Video: "Jackalope" - The Okee Dokee Brothers (World Premiere!)

Is this the mysterious jackalope?

Is this the mysterious jackalope?

After a trip down the (spiritual) heart of the country, the Mississippi River, on their Grammy-winning album Can You Canoe?, and along the Appalachian Trail spine of the East Coast for Through the Woods, it's time for The Okee Dokee Brothers to finish their Adventure Album trilogy.  On Saddle Up, the duo head west for adventures along and around the Continental Divide.

Saddle Up album cover

Saddle Up album cover

As with their previous two albums, this new one celebrates the outdoors in songs both heartfelt and (occasionally) silly.  In more the latter category (but also a little bit the former) falls "Jackalope," a tall tale about a mysterious and rarely seen animal.

For the song's video, Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing recruited a couple westerners to help -- Red Yarn helps out with a familiar puppet, while Laki Karavias, known to kindie fans as one of main ringleaders of the Big World Audio Theatre, handles the cinematography.  I asked Joe and Justin what motivated them to work with the pair of Portland-based musicians, and this is what they said:

We love both of their work as family musicians as well as their work in puppetry and filming. On top of that, they're really nice people with a similar aesthetic to our brand. Justin and I aren't great with puppets, so we reached out to our favorite folk singer/kids musician/puppeteer about using one of his Deep Woods critters for this video. We had thought Andy would need to make a whole new jackalope for us, but he had the great idea of giving Bob Rabbit a makeover. He sent us some photos before they did the filming and we approved of Bob's new look. Both Laki and Andy did a great job of matching Bob's "acting" (which took place in the woods of Portland) with our jackalope hunt story (filmed in AZ during our western trip). When we got the footage back, we were all so surprised at how well everything matched up - from the lighting and setting all the way down to little plot points. It was a real pleasure working with those two.

As for the titular character, when I asked if they'd ever gone jackalope hunting when they were kids, they said:

Yes! Growing up in Colorado we would always see taxidermied jackalopes hung on walls in people's basements or in gift shops. We had some tricky uncles who convinced us that, if we waited long enough, we could catch a jackalope (along with some other strange creatures... snipes come to mind). They would teach us how to hold our gunny sacks and what calls to make in order to lure the jackalopes into our bags. I remember staying out in the woods for hours one night with Justin, whistling and chirping at the moon to no avail.  But guess what, tricky uncles: We did catch something... it might have taken 20 years of wandering around making weird noises, but we caught a song out of the deal!

Joe and Justin seem particularly flummoxed in their search for this particular jackalope, but their fans should enjoy this world premiere video from The Okee Dokee Brothers just fine.

The Okee Dokee Brothers - "Jackalope" [YouTube]

Intro to Kindie: Laurie Berkner

Laurie Berkner, photo by Jayme Thornton

Laurie Berkner, photo by Jayme Thornton

In my Intro to Kindie series, I've focused thus far on people who've had the opportunity to listen to thousands (if not tens of thousands) of kids music songs to try to select the twenty or so songs that would serve as a good introduction to kids music for the 21st century listener.

That's meant that my respondents thus far (and in the future) have not been musicians, but radio folks and others who've made it their job or hobby to listen to 250 or more albums per year.

But there are a handful of musicians I'm planning to feature here, musicians whose appreciation of the history and modern context of kids music rivals (or supersedes) that of folks like me.

Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs album cover

Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs album cover

So I'm tickled pink to have kids music superstar Laurie Berkner be the first musician to offer her own list of twenty songs to introduce to the kids' music newbie.  Berkner's on a roll at the momeny -- just this week, for example, Simon & Schuster announced that they'd be publishing three picture books in 2017 and 2018 -- but most importantly for the purposes of this particular exercise, her latest album, Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs, is set for release next week.  It's a 2-CD, 57-track (!) set that features 51 traditional children's songs plus six "bonus" tracks of Berkner's own songs that could easily join those traditional songs.

I love all these lists, and Berkner's is no exception, with a wonderful introduction kicking things off.

For me, the songs that really represent an artist or a genre are the ones that move me. They might make my body move, move me to laughter or move me to tears, but they affect me deeply in some way.  All of the songs that I've chosen as an introduction to kids' music have some element that I think is moving, as well as being representative of the ever-expanding world of kids' music.  Some of these songs are for very young children, some are for kids already in school, some are more for the parents, but to me most of them have a lovely sense of something joyful or beautiful, and often it's from the child's perspective. 

It goes without saying that there are now so many wonderful musicians making great music for families that it would have been impossible to put them all on this list.  Instead I just tried to include a sampling of music more recently written along with music that has stood the test of time.  "Sammy" by Hap Palmer is an exquisitely written song that made me cry as a kid, with a message that I still appreciate as an adult.  "I am a Paleontologist" is only one amazing song of many by They Might Be Giants.  I happen to think this one is genius in the way it combines content that is truly of interest to kids with a super catchy chorus and a sound that hints enough at crunchy guitar rock to tickle parents.

Brady Rymer's "Jump Up (It's a Good Day)" is a song that really moves me to jump and just makes me feel happy every time I hear it.  I only included one song from a musical because I think that music is easier to discover without much research, but I think that many amazing kids' songs come from that genre (I could do an entire list made up of songs exclusively performed by Julie Andrews). I also couldn't help myself, but as a bonus 21st track, I included Paul Simon's "St. Judy's Comet" because even though he didn't put it on a kids' album, Simon wrote it for his own son.  I sang it to my daughter for years, and I think it's one of those songs that takes on deep meaning only once you become a parent.  

Here are my 20 (OK, 21) bits of kids' music pleasure, in no particular order.  Enjoy!

"Jump Up (It's a Good Day)" - Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

"Roller Coaster" - Kira Willey 

"Pop Fly"- Justin Roberts

"Spoonful of Sugar" - from Mary Poppins

"I am a Paleontologist" - They Might Be Giants (with Danny Weinkauf)

"Family Time" - Ziggy Marley

"Daddy-O" - Frances England

"Sammy" - Hap Palmer

"Glad To Have A Friend Like You" - Free To Be You And Me/Marlo Thomas and Friends

"Go Down Emmanuel Road" - Dan Zanes

"Good Morning My Love" - Vered

"The Garden Song" - Arlo Guthrie

"Upside Down" - Jack Johnson

"John The Rabbit"  - Elizabeth Mitchell

 "All These Shapes" - The Pop-Ups

"Music Everywhere" - The Dirty Sock Funtime Band

"Fly Birdy Fly" - Choo Choo Soul

"Walking With Spring" - The Okee Dokee Brothers

"The Marvelous Toy" - Tom Paxton

"Suppertime" - The Verve Pipe

"St. Judy's Comet" - Paul Simon

Photo credit: Jayme Thornton

Best Kids Music of 2014: Top 30 Videos

Continuing our look at the year's best in kids music, we finish up with videos.  Now, unlike albums and songs, for which I've traditionally tried to adhere to the Fids and Kamily year (which is Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014 this year), my best-of video selections have tended to run on more of a March through Feburary video fiscal year.  I did that to kick off the very first KidVid Tournament, and I've sort of stuck with that ever since.  (So nobody release an awesome video in the next 48 hours, OK?)

Here's my list of my favorite 30 kids music videos of "2014."  Some are big-budget productions, some are small-budget productions, and some are virtually-no-budget productions.  There are puppets, stop-action, hand-animation, computer animation, live action, and sometimes, more than one of those things.

Before I present the 30 videos, I should note that I wanted to limit an artist to no more than one video on the list.  Which meant that artists like The Bazillions, Danny Weinkauf, and Caspar Babypants don't get their full due as artists that have fully committed to the art of the kids music video, each releasing several music videos that could have appeared on this list (if I wasn't limiting them to one video, they might have had a dozen or so between them).

Of particular note, Chris Ballew has done some amazing work, not only contracting out with a variety of animators for his Caspar Babypants videos but also producing videos on his own beautiful in their creativity and simplicity.  For that reason, I'm giving him a Special Award for Awesomest Kids Music Video Guy of 2014.  Now, if you don't mind, I've got to go find an MTV VMA statue on eBay so I modify it and give it to Ballew.

So while I'm doing that, here's the list in alphabetical order by artist.  A YouTube playlist can be found at the very end if you'd like to while away an hour or two...

Dynamite - Alphabet Rockers (YouTube)

No Homework - The Bazillions (YouTube)

Bottle Caps - Laurie Berkner (YouTube)

Tiny Little Car - Johnny Bregar (YouTube)

The Creatures Under My Bed - Caspar Babypants (YouTube)

Grand March from Aida - Dog On Fleas (YouTube)

I'm a Little Fish - Laura Doherty (YouTube)

Hair - fleaBITE (YouTube)

I Can't Feel My Face - Gustafer Yellowgold (YouTube)

How Great Can This Day Be - Lori Henriques (YouTube)

November First (Jump, Run, Shake) - Eric Herman (YouTube)

Just Not Me - The Hipwaders (YouTube)

Did You Ever See a Lassie? - Charlie Hope (YouTube)

Snow Day - Josh and the Jamtones (YouTube)

Crew Cut - Randy Kaplan (YouTube)

Gingerbread Man - Lunch Money  (YouTube)

I Love You More - Todd McHatton (YouTube)

Girls Wanna Dance - Milkshake (YouTube)

Call Me Mista Cookie Jar - Mista Cookie Jar (YouTube)

Haircut - The Not-Its (YouTube)

Walking With Spring - The Okee Dokee Brothers (YouTube)

All These Shapes - The Pop Ups (YouTube)

Love Bug - Raffi (YouTube)

Brick By Brick - Recess Monkey (YouTube)

Rattlesnake - Red Yarn (YouTube)

Los Colores - Andres Salguero (YouTube)

Pillow Fort Pillow Fight - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (YouTube)

Ice Cream (Healthy Eating) - Danny Weinkauf (YouTube)

Sea Turtle - The Whizpops (YouTube)

Armando Armadillo - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke (YouTube)

Best Kids Music of 2014: Top 30 Songs

know.  This is madness, right?  Trying to come up with a list of my 30 favorite songs from the past year? Completely. Nuts.

But that's what I'm willing to do for you, dear readers.  More so than a list of albums or debuts or videos, however, a list ranking favorite songs is ephemeral, subject to the whims of a particular moment.  More than that, it probably tends toward the poppy, upbeat, and lively.  Tender lullabies have to do more work to stand out in my (or your) memory if you've heard literally thousands of kids' songs over the past year.

But regardless of how different my list would next week (or late in the evening), these 30 songs are among the best that kids music offered us in the past year.  ("Year," as always, defined as Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014, though that's harder to stick to given the prevalence of singles which might have been released on either side of that window.  Deal.)

Also, these are in alphabetical order -- if you think I'm going to attempt to rank all these, you're even more nuts than I am in deciding to pick them.

Anyway, I've combined these into a handy Spotify playlist found at the bottom of this list (click here if you're already in Spotify).  Enjoy!

Bears and Lions - "Pancakes"

The Laurie Berkner Band – "Fireflies"

Caspar Babypants – "The Girl with the Squirrel in Her Hat"

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band – "When I Grow Up"

The Dirty Sock Funtime Band (w/ Laurie Berkner) – "We're in Love"

Laura Doherty - "I'm a Little Fish"

Django Jones – "Counterpoint"

Gustafer Yellowgold - "Toothloser"

The Hipwaders – "Kings & Queens"

Charlie Hope – "Harmony" (feat. Elizabeth Mitchell)

Hullabaloo – "Like a Bird Must Feel"

Jazzy Ash - "Throw Me Something Mista" (feat. Mista Cookie Jar)

Randy Kaplan – "Not Too Young for a Song"

Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights – "Food Fight"

Josh and the Jamtones – "Green and Spakkled Frogs"

Luscious Jackson – "Hula Hoop"

Walter Martin - "Hey Sister" (feat. Kat Edmonson)

Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips – "My My My"

The Not-Its! - "When I Fell (The Scab Song)"

The Okee Dokee Brothers - "Through the Woods"

The Pop Ups - "All These Shapes"

Raffi – "Love Bug"

Recess Monkey - "Smooth Sailing"

Red Yarn - "The Fox"

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could – "Just Say Hi!"

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo – "Imaginary Friend"

The Short Films – "The Mysterious Okapi"

Ben Tatar and the Tatar Tots – "The Grape Jam" (feat. Spare Parts)

Danny Weinkauf – "Oh No Oh Yeah"

The Whizpops! – "Sea Turtule"

Best Kids Music of 2014: Top 30 Albums

If I were more disciplined about my writing, I'd have written this three months ago when people were thinking about holiday gift lists rather than, well, now.  The advantage is that, rather than giving you a "hot take" about music that I might regret later, I can let a few weeks or months go by and make sure I'm not forgetting (or including) something time has given me more perspective on.

Given that it is approaching the end of February, I think I'll skip the think pieces, the "what does it all mean" text and jump right into the list.  As always, my year-end best-of list matches the Fids and Kamily year -- that is to say, from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014.  So some good albums from the last 3 months [waves at Lori Henriques] will just have to wait for next year's list.

One final comment: I originally titled this the "Top 25 Albums" but when I went over my reviews, I realized that limiting it to 25 was going to a difficult proposition.  So I've bumped it up to 30.  That's a good problem to have.

Edit: A couple days later, I was going through my spreadsheet and realized that I totally forgot to add Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke's Animal Tales.  Can't leave that album off the list.  So now it's a Top 31 Album list.


#1 The Pop Ups - Appetite for Construction

Review - "The Pop-Ups know that you don't need your parent's smart phone to have the world at your fingertips."


#2 Charlie HopeSing As We Go!

Review - "It's traditional but not musty, sweet but not cloying, engaging but not pandering.  It's a gem of an album, definitely worthy of a comparison to Raffi."


#3 Red YarnThe Deep Woods

Review - '"Mr. Rabbit" has an almost desperate urgency while "The Fox," which brings together "The Fox," "Midnight Special," and "Go Tell Aunty Rhody," is absolutely gorgeous.  This is a folk revival, in all the many meanings of the word "revival."'


#4 Walter MartinWe're All Young Together

Review - "Whatever cool-points Martin may have lost by wadding into the kid's music world, the playful and sweet nature of this new album shows he doesn't care one bit. He feels very much at home."


#5 (tie) The Okee Dokee BrothersThrough the Woods

Review - 'The title track, featuring a lovely descending bass line, is the spiritual successor to the last album's title track, but most of the songs are more content to celebrate tiny moments -- dancing with neighbors in "Jamboree," the gentle love song "Evergreen," the ode to keeping things loose "Out of Tune."'


#5 (tie) Recess MonkeyDesert Island Disc

Review - "If the songs hold together in any particular way, it's more in their sound.  In the orchestrations (from Jherek Bischoff, brother of drummer Korum Bischoff), toned-down retro-rock, and love songs, this is easily their most Beatles-esque album since their little-heard debut Welcome to Monkey Town."


#7 (tie) The Short FilmsKingdom Animalia

Review - "The entire album has a dream-like effect -- "Pegafox" is about a make-believe animal, for example, the body of a red fox with the wings of a red-tailed hawk.  "The Mysterious Okapi" is the kids song we never knew Portishead had written about an animal almost none of us know."


#7 (tie) Elizabeth Mitchell - The Sounding Joy

Review - "The communal experience of singing in celebration is honored here, somewhat hushed, always joyful."


#9 (tie) Danny WeinkaufNo School Today

Review - "You don't have to be a They Might Be Giants fan to appreciate this album (though TMBG fans are most likely to go nuts for this), just a fan of nicely-crafted, occasionally goofy, kid-pop."


#9 (tie) Sólrún SumarliðadóttirSkýjaflétta

Review - "This is a thoroughly charming album and while I'm sure I will never get a chance to see the dance pieces these were composed for, I'm glad the album has a chance to cross the ocean for families with adventurous listening habits."

After the top ten, which I can give you because it matches my Fids and Kamily ballot, distinguishing between the rest of my list becomes a little more difficult.  So I'm taking the easy way out - alphabetical order for albums 11 through 31.

Laurie Berkner - Laurie Berkner Lullabies (review)

Bears and Lions - We're a Club in the Woods (review)

Edie Carey & Sarah Sample - 'Til the Morning: Lullabies & Songs of Comfort (review)

Caspar Babypants - Rise and Shine (review)

Danny Lion - First Songs (review)

Lucky Diaz & Family Jam Band - Aqui Alla (review)

Lucky Diaz & Family Jam Band - Lishy Lou and Lucky Too (review)

Laura Doherty - In a Heartbeat (review)

Gustafer Yellowgold - Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wisdom Tooth of Wisdom (review)

Thomas Hellman and Emilie Clepper (The Secret Mountain) - I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (review)

The Hipwaders - Year-Round Sounds (review)

Hullabaloo - Shy Kid Blues (review)

Jelly of the Month Club - Introducing… (review)

Randy Kaplan - Jam on Rye (review)

The Not-ItsRaise Your Hand (review)

Papa Crow - Full Moon, Full Moon (review)

Raffi - Love Bug (review)

Recess Monkey - Wired (review)

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could - Just Say Hi (review)

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - The Perfect Quirk (review)

Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke - Animal Tales (review)

57th Annual Grammy Nominations for Best Children's Album


December rolls around every year -- except for those cultures without 12-month calendars, of course -- and for roughly 57 of those years, Grammy nominations have been announced, highlighting musicians' votes for their favorite and best music of the past year.

Earlier this month, the nominations for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards were announced, including the nominations for Best Children's Album.

This year's list, representing the best in 2014 music (or, technically speaking, the best in children's recordings released between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014) is a good -- and interesting -- batch of albums:

Appetite For ConstructionThe Pop Ups

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education And Changed The World (Malala Yousafzai): Neela Vaswani

Just Say Hi!Brady Rymer And The Little Band That Could

The Perfect QuirkSecret Agent 23 Skidoo

Through The WoodsThe Okee Dokee Brothers

For those of you keeping count, that's one former Grammy winner (the Okee Dokee Brothers), two former Grammy nominees (the Pop Ups and Brady Rymer), one album of kid hip-hop (Secret Agent 23 Skidoo), and one Nobel Prize winner (Malala Yousafzai, natch).

It's that last nominee that makes this category such a wild card.  The four musical nominees were each part of the top 10 family music albums of the year according to Fids and Kamily, including the top two, so, yes, it's a solid list.  But how do judges compare those albums with an audiobook?  Indeed, it's exactly the potential problem I raised 3 years ago when the Grammys switched from 2 separate categories for music and spoken word to one unified category.  Oddly enough, I proved totally wrong about what would happen as the nominations the past two years have been spoken word-free.

We shall see who voters choose to reward this year, but I think that the award is very much up for grabs.