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    Review: Music Makes Me Happy - Robbi K

    MusicMakesMeHappy.jpgFor those of you wondering, yes, this album is better than its cover. Usually.

    New York-based Robbi K has pretty impressive musical credentials -- backup singer for Mary K. Blige, Aretha Franklin, and Harry Belafonte, among others. And for her third kids' CD, the recently-released Music Makes Me Happy, Robbi is joined by a great group of musicians, include Brady Rymer, Hayes Greenfield, Guy Davis, and her husband Bakithi Kumalo (who played with Paul Simon) on bass and as executive producer.

    The result is an album that, for the most part, effectively blends solid jazz, world-beat, and bluesy tunes and kid-focused lyrics to strong effect. As I listened to the 44-minute album, I ended up thinking of it in three parts. The first three songs don't break any kids' music molds, but they're well done, such as the fun "Eating Some Pizza," featuring a saxophone solo from Hayes Greenfield.

    The next five tracks are the album's strongest, I think. There's a funky version of "John Henry" that's top-notch, and her jazzy cover of "My Favorite Things" would sound great on any CD, kids' or otherwise. That stretch also includes the album's best original track, "Music Makes Me Happy," a strutting blues number that features Brady Rymer and blues musician Guy Davis. It's hear that the band lays its best grooves and Robbi K's powerful voice is used to its best effect. If you're gonna move to the beat, it's here you'll do so.

    And then there's the last three tracks, which I tried to listen to and enjoy, but just couldn't. The song "Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy!" made me anything but, and it's followed by a song called "I Love My Teacher." While I enjoy the comparative lack of irony and cynicism in kids' music, sincerity can be taken too far, and lyrics like "I love my teacher, I'll tell you why / She knows everything clear under the sky" just don't ring true to me about how kids think about teachers, even ones they love.

    I think kids ages 3 through 7 will most appreciate the lyrics here (the melodies and beats are definitely friendly to kids of all ages). You can hear selections of Robbi's music at her homepage, her Myspace page, or samples of all the tracks here at the album's CDBaby page.

    Many families will enjoy Music Makes Me Happy, though like many kids' albums it does land squarely in the "everything is wonderful and, yes, happy" camp. If you (or your kids) are on the other side of the divide, you'll probably want to stay away. Still, it's a solidly performed album that really grooves at points. I'll recommend the CD, but only if I get to hit "eject" after track 8.

    Reader Comments (5)

    Can I post this reply to this review as follows? I just feel I'd like to respond:

    Thank you so much for such a sincere and lovely CD review. I'm so glad to know your feedback. I had a great time making this record, and having so many talented musicians on the CD. All of my musicians are top notch, nationally renown artists in their own right, and to have them focus with me on making a CD filled will love, sincerity, and passion - makes me most proud.

    Being the touchy-feely-let's-make-a-connection type of artist that I am, I'd like to share some asides on the last few tracks, if you don't mind - because they are very important to me for a variety of reasons. (What a cool opportunity this blog is to dialogue...oh-oh! I feel another record coming about on......)

    You may not be aware of this, but I perform more that 200 shows a year - many of them in schools for grades Pre-K thru 12, and colleges too, with my husband's ensemble. I'm also a Lincoln Center Institute of Aesthetic Education Teaching Artist, which gives me the chance to work with teachers and principals very closely. So I think of myself as having my pinky toe in education, to some degree. I spend a lot of time in schools and with children in a grass roots way, visiting communities of diverse demographics nationwide.

    Same as I felt as a child, students still have a great love and affection for their school and their teachers. I can attest that the sentiment of I Love My Teacher, which was meant to be stylistically sentimental, as a true sentiment. Not every child is jaded and unaffected by their teachers. The majority of children I meet enjoy coming to school, especially when education is supported and valued in the home. Within the K - 3 grades, it's all about the relationship a child has with their teacher(s). I'm blessed and lucky to experience the great work of educators as a teaching artist, and the majority of teachers teach with love and passion in their heart, knowing that they set the tone for their students educational path. They sure aren't doing it for the money! They teach with devotion and respect for a child's potential far beyond budget votes and Board of Ed rhetoric. There's life changing work happening in the class room - I Love My Teacher is an ode the teachers that we'll always carry in our hearts until we are old and gray. My daughter, who sings the track, has been blessed with amazing teachers - and she runs to the bus on most days - in anticipation of the school day with her teacher - who she admits, she sometimes calls mommy by mistake!! I know the words are true for her, at the very least - because over the years she's said these things to me - and it feels like deja vu!

    Now the happy song, really feels good to sing! For me, it's turned into a cathardic release of my grown up stress and strife (who knew) but in truth; that song is a result of watching my kids mood swings in my mini-van's rear view window. One second my daughters are sharing and playing together so sweetly, and then in an instant - cat fight between sisters! What the....??? I'm amazed and how siblings bicker about dumb things, and how quick they recover. I can only be that way with the help of a little Paxil!

    The last track, The Peace Song with the great violinist Eileen Ivers from Riverdance fame, and is merely a thoughtful message the world needs to be reminded of - that peace exists, and is part of us all - especially when we focus and live with that intention. Singing this song live to children - I know they get it. Maybe it's a good idea to plant seeds of love, peace, God, and positivity in a garden of weeds and poison ivies. A poignant final statement.

    The CD starts with your heart beating, ends with a calm thought of peace for self, and the world.

    Forgive me for being a natural optimist. Been that way since a kid. My parents were awesome folks, my home and childhood was filled with love, laughter, music, God, family, friends, and delicious food. I was born HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY, and my life has been an amazing journey - very blessed. I smile every day.

    I'm on a mission to uplift the human condition and spirit. The real message of Music Makes Me Happy: life is real sweet, even on a bad day....enjoy life.

