Renee & Jeremy's new album of covers A Little Love is out in a couple weeks. It's good. Really good. (Stream some long-form samples at their website.) But I can hear some hipsters saying, "Coldplay? Really?"
I'm sorry -- the LA duo (and Kindiefest showcaser's) cover of "Yellow" is gorgeous. And their new video for the song, created by Jon Izen? Just as much so. If you don't like this, I feel sorry for you.
It's been a (comparatively) long-held belief of mine that DVDs generally don't change anyone's overall impression of an artist. If you love the artist, only a shoddy, over-priced video will sour you on their DVD, while the most competently produced visual version of music your family didn't like on CD still won't make it onto your TV or computer. With that in mind, here are 6 DVDs with a musical hook that may be worth checking out even if you're not completely familiar with the artists.
Let's start with the two best disks here, each from loooongtime Zooglobble favorites and each recommended without hesitation. Not surprisingly they're from artists for whom videos are an integral part of their music-making -- Morgan Taylor's Gustafer Yellowgold series and Michael Rachap's Readeez series. Gustafer Yellowgold's Year in the Day is the fifth CD/DVD set about the yellow alien from Minnesota by way of the sun. Its theme? Holidays of the year. As Taylor has gradually used up the songs he wrote many years ago at different times and started writing new songs, the DVDs have become more focused thematically, and this one holds together better than its predecessors. The songs are mostly the '70s (soft-)rock Taylor must write in his sleep, though he dips into more varied musical ponds, such as the electronica-esque touches of "Four Leaved Clover," written by Taylor's wife, singer-songwriter Rachel Loshak. Other highlights also include the spirited leadoff track "New Is The New Old" and sweet Valentine's Day song "Keep It Simple Sweetheart." While mostly uptempo, the album does nestle down into coziness with "Pumpkin Pied" and "Fa And A La," the final two tracks. The distinctive animation drawn by Taylor and lightly animated hasn't changed, either (see the YouTube channel for more). There's not a lot that's changed from pevious albums, and in the case of Year In The Day, that's a good thing.
There isn't a lot that's changed in the world of Julian and Isabel Waters, either. They're the animated father-daughter team at the heart of Readeez and their innovatively-titled third DVD, Readeez Volume Three: Knowledge is good. (I kid because I love.) Well, OK, there's a new character: Olivia Longlife, a librarian, who makes a handful of appearances. And it includes "Readee-Oh," Readeez-style videos for songs performed by other kindie artists such as Recess Monkey, Coal Train Railroad, the Okee Dokee Brothers, and Irish band the Speks.
But at its core, this video, like its predecessors, features songs about a minute in length (maybe more) on preschool-aged topics accompanied by minimally-animated videos. The songs and videos strike just the right balance of earnestness and whimsy and their brevity helps keep the more edu-ma-ctional songs from annoying the parent who may already know how to, say, eat properly ("Plate, Cup and Saucer"). The short length isn't surprising, considering Rachap's advertising background -- think of them as Pre-Schoolhouse Rock. (Watch Vol. 3 videos and many more.) As before, Readeez Vol. 3 isn't just good for you, it's, well, just good.
Beyond these two videos, here are four more worth exploring further.
- Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - Spelunk the Funk!: Features a live show by the best kid-hopper in the business in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, drawn primarily from his Underground Playground album. Lots of guest vocalists and props to Skidoo's daughter, DJ Fireworks, who spends the whole concert on stage dancing and sometimes singing. Also includes a couple
- Debbie and Friends - Story Songs & Sing Alongs: Debbie Cavalier has invested a lot of time (and, presumably, not a small amount of money) in making videos for her story songs with animation company Planet Sunday. All those videos (plus the fun "Hangin' Around") make their way to this disk, plus 2 live performances.
- Eric Herman - The Elephant DVD: I would say that it features "The Elephant Song," a kindie-video classic (and YouTube viral sensation) and leave it at that -- because, really, that might be enough -- but there's other stuff on here. Ten more songs, live footage, 15 songs on a "jukebox" feature, and what might be the best kindie DVD bonus feature ever: Herman being interviewed by his daughters. Somebody get them their own show!
- Spaghetti Eddie - Spaghetti Eddie! and Other Children's Videos: It's brief -- just 5 songs and 15 minutes in length -- and the videos are pretty simple, featuring green screen technology, animation, and kids running around. But for a relatively new kids artist, it's a decent-looking disk. Check out the YouTube channel for more.
There was a point 4 or 5 years ago when I thought jazz would be the area of the next great kids music explosion. This most American of musical art forms had not been sufficiently explored by musicians focusing on families, and it seemed ripe for artists to fill the space. And, yes, there were a number of good, even great, jazz albums for families.
And then, silence.
OK, that's an exaggeration. Coal Train Railroad and Oran Etkin have both released albums that families with any jazz tendencies (and even those who don't) should check out. But I expected more musicians to try their hand at this. After all, jazz is -- or can be -- the most playful of musical forms, and what audience is -- or can be -- more playful than a bunch of under-10s?
