Review: Alphabet Parade / Rainbow Lemonade - Melanie Dill

Sometimes you hear about older CDs, and you think, "Huh. That sounds kinda cool, but, you know, there's so much good stuff coming out now that I'll just have to let it slide." That was me with Alphabet Parade and Rainbow Lemonade, from Kansas-based Melanie Dill. The CDs sounded interesting, but swamped as I was (and am) with newer music, I never got around to getting copies. Until recently, when I happened to receive a set. So my task here, then, is try to convince you to not make the same mistake I did. AlphabetParade.jpgMelanie Dill released her first record, Alphabet Parade in 1998. As you might expect from the title, there are a number of alphabet-related songs on the CD, most notably the parade itself, which over three tracks introduces all 26 letters and gives them each a little bit of character. (My favorite is "Big P, little p, rapping down the street / Going puh-puh-puh-p-p-puh-puh to everyone he meets," in a rapped style, of course.) But the alphabet thing isn't overdone, and there are lots of other topics of interest to preschoolers, such as discovery ("Look out the Window"), money (a barbershopped "Pennies, Nickles, Dimes and Quarters"), and colors ("Unripe Tomato"). The songs are a combination of traditional melodies and original songs. Musically, most of the tracks are done in a simple folk style, though there are enough variations to keep things interesting, such as "Emily's Song," which deserves to be heard on your child's favorite merry-go-round. There are also a number of spoken-word tracks with musical accompaniment. Dill has an appealing, clear voice, but plenty of others share the vocal and instrumental duties (29 others, by my count, including Randy Kaplan). The kids' voices here (including that of Dill's daughter, Siel) are integral to the music. They're smartly incorporated into the music and sound like real kids who've had just a little bit of vocal training, enough to make the vocals pleasant but by no means too much to become grating. Let's put it this way, if you don't like the way the kids' voices sound here, you will never like kids' voices on record. RainbowLemonade.jpgFlash-forward to 2002, when Dill releases Rainbow Lemonade, a worthy follow-up to Parade. The basic approach is the same as before, but the musical palette is broader. 60 musicians (many of whom, judging by last name, are related to Dill) plus an entire kindergarten class show up here with Dill, and the result is a fun blending of musical genres, from the hoppy and folky original "Baiba's Bungalow" to "Left and Right," which sounds like it was pulled straight out of a 1950s educational movie. "The Skeeter Song" is a bluesy number, while "Seaside" and "I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U" have gentle beach melodies. Sometimes the genres are mixed in the same song -- "After the Rain," interrupts a slow, lush song about the end of a rainstorm with a punky interlude about mud. The kids' voices return, as do the spoken-word pieces. One of my favorites of these is "Explore," which underscores the kids' talk about exploration with a jazzy musical number. Given the topics here, these CDs will be of most interest to kids ages 2 through 6. You can hear some of the tracks from the nearly-identical-in-length-36-minute albums at Dill's website. These CDs are nothing less than Sesame Street episodes from back in their free-form days before everything got all scheduled on that show. They hop genres and subjects seemingly at a whim, but their overall structure and execution is very well thought-out. I like both of them equally, and would be hard-pressed to recommend one over the other. If you have young kids in your household, I think they (and you) would really like these CDs. Definitely recommended.

Concert Review: Dan Zanes - Rialto Theatre, Tucson

I've been to a lot of great concerts in my life -- Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Guy, U2. One of the key factors is the feeling that the crowd is having a shared experience -- amazement at Bruce's endurance, Guy's prowess, or U2's yearning. But that communal experience is one that ends up being focused on the performer(s) on stage (or not, as Guy ended up his concert jamming on the sidewalk in front of the Cats Cradle in Chapel Hill (back when it was in Chapel Hill) while his band played on inside). The wonder of a Dan Zanes concert, then, is that he produces a very communal experience that isn't so focused on him. Instead, the community itself is the communal experience...

Listen To This: You Might Be Tired of Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke...

... but I'm not. The latest song from Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke tells the gently bouncy story of Sylvester the Pig. It's a fun enough song, but it's the shouted questions and comments in counterpoint that make me want to listen to the 2-minute tale over and over. Track #5, "Big Pet Pig". By the way, it sounds like they're posting a new song every week or so, so I'll see you here next week.

Listen To This: New (Really New) Music from Mr. David

I know that Mr. David has had a new tune -- "Hey It's Lunchtime" -- available for listening or downloading on his Myspace page for awhile. It's kind of an angular post-punk tune delivered in his loose style. That tune is growing on me, but his new single -- the title track from his upcoming Jump in the Jumpy House album (tentatively scheduled for an August release) -- is an immediately accessible and fun track. And, courtesy of Mr. David, I'm proud to offer it to you for your own enjoyment. Mr. David - Jump in the Jumpy House That nifty, insistent guitar lead comes courtesy of Greg Lisher from Camper Van Beethoven. If you, or someone you know, is getting one of those bouncy houses (sorry, I call 'em "bouncy houses") for a kids' birthday party, you need to have this as the soundtrack -- nails the pogoing aspect of those things to a T.

Listen To This: 3 Rs For Recess Monkey!

Earth Day songs generally preach, and I think one thing that a lot of parents really dislike about a lot of kids' music is when that music tells listeners what to do. So, the trick in writing an Earth Day song for kids that parents will tolerate is writing a catchy tune. Which Recess Monkey did with "3Rs for Ours," which debuted on last weekend's Spare the Rock show and is now available for listening and downloading at the band's Myspace page. Yeah, it's April 25th, but get it now anyway. Because every day is Earth Day, right?

Review: Listen UP! - Danny Adlerman & Friends

ListenUp.jpgNew Jersey-based Danny Adlerman is part of the kids' music equivalent of the Rat Pack (or the Brat Pack, or the Frat Pack, depending on your generation) -- along with Kevin Kammeraad and Jim Dague of ScribbleMonster, they seem to be responsible for about 10% of the kids' music released every year, and they all seem to be on each other's albums. Adlerman's latest contribution to the genre is the recently-released Listen UP!, and while Dague isn't here, Kevin Kammeraad and a whole host of others join in. One benefit of having such a large extended musical family is a sense of familiarity blended with a diverse set of approaches. Although the songs are typically squarely in the rock tradition (the Who-inflected "Veggie Song," for example, or the big guitar-pop of "Crooked"), the musicians also tackle a few less straightforward songs such as the call-and-response game of "Flea Fly." In either case, the band sounds great together, especially on my favorite track, the goofy wordplay of "The Dozsins." I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention Jim Babjak from the Smithereens, who plays on the album and co-wrote 5 of the album's songs. A couple of the tracks -- "In the Future" and "Somewhere I Wonder" sound like they could have fit into a Smithereens album without much rewriting. Lyrically, those songs don't have an obvious "kids' music" stamp too them. Other songs, feature topics like eating pizza ("Too Much Pizza Blues") and the hundredth day of school (the old-timey "Hundred's Day," natch). Overall, the album is nice blend of songs targeted right at the kids and songs less age-specific. I think the album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9. You can hear samples from the 37-minute album at its CDBaby page. I hope Danny Adlerman keeps hanging out with his friends, because he's got a good thing going on musically. With a gentle sense of humor and playfulness, Listen UP! will be popular with many families looking for an album of kid-appropriate rock-n-roll. Recommended.