    Glad you got the music - thank you so much for this blog.

    Keep the beat always and in all ways!Robbi K

    PS....the cover art, if you think about it, is a bunch of notes, lost, fallen and useless - floating without purpose; angry at the smiling one....when you turn the cd over, they join together to create the melody of the title track; and just maybe kids who read and play music might figure it out and play it.(Hee Hee - it's the teacher in me!!)
    August 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRobbi K
    Oh, how I wish I'd gotten here before Robbi.... You know, I have the ups and downs of the cynic and the optimist in me. I saw the header of the review and immediately went back in my mind to seeing Robbi K at the Brooklyn Hootenanny that Bill and AudraRox put on and let me tell you - she and her band *brought the house down*! Everyone there was awesome, but Robbi and her band had something really special that maybe can't translate exactly onto a recorded cd. She was so full of spirit and love and music! It was amazing.

    So I read your review and was sorta disappointed that you didn't love every single track. And I went to listen to all the music in all the places. Yes, she's an a #1 queen optimist. We didn't meet properly that night, there were so many people there, but I was right there up front dancing with Audra. How could you not be?

    I understand what you maybe heard or didn't hear and how we grown ups might take it. But you know what? My little girl LOVES her teachers and thinks they are the most amazing people in the world. Even smarter than me. ;-) And she sits places and sings songs like "happy, happy, happy, happy" and somehow, I think Robbi is in touch with that childlike joy that we sometimes don't really get anymore. If you saw her live, you might get it too.

    I KNOW you're reviewing a CD and most folks won't have the lucky priviledge of hearing her play live, too. I thank my lucky stars and Bill and Audra and my friends who helped out with my trip for that.
    August 2, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdeb in sf
    Robbi, Deb, thanks for your comments. I know they're heartfelt, and one of the things I hope this site achieves is some sort of dialogue between people, both listeners and artists. I give the readers my best shot after listening to the CD a bunch, and let the cards fall where they may.

    Re: my teacher comment. My wife used to teach (high school), so I certainly have lots of respect for those who choose to teach. The lyrics didn't ring true to me -- my daughter loved her teachers, too, but didn't express her love that way.

    Deb, I probably should have made clear that the "Happy" song might be a good song live for kids. I got the intent of the song, and some kids might respond to it, even on CD. It set my ears on edge, and I like to think I'm pretty well in touch with my childlike joy.

    Finally, I know that seeing a performer live can often make a big difference in how we hear recorded music. I had thought about putting a comment in the review about how she is reputed to have a good live show (I heard about the Brooklyn show and have seen other Robbi performances on DVD). The comment just didn't make it in.

    The problem is, as you note, that very few of my readers will have the chance to see these artists live. I can hear on some of the tracks how her band would be awesome live.

    I hope I can see Robbi K live at some point. I'll even stick around for "Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy!" ;-)
    August 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStefan
    Hi Stefan!

    I completely appreciate your perspective! Really I do! Art is meant as an expression of human existence and to stir and quake the spirit; so I feel quite flattered by your positive and not so positive comments. If you had none after listening to the cd, I'd be worried!

    Some folks can't stand Picasso or Basquiat; some folks love 50 Cent; some people ballroom dance, and some detest disco. Whatever!!!!! At the end of the day - it's just a bunch of experiences that when strung together make your life. I'm just using my God given gifts to help things along in a positive way.

    I understand your teacher perspective - my sister just retired after teaching music to HS kids for 32 years. I've had the privilege to be at her knee during her journey, and it can be a rough tough life for teachers, students, parents etc depending a lot of different factors. AND she worked in a Title One district, short of funding and resources, but she made music everyday – with intensity and focus just as when she began. Lives were changed by her efforts, and she may never truly know whose, but her efforts were consistent and sincere because that was her job to educate. I feel teachers get a bum deal - people blame educators for many of societies ills, but for the most part - teachers teach with passion.

    In my 26 years of performing with and for kids - I've been able to travel the world and witness all sorts of conditions and my overall conclusion stands strong: there is more good than bad going on. What's the harm in celebrating that against so much sadness, death, deception, failures, and fraud? I exist to encourage joy. I know what I'm here to do as a human.

    Now the work I do with JH and HS aged youngsters, comes from another perspective completely, and that's another blog topic altogether- but I didn't release that CD or target that age group with this song selection. As my daughters grow and age, so will my work - and maybe there'll be a heavy o' record filled with irony and cynicism for the teen years.... who knows!

    Hopefully as time goes on, I will have the opportunity to have folks become aware of the work I do and become supporters and fans.

    I do hope that folks will listen to my CD’s, visit my website, watch my videos, and attend my concerts when I'm in their town, and not pass me by when they're told not to listen past a certain track on my CD because it's too, positive, perhaps. That would just be a shame.

    And for those readers on the other side of the divide……don’t stand there feeling sad and apart; come over here and sit next to me, there's plenty of room!!!!!

    Love and respect,Robbi K & Friends

    August 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRobbi K
    Just for the record, Stefan (though I'm guessing you don't take comments personally), I wasn't really commenting on YOUR sense of childlike joy. I reread what I wrote and I see how I sounded, but I can't imagine you'd do all this without that joy.

    And I totally get that your tagline is "music worth sharing" - so no matter how much the littles dig, if it sets you on edge, that's not sharing. I hear you. I just respect your opinions so much and was bummed that every single song on Robbi's new record didn't totally live up (for you) to her live performance (for me).

    I still can't wait to see her and her friends sing and play again next time we're in NY.

    But, also for the record, I think you are among the fairest, most knowledgable people writing about music at all, anywhere. I enjoy listening to music with an ear to your comments, often agreeing.
    August 3, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdeb in sf

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