Review: Tall and Small - Rebecca Frezza

TALL&SMALL-COVER-72.jpgWith her third studio album, Tall and Small (2006), set to be released next week, Rebecca Frezza and her band Big Truck make a bid for kids' music stardom. The New Jersey-based singer/songwriter has had videos on Noggin, but this album seems one of those CDs designed to attract even wider attention. Take, for example, what would be considered the lead single off the album, "It Wasn't Me," about receiving blame (or placing it on somebody else). Frezza and Big Truck take the song, written by Ron Cardazone, and craft it into an insanely catchy tune with a number of musical layers. The secret is taking the "tattletale" song -- you'll know it when you hear it -- and weaving it into the chorus. (And this isn't the confident narrator of Justin Roberts' "My Brother Did It," but a much more uncertain 6-year-old, which may appeal to 6-year-olds for an entirely different reason than Roberts' song appeals to them.) Frezza is no slouch herself in the songwriting department, writing or co-writing 12 of the album's 14 tracks. A couple of the stronger tracks include the title track, which has a melody that climbs and falls repeatedly, nicely echoing the subject of the song, and "Show Me!," which borrows some of the guitar riff from "What I Like About You" to create an energetic song that encourages movement (I'm envisioning a very hyperactive crowd in concert). The better songs generally were those which used the skills of the 8-member Big Truck band to good effect on the pop-rock tunes -- fiddle and mandolin on the Irish-tinged "Tell Me A Story," or the nifty guitar work on the "Can't Let Go Blues." I tended to prefer the faster songs, finding some of the lyrics on the slow songs worked a bit too hard at establishing the positive message that runs throughout the album. ("Happy" in particularly didn't work for me at all, though I could see how a 4-year-old, after wiggling through Frezza's faster numbers, might be more receptive to the message than I.) The faster songs seemed to convey Frezza's lyrical points with more ease. The 41-minuste album is laser-targeted at kids ages 4 through 8. You can now hear clips of the album at Frezza's website (click on "Music & Lyrics" at the top, then on the album cover); they're also available at Amazon. Rebecca Frezza and Big Truck are clearly shooting for the stars with this album, seeking a wider audience. As a whole, Tall and Small is an album deserving of that wider audience that this kid-targeted and adult-friendly CD will bring them. Recommended.

Review: Snail Song & Magic Toast - The Sippy Cups

Review: A Play in One Act With three characters: Dude 1, Dude 2, and Mr. Roommate: Dude 1: Whoa, dude, that Sippy Cups song is deep! Dude 2: Totally, dude! Dude 1: I mean, it's about, like, life. Dude 2: Totally. Dude 1: It's like... a... uh... simile! Dude 2: Simile? It is so not a simile, dude. Dude 1: No, dude? Dude 2: No, dude. It's a metaphor. Dude 1: I'm not sure I agree with you, there, dude Dude 2: Why not? Dude 1: Well, look, there's this song, and it's about "Magic Toast," right? Dude 2: Right. Dude 1: And it sounds just like the Mamas and the Papas, maybe, or some psychedelic band from the late '60s, right? Dude 2: Right. Dude 1: So when they're talking about the magic toast and how it gives the boy a "lift," they're clearly making the analogy that breakfast is like life. And the toast is, you know... Dude 2: Yeah, but what you're describing is a metaphor, dude. They're not using the word "like" or anything. Dude 1: Hey, what you know about grammar, dude, could fit inside my... Dude 1's Roommate, dressed as always in suit and tie, walks into the room. Roommate: Oh, it's you again... dude. Dude 2: Hey, man, what's your problem? You're always bringin' me down! Roommate: Well, every time I come home from... what's that place called... oh, yeah, work, you two guys are sitting here eating grilled cheese sandwiches and having these abstract philosophical discussions. Dude 1: We were not! Roommate: Oh, really? Dude 2: Yeah! We were having an abstract grammatical discussion. Roommate: I don't believe it. What were you guys discussing? Dude 1 explains the crux of the dilemma. Roommate: Much as it pains me to say it, dude, your friend is correct. A simile is a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between things of different kinds and is usually formed with "like" or "as." A metaphor, on the other hand, is a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity. Dude 1: Ah. Righteous, dude. You bring clarity. Roommate: What I can't figure out is why you're spending the evening listening -- repeatedly -- to an album that is targeted to kids aged 2 through 7. I know, I know, it's appealing to a lot of adults, and the band's from San Francisco, but "Magic Toast" is neither simile nor metaphor... it's about TOAST! And while that song is OK (I confess to a weakness for the kazoos) and the "Snail Song" has a pretty awesome power pop finale, that's all the EP is. Two original tracks with the other two tracks just being the first two tracks overlaid with spoken word narrative. Dude 2: Dude, you're just cheap. Roommate: Uhhh... maybe you're right. Pass the grilled cheese sandwiches. Dudes 1 and 2: Right on, dude.

