Itty-Bitty Review: Plymouth Rockers - Rocknoceros

Plymouth Rockers by Rocknoceros album cover

Plymouth Rockers by Rocknoceros album cover

Sufjan Stevens was merely trying to attract some media attention when he released Michigan and said he was going to record a song for every state, but it's still a great idea -- a series of albums featuring songs about every United State.

Washington, DC-area band Rocknoceros, celebrating 10 years of making music together, head into their second decade intending to succeed where Stevens merely joked.  Inspired in part by Stevens' idea, their latest album Plymouth Rockers covers thirteen states, one river, and one general celebratory notion (a country-rock version of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America.")

Fifty states!  What opportunity for musical exploration!  And the trio do take advantage of it, featuring some island music ("Aloha," Hawaii, natch), bluegrass ("The Sunshine State," Florida), and some blues ("Louisiana") amidst the southern/country rock that's always been a genre staple.  (Of special note, Williebob's nifty guitar work on their remastered version of "Texas.")

But of course if you're going to tackle one subject on an album, the key is whether it's interesting lyrically.  At its best, the band gets at the states at a sideways angle -- the weather in "Would You Like To Visit Kansas?," the pirate sea shanty in "Mississippi River," and, in the album's best track, friendship in "I've Got Friends in New Jersey."   (Not quite as sideways, though, as John Linnell's gloriously askew State Songs album.)  The songs that are more travelogue in nature are duller in comparison.  (If you go back to that interview, linked above, I think the band recognizes that they don't need every song to be that checklist of famous things in every state and that, it's probably better if it isn't.)

The songs will on the 37-minute album be of most interest to kids ages 5 through 9.  Plymouth Rockers isn't a perfect album, and your kids probably won't ace their next geography quiz because of it.  But as the leadoff to another 2 or 3 albums of state songs, it's a darn good introduction and collection of Rocknoceros-y pop tunes.  Definitely recommended.

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

Video: "Do the Math" - Ralph's World (World Premiere!)

Ralph's World Rocks and Reads album cover

Ralph's World Rocks and Reads album cover

Ralph Cover is a very busy man late this summer.  He's curating the kids' stage at the first-ever Pilgrimage Festival in Franklin, Tennessee -- it's the last weekend in September and will feature Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Jazzy Ash, Laura Doherty, Farmer Jason and Ralph himself, of course.  (Lots of parents will find the lineup not targeted at the kids pretty sweet, too.)

But beyond that, he's got a new album, Ralph's World Rocks and Reads, featuring a bunch of learning-friendly songs -- songs about reading, songs that have been turned into books, and my personal favorite, songs about math, with none more math-y than "Do the Math."  And so I'm happy to present the world premiere of the animated video for "Do the Math."  Personally, any song that talks about non-Euclidian geometry (and seems to do a decent job of describing it for 6-year-olds) is fine by me.

Ralph's World - "Do the Math" [YouTube]

Video: "Sloop John B" - Josh and the Jamtones

As the release of the brand new Josh and the Jamtones album ROCKSTEADY grows ever closer, they're continuing to release videos for maximum entertainment.

Their latest video is for "Sloop John B," and I know this may surprise you, but it's energetic.  (And with Jesse Wagner from the Aggrolites sitting in, why wouldn't it be?)

Now, it's not energetic as in LOOK AT ALL THE COLORS (waves hello at "Tailfeather" video), rather it's more energetic as in BATTLEBOT MONSTERS (waves hello at "Snow Day" video).

Pirates!  Monsters!  Flying escapes!  (And not a single Apple text message tone.)

Josh and the Jamtones - "Sloop John B" [YouTube]

Review: Bon Voyage - Jazzy Ash

Bon Voyage by Jazzy Ash album cover

Bon Voyage by Jazzy Ash album cover

New Orleans’ musical tradition has produced many memorable artists.  But while Jazzy Ash isn’t the first kids musician to use the city of New Orleans as musical inspiration, for a region with such a vital musical heritage, when it comes to kids music it’s still been underrepresented.  With her latest album Bon Voyage, Jazzy Ash continues to further fold New Orleans’ rich musical tradition into songs for the kindergarten set.

Jazzy Ash is the nom de plume of musician Ashli Christoval.  Although her mom was from New Orleans, her dad from Trinidad, and she spent summers in New Orleans with her mom’s aunts and grandparents, it wasn’t until a couple years ago on that she really started to incorporated the music of the Crescent City into her own recordings.

