Weekly Summary (3/17/14 - 3/30/14)

Video: "Walking with Spring" - The Okee Dokee Brothers

One of the most anticipated kindie albums of 2014 must be Through the Woods, the Okee Dokee Brothers' follow-up to their 2012 Grammy-winning album Can You Canoe?.  Rather than floating down the Mississippi River, this next album in their proposed-4-album "Adventure Series" sees Joe and Justin walking up the Appalachian Trail.

The first video for the album (and accompanying DVD), for "Walking with Spring," is out, and it follows the template of their Canoe videos -- gorgeously-shot scenes of their travels mixed with the occasional shot of the duo goofing off on their long journey.

Oh, yeah, and a lovely song.

(Bonus: Would you like to see some draft sketches of the album cover from cover artist -- and Zooglobble logo designer -- Brandon Reese?  I thought you might.)

The Okee Dokee Brothers - "Walking with Spring" [YouTube]

Kindie-Chartin': Kids Place Live's Top 13 Songs of 2012

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One of my ongoing interests has been attempting to quantify the popularity of kids music, and I do that every week on my Kindie Week in Review show.  When it comes to kids music albums, the wide variety of charts I consider -- Billboard, iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby -- gives a decent overview.  No chart is perfect, but the variety does give some sense of relative popularity among broad range of audiences, from those who have never heard of the word "kindie" to schools and libraries, to folks like you or me.

When it comes to individual kids music songs, however, the charts do a poorer job.  The iTunes and Amazon singles charts are populated primarily with Kidz Bop renditions, songs from Disney animated movies released 20 years ago, novelty songs, and songs Amazon couldn't figure out where to place.  The only chart that does a decent job of actually charting kids songs, particularly kindie songs, on a national basis, is Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live's "13 Under 13" countdown.  It's a weekly look at the most popular songs on the satellite radio station.  And while the folks at KPL have described the chart as much as art as quantifiable fact, the chart does have a decent relationship to what is actually being played on the station.

I've finally had a chance to compile the data from songs that hit the charts in 2012.  Most of the delay is my fault (I'm already planning the 2013 chart and will be much more timely with that one), but some of the delay is due to the structure of this analysis -- it looks at every song that hit the 13U13 chart in 2012 (there were 50 in all), and sometimes those songs that entered in December 2012 didn't exit until March 2013.  A couple of the songs from the 2011 list of top Kids Place Live songs -- Keller Williams' "Mama Tooted" and Todd McHatton's "I Think I'm a Bunny" -- were charting on the KPL list all the way into June 2012.

This analysis would not be possible without the weekly work of Gwyneth Butera at the Kids Place Live Fans site, so thanks, Gwyneth!

My methodology is pretty simple -- I give each song on each chart points for their ranking, 13 for #1, 12 for #2, and so on down to 1 point for being at #13.  Obviously I could use other methods and weightings, but since the chart itself is not 100% based on plays, I think this is accurate enough.  What it does is make clear which songs were particularly popular.  As it so happens, there was a nice demarcation point between the top 13 songs and the rest of the batch.  So here, then, are the top 13 kids music songs of 2012.

#1: The Board of Education - "Why Is Dad So Mad?": While much of this chart will be presented in clumps of songs because the methodology is crude and it's not worth distinguishing between songs who might have differed by 1 or 2 points in total, it was clear was this Star Wars fandom-related riff by the Seattle band was the most popular kindie song of the year.

#s 2 through 4 (alphabetical):

  • Afro Circus (from Madagascar): "Afro Circus"
  • OzoKidz (aka Ozomatli): "Moose on the Loose"
  • Recess Monkey: "Dancing Bear"

#s 5 through 9 (alphabetical):

  • Randy Kaplan: "Don't Fill Up on Chips"
  • Randy Kaplan: "In a Timeout Now"
  • The Okee Dokee Brothers: "Can You Canoe?"
  • SteveSongs: "Flat Stanley"
  • Wunmi: "Rainbow"

#s 10 through 13 (alphabetical):

  • The Aquabats: "Poppin' a Wheelie"
  • Brave (i.e., from Brave): "Learn Me Right"
  • Lunch Money: "Spicy Kid"
  • Shine and the Moonbeams: "High Five"

Finally, listed alphabetically below are the top10  artists of 2012 on Kids Place Live as judged by total points, which could reflect a single massive hit or a couple good ones.  This is an even more imprecise measure -- some artists spend half their year on the charts with two or even three mid-range hits, not to mention the perennial favorites that get played once or twice a day -- but do provide some additional context.

  • The Board of Education
  • The Brave soundtrack
  • Caspar Babypants
  • Dog on Fleas
  • Randy Kaplan
  • Lunch Money
  • The Madagascar soundtrack
  • The Okee Dokee Brothers
  • OzoKidz (aka Ozomatli)
  • Recess Monkey

Weekly Summary (10/28/13 - 11/3/13)

Itty-Bitty Review: Bandwagon - Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights

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The New York-based musician Joanie Leeds has spent the past few years gradually developing her career as a kindie musician.  She's picked up a band (the Nightlights), a fanbase outside New York, and on her latest album, Bandwagon , she takes some big strides toward finding her own voice in the kindieverse.

Those strides begin with Leeds' voice in particular.  Perhaps it has sounded this good on previous albums and I just was too dim to hear it, but on this album, you can hear just how versatile that voice is, on crunchy garage rock ("Are We There Yet?") or a slow bluesy number ("Use Your Words"), among other tracks.  Whether it's Leeds writing songs that use her voice to more varied effect or producer Dean Jones giving her voice the spotlight or some combination of the two, it pays off nicely.

I hear two Joanies on the album -- one is the Leeds willing to be goofy and write songs laser-targeted at the six-year-old in your life ("Back to School," "Helmet," "UFO"), the Joanie that's always been present on her records.  The other is the singer who writes very child-friendly pop songs (the gorgeous and winsome "Falling," "Little Cloud," and the rousing folk-pop of the title track featuring Rachel Loshak and the Okee Dokee Brothers' Justin Lansing).  This other singer also gets Jonatha Brooke to duet on "Family Tree."  While Leeds has never been solely goofy, this other songwriting approach gets more airtime than before, and I think it's a good thing.

The 41-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 8.  You can listen to album clips here.   Bandwagon is my favorite Joanie Leeds album yet, and I get the feeling that the best is yet to come.  Recommended.

[Note: I was provided a copy of the album for possible review.] 

 

Kindiefest 2013: Finding Your Mississippi River

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Another Kindiefest has come and gone and all that is left are the bar tabs, sore legs, and hoarse voices.

The seventh annual confab of kindie musicians (fifth as a full-fledged conference) broke its own attendance record this year and moved into new digs, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Fisher building.  But the basic concept -- meet, learn, and sing -- remains unchanged.

Every year, I am a little less interested in the panels and a little more interested in the people.  To a large extent, the reason for that is that I don't need to listen to a panel how to make a kindie music record.  It's great for the first-time attendees (of which there are always a lot), but as a veteran non-professional musician, it's not helpful.

What is helpful is talking to people.  I have always found the conversations outside the walls of the conference itself to be most valuable, because those conversations (sometimes aided by bar tabs, though not necessarily) tend to be more real, more likely to generate real sharing, real connections.  Instead of trying to sell a concept or an album, you're trying to understand the other person, and maybe, in that process share who or what you are as a musician (or writer or booker).  Even if you're not sure whether you like someone's music, or writing, or whatever, you can still make a genuine connection.

For my part at the conference, I was asked to present a curated list of kids music videos along with a brief presentation on the history and types of videos.  Frankly, it was just fun seeing all those videos shown on a big screen and through a nice soundsystem.

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One thing I only realized as I sat through the entire 40-minute, 13-song DVD I'd compiled was how much the artist's personality comes through in each of those videos.  That was not something I'd consciously done when I picked the videos, but I think it's clear that the artists that have found their band's or personality's heart in their video and it's that clarity that shines through.

The surprise of my video presentation was that I got to world premiere the first-ever video from Lunch Money.  It's for their song "Spicy Kid," and I found Molly's description of it as "half Mentos ad, half Blues Brothers excerpt" as being particularly apropos.  What's more, because it's funny at points, tender at others, it very much feels like Lunch Money, like Molly and the band had found another way to express themselves.

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Despite my comments above, I did sit through about half of the panels, and while there were lots of useful pieces of information and funny moments, only once did somebody say something that made me dig out my phone and jot down what they said.

It was Molly (natch), who on the panel on "What's Next?" talked about getting the Can You Canoe? disk from the Okee Dokee Brothers for the first time, popping it in the CD player, and listening.  She may have used a curse word in describing her initial reaction, I can't remember properly because that happened several times during the weekend (Kindiefest: Where Kindie Musicians Go To Curse).  But, long story short: she loved the album and felt the Okee Dokee Brothers had found something deep within themselves in singing about their trek down the Mississippi River.  She encouraged the attendees to "find their own Mississippi River," and if that wasn't a metaphor for what folks said all weekend, I'm not sure what is.  Kindie musicians -- and, heck, people generally -- need to let their personalities and artistic goals shine through, and I hope there was enough proof during the weekend of just how valuable that approach can be, certainly artistically, but also even career-wise.  Know your song, and sing it loud.

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Other notes from the weekend:

-- The industry showcase concert Saturday night was, as always, a combination of more experienced artists who might not have had the broader exposure of the industry stage and more relative newcomers.  The set that most impressed me was definitely Mister G's. He came up on stage with nothing more than a guitar, a kick drum, and his wife, and within 3 minutes (probably more like 2) had the entire crowd close to the stage, clapping and singing along.  By the end of his set, he'd filled the stage with other kindie musicians, and thoroughly entertained us all.

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-- Everybody was entertaining in one way or another Saturday night -- live shows almost always add to an artist's reputation -- so I'm hesitant to recommend any more, but a brief shoutout to Vered and the Babes (her backing band of 4 guys), who translated her simple songs focused on bonding with baby into something that worked surprisingly well in a much less-intimate setting.  Also, in the category of "sometimes being unknown is an advantage," newcomers Bears and Lions performed a set featuring songs like "I'm a Mediocre Kid" (much more upbeat and celebratory that the title would imply), people dressed up as bears and lions in track suits, and absurd songs and patter remiscent of other surreal duos like the Telephone Company, The Quiet Two, The Thinkers, and fellow showcase performers Ratboy Jr (pictured here with Dean Jones helping the boys out).

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-- I have said that my favorite part of Kindiefest is the connecting with others, and my favorite way of connecting at the festival is probably at the showcase.  It's the singing in 8-part harmony, it's the dancing, and, in the case of the concluding performance from Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell, even a tunnel for audience to dance under.  It's a communal feeling that underlies the entire conference.  And it's a ton of fun.

-- Other things I liked: The empanadas at the food truck down the street.  Edvard Munch's "The Scream" at MOMA.  Underbirds at Symphony Space and Raffi at Town Hall (more on those separately).  Running around Prospect Park on a beautiful Saturday morning.  Getting to sing with Ella Jenkins.  Talking with fellow kindie folks (too many to name, but I will give a tip of the cap to Jeff Bogle and Dave Loftin).

-- Things I'm sorry I missed: The KindieTalks (especially Laurie Berkner's).  The barbecue place around the corner from BAM.  Sleep.  Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with Lloyd Miller.  The Sunday public festival.  Stretching.  Bill Childs.

Back in the real world, I'm trying to remember the lessons of Kindiefest, but I think if I just keep searching for my own Mississippi River, I'll be OK.