The advantage of a 27-minute kids' music CD to a reviewer is the ability to listen to the CD 6 or 7 times in 4 days. The advantage of Dos Ninos to a listener in general is that you'd probably enjoy listening to the CD 6 or 7 times in 4 days. The just-released CD is the fourth CD and the first kids and family CD from the Oklahoma-based Sugar Free Allstars, and it's a winner from start to finish. It's a somewhat brief trip, but a blast nonetheless. The band is a duo, Chris Wiser on keyboards and lead vocals, with Rob "Dr. Rock" Martin on drums and backing vocals. You may not hear a funkier kids' CD this year (at least until, say, Prince releases an album for the kids). Martin's a solid drummer, no doubt about it, but it especially warmed my heart to hear Wiser's Hammond B3 organ throughout the CD. The opening track, "Bathtub Boy," shows off the Allstars' strengths -- somewhat amusing lyrics married to a groove that it's hard not to tap at least one foot to (if not bop your head or do something more complicated). It sounds like something off a long-lost jazz CD from the '60s, that is until the break -- "Lather up / scrub him down / rinse him off" will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. And from there it moves on to such kid-friendly topics as spiders ("He's Okay (the spider song)" ), grandparents ("Poppy and MeeMaw") and a trip to the petting zoo (uh, "Petting Zoo," natch). The melodies and beats really aren't dumbed down in any way -- they've just married kid-appropriate lyrics (and pretty good ones at that) to the songs. In fact, one of the songs ("He's Okay") was originally recorded for their debut CD, and is pretty much unchanged from that version. The penultimate song, "Stinky," is pretty much an instrumental, with Wiser giving a very parental "Stanky!" chorus -- older siblings will probably get a huge kick out of it. And just when you might be getting a bit tired of the organ/drum duo bit, "Buck Up Little Camper" is a silly little Tin Pan Alley knockoff, and it's over. The songs, lyrically at least, will be of most interest to kids ages 3 through 8, but that's sort of less important than with many other CDs. You can hear long samples at the album's CDBaby page -- and really, you owe yourself to at least give "Bathtub Boy" a spin. (You can also hear four tracks at their Myspace page.) And while maybe it's the hip thing to do to record a kids' CD these day, at least give these guys credit -- they're doing a library tour this summer. This will be one of those CDs you pull out to show others that kids' music these days isn't just pop or folk. This will be one of those CDs you pull out to get your kids to shake out a little extra energy. And this will be one of those CDs you pull out to put a little grin on a lot of faces. Dos Ninos packs a great deal of fun in less than a half-hour. Definitely recommended.
Let's get the negative out of the way right from the get-go: "Turn Off the TV" might just be the worst kids' song you'll hear this year. Not only is it very "you should do this," it's also done in a faux-rap style. The combination may just make your kids want to turn off the CD player and turn on the TV for several hours watching Spike TV or something. OK. I've gotten that out of my system. It's not really the worst kids' song you'll hear this year -- certainly not the worst one I've heard this year. But it sticks out like a big ol' sore thumb on what is otherwise a pretty strong collection of kids' pop from Tennessee-based Roger Day on his third and just-released CD, Dream Big!. Day can craft decent kid-friendly pop tunes, and there are a number worth enjoying here. "I Like Yaks!" is a goofy little ditty which uses the percussive stylings of master percussionist Billy Jonas. Day also does a good job with character studies or studies. One of the best tracks is "Happy Hippos Hopping," a lilting mid-tempo story song about hippos playing (while the parents watch out for crocodiles). "Zachary Hated Bumblebees" is a simple tune of sorts relating the tale of poor Zachary which uses a string quartet to good effect. On one song after another, Day puts together well-sung lyrics and catchy melodies. For those of you looking for grit in your CDs, Day is not your man -- the lyrics are uplifting through and through (save for the snotty -- literally -- bonus track). The title track is almost too vague in its exhortation to "dream big!," but there are certainly way more vapid things to shout along in a catchy chorus. Day generally avoids the saccharine pits that musicians making overtly positive music sometimes fall into. Even though Day is very good at what he does, as with artists and bands like Joe McDermott and Milkshake, what he does won't resonate with every family, while others find him an essential component of their library. The music here will be most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. You can hear samples at the album's CD Baby page as well as at Day's music page. So, "Turn Off the TV" aside, Dream Big! is a nice collection of kid-friendly pop tunes with positive messages. Unless that description makes you run away with your fingers in your ears, then you'll want to give the CD a spin. Recommended.
