Review: Big Block Singsong Volume One and Big Block Singsong Greatest Hits

Big Block Singsong Greatest Hits

Big Block Singsong Greatest Hits

After I listened to and watched Big Block Singsong’s album (Big Block Singsong Greatest Hits) and DVD (Big Block Singsong Volume One) a couple times, my first question was “Why have I not heard of these before?”  I initially assumed that the fact it was a (relatively new) Disney Junior show meant that I was just out of the TV loop.

Turns out that the delightful series of 2-minute music videos date back to 2009, when Canadian illustrator Warren Brown and composer Adam Goddard (now Goddard/Brown) first unleashed Big Box Singsong, as it was then known, onto the world.  (No such thing as an overnight sensation, right?)  So I have nobody to blame but myself for not knowing about the videos until their move to CBC, Disney Junior, and Nick Jr. in the UK and inevitable worldwide conquest.  Now there are 59 videos, 49 of which are the Season 1 pile which provide the 24 songs drawn for the album and DVD.  I, for one, welcome our new big block overlords.

What’s the concept?  Each video episode is about 2 minutes long and features an animated rectangular block with big eyes and mouth singing about a topic, usually themselves.  “Monkey”?  A gray-brown block with long arms singing about all the things he’s going to do meaning that it’s going to be a “two-banana day.”  It’s almost a celebration.  “Octopus”?  A red-brown block with eight tiny dangling legs.  The songs run the genre gamut, from folk (“Monkey”) to AutoTuned funk (“Sleep”) to Smile-era Beach Boys (“Nose”) to Queen (“Junk Food”).  The lyrics have a light touch and a sense of humor, with very little didactic “do this” guidance.

Big Block Singsong Volume One DVD

Big Block Singsong Volume One DVD

The videos are inherently humorous (it’s a square monkey, after all), but the lyrics sometimes offer opportunities for visual jokes.  You don’t need the visuals to enjoy the music, but there are definitely some videos (“Sleep,” for one) that add an extra layer of enjoyment.  While there's a unified animation style, of course, the different video and song concepts mean that if your kid is bored with one song, hang on, there'll be an entirely different one on shortly.

The music and videos are most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 6, but both music and videos (especially the videos) will probably tickle the funnybone of kids (and adults) considerably older than that.  The album and DVD are each roughly 45 minutes in length (with the DVD available with a French-language option of course).  You can get a complete list of places to watch the videos here, which includes the kid-friendly Disney Junior page.

The most difficult question may be, “if I get only one, which do I get?”  Sixteen of the songs including “Nose,” Sleep” and “Mad” are on both the album and DVD.  The advantage of the DVD is that you get the visuals in a format that doesn’t require an internet connection.  The advantage of the album is that you get the incredibly-awesome “Princess,” a track which doesn’t appear on the DVD, and, potentially, portability via CD or mp3 player.  If you don’t need multiple languages on the video, the cheapest and perhaps the easiest combination might be to get the standard-definition version of the 24 videos on the DVD via iTunes for just $6.99 and download “Princess” as an individual mp3 track.

So, yeah, I’m late to the party, but better late than never.  Big Block Singsong is ten tons of fun.  After listening and watching, your kids’ll probably have a two-banana day, too.  Both the album and the DVD are highly recommended.

Note: I received an electronic copy of the album and physical copy of the DVD for possible review.

Welcome, NPR Listeners and Fans of Happy and Wistful Arboreal-Based Music

Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly - Trees

Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly - Trees

I'm a longtime fan of Molly Ledford's band Lunch Money and Billy Kelly's band, er, Billy Kelly, so when I heard that Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly were doing an album together, I was excited.

Luckily, the album -- Trees -- exceeded my expectations, and I thought a broader subsection of the world should know about it.

So I reviewed it on NPR.

Which may be why you're here.  Or perhaps you just refresh this site a lot.  (Bless you!)  In any case, make sure you check out my interview with Molly and Billy, this video for "The National Tree of England," and the album's stream.  And then check out the rest of the site.

Itty-Bitty Review: Hello My Baby - Vered

Hello My Baby

Hello My Baby

A good part of Vered's second album, Hello My Baby (subtitled Songs to Bond You and Your Baby) doesn't sound much different from its predecessor, her debut album Good Morning My Love.  The folk-pop songs are very tightly arranged, with Vered's lyrics often requiring her to sing, or almost rap, them quickly (see, for example, "Gotta Go").  And like its predecessor, the subjects and lyrics for most of the songs are designed to, well, bond parent and baby, so the song helps explain the child's perspective to the parent, and/or gently remind the parent the consequences of actions like being on the phone too much ("Phone").

