Weekly Summary (12/2/13 - 12/8/13)

56th Grammy Nominations for Best Children's Album

It's a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans.

- Lt. Frank Drebin, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad

Well, here they are, the kids music nominees for the 56th Grammys:

Blue Clouds - Elizabeth Mitchell & You Are My Flower (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) (review)

The Mighty Sky - Beth Nielsen Chapman (BNC Records)

Recess - Justin Roberts (Carpet Square Records) (review)

Singing Our Way Through: Songs For The World's Bravest Kids - Alastair Moock & Friends (Moockshake Music) (review)

Throw A Penny In The Wishing Well - Jennifer Gasoi (Sparkling Productions) (review)

Yes, it's (almost) time once again for the Grammys, the annual hill of beans recognizing the music industry's best and favorite albums of the year.  The list of the five kids' music albums is a solid, solid list.  Some quick thoughts:

  • I'd sort of forgotten about Blue Clouds, thinking that Mitchell's collaboration with Dan Zanes (Turn Turn Turn) might have more oomph.  (Edit: Turn Turn Turn was actually placed by NARAS on the folk music slate, from which it didn't get nominated.)  But the Folkways connection of the album could not have hurt, promotionally, either.  (That, and it's a great album.)

  • I can't say I'm as big a fan of The Mighty Sky as of the other nominees, but it's decent and certainly not a "where in the world did that come from?" choice.

  • I should probably actually publish my year-end "best of" lists (it's coming, I promise!) before saying this, but Recess was one of my two favorite albums of the past (Grammy) year.

  • In addition to having a great story, Singing Our Way Through is also a reeeeeallly good album.

  • While probably the least familiar name to American audiences, Jennifer Gasoi has been nominated for this award before.  Or, at least, the Canadian equivalent.  Most recently for this very album.  (And, yes, Throw A Penny in the Wishing Well is really good, too.)

Picking a winner -- and who you want to win -- will be especially tough this year.  But any of those nominees would make a fine winner.

The Pause and What Follows

CanYouCanoe.jpg

In many sports -- or at least those featuring a ball -- there's a gap between the initiation of action and the result.  The ball leaves the attacker's foot, and it takes a second for the ball to reach the goal.  The quarterback heaves the ball to the wide receiver streaking down the sideline, and 4 or 5 seconds later, we find out if it's caught, dropped, or intercepted.  Or think of basketballs in their arc-ed path to the basketball.  The crowd may be cheering wildly, but there is usually a bit of a pause, a collective intake of breath, as they wait for the result.

I'm thinking of this today as I continue to process the meaning of The Okee Dokee Brothers' win in the Best Children's Music Album category at the 2013 (55th) GRAMMY Awards Sunday.  It was for their album Can You Canoe?, an album that inspired, and was inspired by, a trip the duo made by canoe halfway down the Mississippi River.

There's the announcement of the nominees, and then the pause while the presenter takes a moment to open the envelope.  Unlike many of those sporting gaps, the result is set -- there's nothing that could have happened between the announcement of names and the uttering of "The Okee Dokee Brothers" that could have changed the fact that Joe and Justin would be walking onstage -- but there's the same intake of breath for a certain percentage of the audience.


At this point, dear reader, I'm sure you're wondering exactly what the Okee Dokee Brothers have to do with sports?  Is their next album going to be sports-themed?  (Answer: unless their trek along the Appalachian Trail is part of some timed event, then, no.)

The answer lies within the result.

In 2001, I had the good fortune to be an Arizona Diamondbacks fan.  And I had the great fortune to be at the ballpark for Game Seven of the World Series against the New York Yankees.  I know what the gap is.

I have a friend's home video from that game -- and that clip doesn't do the gap justice, nor does it fully capture the bedlam after the bloop just outside the infield and over the heads of the Yankees' drawn-in infield.  But you get the idea -- a huge celebration.  Didn't matter where you were -- I was sitting about as far from home plate as you can get in that park -- there was a full-throated roar and wailing.  The walk back to the car in the parking garage was as good-natured a crowd as I have ever been in -- random high-fives with strangers, "Woo hoos!" everywhere, and slight disbelief that this 4-year-old team had somehow managed to beat baseball's most historically accomplished team, the New York Yankees.  Not only had they beat the Yankees, they beat them in playoffs coming less than a couple months after the September 11th attacks made most of the rest of the country Yankees fans for a time.

Of course, it was a fairly even matchup, and with two of baseball's best pitchers at the time, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, pitching for the Diamondbacks, Arizona's eventual victory wasn't considered an upset.  There was no reason to think that the Diamondbacks wouldn't be competing for the World Series trophy in 2002 as well.


