What better way to end 2007 with a great video from one of 2008's most anticipated CDs -- They Might Be Giants' Here Come the 123s. "Apartment 4" hit the band's "Podcast for Kids" at iTunes a couple weeks ago and now it's hit YouTube. As nice as "High Five" was, this track is way awesome. Drums, goofy animated characters, and the drawing out of the word "apartment" into 4 syllables. "Follow the sound," indeed. You won't be disappointed. And Happy New Year's, y'all...
The second album from LA's The Hollow Trees is called Welcome to Nelsonville, but I could've sworn it was called Hootenanny. Even if it isn't, it darn well should be, and here's why: 1) There's a song on the album entitled "Hootenanny," so that's, like, a primo reason right there. And if that's not a good enough reason, then 2) It rocks like a hootenanny. Lead Hollow Trees Gregory Hollow Tree (aka McIlvaine) and Laura Hollow Tree (aka Steenberge) are unashamed fans of old-time folk music and play it with gusto and joy. This is no retro affectation here, this is real, vibrant music for families. The album leads off with a tremendous 1-2 punch, the zippy traditional "Ain't Gonna Rain," with the band trading the verses in rhyme followed by the shuffling "Hootenanny," a McIlvaine original that's an ode to getting together and singing songs -- "We'll sing a slow song that is sweet and sentimental / A boogie-woogie song about a Lincoln Continental / We're gonna have a hootenanny tonight." The two songs set the mood for the rest of the 38-minute set so well, casting a good-natured glow on the rest of the songs. From there the album moves into old kids' music ("Animal Alphabet Song," written and recorded by Alan Mills for Smithsonian Folkways 35 years ago), silliness ("To Morrow," taking the "silly song" slot that has been worn out by "I'm My Own Grandpa"), and blues (the snappy "Skoodle Um Skoo"). And, frankly, if the chorus of "Hallelujah's" on the traditional "George Washington" ("George Washington's a nice young man / A lie he'd never tell / But when he chopped the cherry tree / His father gave him / Hallelujah...") don't set your toes (or heels) a-tappin' and your voice to sing along, then I don't know what to do with you. Interspersed with nifty little instrumental breaks, it's my favorite song on the album. If the rest of the album doesn't quite reach the heights of the five or six tracks, that's no knock -- it'd be hard to keep up that much momentum. As with any hootenanny, eventually the energy level is (deliberately) scaled back a bit, which perhaps will make it a little easier for the wee ones to understand the occasional references to the Hollow Tree world -- listen to "The Nelsonville American Historical Band" for McIlvaine's attempt to create his own Sgt. Pepper's-meets-a-much-less-dysfunctional-Yoknapatawpha-County. While the mythmaking doesn't really add much to the CD (I suspect it's probably better live), they certainly don't detract from it, either. The songs here are going to be of most interest to kids ages 3 through 7, though it's an all-ages album in the best tradition of folk music. Listen to three full tracks here or hear samples at the album's CDBaby page. Welcome to Nelsonville is a tremendously entertaining hootenanny. It's on my shortlist of best kids' folk albums of 2008 (yes, it's early, and, no, I don't envision many being any better than this), but I think a lot of listeners would find this a, well, hoot and a half. Definitely recommended.
I can't say that I've been the biggest Mr. Richard fan in the past. On his first couple CDs, while they were enjoyable enough, I just couldn't quite hear what it was that attracted Florida-based Richard Peeples one of the most devoted fanbases in the genre. It might have been me, but more likely it was that Peeples' live show didn't translate perfectly to disk. But with his most recent disk, Polka Dot Puzzle, I think Mr. Richard finally has a CD that will play well with those who won't get to hear his live show. Musically, the album covers a broad stylistic range, from the sunny pop-rock of "Treehouse" to the lo-fi "Woo Woo Truck" to the Italian pastiche of the jokey "Cheese." Such stylistic diversity is not rare anymore in the genre (if it ever was), but at least it's well-done. Check out the horns on "Bubble Bath" -- it's little well-thought-out additions such as those that elevate songs from pedestrian to something kinda special. I also need to commend "Butterfly Day," on which Lunch Money's Molly Ledford sweet voice harmonizes nicely with Peeples' gruff one. Lyrically, Mr. Richard is definitely in tune with his inner 7-year-old, such as on "Treehouse." "Sorry, there's no girls allowed / But it's OK since you brought your dog / It's way cooler than the Honeycomb Hideout." (OK, perhaps that last line really shows he's in tune with his own inner 7-year-old.) I can hear how, even without his backing musicians, the songs here (even the ones I didn't enjoy as much) would really communicate kids ages 3 through 8. Right now you can hear "Treehouse" at his Myspace page or sample all the tracks at the album's CDBaby page. At barely 24 minutes in length (with 2 1/2 minutes of that a "hello" song and a "goodbye" song), Polka Dot Puzzle is barely more than an EP. But it's a fun EP, and one showcases Mr. Richard's strengths, even to those who probably won't be hearing him live any time soon. Recommended.
