Bidding a Greasy Adieu to Greasy Kid Stuff

Greasy Kid Stuff logo by Rodney Alan Greenblat

Greasy Kid Stuff logo by Rodney Alan Greenblat

I saw on Twitter yesterday that the radio show Greasy Kid Stuff was coming to an end this weekend, and I thought it was important to publicly celebrate the show before it permanently went off the air.

Longtime readers are probably familiar with GKS, but if you’re not, the show was started 22 (!) years ago by Belinda Miller and Hova Najarian, airing on legendary New York station WFMU long before the couple became parents.  From the beginning, Belinda and Hova -- it was always Belinda and Hova, their last names have mostly been an afterthought -- were less interested in “kids music” as much as they wanted to play weird music they thought kids would enjoy as adults.  They weren’t the only kids music show (and they probably would issue with the idea that it was mostly for kids, but they were definitely the oddest, a mix of Dr. Demento, Sesame Street, and 120 Minutes.  And as kids music moved into a more kindie direction, they certainly shined a spotlight on artists that fit their somewhat off-center sensibility, but never fully embraced the full-on conventional kids music world.

That was, in my view, to their credit and benefit.  As I noted in my review of their third and final compilation of music (yep, they released three albums in total, all worth tracking down), I think kids music embraced Belinda and Hova’s approach as much as Belinda and Hova embraced kids music.  They weren’t the only radio outlet that took that view, but on the whole I think they did it longer than anyone else.

After moving across the country to Portland, Oregon in 2004 (and also becoming parents), Belinda and Hova eventually moved their show to 94.7 FM in Portland and more recently XRAY.FM.  (Why am I noting those links?  Because you can still find playlists, at least for WFMU and XRAY.FM, online if you want to see how unique those playlists are.)  But after 22 years, they’ve decided to hang up their headphones and microphones.  As they put it in a Facebook announcement earlier this month, they have “decided we’d like to see what it’s like to have regular weekends.”

I can’t say I blame them.  Twenty-two years is a long time to work on anything, and they have earned the right to break out the bedazzler and make some art (Belinda’s goal).  But the kids music community owes Belinda and Hova a big round of thanks for the many years of playing their music and for supporting the idea that kids can embrace music outside of the mainstream.

Greasy Kid Stuff logo by Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat

Monday Morning Smile: "Light As A Feather" - Cat Doorman

Light As A Feather cover

Light As A Feather cover

Typically these Monday Morning Smiles focus on tracks that weren't conceived as kids music, but I thought this track was just the thing needed for a sunny spring Monday morning.  It's "Light As A Feather," in both title and effect, and it was released last December by Portland's Cat Doorman, with help from fellow musician and artist Alexis Gideon.  You can not only stream the track below, but all proceeds from buying the track (just $1) will go towards Save the Children's Syrian Refugee Fund.

Win win, all the way 'round.

How I Got Here: Dan Elliott, Pointed Man Band (Graceland, the Library and Midnight Vultures)

Dan Elliott playing the accordion

Dan Elliott playing the accordion

Sometimes I see the submissions for the "How I Got Here" series by kids musicians talking about albums important in their musical and career development, and their essays are episodes of discovery to me, albums I'm knowledge of in name only.  But other times I'm much more familiar with the albums, and reading is an experience of seeing an old favorite through someone else's eyes (or, rather, hearing it through their ears).

That's the case this around, as Portland's Dan Elliott, AKA Pointed Man Band, shares a few words about Paul Simon's Graceland and Beck's Midnite Vultures, two albums I've still got sitting on my actual shelf.  And while those albums might not be the first albums that come to mind when you hear Between the Waves and the Cardoons, Elliott's latest lushly orchestral-pop opus, reading the essay, you can see where he's coming from.  So step inside his Hyundai and find out how those albums influence him.

