Review: Laurie Berkner Lullabies - Laurie Berkner


When asked to name a Laurie Berkner song, most parents in the midst of the Berkner phase of their life would probably name "We Are the Dinosaurs" or "Pig on Her Head" or any of the peppy songs that I'm sure are still garnering lots of views on Sprout or Noggin or YouTube or wherever it is these the young turks are watching their music videos.

But Berkner's also written and perform some lovely lullabies over her kindie career.  For my money, "Moon Moon Moon" is one of the best songs she's written, period.  Given that she hadn't focused as much on slower nighttime songs, the decision to record Laurie Berkner Lullabies, her latest album, released earlier this summer, isn't that surprising.

Let's get the worst thing about the album out of the way -- the title.  I can deal with the awkwardness of the title (the grammatical pedant in me keeps wanting to rename it "Laurie Berkner's Lullabies"), but I should warn you that this is probably not the soothing album you'll listen to quietly as you feed your infant at 2 AM or something your preschooler listener will drift off to sleep to.  There are too many songs that are -- for a lullaby -- a bit too exuberant.  In other words, taken as a whole, this album may not always work to aid sleep.

But if you reframe your perspective, if you instead think of this as a "cool down" quiet time album with songs that reassure the young listener that they're sounded by love, then on that level the album succeeds admirably.  There are a number of new classic songs -- "Fireflies" most immediately comes to mind, but so does "A Lullaby" and "Stars Are Shining" -- that more closely approximate the more hushed tone I think of when the word "lullaby" comes to mind.  She covers classic lullabies "All Through the Night" and "Little Boy Blue" and "I Gave My Love a Cherry (The Riddle Song)," all well done (Berkner's daughter Lucy duets with her on the latter).

Berkner's desire to revisit some of her classic tracks yields mostly positive results -- "In the Clouds" has too much production value to be an adequate lullaby, but it undoubtedly sounds better than the 15+-year-old version on Berkner's debut album Buzz Buzz.  (I also like Berkner's duet with sometimes Laurie Berkner Band bassist Brady Rymer on a slightly simpler "Under a Shady Tree.")  I don't like how Berkner complicated the simplicity of the original track of "Moon Moon Moon," but I understand why she wanted to try her hand at a new version.  As always, Berkner's voice is a strength of the album, and she manages to avoid the overly precious approach that dooms a lot of lullaby album from repeat listening.

The 21-track 52-minute album will be most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 7.

I liked Laurie Berkner Lullabies quite a bit once I stopped insisting it be the perfect lullaby album.  Berkner fans (and kindie fans generally) will not be disappointed -- it's an album that lets Berkner stretch some other songwriting muscles and show her playfulness in a more relaxed set of songs.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I was provided a copy of the album for possible review.

Itty-Bitty Review: Jam on Rye - Randy Kaplan


Without a doubt, Randy Kaplan is a raconteur, good at telling stories.  He tells them through song rather than spoken word or on paper, but his characters and offbeat humor sometimes bordering on the absurd might remind you (in a very kid-friendly way) of, say, David Sedaris.

That storytelling drive is back in full effect on his fifth family album Jam on Rye.  I say that because his last album, Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, featured bowdlerized versions of classic blues tunes.  I liked the album quite a bit, but in retrospect, the parody/homage format meant that it was less character- and quirk-driven.  In other words, less Randy.

Not so on the new album.  From a memorable shower door ("Ode to a Shower Door," which features a guest appearance from a past Kaplan character), to parental frustrations with a visit to a Mexican restaurant ("Don't Fill Up on Chips"), the new songs let Kaplan play with voices and characters to good effect.  One of my favorite tracks here is "Crew Cut," which wistfully recounts a series of different hairstyles.  His songs range from scatalogical humor ("Burpity Burp Burp Burp") to tender ("Not Too Young for a Song") to tender scatalogical humor ("Everybody Farts") -- you can tell that Kaplan's new status as a parent has given him a brand new well of material to work with.  Longtime Kaplan producer Mike West once again helps fill out Kaplan's guitar work with a full range of instruments.

The 46-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 8.  You'll laugh, you'll cry -- OK, your kids won't cry, but you'll at least take a minute to appreciate the whirlwind of parenting.  Definitely recommended.

