Review: Why? - They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants - Why? album cover

They Might Be Giants - Why? album cover

They Might Be Giants have been making clever and subversive pop music for more than 30 years.  Late last year, they released their second album of 2015, but this one is for kids of all ages.

In the year 2002, They Might Be Giants did something thought to be a little crazy - they released an album for kids.  That record, titled No!, was both a commercial and critical success, and sent the band down an unanticipated path as part-time kids’ music superstars. They then released 3 themed albums through Disney -- one each about letters  numbers  and science -- while continuing to make music for adults.  If you’ve paid any attention to kids music over the past decade, you certainly have run across the band.

Six years after that last kids’ record, the band returned in late 2015 with a new kids’ music album.  Free of a Disney collection, the new album is a spirited, free-form follow-up to No! appropriately titled Why?.

On the song “Out of a Tree,” everybody thinks it’s a disaster that an 8-year-old has gotten stuck in a tree... everyone, that is, except the adventurous 8-year-old himself.  And while the album doesn’t have a specific theme, many songs celebrate kids’ independent streaks.  Of course, sometimes that leads to decisions that aren’t the wisest in retrospect.

Despite the frustration the parent of such a kid might experience, a song like “Definition of Good” shows that sometimes moments of random curiosity spark warm family memories.

The freeform nature of the roughly 40-minute album makes it a little more difficult to nail down a specific target age range, but I'd peg it at about ages 4-10.

Many of the people the band sings about or to on this album question authority and explore the world in messy ways, coming up with answers to new questions.  That attitude is useful for not only 30-year-old rock bands but also much younger listeners -- it’s what helps give me hope that the world’s problems can be tackled head-on.

Video: "Dance With Me" - The Not-Its!

The Not-Its! Are You Listening album cover

The Not-Its! Are You Listening album cover

Seattle band The Not-Its have a brand new album set for release next week -- February 19, to be specific.  It’s called Are You Listening? and unsurprisingly there are more than a couple tracks that could cause involuntary pogoing and/or headbanging in your child.  Chief among those tracks may be the leadoff single “Dance With Me,” which gets a nifty hand-animated video from Chris Mooney.  Mooney describes the process of creating the video here -- those are Not-Its puppets, folks.

The Not-Its! - "Dance With Me" [YouTube]

Partying with the 2015 Children's Grammy Nominees

Logo for 2015 Children's Grammy Nominees concert

Logo for 2015 Children's Grammy Nominees concert

Growing up, Beth Blenz-Clucas and Regina Kelland didn't have the same opportunities to see kids musicians that our kids have today.  When I asked the two of them what memories they had of seeing concerts when they were kids, they couldn't really come up with a good answer.  Sure, they took some music lessons, listened to music on the radio, did arts activities in school.  There's definitely a shared history of Disney soundtracks -- both mentioned Mary Poppins.  They went to a few classical music concerts with their parents or a school field trip.  But a concert meant just for them as kids?  Not really.

Fast forward a number of years, and Blenz-Clucas and Kelland are couple of the best-known publicists for the children's music genre, Blenz-Clucas with Sugar Mountain PR and Kelland with To Market Kids.  And in addition to promoting individual artists' musical efforts, for the past several years they've produced a benefit concert held the same weekend as the Grammy Awards.

This year's nominees for the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Children's Recording feature five first-time nominees, all of them independent artists (with Jose-Luis Orozco nominated for his very first album with Smithsonian Folkways).  And for the seventh straight year, the benefit concert will feature the children's album nominees.

Covers of 2015 Children's Grammy Nominee albums

Covers of 2015 Children's Grammy Nominee albums

On Saturday, February 13, all five nominees -- Orozco, Tim Kubart, Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly, Lori Henriques, and Morgan Taylor (aka Gustafer Yellowgold -- will perform at this year's concert, held at Lucky Strike Live in Hollywood.  It's a unique opportunity to see these five artists performing separately and, perhaps, together.  When asked about favorite memories from past concerts, Blenz-Clucas and Kelland both remembered the group singalongs -- Brady Rymer and everyone singing "Mony Mony" last year, the group including Elizabeth Mitchell and Alastair Moock singing Pete Seeger the year before.

Alastair Moock and Elizabeth Mitchell at Children's Grammy Nominee concert in 2014.

Alastair Moock and Elizabeth Mitchell at Children's Grammy Nominee concert in 2014.

Beyond the special nature of the performances, the concert is notable also for its benefit nature.  Because it's a volunteer-run enterprise, Blenz-Clucas, Kelland, and the other producers (which have included Karen Rapaport McHugh, musician Cathy Fink, producer Tor Hyams and booker and current event co-producer KC Mancebo, with Mancebo's husband David Tobocman providing a lot of assistance) have always charged money for the show to at least cover the cost of facility rental and the technical crew.  Beyond the expenses, ticket revenues go to benefit a group that works with the age range that the nominated artists typically target -- that is, kids roughly 10 and under.

