was already set.  (Logic is tough, y'all.)

Why would Denyes do such a thing?  I'm sure there are many intrinsic motivations, but an external one would be to raise money for Happy Star Melodies, a San Diego-based charity that brings musical instruments and performances to kids facing long hospital stays.   Denyes has already raised a nice sum of money, and although the time to suggest songs is long past, I'm sure the group could use whatever you can spare via the donation page.

I could list some of the guest artists, but then I'd be afraid of leaving some out, and, really, there's no good way to handle the issue other than to say the guest artist for the first day, February 1, is Jason Didner, and there's plenty more good stuff coming.

Denyes' plan is to post the song(s) by 5 PM Pacific time daily, and my plan is to update this post -- hopefully daily -- with all the songs.

So, again, visit that donation page and give a little bit if you can.  And enjoy the music!

"My Best Friend Riley" - Steve Denyes / "My Best Friend Riley (Is a Dog)" - Jason Didner

"Ant and Bee Went Looking for a Cookie" - Steve Denyes / "Mr. Ant and Mrs. B" - KB Whirly

"My Trip to Paris" - Steve Denyes / Ashli Christoval (aka Jazzy Ash)

"Hugs for My Family, High Fives for My Friends" - Steve Denyes / Randy Kaplan

"Help!" A Snake Is Gonna Eat Me" - Steve Denyes / Jim Cosgrove (aka Mr. Stinky Feet)

More Weird! (Review Wrap-Up Fall/Winter 2017)

In a world where it seems music either gets pushed to the forefront for the masses or the background as wallpaper, it's pretty easy to lose sight of the weirdos -- which is, anyone who's making music who's not shooting for superstardom or complete anonymity.

I hesitate to call the following albums from the past 2-3 months the product of weirdos -- those artists I've met personally certainly wouldn't fall in that category -- but to the extent that these aren't albums aiming for the Billboard Top 40 or your local Pottery Barn soundtrack, they are a little weird.  I'm not sure that there would be many kids who would like all of these albums equally, but there are probably more than a few families in which at least one of the clan would find something of entertainment value within.  There are some other albums out this fall that have given me joy, but these are some of the highlights, as well as being music I haven't really covered much, if at all.

Dreamers album cover

Dreamers album cover

Dreamers - Lard Dog and the Band of Shy: That cover art, with its angular illustrations suggesting a family-friendly Picasso, nails the overall Lard Dog attitude.  The music itself, swing and Tin Pan Alley-influenced, seems beamed in from another generation -- this is an album that features a song called "Who's Your Favorite Beatle?." Meanwhile the lyrics at times seem beamed in from another planet altogether, either because they're non sequiturs or literally in some made-up language (lookin' at you, "The Kimbaloo.")  The second track, "I Like," expresses a variety of the singers' favorite things, including Stravinsky and Mork from Ork, which would scan poorly if sung in "My Favorite Things," but fits the attitude here just right.  There's a kindness here that is very endearing.

Endangered Species Project cover

Endangered Species Project cover

Endangered Species Project - Fire Dog: Mark Pagano and his St. Louis, Missouri-based band started off making music for adults, but is spending more time these days making music for kids and musically, there's no difference between this album and one made for the older set.  (Heck, kids'll love the guitar riff on "Kingdom Phylum" not knowing that it's ripped off from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  Not that I'm complaining.)  This is a concept album about, unsurprisingly, endangered animals.  Where I think the album succeeds more than most similar "nature-inspired" albums for kids is twofold -- first, it's far more focused on endangered animals, with a song about the federal Endangered Species Act, songs about habitat and what it means to be endangered, and songs about some animals themselves.  It's a coherent whole.  Second, and I admit this is totally personal taste, I dig the indie-rock vibe.  (You or your kids may differ.  Or may rock out.)