Video: "Costume Party" - The Pop Ups


This is such a sweet little video from The Pop Ups.  It's for their song "Costume Party" off their forthcoming release Appetite for Construction.  (Preorder it on iTunes here and Amazon here.)  The premise of the song is simple -- it's OK to wear all types of different clothes -- and the gentle groove serves as perfect accompaniment to the feeling of acceptance in the lyrics.  The video, meanwhile, features the duo (and puppets, and kids) goofing around with different clothes.  It's a feel-good song and video in more ways than one.  (Hat tip: OWTK's Jeff Bogle, premiering the video on Huffington Post.)

The Pop Ups - "Costume Party" [YouTube]

Itty-Bitty Review: The Perfect Quirk - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo


We'll start by saying that while there are a number of artists making hip-hop for kids ("kid-hop," a term which I find as generally uninspiring as the term "kindie" but have come to accept the inevitability of), Secret Agent 23 Skidoo stands at the top of that heap.  There are other artists who match his beats and music, or his rhyming and rapping ability, or the subject matter, but he's the best at combining all of those into a potent musical stew.

So if I say that his latest album The Perfect Quirk, isn't his best album, that's only because Skidoo has set the bar so high.  To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the music here -- Skidoo can still record songs that defy categorization, like "Imaginary Friend," a klezmer/sea chanty/horn-assisted rap partially sung from the perspective of an imaginary friend.  And on "Time Machine," he and daughter Saki (AKA Mc Fireworks), trade verses about growing up.  But the album is mellower than some of his other albums, and while a song "You're It" has the same theme of self-acceptance found in some of Skidoo's best songs like "Gotta Be Me," it's more the exception than the rule here.  (There's a song called "PJs All Day" here, for example.)

The 38-minute album will appeal most to kids ages 5 through 9.  I should re-emphasize that The Perfect Quirk is a good album.  If your family likes kid-friendly hip-hop (OK, OK, kid-hop) or y'all have previously enjoyed Skidoo, then, yes, you will like this album, too.  If you're new to Skidoo, I'd recommend starting with one of his other albums.  But just because this album might not make your kid want to save the world (or take an amazing journey around your house) right now doesn't mean you're still not going to enjoy it.  Definitely recommended.

Interview: Bari Koral


Musician Bari Koral made her way to making music for kids and families the same way a lot of her compatriots did -- after getting burnt out making music for adults.

But as she's released four albums for families (the latest, The Apple Tree and the Honey Bee, came out earlier this summer), she's also been in the vanguard of folks who have focused on bringing yoga to families.

Koral and I chatted via e-mail recently and in the interview below, she discussed how her new album differed from her other recording experiences, how her first album came to be, and how she brought her yoga and musical lives together.

Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?

Bari Koral: I remember listening to Thriller and the Grease Soundtrack pretty much on repeat when I was younger. I also remember being around 6 or 7 and being in camp and the counselors teaching us campers a new song. I seemed to get it before anyone else and I remember her saying “Now we know what Bari can do”

 I never forgot that.

What led you into making music for kids?

I was burned out and totally exhausted from being on the road playing colleges and other places as an “adult” singer-songwriter. I was also broke and in debt. I had no idea what was next for me. The one thing I had was my niece. She was 5 and was a MAJOR light in my life. She was also deaf but got cochlear implants. Once she could start to hear around 4 she became a big music fan and she was especially obsessed with my adult song “Aspiring Angel” - which I have to say was one of my strongest songs I had ever penned up to that point.

I saw the sophistication of her taste and often thought about why she was so drawn to that particular song. Around this same time I saw Ralph’s World and was very impressed by the elegant simplicity of his songs, and the fact that the band rocked and there were no gimmicks other than great music.

I was also doing stuff on the side for Jim Packard at the Long Island Children’s Museum who suggested I take a real shot at writing songs for children. And finally, John Medeski, who is a friend, leant me the keys to his cabin in Woodstock. He had just gotten a kids record deal and he heard what I had written for the Children’s Museum and he said, “take these keys to the cabin and go write some songs.” And that is what I did. I thought of my niece Mikayla, at the time, pretty much my only influence and wrote almost our entire EP in one weekend which included “Nothing I Wouldn’t Do” and “A Day at the Beach.”  Eight years later those are still two of our most beloved kids/family songs.