If there's a big change from the first album, it's in the songs that speak much more directly to the parents.  "More of a Baby" is a duet with the Okee Dokee Brothers' Justin Lansing that recognizes the value of a baby's attitude toward the world.  "Something Other Than a Mom" reflects the voice of a mother trying to take back some of that personal identity she had before becoming a mom.  With a cello helping to underscore the frustration and sadness that can be mixed into life as a parent, it's rawness one doesn't hear often in kids music; rawness about parenting just isn't heard much in music, period.  And if that track is wistful, the album closer "All I Want" features the year's most memorable kindie chorus, with a handful of kindie musicians (album producer Dean Jones, Joanie Leeds, Rachel Loshak, Jon Samson, and more) singing "All I Want / is to sleep / seven hours straight / all I want / is to sleep."  Compared to most of the other tracks, this song is loose, letting all the emotion flow and spill out.

The album is most appropriate, as you might expect, for kids ages 1 through 5 and their new parents, natch.  (You can listen to samples of the 43-minute album -- soon -- here.)  To the extent that Vered sought to create an emotional dialogue between parents and their infants and toddlers, Hello My Baby succeeds.  For those parents, it's definitely recommended.

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

Itty-Bitty Review: Calling All the Kids to the Yard - Cat Doorman

Calling All the Kids to the Yard

Calling All the Kids to the Yard

A little more than a couple years ago, Portland, Oregon artist and musician Julianna Bright gave the world her Cat Doorman alter ego and a fantabulous debut album.

Now she's back with Calling All the Kids to the Yard, the first of 4 digital-only EPs Bright plans on releasing in 2015.  And based on the 12-plus minutes on these first 4 tracks, we're in for a treat.

All the hallmarks of that debut -- the tumbledown organic folk-rock sound, the fully-felt emotions, Bright's enthusiastic vocals -- reappear here.  If the first album's theme was of individual expression, the songs here focus more on the world outside.  "Loving Cup" starts out with a slow acapella chorus, then moves into a rocking meditation ("I'm ready as I've never been / To slow my breath and to take in / All the world's wonders, all its kin / I start to see you.").  "Wake Up" features funky organ, crunchy guitar, hand claps, and an encouragement for the listener to "reach out" and pay attention to the world.  After the title track, the album closes with the least-lullaby-ish verson of "All the Pretty Horses" I've ever heard.

You can stream (and download) the album, most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 9, here.  Fans of the debut album will definitely find more music here to their family's liking, but this should appeal to a broad range of Zooglobble readers and kindie fans.  If possible, I like this even more than the debut.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a (digital) copy of the album for possible review.

My Annual Post (Again) About "Felt Around the World"

FeltAroundTheWorld.jpg

Three years ago, on April 1, 2012, I published one of my favorite all-time posts here on the site, the world premiere of "Felt Around the World," which was "We Are the World" for a new (puppet) generation.

Last year I reported that the world's greatest song performed by Fabricated Americans has generated more than $2,200 for St. Jude's.   Contributions keep trickling in, and you can still purchase the track at CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon. Thanks to Recess Monkey, who coordinated the video and the musical contributions from our puppet friends, and folks who purchased the track and played it on radio both terrestrial and satellite.

This still makes me smile - hope it does for you, too.

Hand Aid - "Felt Around the World" [YouTube]

Kindie's Ten Best One-Hit Wonders

Kids music has its fair share of workhorses -- artists like Recess Monkey and Joanie Leeds and Dean Jones who consistently release albums.  And of course there are artists like Raffi and Bill Harley and Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer whose careers have spanned decades and who are still releasing music relevant to an entirely new generation of families.

And then there are the one-hit wonders -- the musicians and bands who released albums for families… and were never heard from ever again.

Well, not in any existential sense, just in the kindie world.  The reasons for recording a single album for kids and families, then deciding to abandon that particular creative vein are, no doubt, as complicated -- or simple -- as they are for any choices made by people.  Perhaps they hated doing it, it didn't fill them creatively, it didn't make enough money, they didn't have enough time -- these are the complications of life, generally.  (As is the work of keeping up a website -- in a few cases, the sites have lapsed, a clear sign that the artists aren't returning to the kindie fold.)

But it doesn't mean that we can't be disappointed that they never came back.  So here's a list of my ten favorite single-shot kindie albums.  I would love to have to take these off the list for technical reasons, i.e., they come back with a second album.

A couple definitional points:

1.  I chose not to include albums from "adult" artists who released one album for families -- think of folks like Harry Nilsson or Carole King or Barenaked Ladies (though I keep hearing rumors that they're working on kindie album #2) as their family recordings were neither their first nor last recordings.  This is a loose restriction -- it's painful not being able to put the Barenaked Ladies or Medeski Martin & Wood's albums on this list -- but if I didn't impose it this list would be long and useless.  (Perhaps what I really need is another list that reflects those artists.)

2.  I gave at least a couple year window -- meaning, if someone's released just one album, but that was within the past couple years, then they were ineligible.  Unless you're Recess Monkey, churning out an album every two years is a normal timeframe.

Here, then, in alphabetical order, is my list: