Yay! for new music! Today's new music -- the Welcome to Balloononia EP -- comes courtesy of Space Balloons, which the brainchild of the veryveryvery busy Boston musicians Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola. The duo are recording some songs for a new Boston-based "children's [TV] show for adults," Worried All the Time. The songs are dorky but sweet, with the added benefit of ukulele accompaniment and, for a limited time, downloadable for free. Look for a full-length in the future... After the jump, a music video from the TV show...
It's been a couple weeks now, but I didn't want to forget to mention the show Dan Zanes put on here in the Valley of the Sun. He and the Friends played at the lovely Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on a Saturday afternoon. Having now seen Zanes in concert three times, there's not much he and the band can do to surprise me at this point. He's got ten albums, and since a concert of 75 minutes or so only has time for maybe 15 songs (I think they played 16, including the encore), there must always be a handful of songs that are favorites of one fan or another that they don't get around to. Doesn't matter much, anyway, because Zanes always seems to be on a single-minded mission to lead a party, not a concert, and as soon as the first song ended and he invited folks into the mosh pit up front, and a bunch of families were happy to oblige. "Fine Friends Are Here," "Malti," and many more -- there were always people dancing up front and up and down the aisle steps. I was there with Little Boy Blue, and while it took him nearly an hour as he sat shyly in his seat, eventually he dragged me down front (it was for the gigantic train of "Catch That Train!"). While I say there isn't much that Zanes can do to surprise me in concert, his long-standing tradition of bringing in local talent to perform with him at his shows, is still one of them. As it turns out, I saw a neighbor there who mentioned that the daughter of one her friends would be performing with Zanes. Sure enough, six songs in, a young girl strode out onstage and played "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" with the band. The girl's name is Bebe, and she's the daughter of Eileen Spitalny, one of the folks behind the well-known Fairytale Brownies. The Spitalny family is also an even bigger Dan Zanes fan than I am, having seem him and the band even more often than I am. Maybe that's why she was totally unfazed by going out on stage and playing a song with a band in front of hundreds of audience members. (More poised than I'd be, probably.) Beyond Bebe, the "formal" musical guest were the Valley View Latin Jazz, a group of middle school students. They played a couple songs, plus an encore, with the band. Nothing like adding fifteen or so musicians to the stage... So, yeah, another fine DZ show. I realize that suggesting that folks see Zanes in concert is not swimming against the critical current, and in fact a lot of you probably have already done so. But if you haven't, you owe it to yourself to see how he works to bring everyone together at a show. And if you have, it's still possible to be pleasantly surprised. Disclosure: I received a pair of tickets for the show from the SCPA. Photo credits: Spitalny photo
Swam this morning, but didn't feel that excited about it. If only I'd seen this simple back-porch video of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, joined by Adam Hurt on fiddle, playing "Kansas City Rag," before my workout, I'd probably have lasted a few more laps. Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer with Adam Hurt - "Kansas City Rag" [YouTube]
Some artists are busy recording music for already-written books, while plenty of other artists write their own books to go along with their music. The Seattle duo Mr. and Mrs. Muffins are charting a third, less-traveled course in the family music world -- writing books that serve as the basis for new music. Late last year they released a couple book/CD collections -- The Adventures of Ms. Rabbit and Mr. Carrot and The Striped Ladybird. "Book" is probably a bit strong of a word for those families still strongly in the physical object camp, as the only book available is a PDF document. But the books look pretty nice on an iPad while following along to the mp3s. Musically, both albums are a throwback to a good fifty years or so in the past, with Ladybird offering up some bossa nova and other laid-back Brazilian sounds and chamber pop (even a little Beach Boys), while Ms. Rabbit provides more of a Parisian vibe (dig the accordion). Each album features musical interudes interspersed with narration of the story. The stories themselves are gently moralistic fables, teaching lessons (Ms. Rabbit: making friends is a good thing; Ladybird: it's OK to be different). The concept of the interaction between the book and the music doesn't work perfectly as there isn't enough visually in the book between the narrative to hold the attention of the reader for most of the musical interludes. But the art direction is pretty, especially for Ms. Rabbit. The stories are most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. You can stream both albums below, or, go here to stream just the music from both disks (a "best of" which, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, will be pressed on vinyl). If you're choosing, I'd go with The Adventures of Ms. Rabbit and Mr. Carrot for the art direction and The Striped Ladybird for the music. Recommended for fans of dreamy stories and sounds for a rainy day -- I hope this is just the beginning... Disclosure: None! I bought these e-books myself.
The Verve Pipe made their name the first time riding the wave of alternative rock in the early-to-mid 1990s. Now they are making their name as enthusiastic performers of music for families. At the 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival I chatted with guitarist Brian Vander Ark and drummer Donny Brown (that's them at top middle and top left), the two guys that have been in the band since the very beginning, talking station wagon music, upcoming plans, and differences between name-brand and generic cereal. What are your earliest musical memories growing up? Brian: Back seat of a station wagon with five kids, two parents, and Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue." When that song came on, it was the first time I paid attention to melody and singing along. It was... 1971? It's a great song... It is a great song. And you? Donny: I remember being in the car... I come from a family with seven kids. So we'd be in the station wagon where the last seat faced out toward the window. They wouldn't allow that now. And my ear was right next to the speaker on the right-hand side. And I remember "See You in September" from the Happenings... do you know that tune? I don't, actually. [Sings a bit of the song.]. It's a very much a Four Seasons ripoff. I can hear that. It's exactly like the Four Seasons without Frankie Valli, but from a band called the Happenings. So you had a big career in the '90s and into the 21st century... You wrote a kids song for a compilation - was that the first attempt you made at writing songs for families, or had you written songs even if they were for your own... Brian: No, that was it... What was it about that song that made you think you'd want to do more of this?
This video for "Auctioneer" off the Okee Dokee Brothers' album Take It Outside is every bit as rarin' to go as the song it's for. The animation by Kelli O'Keefe has a vaguely Richard-Scarry-like animals-pitching-in motif, though Scarry didn't tend to go in for twist endings. The Okee Dokee Brothers - "Auctioneer" [YouTube]