Songs from the Monkey House cover

Songs from the Monkey House cover

Songs from the Monkey House - Jack Forman: The bassist from Seattle trio Recess Monkey (and afternoon DJ on Sirius-XM's Live from the Monkey House call-in show) releases his first album through Amazon Music and pretty much goes the full "Weird" Al on this one.  These are silly songs for the 7-year-old (and possibly 37-year-old) goofball in your life, with drooling dogs ("Dog Park"), Star Wars ("Yodeling Yoda"), and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ("Candy Tour") serving as some inspiration.  There's an amusing song ("No Name") about a band that has everything but a name in which the denouement from the punchline is better than the punchline itself.  Not that Recess Monkey ever made its name based on its heartfelt odes to family life, but Forman dials the comedic id way up here.  If someone in your family has ever entertained the notion of buying a rubber chicken (or is amused by said notion), this is for you.

Gonna Be Great cover

Gonna Be Great cover

Gonna Be Great - David Tobocman: Tobocman has a slightly rarer niche in kids music -- sophisticated AM-radio pop for more a slightly younger set.  (After all, his first album, Very Helpful Songs, was explicitly created to help teach kids the ways of the preschool world, a description that doesn't adequately convey how pleasant of a listen it was.)  There's a gentleness and quiet optimism on this new album, and while there are a few "helpful" songs -- the touched-by-southern rocker "Keep Your Hands To Yourself," the '70s funk "Don't Put Money In Your Mouth" -- the songs that'll probably stick to you and your 6-year-old's brain will be the more story-focused "Dalia" (a figure-skating elephant) or "The Cookie Factory" (yes, a song about bakers, but more subtly, an ode to the working man and woman).  And, hey, if your six-year-old doesn't appreciate the Shakespeare (or Beverly Hillbillies) references in "Something Called King Lear," just give her time.

Imaginary Universe cover

Imaginary Universe cover

Imaginary Universe - Johnny Bregar: I've long been surprised that the Seattle-based Bregar hasn't received more attention for his crafty and well-crafted roots-rock for kids.  I suspect that his under-the-radar impression is due to his comparatively low output (that link above is to his last album, released in 2012) and minimal touring.  It's really too bad, though, because he's particularly good at striking the balance between kid-focused but not "kiddie" lyrical approaches, heartfelt but not sappy.  In any case, it's so good to have Bregar and his voice back to tickle your family's ears on his latest album. You can listen to the entire album on the standard digital outlets as well as Bandcamp, and if you just have time for a couple tracks, give his take on the traditional "Ain't No Bugs" and the rocker "Sleepy Heads" a try.  (If I told you which song the latter reminded me of, it'd give away the whole joyful final act reveal of the song.)

Video: "The Starlighter" - Shawn Colvin

The Starlighter cover

The Starlighter cover

I don't want to say that I squealed aloud when news came across my desk that Shawn Colvin was doing an album for kids and families... but I sure squealed silently to myself.  Like many others of a certain age, I was a big fan of her 1996 album A Few Small Repairs, and I have a good feeling about her ability to bring tenderness and understanding to an album geared at a younger crowd.

The singer-songwriter announced this week that her next album would be The Starlighter, released exclusively through Amazon Music early next year.

On the album, Colvin returns to Lullabies and Night Songs, a 1960s-era book which featured composer Alec Wilder's arrangements of traditional and children's songs and artwork from Maurice Sendak.  Colvin already dipped into the book once for her 1998 holiday album Holiday Songs and Lullabies, and for this new album, she pulls 14 songs from the book.

The leadoff video for the album is for the title track, a hypnotic ballad whose video, based on Victorian paper theatres, matches its dreamlike quality.  The layered illustrations and motion design come courtesy of WeFail.  It's a lovely work of art, and leads me to high expectations for what's to come.

You can preorder the album here.  The Starlighter is released on February 23.

Shawn Colvin - "The Starlighter" [YouTube]

Christmas and Holiday Kids Music 2017

Every year when I put together these lists of Christmas and holiday-related kids music, I walk the fine line between trying get this up early enough to be of use and late enough to be of use.  What I mean by that is, if I publish on, say, November 28th, people complain it's too early and I'll have about 3 songs or albums from some very planning-oriented musicians.  And if I wait for December 23rd to make sure I get all the music included, everybody's just about sick of Christmas music and Hanukkah might already be done for.

So I'm trying to hit a sweet spot here.  I'll update it as necessary, but hopefully too many musicians aren't thinking, less than 2 weeks before Christmas, that maybe they should try to record something.