I'm late posting this (as the talk is going on right now), but yesterday I posted some suggestions for today's Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana chat at Amazon over at my Offsprung site. Go and make some more mildly (or harshly) sarcastic suggestions. By the way, Offsprung is rolling out some cool community features, so if you haven't stopped by, you really should. A fun group of writers and readers, growing daily.
I haven't spent nearly enough time talking about the inspired weirdness of Pancake Mountain, but for now, these YouTube videos will have to do. And, frankly, with hipsters (The White Stripes, Wayne Coyne, Lily Allen, Lewis Black) at Bonnaroo, low-fi production values, and Rufus Leaking, the greatest goat this side of The Sound of Music, these clips pretty much tell you all you need to know. Rufus and Meg don't exchange many words, but I think it's love... Highlight on this one -- Wayne Coyne and friends singing "Daydream Believer" Highlight here -- "John the Revelator" duet with the White Stripes and Rufus (Thanks to Stereogum for the heads up.) For what it's worth, the video below, the Mountain's first (going back a number of years), is -- all due respect to They Might Be Giants -- the best vowel song ever. The Evens - "Vowel Movement" I tell you, this idea of culturally cool stars on TV shows ostensibly for kids is such an invention of this generation of parents. (Of course, at least we don't post Confederate flags in our music videos.)
By the way, welcome to those of you finding their way here from reading this weekend's brief article in the Wall Street Journal on useful kids' music sites. (It also mentioned The Lovely Mrs. Davis and Small Ages.) If I knew as much about business and entrepreneurship as I do about kids' music, I might be looking for homes in that "Featured Properties" section the Journal always has featuring swanky condos in Miami. (But one of the starter condos -- I don't know that much.) Anyway, look to the sidebar at the right, down a bit, for the archives and age-appropriate listings mentioned in the article. And thanks for stopping by.
Years from now, when there are sections in amusement parks called LaurieWorld, in which you can ride the "Buzz Buzz" bumblebee ride (you must not be any taller than 48" to ride) and eat a "We Are The Dino-Chicken Nuggets Family-Pack," younger families might wonder when exactly it was that Laurie Berkner became a kids' music superstar. The answer, of course, is her appearances on Jack's Big Music Show, the Noggin televison show centered around some music-loving puppets, which first aired in September 2005. The more logical (or obsessed) of the families might then try to figure out what CD might have led the producers to think that Berkner would be such a good fit for the show. Those families' searches would lead them to Berkner's 2002 album Under A Shady Tree. One of the ways in which kids' music is different from most other genres is that its primary audience -- the kids -- don't really care about artistic progression or the order of album releases. Your kids probably can't tell you what order Berkner's CDs were released. But you can tell that Berkner's stretching out musically a bit here. She adds horns to the mix on "This Hat." "Mahalo" has Hawaiian influences, natch, while "Boody Boody Ya Ya Ya" has a pensive, non-major-chord sound. In short, the songs and arrangements here might be the most intriguing Berkner has written. They are not, however, instantaneously catchy, or at least compared to the high bar Berkner had previously set. There is no lightning-bolt of a classic like "We Are the Dinosaurs" or "Victor Vito" here. "Rhubarb Pie (Hot Commodity)" has some sweet harmony, but it's no "Doodlebugs." "I'm Gonna Catch You," "Who's That?," and "Running Down the Hill" are fine enough, but the title track is one of those too-simple songs that parents will tire of quickly. The album's 52-minute runtime doesn't help matters -- there are too many songs here that are interesting but not necessarily must-hears. The album is most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 7 and you can find it pretty much anywhere CDs are sold. If I sound negative here, it's because I think Berkner set such a high standard for the genre with her earlier CDs, particularly her first two CDs. There are still a number of good songs here, and if your family liked Laurie Berkner's earlier work, you'll probably enjoy this. Under A Shady Tree is not where I'd start out exploring Berkner's music, however. It's recommended, but not essential. (But your kids will probably love the "Running Down the Hill" play area of LaurieWorld.)