On Bon Voyage Christoval covers one of New Orleans’ best-known native sons, Louis Armstrong, on “Heebie Jeebies,” a song he made famous.  But beyond the Dixieland jazz sound strongly identified with the city, Jazzy Ash uses her bright, playful voice in other genres more commonly associated with the rural areas around the city, like the zydeco sound on “Leap Frog.”  And while a couple songs draw attention to their New Orleans origin, for the most part Christoval uses the bayou mixture of jazz, blues, and creole as the starting point for songs that could be appropriate for Louisiana, but might be at home as well in her current home state of California (see the gypsy jazz track “Firefly").

The album is most appropriate for listeners ages 3 through 7, and while you can't stream the whole thing online, you can listen to "Heebie Jeebies" here (and pick up a beignet recipe here.)

With Bon Voyage, Jazzy Ash fully connects with her own family’s musical heritage, yet incorporates those 100-year-old traditions into 21st century kids music.  It's a buoyant and warm-hearted album for the younger set.  Definitely recommended.

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

Review: Deep Woods Revival - Red Yarn

Deep Woods Revival album cover

Deep Woods Revival album cover

Long before “kids music” was a category in the record store stacks or iTunes playlists, folk music was the heart of recorded music for kids.  And while folk music remains an integral part of kids music, in the modern kids music world, other genres -- rock, to be sure, but also hip-hop, reggae, and others -- have expanded their influence.

Now, I would argue that that increase in non-folk music in kindie has specifically been one of the major contributors toward the vitality of the genre, but others would also argue that something has been lost when the music that was part of the American culture for generations slips away.

Portland’s Andy Ferguson, a puppeteer and musician who records for families as Red Yarn, doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would rail against shifts in musical tastes.  Rather, he's viewing it as a challenge to be met head-on.  After all, if you title your latest album Deep Woods Revival, by definition you've decided to bring all the energy you can muster to new takes on old classics.

In the case of the traditional song “Buckeye Jim,” for example, it’s a fairly straightforward cover of the version Burl Ives recorded more than a half-century ago with some new lyrics added on.  For another track, “Animal Fair,” Ferguson merges two songs from Carl Sandburg’s famous American Songbag, pulling “The John B. Sails” into the mix.  Those are just two examples -- the entire album draws on a variety of folk music sources -- Alan Lomax, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Henry Spalding’s Encyclopedia of Black Folklore and Humor.

While the first half of the album is described as being for all kids, the liner notes suggests that the second half is for "brave kids and grown-ups."  That half includes songs touching on more serious topics, like death and the not-always benevolent nature of the animal world.  The album’s title track, the only song with entirely new music and lyrics, leads off that half and features a chorus of Portland-area musicians standing in for a forest’s worth of critters great and small having a revival.

I think the album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 10.  (I think the second half might be of more interest to kindergartners and older, but it's not inappropriate for even the younger set.)  You can stream the 36-minute album here.  I'd also note that the physical copy of the album features some lovely artwork (dioramas! maps! illustrations!) made by many people, but most notably Ryan Bruce (art direction and illustrations) and Heather Lin (album design).

Red Yarn’s fervor for American folk music is evident on Deep Woods Revival.  While folk music has never gone away in the children’s music genre, he forcefully makes the case for its continued relevance in the era of the mp3.  Highly recommended.

ote: I was given a copy of the album for possible review.

Radio Playlist: New Music August 2015

We are in the height of summer and as always this time of year, there's lots of new music to give a spin, virtually or otherwise.  If you want to catch my list from July you can see that playlist here.

As always, it's limited in that if an artist hasn't chosen to post a song on Spotify, I can't put it on the list, nor can I feature songs from as-yet-unreleased albums.  But I'm always keeping stuff in reserve for the next Spotify playlist.

Check out the list here.

**** New Music August 2015 (August 2015 Kindie Playlist) ****

"Leap Frog" - Jazzy Ash

"Use a Contraction" - The Bazillions

"Please Don't Eat My Guitar" - The Salamanders

"Revolution #8" - Brian Vogan and his Good Buddies

"Sawdust and Spangles" - Ralph's World

"Animal Song" - Kevin Gerzevitz

"Let It Go" - Miss Melodee

"A Mysterious Chamber" - Joe Taylor