A little more than a year ago, I wrote a post expressing some disbelief at the entire slate of the 54th Grammy Award nominees for Best Children's Album.  When this year's slate of nominees was announced in December 2012, I outlined why I thought it was a better slate, completely setting aside whether I liked the slate as a whole better than last year's.  But I also made the erroneous assumption that the nomination process was unchanged from the year before, when participation in Grammy365, the Recording Academy's social networking site for members, appeared from the outside to be a major determinant of who was nominated.

I heard shortly after that piece that no, in fact, the nominating process for kids' music had changed for the 55th Grammys.  Nobody seemed to want to discuss it very much, and I can't say that I blame them -- a select group of Academy members going through the first round of voting and selecting nominees from among them?  That would raise questions in the minds of a lot of folks (including me) -- who were on the nominating committee?  What albums did they choose from?

I chose not to write about the process at the time because I didn't think I'd be able to get much information.  But NPR last weekend aired a story on an issue I'd heard about before -- how an dance music artist with little popular notoriety snagged a Grammy nod amidst some much larger names.  And in that piece, a Grammy official noted that other genres -- including kids music -- used an intermediator, the nominating committee.

When I wrote my piece on the nominations 14 months ago, there was dissatisfaction on my part, but undergirding my words were the feelings of lots of other members who felt that something was amiss with the process.  And clearly those feelings translated into a changed nomination process -- if everyone had been totally satisfied, then nothing would have changed.  And the result?  The Okee Dokee Brothers won -- for an album that also happened to win the 2012 Fids and Kamily Awards.  And a couple other albums in the top 15 for F&K, The Pop Ups' Radio Jungle and Elizabeth Mitchell's Little Seed, appeared on the nomination list as well.  Previous Grammy winner and longtime kids musician and storyteller Bill Harley joined the group.  And while none of those artists approach Taylor Swift-ian sales level, they are, within the genre, popular artists.  Can You Canoe? sold about 10,000 albums, and Elizabeth Mitchell consistently ranks amongst the KidzBop-ers and Spongebobs on kids music album charts -- she is a superstar of kindie.


What followed for the Diamondbacks?  A decade-plus of middling success.  Sure they got back to the playoffs, but they've never made it back to the World Series and have had some poor seasons as well.  In part, they've been a victim of their own success, with a not -insubstatial portion of their payroll going to pay deferred salaries from that 2001 squad.  Would I trade that 2001 season for more consistent success subsequently?  Nah.  But it did prove to me that success in these sorts of fields are, if not totally random, at least fleeting.

The question for this site is what follows for kids music.  This year's slate of nominees was picked -- in part -- by a small group of people in a secret process.  I understand why it's secret, but I am sure some musicians don't like the change.  In the end, the final answer will be provided by the Academy members themselves.  If a sizable number feel bamboozled by the change, then they will pressure their representatives, and the process could go back to the old way.  (This would not be the first time we've switched between methodologies -- the nominating committee was used for awhile in the '90s, too.)  If, however, the majority likes this year's results, then the new process will stay.  It may mean that bigger stars like Elizabeth Mitchell (for Blue Clouds) and Justin Roberts (for Lullaby and possibly Recess) show up on next year's nominated albums list, and more consistently on future nominee slates.  Kids musicians who are members of the Academy will be the final arbiter of whether that's a good thing, not me.

55th Children's Music Grammy Nominations. And the Breakfast Club.

Last year, when the 54th Grammy nominations for best children's album were announced, I couldn't help myself and wrote a piece on the results that very night.  Clearly, I was stunned and I needed to write something to get all the thoughts bouncing around my head out of there and onto the page.

This year?  Well, it's been two weeks, and I'm finally finding the time to write about the 55th Grammy nominations for best children's album.  Why the difference?  Well, first let's list out the nominees themselves:

Can You Canoe? - The Okee Dokee Brothers [Okee Dokee Music LLC]

High Dive And Other Things That Could Have Happened... - Bill Harley [Round River Records]

JumpinJazz Kids - A Swinging Jungle Tale - Featuring Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws And Dee Dee Bridgewater - James Murray and Various Artists [JumpinJazzKids]

Little Seed: Songs For Children By Woody Guthrie - Elizabeth Mitchell [Smithsonian Folkways Recordings]

Radio Jungle - The Pop Ups [The Pop Ups]

It's true that I like the list of nominees more than I like last year's list.  (Note: I haven't heard the JumpinJazz disk, so am totally clueless regarding that nomination, though I recognize a few of those artists in the title of the album, which in my less generous moments I feel cranky about.)  But that by itself shouldn't make this list better than last year's.  Just because I like the Pop Ups (fairly new on the scene, this is just their second album) a lot more than Papa Hugs doesn't make the list better or more legitimate.

I think more importantly, for people who follow the kindie scene, four of those five nominees are going to be very familiar.  This in itself is a big change from last year, when a couple of the nominees drew a collective "who in the world is that?"  Is that an improvement?  I would say that it is.  I think in order for the category to have any legitimacy, it's important artists recognized as very longtime participants and artists recognized as among the most popular be represented in the nominee list.  They shouldn't be the only artists represented, but the presence of Bill Harley (a former winner and nominee with more than 30 years of experience in the field) and Elizabeth Mitchell (recording on the venerable Smithsonian Folkways label and a major, popular star) gives credence to the slate.

I'd seen some statistics from last year's nominees that suggested membership and participation in Grammy365, the Grammys' own social networking site for its members, significantly drove the nomination results last year.  Nominees last year had literally hundreds times more members than well-known previous nominees.  I would hesitate to attribute causation, but without a doubt there was correlation.  The Grammys have always been at least in part a personal popularity contest; Grammy365 just made it that more obvious.

So in the wake of the nomination list, I wondered how the kindie community that didn't get nominated would react.  Would they decide to completely abandon the Grammys?  Or would they embrace the social networking that clearly is now required in the niche categories.  It seems like the answer is clear.  Folks looking to grab a nomination next December, your path is now set -- make a really good album and prepare to spend more time at your computer.

***

OK, enough faux-serious consideration of the Grammy nomination process.  What you really wanted to know is why I threw a Breakfast Club reference in the title of this post.  Well, as I was thinking about the "gang of disparate outsiders" that a nominee list in niche genres like this one can sometimes feel like, my thoughts turned fairly quickly to the John Hughes teen classic about 5 (ding! blog post!) kids from very different cliques brought together in detention one Saturday.  So, without further ado: How the 55th Children's Music Grammy Nominations Are Like Characters from the Movie The Breakfast Club.

Okee Dokee Brothers: If you canoe halfway down the Mississippi River, then you clearly have some sort of athletic ability, much like Emilio Estevez's wrestling character Andrew Clark.  Joe and Justin are rebels against the idea of kids spending their time indoors, but they are, without a doubt, the nicest rebels you will ever care to meet.  (Also: not that Charlie Sheen is in the movie, but I find it amusing that you'd never really know that Sheen and Estevez -- two guys with different last names -- are, in fact, brothers while you could totally believe that the brothers-in-band-name-only Joe and Justin are also brothers in real life.)

Bill Harley: The veteran (in the kids' music field), Harley is clearly the John Bender of the group, the slightly older kid (let's face it, Judd Nelson didn't look like a kid at all), delivering sage advice.  And just like Bender and the school library, this is likely not his last trip to the Grammy breakfast club.

JumpinJazz: I haven't heard a peep out of this album, the folks behind this album, or, well, anything.  I didn't know this album existed until it was nominated.  They're even more unknown than Ally Sheedy's basket case Allison Reynolds.  I am, however, looking forward to whatever musical collaboration the Okee Dokee Brothers and Jarreau and Bridgewater and the rest provide us when they hook up at the end of the Grammys.

Elizabeth Mitchell: Elizabeth Mitchell is as close to kids music royalty this field gets (I tend to think of Harley more as the long-serving court jester), so I've assigned her Molly Ringwald's character, the "princess" Claire Standish.   She comes from the privileged background of being a Smithsonian Folkways artist and so has the fine lineage.  Yet this is her first time in the Grammy kids music breakfast club.

Pop Ups: Which brings us to the last nominee, the Brooklyn duo the Pop Ups, and the last kid in detention, Anthony Michael Hall's Brian Johnson, the nerd of the group.  I'll admit it, I'm pressed to find a logical connection here (not that the connections above aren't tenuous at best), but I think it's fair to say that if you're willing to go all in and not just record kids music but create a whole puppet musical multiple times over, then you have a bit of nerd in you as well.

Video: "Sleep Eye" - Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower

I'll have more to say on Elizabeth Mitchell's Grammy nomination for Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie anon, but in the meantime, Mitchell is celebrating with the release of her latest video from the album, for "Sleep Eye."

The track is one of Guthrie's lesser-known tracks, but it's a sweet lullaby, and the gorgeously-filmed video features lots and lots of babies.  It's a pleasant little visual break.

Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower - "Sleep Eye" [YouTube]

 

54th GRAMMY Nominations: Best Children's Album

GrammyLogo.gifFirst, let's get the technical stuff out of the way -- here is the list of the nominees for Best Children's Album, with the winner to be announced Feb. 12: All About Bullies... Big And Small - Various Artists (James Cravero, Gloria Domina, Kevin Mackie, Steve Pullara & Patrick Robinson, producers) Are We There Yet? - The Papa Hugs Band Fitness Rock & Roll - Miss Amy GulfAlive - The Banana Plant I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow - Various Artists (Eric Brace & Peter Cooper, producers) OK, now that I have that out of the way. WHAT???!? Now, let it first be said that I totally expected the GRAMMYs' decision to combine 2 children's categories into one to spell a death knell for independent artists. I was obviously completely wrong, seeing as all five nominees are independently produced. So make of that what you will regarding my understanding of the GRAMMY process.