Although the name Pointed Man Band is a direct homage to Harry Nilsson’s The Point!, well before I knew that album, I spent my most formative years with Paul Simon’s Graceland. Growing up, our household consisted of plenty of Greatest Hits records but the full album cassette of Graceland was always close at hand. I’m pretty sure we wore it through. This is an album that I know from beginning to end probably better than any other and it’s also the album that I owe much of my musical curiosity.

Graceland album cover

Graceland album cover

From the accordion opening of “Boy in the Bubble,” you know you are in for an adventure. And the songs themselves help to sing you across the vast landscapes, combining the familiar with the unknown. There is always a story being told to capture your attention and the South African band presents a new take on what you thought you were going to hear. Paul Simon changed my world with this album and he taught me to always be thirsty for ways to cross cultures, have a sense of humor, and push boundaries when creating music.

Throughout high school I was continually seeking out music from different parts of the globe. Starting with a helping hand of Ladysmith Black Mambazo being an integral part of this album, it became easier to draw paths and connections to other artists. During my late teens and well into my twenties, I was always going to the library to find the the world section which eventually lead to my love of Samba, Tango, Reggae, Indian Ragas, Jazz, Classical and the list grew on and on.

As Graceland opened my eyes and ears to the music of the world, Beck’s Midnite Vultures opened my mind to how to get over teenage angst and have a ridiculously good time while making, more often than not, no sense at all.

Midnite Vultures album cover

Midnite Vultures album cover

One night as a freshman at university, I saw the music video for the first track off of Midnite Vultures and I was hooked.  The video was as completely and perfectly nonsensical as the song it accompanies.  The album is absolutely incredible, elusive of any one genre, hysterical and a studio and headphone masterpiece.  For me this was an amazing example of a person not taking themselves too seriously, on so many levels, but making sure to pay the utmost attention to quality and challenging themselves to advance. I found and still find much comfort in that.

This album is so lush and so well produced that I can’t help but want to revisit it again and again. Lyrics would work their way into personal jokes with good friends and there’s nothing quite like turning some of these tunes up and singing along with your best raucous falsetto. Not to mention, if I can ever find the song “Debra” in a karaoke book, it’s on!

They are two vastly different artists and albums, but together they continue to inspire me to always pursue new and different paths. And above all, not to lose that desire to produce my own personal headphone masterpiece.

Review: Born in the Deep Woods - Red Yarn

Born in the Deep Woods cover

Born in the Deep Woods cover

Some artists take tentative steps into kids music, but Andy Furgeson seemed to know exactly what he was doing from the get-go.  Playing as Red Yarn, the Austin-bred, Portland-based musician and puppeteer brought the fervor of a revival to his first kids' album, 2013's The Deep Woods, and then doubled-down on that feeling with his 2015 follow-up, the appropriately titled Deep Woods Revival.  Both albums brought energy and emotion to old folk songs to make those old songs sound urgent and vital.

After a 2016 detour into some stripped-down arrangements on Wake Up and Sing, Furgeson is back with the final entry in his "Deep Woods Trilogy," Born in the Deep Woods.  If the first two Deep Woods albums sound like they were recorded in a church somewhere, this new album has a much more Southern-fried rock sound.  Not quite in a bar, perhaps, but not exactly church pew, either.  For everyone who ever thought what Red Yarn needed was more cowbell, Born in the Deep Woods is the album for you.

The title track, a Furgeson original, has a driving sound that might fit in more with the earlier albums, but "Old Mother Goose" definitely has that Southern "classic rock" sound even as it weaves together some traditional nursery rhymes like "Hey Diddle Diddle" and "All Around the Mulberry Bush."  There are more completely original songs on this new album -- four or five depending on how you're counting -- than on previous works, but I think it's a testament to Furgeson's songwriting skills and his production work alongside co-producer Adam Selzer that it can hard be hard to tell his takes on songs sung for generations apart from the ones written for and inspired by Furgeson's two kids.