High Meadow Songs is a collection of tracks from artists in New York's Hudson Valley to benefit High Meadow Arts, a local non-profit providing arts education for children and families. When getting a bunch of local musicians together for a benefit album, it doesn't hurt if your definition of "local musicians" includes Elizabeth Mitchell, Dog on Fleas, and Medeski, Martin & Wood. And if the CD just consisted of the tracks from those artists or collaborators, you'd have a pretty nifty 9-track album. Dog on Fleas turn in a very Fleas-ian (and local) "Buffalo Gals" and sound a bit like The Band on "Jenny Jenkins." Mitchell covers Jane Siberry's sweet "When Spring Comes," while MMW offer their reworking of "All Around the Kitchen" (accented with kids' voices) from their upcoming Let's Go Everywhere CD. Luckily there are a number of other tracks worth it for someone who's not from the area -- for example, Rebecca Coupe Franks & Her Groovemobile offer an original jazzy instrumental, "Ella Skye," and Abby Hollander and a whole bunch of High Meadow students perform Mark Morgenstern's story-in-song "Hudson River Girl." The album isn't so much an album of "kids music" as much as it is an album of kid-friendly folk music, "folk" defined rather broadly, as the album also includes a song from a musical comedy based on Beowulf ("True True Friend") and a couple of tracks from drummers Fode Sissoko and Toby Stover. As with any benefit album, especially a 65-minute one such as this one, the quality (or interest) of the tracks is not uniformly high, but the high points outweigh the rest. You can hear the first three tracks in their entirety here or listen to samples at the album's CDBaby page. It's probably most appropriate for kids ages 5 and up. High Meadow Songs will appeal most to fans of Dog on Fleas and Elizabeth Mitchell, but I think any listener (or family) who's a fan of folk music will find many pleasures here. It's a testament to one particular community's creative vibrancy. Recommended.
A couple months ago, in a review of Nettwerk's fine For The Kids Three! compilation, I said in regards to an awesome Barenaked Ladies track (and I quote), "Why has this band not recorded a kids' CD?" "The Canadian quintet is in a Toronto studio finishing up [a] children's set with producer Michael Phillip, who worked with the band on its 1992 debut 'Gordon' and 1996's 'Born on a Pirate Ship'" (via Billboard). Songs on the spring 2008 release include "Popcorn," "Here Comes the Geese," "Humongous Tree" and "Polywog in a Bog." That, my friends, could be ten (metric) tons of fun.
How did I sound? I had another irregularly-scheduled chat with NPR's Melissa Block on this afternoon's All Things Considered show, so if you're stopping by because you heard me, thanks. I always enjoy talking with Melissa and am glad you found this place. On the web, the piece is entitled
"The Best Kids Music of the Year" "Pat a Cake Has Never Sounded So Good." (That's a reference to the Medeski, Martin & Wood disk.) The albums rank high on my 2007 list of albums -- #s 4, 6 (twice), and, in the case of the excellent Medeski, Martin & Wood disk, not out 'til early January -- it's more the best albums of the last six months... Here is a list of my 20 favorite kids' CDs from the past year.
If you're looking for more than just one person's opinion, I along with Bill Childs of Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child and Amy Davis of the The Lovely Mrs. Davis coordinated the second annual Fids & Kamily Awards, a poll of 19 people who spend 25 hours day doing nothing but listen to kids' music. OK, not really, but they listen to a lot of it, and the results are a great starting point for looking for great kids and family music.
Here are links to more info on...
Dean Jones: Napper's Delight review, Zooglobble archives, artist website
Gustafer Yellowgold: Have You Never Been Yellow? review, Zooglobble archives, artist website, Myspace page
Recess Monkey: Wonderstuff review, Zooglobble archives, artist website, Myspace page
Medeski, Martin & Wood: Zooglobble archives, artist website, Myspace page. (Sorry, the album's not out 'til early January so I haven't posted a review, but it's an excellent CD -- more clips are here and an interview with the record label head is here.)
If you're an artist interested in submitting music or music DVDs for possible review, see my guidelines (and instructions for submission) here. If you just want to read an infrequently updated Frequently Asked Questions page, go here.
Finally, I also write at Offsprung, a top-notch parenting/humor magazine, selected reviews of mine are posted at the Land of Nod's Music Store, and I've also written for Wired magazine, Education.com, and the iTunes Store, among other places. If you're interested in having me write for you, drop me a line: zooglobble AT earthlink DOT net.
Thanks again for stopping by...