It's a little odd, given the wave of popularity kids' music is riding right now, that there aren't more best-of compilations. They're not unheard of, mind you (and, no, the Rachael Ray compilation doesn't count), but they're certainly not crowding the shelves either, are they? In part, I'm guessing it has something to do with the very independent nature of 99% of the kids' music produced. Sure, there are artists like They Might Be Giants or Ralph's World who are recording for a major label, but the vast majority of albums are self-released. So perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the Land of Nod's first kids' music compilation, Best of the Land of Nod Store Music, Volume 1, originally released in 2004, is that it actually attempts to provide an overview kids' musicians of the past and present, off labels major and not, fitting the bill like little else on the market. You have the great quartet of Smithsonian Folkways artists -- Ella Jenkins, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Woody Guthrie -- making an appearance alongside current stars Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts, Ralph's World, and They Might Be Giants. With the exception of maybe Roberts' "Yellow Bus" and Zanes' "All Around the Kitchen," there are no absolute must-have tracks here by the artists above, though the tracks chosen are solid, and picking just one track out of the many by each of those artists would be exceedingly difficult. Of the lesser-known artists, Rosie Flores' "Red, Red Robin" (off Bloodshot's Bottle Let Me Down comp) and Peter Himmelman's "Sherm the Worm" shine out most brightly here. If Vol. 1 is a solid, if safe, collection that you could give to your parents for them to play when they have the grandkids over, Best of the Land of Nod Store Music, Volume 2, released in 2005, makes an attempt to speak to parents who might actually buy the CD for themselves. To some extent, it goes over the same ground as Volume 1 -- Zanes, Roberts, Mitchell, and Himmelman make a repeat appearance, as does Lead Belly. It's the new stuff that skews considerably younger. Cake's funky reworking of "Mahna Mahna" or the Mr. T Experience's rollicking "Unpack Your Adjectives" aren't necessarily seminal kids' music tracks, but they're a heck of a lot of fun. Andy Partridge from XTC provides not one but two excellent tracks of music originally written for Disney's James and the Giant Peach. (It was rejected in favor of music by Randy Newman -- hey, I love Randy Newman, but let somebody else do the Disney movies for a change.) If the first volume had more of an establishment view of the kids' music universe, this volume includes more newer and less conventional music to give a better sense of the possibilities inherent in the genre. At 38 and 40 minutes long, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are a good mixtape length. You can find them at any major internet retailer as well as the Land of Nod itself, natch. Regular readers of this website will probably be familiar with many of the artists on the two CDs, and will even have a number of the tracks' original releases in their families' collections. If I had to recommend just one CD, I'd probably go with Vol. 2, just because I think the less-familiar songs are stronger. Having said that, both collections are strong and would be a nice introduction for your doubting neighbor or relative that there isn't some great music being made for kids now (or 50 years ago). Recommended. Obviously, there are some conflict-of-interest issues here, seeing as my reviews (warts and all) are also used on the Land of Nod website. All I can say is that the collections here were one of the reasons why I decided to sign on with them. I'd be posting the exact same review even if I had no association with them.
I got word that Brady Rymer and The Little Band That Could will be heading off on a 12-city national tour starting in August and on through the fall. I don't usually comment on single-artist tours unless there's something different about the tour, even for artists I like such as Brady, so why am I mentioning it? Well, this particular tour is going to be under the sponsorship of Children's Dimetapp. I know what you're saying, you're saying, oh, Stefan, you're a tool of the children's cold medicine-makers, but there's something else. Besides being saddled with the somewhat clunky name of the "Children's Dimetapp Breathe & Boogie Tour," the other noteworthy thing is that the entire tour will be free. (Apparently attendees will even receive a Rymer compilation CD, among other goodies.) So for the first time as I can tell, a company has figured that it's worth the money to fly a kids' musician (and a sizeable band) around the country to play for free in the hope that the association will pay off for the company. I don't think it'll be the last time. I'll be curious to hear whether the new songs Rymer has written for the tour have any direct Dimetapp references, a la Ralph Covert's Rice Krispie jingle for his tour. But, of course, I won't know that because once again, despite the fact that the Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the country and has a very young population, a major tour is skipping the area. Tour dates for those of you living in other areas of the country that apparently suffer from more children's colds than I do after the jump...
... and, boy, are our arms tired. So, yeah, we were gone for almost a week. I'll have a little to report from the trip (the bit is actually kids-music-related), but let me get through the e-mail and mail and stuff that was dropped off at the doorstep first. (And, if you haven't read it, there's a nice YAKMA about Dan Zanes that mentions Bill and Amy.) (Note: My wife has many good ideas. The "take a day off after a long-ish vacation" idea is near the top of the list.)
In reviewing this CD, let me be clear from the start that ours is not, for the most part, a television-watching household. It's not really a principled stand as much as it is a reflection of our busy lives. We just don't have much time to watch TV if we want to do other things like, you know, bathe and eat. Having said that, I do wish we had a little more time, because if we did, we might find time to watch Class of 3000, a Cartoon Network show co-created by, executive produced by, and starring Andre 3000 of the hip-hop duo Outkast as musician/teacher Sunny Bridges. Even if the animation was lousy, we'd still have the music to enjoy. Released earlier this month, Class of 3000: Music Volume 1 features one song from each of the first season's thirteen episodes, plus the show's theme song. That theme song by itself is more adventurous than most kids' music, going from funk to jazz and even picking up a nursery rhyme along the way. (You can download a copy here, courtesy of Sony, or listen to a Windows stream here or a RealPlayer stream here.) Luckily the rest of the CD is just as creative and funky. "Throwdown" could be a hip-hop hit. "Cool Kitty" sounds like it was written 40 or 50 years ago, with a snappy surfer/girl-group vibe. "Oh Peanut" is a slower track that shows off some more classical instrumental grooves (listen to a Windows stream here and a RealPlayer stream here.) "Life Without Music" is one of the better "educational songs" of recent years. And, hey, how often on a major-label kids' music release do you get the pure instrumental bebop jazz of "My Mentor?" Rarely, oh so rarely. If there's a drawback to the album as an album, it's that some songs are clearly tied to the visuals. In some cases it's not much of a drawback -- while I might like to see the visuals associated with "Fight the Blob," the drumline march of the tune is so strong, it works fine a song told in music. In other cases, such as "UFO Ninja," I'm clearly missing something. I'm not saying you need to have seen the series, just that I think those who have might enjoy it (and understand the story-driven songs) slightly more. For those of you don't like cartoony voices, well, I'm usually right in that camp, but the vocal characterizations here are pretty strong, and I think you'll enjoy 'em. (I did.) The songs are probably most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 10, though with the exception perhaps of the darker "We Want Your Soul," everything here is A-OK for youngsters, too. You can hear samples at your standard internet retailers, but I'd also recommend checking out the videos from the show, available at the show's website. You can hear many of the album's tracks there. In the end, what I find so wonderful about Class of 3000: Music Volume 1 is that a major label gave an exceedingly talented musician the freedom to create an album that takes so many risks. In the jazz interlude of the theme song, one character says, "But, Sunny, radio doesn't play songs without words anymore," and Sunny says wearily, "I know..." It'd be a shame if the public doesn't hear these tunes, be it by radio or some other way. The album is a smartly crafted collection of kid-friendly funk, hip-hop and jazz. Definitely recommended.
Fifty years from now, will historians look back on Saturday, September 15, 2007 as the day that was the best day in the history of kids music? Well, of course not, silly, that's just hyperbole. But it's gonna be pretty darn cool. In addition to the fine artists performing at Austin Kiddie Limits that day, Bill and I are proud to be hosting a fantabulous all-ages show at Austin's Ruta Maya coffeehouse. Starting at 6 PM, you'll get to hear sets from Laura Freeman, the Telephone Company, Joe McDermott, and -- all the way from Brooklyn -- the Deedle Deedle Dees (with a full band, no less). And we'll end the show by 9 PM. Your kids will be guaranteed to sleep for 10 hours straight after all the dancing they'll do. (Note: Guarantee not valid in all 50 states.) The cost for this show is a stunning $5 per person, with infants getting in for free. At that price, buy two tickets! We'll have more details as we approach the day of the event, but if you're anywhere near Austin on the 15th, come on down and join us. The show will be a blast.
Amy beat me to this, but there was a great discussion last week on Idolator about Disney's control of the music industry, at least as it pertains to tweens. The thing I took from the article and subsequent was just one more confirmation that Disney's success lies in its vertically-integrated structure, of which Carnegie Steel was one of the first examples more than a century ago. From the grooming of artists on their television shows to the molding of albums by the music side, and back to the TV and Radio Disney side for constant promotion, it's no wonder they dominate this industry. (The only wonder is why nobody else has been able to copy their success.) In fact, if you read this interview with Radio Disney's Senior Vice President Jill Casagrande, you'll see lots of mentions of artists like the Jonas Brothers, Hillary Duff, or Miley Cyrus. What you won't see is lots of mentions of artists who aren't in the Disney stable. Disney does a good job of picking talented artists, especially in the sub-tween demographic -- they're distributing They Might Be Giants and Ralph's World, after all. But it is striking exactly how much big business has capitulated to Disney. They've left the field wide open to Disney -- how many more High School Musicals will it take before somebody else steps up?