Furgeson knows how to have fun with a song -- check out the video for "Mockingbird," in which Furgeson plots the detailed musical background of the song with a detail rivaling the search for the Zodiac Killer -- but he seems particularly focus on the meaning of parenthood.  Songs like "Little Baby Born Today," "Old Black Dog," and "Deep Woods Revisited" address life -- both birth and death -- in the tone of voice of a parent.  The epic "Born Again" does, too, filled with slide guitar instrumental breaks and lines like "When we reach our destination / Across the river, across the nation / We find we're right back where we came from."  Could the Allman Brothers record that song and have it sound a little bit like the Red Yarn track?  Most definitely.

Born in the Deep Woods is not a kids music album, but only to those who haven't spent a lot of time thinking about kids music.  There's an alphabet song on here that even though I'd listened to the album a half-dozen times I didn't realize it until I looked at the lyrics.  (Which you should totally do if you decide to get a copy of the lovely physical copy.)  It is an intricate album, and while it's appealing musically and not cryptic in any way, for some listeners, the simpler Wake Up and Sing may be the better entry point to the Red Yarn discography.  You could put this album on for the 10-minute drive home from school, but it fits more a 45-minute Lego construction session.

I, for one, am looking forward to where Furgeson moves on from Born in the Deep Woods.  The Deep Woods have been a rich source of inspiration for the Red Yarn albums, but I also think that his songwriting on this album in particular indicates he can look beyond the folk music tradition that's informed so much of his work.  Not that he'd ever abandon that music -- and I don't want him to -- but I'm more interested at this point in seeing where he goes next than in further expansion of the Deep Woods mythology.  I hope he comes back to the Deep Woods in time, but I'd like to see what he discovers when he ventures out further to explore.  Highly recommended.

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

Review: Between the Waves and the Cardoons - Pointed Man Band

Between the Waves and the Cardoons cover

Between the Waves and the Cardoons cover

The first time Dan Elliott's Pointed Man Band made its way on this site, it was in a heads up nearly four years for a Kickstarter project I stumbled upon randomly.  The resulting album, Swordfish Tango, echoed Tom Waits not only in that album title, but in sonic construction.  The result was a weird amalgam of pots and pans and strings and a song that led me to include a tag for "fart songs about invisible ducks" in the post.  (Sadly, it's the only post on this site for that tag.)

The second PMB album Flight of the Blue Whale hung the jazz and Parisian pop tendencies of the debut onto a story of a red fox who works as a clock repairer and his adventures, which eventually involve a flying blue whale.  More focused thematically, perhaps, but no less weird sonically.

Now it's time for the release of Elliott's third album, titled Between the Waves and the Cardoons, and it's a straight-up dance-pop album with songs about how to brush your teeth!

Of course it's not.  It's every bit as oblique as the first two albums.  Conceptually, it's a story cycle with loosely-related songs about nature, moving roughly from Oregon's west coast ("The Waves," "Anchor's Aweigh"), up the Columbia River with the salmon ("Upstream"), and, after other songs about (actual) birds and the bees, eventually winding up with "The Cardoons," a celebration of family and community.  (Cardoons, incidentally, are a lesser-known relative of the artichoke.)  Sonically, this album is far less Waits and far more Decemberists, with Elliott emphasizing the orchestral chamber pop that his fellow Portland musicians sometimes use, though with far less death and betrayal than Colin Meloy et al often sing about.  String quartets, brass, even a harp, and a mellotron and Steinway grand piano thrown in for good measure, there's a lot of orchestration going on.

Between the Waves and the Cardoons is a picture book in multiple meanings of that phrase, but not a simple one with clear pen lines and punchlines.  I like those sorts of picture books, too, but like to have more complex, more challenging picture books thrown into the mix.  (This 30-minute picture book is probably best for kids ages 5-9.)  The album might not be everyone's cup of nettle tea, but if you've read this far thinking, I think my family might be interested in that, then I think your family will definitely be interested in that.  Recommended.

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