Interview: Greg McIlvaine (The Hollow Trees)

I didn't start playing guitar seriously till I was 16... I remember bringing my guitar out to the living room and playing it for my mom. She said "That's great, but why do you stick your tongue out when you play?" Now I notice that my son sticks his tongue out when he's concentrating. One of the more unexpected discoveries for me thus far this year was the self-titled debut album by the Los Angeles-based band The Hollow Trees. Inspired by Dan Zanes' recordings and released in late 2005, the album contains spirited renditions of folk songs and other kid-friendly tunes. Greg McIlvaine, guitarist and Hollow Trees co-founder, took time out to answer some questions. Looking for some kids' music recommendations you probably haven't heard before? Then check out the end of the interview. And thanks to Greg for his time. ************************ What music did you listen to growing up? I don't remember any kid's music to speak of. I had one of those Fisher Price mechanical record players with the thick colored discs that I played with a lot. My first musical memory is of a honky tonk band playing during the day at a bar on the beach. The only thing I remember about that was the bass line, the fifths which are traditional in country and polka music. I still love that bass line. Later I remember listening to the Dr. Demento show and thinking that it was the greatest thing ever. My parents don't play instruments, but my dad is into music and was always buying records and new hi-fi equipment. Once I became more interested in music I began checking out his collection. He had a few records that I really attached myself to - a Josh White record, a Hoyt Axton record from when he was a folk blues singer, a Jimmy Reed record, Muddy Waters at Newport, a Johnny Cash record, an acoustic blues record called Down South Summit Meeting with Lightning Hopkins, Brownie McGee, and Sonny Terry jamming. Eventually I discovered rockabilly through the Stray Cats and oldies like Elvis and Little Richard. There was a scene in LA which I knew through KROQ, and my favorite band - still to this day - is The Blasters. My dad took me to my first concert at the Country Club in Reseda - The Blasters with the then unsigned Los Lobos opening up. Awesome.

Justin Roberts and Newfangled Technology

Justin Roberts might not be very adept at performing magic or telling jokes, but he is one heckuva songwriter. Thanks to the Land of Nod, you can hear the proof. In a 15-minute (or so) podcast, Roberts inaugurates the "Land of Nod Nodcast Podcast" by crafting one catchy theme ditty, playing some of his stuff from Meltdown!, Not Naptime, and Great Big Sun, and displaying a very self-deprecating attitude. He even has a demo version of "Our Imaginary Rhino" for our amusement. (And, hey, if kids' music albums eventually get the expanded/remastered treatment now given to every album more than 10 years old, why shouldn't the stellar Meltdown! be at the top of the list in 2016?) Not content with audio-only content? Devon at Head, Shoulders, Knees... found YouTube footage of Justin Roberts' "Airplane of Food" video. Buck Howdy more your style? Fran at the About Kids' Music site has got you covered. And if you're still just happy reading... The Lovely Mrs. Davis has a guest post from Charity Kahn (from Charity and the JAMBand). Go forth, enjoy, then sit back and enjoy the cool pleasures of dancing or singing with your kids on a summer day (or night).

Review In Brief: Kids Rock For Peas! - The Sippy Cups

sippycups.jpgHow best to describe the San Francisco-based The Sippy Cups? Perhaps they're what would happen if your favorite '70s cover band decided they just wanted to play for preschoolers. And added puppets and jugglers. On their 2005 debut album Kids Rock For Peas!, the seven-member ensemble (recorded live at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco) cover a wide range of '60s and '70s songs on the 47-minute disc, from the Beatles ("Dear Prudence") to the Velvet Underground ("Who Loves the Sun") to the Ramones, mostly ("I Wanna Be Elated"). You might ask, you know, those are pretty darn good songs -- in the original -- why in the world would I want to buy cover versions? Well, not that the Sippy Cups' versions are better than the originals, but the vigorous renditions of the songs and the occasional alterations to make them child-friendly (or child-friendlier) give them value in their own right. (They single-handedly rescue War's "Low Rider" from the clutches of beer commercials and "Jungle Boogie" from the clutches of Quentin Tarantino.) If the occasional song seems out-of-place ("Bennie and the Jets") or the live banter just slows the pace down, that's the risk one takes with a live package. (The presence of "Super Guy" will probably bring a smile to the parents' faces.) The songs are probably best for kids ages 2 through 6, though obviously any album covering the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Neil Diamond will probably find fans whose ages reached double-digits long ago. You can check out some video clips here. Recommended, unless for some weird reason you think Lennon/McCartney (or, er, McCartney/Lennon) wasn't that great of a song-writing duo.