You've worked with a few different producers - what led you to go to Nashville to record The Apple Tree and the Honey Bee with Brad Jones?

Brad Jones is a great record maker and music maker. He’s old school. He digs in deep, he’s got such good ears. He’s got old Martin Guitars lying around, everywhere and tons of off beat instruments. He’s such a great player and he has worked with Josh Rouse, Over the Rhine and many others who are easily some of the best singer songwriters we have today. Singers and songwriters are drawn to Brad because he can steer the ship in the most melodic and luckiest of places. Plus as a band we all got to honker down in the studio for almost a full week which is a total luxury these days. It was really something to get to work with him - I’ve been a long time fan and he’s been a great friend for years.

What was challenging (or exciting) about working with Jones?  Did knowing you were going to record in Nashville change your songwriting approach?

I already had the songs. I don’t record unless I have the material. I had just filmed 52 episodes of a TV show Yogapalooza with my bandmate Dred (air date to be announced) and I was totally exhausted. Brad said “you can relax and let me steer the ship. You can just lean back and sing and play." That was a VERY different approach to making an album. Usually you’re the ears of everything. But I trusted Brad, so I was able to give him the reins. That was a VERY new experience for me. 


Sometimes you have to get out of the way to let in some magic, and also of course there are times when you have to put your foot down and say “no, that’s not me, that’s not my audience, next idea please.” And that happened too but pretty rarely. We were on the same page pretty much immediately. He’s been making albums for so many years, and now he has 2 young children so the timing was ideal for him too.

But we did get Dan Cohen on the album to add some kickin' country twang. That was real Nashville and so fun. I had already penned my Johnny Cash-ish "Big Truck" when we decided on Nashville.

Do you prefer writing songs or performing them?

That is a great question and I’m not sure. Sometimes I prefer writing, sometimes performing. It depends on the show and the experience! It’s amazing how quick the writing time is compared to all the other work such as playing, promoting, etc. I was just thinking about that today. I heard Elton John say he never spent more than 1 hour writing the music for any of those songs. Hard to believe how many hours he has spent playing the songs he wrote in under 1 hour.

A major part of your career involves yoga for kids -- how did that come about?

I got into yoga because I suffered from rather severe anxiety in my early 20’s. I really suffered. Right away the first doctor I saw wanted to prescribe medication. I had no tools whatsoever to help me but knew medication was not the answer. Finally someone told me about meditation and yoga. These and other tools I can only describe as lifesaving.

As I had already been practicing yoga for almost 20 years, I finally got certified to teach around the same time that I started writing music for children. For a long time I kept the music and the yoga more separate, I was the yoga teacher at JetBlue for example and I was so afraid they may Google me one day and see that I sang for children!

It took a lot of energy to keep both of my words apart. And then one day, it seems so obvious but I just decided to put everything together! Because that is what makes us unique - it’s our unique combinations of interests/talents/influences. When that all comes together- magical things can happen.

Is it easier to rouse a sleep audience of kids or to calm a hyper audience of kids?

For me it’s easier to calm down a hyper audience. I have lots of tools!

What's the thing you've made for families that you're most proud of?

Songs and records made with love.

What's next for you?

I’m playing the Newport Folk & Jazz Festival Family Show this [past] Wednesday! I cannot wait! [I'm] also playing the Monterey Jazz Festival and am the keynote for the first Kids Yoga Conference in DC. I’m really into getting more parents and teachers knowing about how our music works for kids yoga too, so that is a big part of what I’ve been doing. I hope the show airs soon and would love to do some Yogapalooza live shows with rockin’ music and some music, movement and kids yoga and bring it to a town near you! I also have a lot of concert tickets to sell to our shows this fall. And we recently bought a beautiful house on a 4 acre pond outside of Woodstock, NY and I’m into nesting at the house whenever possible and sharing it with family and friends.

Photo Credits: Shervin Lainez

Weekly Summary (7/28/14 - 8/3/14)