Well, with the addition of the folks from WeBop, Jazz at Lincoln Center's (JALC's) early-childhood jazz education program, I'm hopeful that perhaps we're on the cusp of another kinder-jazz renaissance. Their first album for families, WeBop: A Family Jazz Party!, is my favorite jazz-for-kids album since at least Putumayo's Jazz Playground disk from a couple years ago, and definitely my favorite non-compilation since the great Medeski, Martin & Wood album Let's Go Everywhere.
Some of my enthusiasm for this particular disk is rooted in my own personal jazz tastes, which are heavily weighted toward the classic jazz of pre-Bitches Brew Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie. (This isn't particularly surprising, I suppose, given the interests of JALC's Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis.) And one of this album's greatest strengths is its celebration of that heritage. Unlike a lot of the "introducing jazz to the kids" disks, which take traditional kids' standards (e.g., "Old MacDonald" or "Itsy Bitsy Spider") and put them in a jazz arrangement, many songs on this album take jazz standards and add (or tweak) a few kid-friendly lyrics. Not every standard is modified -- the Duke Ellington classic "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" speaks just fine to kids as-is -- but some of the adaptations are inspired (I particularly loved the re-purposing of Coltrane's "Syeeda's Song Flute" into "Syeeda's ABC," an alphabet song, natch). And kudos for figuring out how to work free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman into a kids' track ("Free Jazz Adventure").
Besides the traditionals and standards, there are also a handful of originals. These songs tend to be a little more pedagogical in nature. "Shakey Shake Shake," for example, encourages shaking of rhythm instruments and jumping around. "Playin' Together," a song about, well, playing jazz (playing together, then taking solos) is buoyed by Adam Platt's nimble toy piano playing -- it's probably the first song featuring that instrument that I truly dig. I don't think they're the equal of the standards, but that's kind of an unfair comparison. As you'd expect considering the Lincoln Center parentage, the playing is top-notch, from drummer Matt Wilson, the album's music director, on down. And the participation of kids on some of the tracks, such as on "What Kind of Food Do You Like To Eat?," their take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts," just adds the right amount of childishness.
The 50-minute album is nominally targeted at kids ages 2 through 7, but its playfulness will appeal to jazz fans of all ages. Listen to samples from the album and download a copy of their take on "When the Saints Go Marching In" at the album's page (you can also download an activity booklet).
I like WeBop: A Family Jazz Party a whole bunch. It's joyful, playful, and full of life. Even if you're not particularly into jazz -- maybe especially if you're not particularly into jazz -- it's an album your family should check out. Let's hope this encourages some other jazz musicians to follow suit. Highly recommended.
It's been awhile since I've heard a good off-kilter kids music album, an album with a distinct perspective on song subjects and a musical approach to match.
If your family collection is similarly deficient, allow me to suggest Duke Otherwise, AKA Noah Riemer, whose debut album Creepy Crawly Love comes out of the Upper Midwest's House of Mercy Recordings to take up space on your family's CD shelf (or computer hard drive) next to John and Mark's Children's Record, The Great Adventures of Mr. David, or perhaps Zak Morgan (thanked in the album's liner notes).
Take "I Used to Think," a jazz-with-a-bit-of-klezmer tune with a hyperactive narrator sounding a bit like Sesame Street's Count declaiming that features the lyrics "I used to think the world was flat, not round / I used to think I weighed a thousand pounds / Can you believe I used to think that e=mcHammer?" Or Tin-Pan-Alley-via-the-midway "Git Yer Fiddle Out," featuring (among other things) a dog toy, train whistle, trombone, and strummed fiddle, and lyrics like "Get your fiddle out and strum it / Get your trombone out and drum it / Get your xylophone and drive it / C'mon! Drive, drive, drive!" that only get odder from there. Riemer obviously delights in wordplay, using nifty, brainy lyrics to sing about short-tailed dogs ("Dog Without a Tail"), the Spanish language interrupted by other languages ("How Do You Say 'No' in Español?"), and other eccentrics, all in a musical packaging that's like a slightly peppier Tom Waits.
While a few of the songs will amuse preschoolers, it's really kids ages 6 through 10 who will most appreciate the album. You can hear clips of many tracks at the Duke Otherwise homepage, or stream a few full-length songs here. I would be surprised if Creepy Crawly Love became a massively popular hit -- it's a bit too off-center for that. But these types of albums often become adored in some households, and if what you hear here tickles your fancy, then I think your household will give this album a happy home. Definitely recommended.
This video for "Swim Like the Dolphin" from Rolie Polie Guacamole's latest album Houses of the Moly second album Hummus is a lot like the song -- pretty simple but very effective. 81 seconds of a sweet little stop-motion animation video from Miriam Rayevsky.
Rolie Polie Guacamole - "Swim Like the Dolphin" [YouTube]