In past years, the proceeds have been donated to Mr. Holland's Opus (one year the monies went to help the organization buy harps) and Little Kids Rock.  This year's beneficiary is the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra's Music in the Schools program.  And while the SJO was founded in 2001 dedicated to "perpetuating the uniquely American genre of symphonic jazz," its Music in the Schools program has a much broader focus of providing year-long sequential, comprehensive music education in Los Angeles County schools to more than 3,000 students per week.  SJO founder and music director Mitch Glickman says he's "thrilled" that they'll be the beneficiary of this year's concert, which will help them further expand the residencies the Music in the School program provides.

In any case, the concert starts at 11 AM on the 13th, and tickets for the concert ($15 in advance, $20 the day of show) are available here.  And while I certainly recommend attending the show if you're in the L.A. area with kids that weekend, if you're not around, Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live, whose fearless leaders Mindy Thomas and Kenny Curtis are emceeing the concert, will be broadcasting the show a couple times that weekend.

Perhaps the concert isn't quite as exciting as seeing Queen (Kelland's favorite group) in concert, but look at this shot from last year's show, which included the Pop Ups.  It will be celebratory.

The Pop Ups perform at the 2014 Children's Grammy Nominees concert in February 2015

The Pop Ups perform at the 2014 Children's Grammy Nominees concert in February 2015

Beyond the concert, the weekend also features an adults-only, industry-only luncheon afterwards close by to the concert.  The concert, in fact, grew out of a luncheon organized in 2005 by Lynn Orman to celebrate Ella Jenkins' Lifetime Achievement Award and a networking event coordinated by Karen Rapaport McHugh a couple years later.  While in past years they've had speakers (John Simpson's talk on SoundExchange and Bill Harley discussing Artists for Sake Kids were a couple highlights Kelland and Blenz-Clucas recall), this year they've decided to forgo the guest speakers so as to maximize the one-on-one networking time for the attendees.  As Blenz-Clucas noted, even the Los Angeles artists don't get together too often given the size of the region, so it's an opportunity for them to get together.  And as great as events like KindieComm and Hootenanny are, their East Coast setting can make it harder for some West Coast artists to attend, so hopefully this provides them more of an opportunity to network.

It, too, should be a lot of fun, and I'll be there to join in the festivities.  If you're in "the biz" and want to join, drop Blenz-Clucas, Kelland, or Mancebo a line, and they'll direct you where you need to go.

KC Mancebo, Cathy Fink, Regina Kelland, Beth Blenz-Clucas at 2014 Children's Grammy Nominee concert

KC Mancebo, Cathy Fink, Regina Kelland, Beth Blenz-Clucas at 2014 Children's Grammy Nominee concert

Photo credits: Pop Ups in concert (McCarthy Photo Studio); Alastair Moock and Elizabeth Mitchell in concert, KC Mancebo, Cathy Fink, Regina Kelland, and Beth Blenz-Clucas (Jodye Alcon)

Radio Playlist: New Music January 2016

It has been more than two months since I last posted a playlist of new music, so, understandably, this first list of 2016 is longer than most.  Lots of new music coming up, too.  (If you want to catch my list from October 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 January 2016 (January 2016 Kindie Playlist) ****

"He & She" - Linda Perry and Sara Gilbert

"Grandma Gatewood" - Jeff & Paige

"Over in the Meadow" - The Laurie Berkner Band

"The Boy Who Cried Chupacabra" - The Hipwaders

"Fiddlin' Jim" - Liz, Holly, and the Jolly Lollies

"La Golondrina" - Sonia De Los Santos

"When I Grow Up" - The Raging Idiots

"Stella Ella Ola" - Mr. Chris & the Gassy Bubbles

"Latkes for Breakfast" - Mister G

"Do the Latin Alphabet" - Kinderjazz

"Looking Up" - The Jamberries

"Buzz, Buzz, Buzz" - Tom Proutt, Emily Gary

"Wave Hello" - Sonshine and Broccoli

"Sharky Life Forever" - Sharky Sharky

"Fais dodo" - Nadia Gaudet, Jason Burns

Monday Morning Smile: "I Believe in Little Things" - Diana Panton

I Believe in Little Things cover

I Believe in Little Things cover

What was it I said last week?  "More joy."  Well, Joe Raposo makes just about everything more joyful.

Canadian jazz musician Diana Panton turned to Raposo for the title track to her kid-friendly album I Believe in Little Things.  The album was originally released in September 2015, but is going to get a bigger push here south of the Canadian border in 2016, and with tracks like the title track, I think it'll be well-received in the kindie world.

The video for "I Believe in Little Things" is charming and whimsical, and Panton's warm and clear voice elegantly lays out Raposo's masterful lyrics, with Jacqui Lee's illustration a perfect fit.  Definitely an album to look forward to (or hear now, if you don't want to wait).

Diana Panton - "I Believe in Little Things" [YouTube]