Review: Love Bug - Raffi

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There is no question that Raffi is kids music royalty, one of the first names lots of people probably think of when they hear the phrase "kids music."

But he's also been comparatively quiet in the past decade, at least in the kids music world, since the release of 2002's Let's Play.  Not quiet in the broader world, mind you -- he's the founder of the Centre for Child Honouring, and a prolific Twitterer -- but there's a whole decade's worth of preschoolers whose exposure to Raffi's lovely voice has been limited to older songs, starting with one of the foundational albums of kids music, 1976's Singable Songs for the Very Young.

So it was with some surprise that the world received news that the Canadian artist was going to release an album of brand-new recordings in 2014.  Sure enough, this summer he released Love Bug, and in many cases, it's like he never left.  Why now? Raffi says he "make[s] music when I feel a new stirring," and in this case it was feeling like he wanted to record music celebrating the natural and "real world." (Although an active Twitter user, Raffi uses a fair number of those tweets to suggest that kids should have far less of an online/electronic presence.)

There are parts of Love Bug that are absolutely among Raffi's best work (which, for the record, I find to be his first 3 albums, which have been played literally hundreds of times in our household).  The title song, with some kids singing along in parts? Classic.  Same goes for "Doggone Woods," which features the man who's sold millions of albums giving his best "woof!"  (There's something to be said for the idea that the reason Raffi has sold millions of albums is precisely because his empathy and understanding of kids allows him to bark on record.)  Songs like "Free To Play" and "In the Real World" teach lessons obliquely about, well, playing and exploring the real world (as opposed to online).  And as someone who's half-Canadian, I was glad to hear Raffi re-purpose Woody Guthrie's classic "This Land Is Your Land" for Canadian geography.

There are some songs that may frustrate some listeners -- "Mama Loves It" is more explicitly lesson-teaching, and the look I got from my wife after we listened to "Seeing the Heart" on a car ride spoke very clearly that she never wanted to hear Raffi sing about the "mother and son connection" ever again.  Ours is a Raffi household, and so I can accept the track "Wind Chimes," which is, simply, 1 minute and 22 seconds of wind chimes.  Others may not want to travel that path.

Technically, there are no great shifts compared to Raffi's past work.  The arrangements are gentle, non-obtrusive -- mostly piano and guitar-folk with mellow percussion that features Raffi's voice, as pristine as ever.  It doesn't sound like a kindie pop-rock record, and for that, we can be thankful.  The 43-minute album is probably best for kids 3 through 7 (and "Belugagrads," as Raffi has nicknamed his now-adult fans from his past, of all ages.)

I will say that I wanted to like this album even more than I did -- I wanted it to be every bit as perfect as I think Singable Songs is.  Other listeners may in fact think it is.  But it is good, very good, and every family who's had a place in their heart for Raffi in their lives will find lots of music here worth space in that heart as well.  Definitely recommended.

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

Video: "The Creatures Under My Bed": Caspar Babypants

I know, I just posted a review of Caspar Babypants' newest album Rise and Shine!.  Shouldn't I give somebody else some coverage on the site?

Yes, yes, I should (and soon!), but this brand new video from CB for "The Creatures Under My Bed" is just so much fun that I didn't want to wait another week or so.  I'm impatient that way sometimes.  Good stuff again from occasional Caspar Babypants-collaborator, New Zealand-based Mukpuddy. Happiest creatures of the week, by far.

Caspar Babypants - "The Creatures Under My Bed" [YouTube]

Review: Rise and Shine! - Caspar Babypants

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Music writers -- at the very least, this one -- aren't necessarily fans of consistency in their artists.  It stretches our ability to find something new to say about an artist when she constantly turns out the same type of thing.

Sometimes it's consistently bad, and I imagine that some writers could have fun picking apart those albums exhibiting significant failures of imagination, talent, or quality control, if not all three. (I am not one of those writers.)

But sometimes it's consistently good, and those are the trickier ones for me.  Chris Ballew, aka Caspar Babypants -- he's one of the trickiest.  His seven Caspar Babypants albums have been uniformly excellent, with only his most recent, Baby Beatles, a collection of Fab Four covers, at all deviating from the norm of well-crafted, lightly-arranged collections of gentle and gently skewed originals mixed with covers of folk classics that, like looking through a prism at different angles, retained the essence of the original but let you see (or hear) it in a different way.

So how does his latest album, Rise and Shine, differ from the rest of the CB work?  Hmmm… to begin with, it felt to me like it's his most toddler-focused album in quite some time, songs like the strings-laden Beatlesque "Rise and Shine" and the handclapp-y jam "Littlest Worm" with the hint of lessons might be most… useful for your almost-three-year-old.

But that's the barest of distinctions, and the album feels every bit part of the Caspar Babypants world we have come to know and love.  It celebrates the natural world, with songs featuring birds, worms, mice, and squirrels -- sometimes acting more or less like they actually do in the real world, in the crisp "Pretty Crabby," and sometimes acting more anthropomorphically, as in what is probably one of my top 5 Caspar Babypants songs, "Bird in an Airplane Suit" ("Look up / look up / you can sometimes see / a bird in an airplane suit").  (I also quite enjoy the simple and wistful "Girl With a Squirrel in Her Hat.")

Ballew's ear for reworking traditional songs and mixing those new arrangements amongst his sometimes whimsical originals remains as sharp as ever.  "Rain Rain Come Today" is very much reworked, something you might have heard in the '60s.  And while the traditional lullabies on the disk are hardly lullabies - "Hush Little Baby" is funky, and "Rock a Bye Baby" also fails the sleep test, he does end the album on a slow note, tempo-wise.

I'll peg this album as most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 6.  You can hear samples from the 50-minute album here.

In the end, Rise and Shine is another solid entry in Ballew's kid-canon, as strong as any over the past decade, perfect for your youngest kid or niece or nephew, but still just as delightful to their older siblings (or their parents).  Sometimes novelty is overrated, but Caspar Babypants isn't.  Highly recommended.

Note: I received a copy of this album for possible review.

Video: "No Homework" - The Bazillions

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I like to think of myself as liking a broad range of musical styles, but, yeah, powerpop!  One of the most consistent kindie powerpop purveyors are Twin Cities band The Bazillions, and when you add their consistently great videos to the mix, no wonder there's all sorts of Bazillions videos up here in this site.

The latest video from the band and their partners at eg design is for "No Homework," and while it's school-inspired, it doesn't quite have the learning-first approach of some of their best-known classics.  In fact, given that the song is called "No Homework," maybe it's learning last?  Anyway, the video can also be found on their brand-new Rockin' Video Collection DVD, available on their website.

The Bazillions - "No Homework" [YouTube]

Weekly Summary (9/22/14 - 11/16/14)