Video: "Stompy the Bear" - Caspar Babypants

There's a pretty simple reason I continue to post Caspar Babypants videos here on the site.  It's because they continue to be awesome.  This one is for one of my favorite songs of his fine new album Hot Dog!, "Stompy the Bear."  It's by Charlotte Blacker and it's knitting awesome.  (Does the animation look familiar?  Maybe that's because you saw this video here last year.)

Caspar Babypants - "Stompy the Bear" [YouTube]

Monday Morning Smile: "New York City" - They Might Be Giants

The They Might Be Giants version of the song's been around for more than a decade, and even this video isn't particularly new -- it was originally made in 2006 by animator/designer Joshua Hester as a grad school project.  But for those of you who are Readeez fans, and even those who aren't (though I'd have to wonder about you types), the detail here is pretty awesome.  Everything in the video -- from the telephone cord at the beginning to the Brooklyn Bridge at the end -- is based on a typographical element.

They Might Be Giants - "New York City" (video by Joshua Hester) [Vimeo]

Video: "Gotta Be You" - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

We don't talk about "star quality" much in kids music -- the giants of the genre like Ella Jenkins or Raffi command the stage more with quiet presence rather than loudness.  But Secret Agent 23 Skidoo has that other kind of "star quality," which suggests he's supremely confident in what he's singing and rapping about.
Watch this video for "Gotta Be You," a track off of his new album Make Believers, and tell me that he -- and DJ Fireworks and Adam Strange, who also contribute -- doesn't have some star quality. (Hat tip: Dadnabbit)
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - "Gotta Be You" [YouTube]

Review: A Potluck - Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

Bright and sugary like a treat from a Parisian patisserie, here is A Potluck, the third (and second full-length) recording from Los Angeles-based Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band.

Diaz' songwriting strength has always been his knack for a catchy melody, the good pop hook reeling the listeners in.  The opening songs -- the Postal Service-aping "Lines and Dots," "On My Bike," and what sounds like a vocoder-assisted "Lemonade Stand" -- seem like they should be packaged with a diabetic warnings if listened too often on repeat, so sweet are the combination of the hooks, handclaps, and kindergarten-focused lyrics.  The rest of the pop-rock tracks from Diaz and his bandmate-now-wife Alisha Gaddis offer a little more sonic diversity ("Squirrelly the Squirrel," ska; "Monkey Jones," brass band; "Tres Ratones," a little Tex-Mex).

I wish some of the songs would be pared down (The run times for "Lil' Red Rooster" and "Lemonade Stand" of about three minutes could have been cut in half, creating quick, tart lemonade espressos of a song, for example).  And Diaz' lyrics have never been too multi-layered -- here they are as shiny as the music and with the exception of "Invisible Friend" don't really address kids' interior lives.  Which is fine, but if that's what you're looking for, you should move on.  Of course, if you or your kids want to dance or jump around the room -- something I'm all in favor of -- you are bound to find something here. (The songs on the 29-minute album are most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7.)

As I hope I've made clear, A Potluck won't change the world.  But it's a neat collection of some very nifty songs that should end up in your kids' rooms (or iPods) and Diaz's best family album to date.  Definitely recommended.

Review: My Neighborhood - Johnny Bregar

In every reviewer's career, there are the artists you find, follow devotedly, and wonder why the rest of the world isn't quite as enamored as you.

Exhibit A, for me, I think, is Seattle's Johnny Bregar.  I thought his first three albums Stomp Yer Feet!, Hootenanny, and Dragonfly were on par with any recent three-album set from just about any artist you'd care to name.  While they were received positively, with radio airplay and cuts on a couple of Putumayo Kids albums, he hadn't received the attention that his peers (Justin Roberts, TMBG, Elizabeth Mitchell, a few others) had.

And then, 3 1/2 years of silence.  Much of that silence is because Bregar has been struggling to find his singing voice (literally).  And while that condition isn't fully resolved, Bregar has finally released his fourth album for kids, My Neighborhood.  For fans of the first three albums, it is good to hear Bregar's voice once more.

While I don't think Bregar's included too many more guest artists than on Dragonfly, he brought enough guests to his Bainbridge Island studio to make his rootsy Americana with a hint of bluegrass seem like a small party.  There's a mellow, soulful vibe to the album's best tracks, even a bit of wistfulness at points.  The title track recounts a stroll through the narrator's neighborhood, evocative of Mr. Rogers if he'd had a chance to listen to some Jack Johnson.  The next track "Weekend" evokes the best of the Counting Crows sonically in service of praising the fun of Saturdays and Sundays.

While Bregar still invites some younger kids to sing along (as on the uber-confident rocker "Yes I Can"), he's mostly moved on from the preschool songs he originally made his name on.  (I will admit to being tickled pink that Bregar, who I once called "the next Raffi," includes a simple, sing-along version of the Raffi classic, "You'll Sing a Song".)  Bregar's playing (and that of his guests) is unfussy, but there are some nifty instrumental turns.  I will admit to skipping forward past "Pancho," but the vast majority of the songs stand up to repeated spins.

The songs here are most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9.  You can listen to selected tracks by going here and clicking on the "Listen Now" button.

I've laid it out as best I can without coming over to your house or minivan and commandeering the CD player or iPod and making you and your kids listen.  My Neighborhood is what we expect good kids music to be these days -- musically rich, thematically diverse, and (for older kids, anyway) lyrically sophisticated.  Please please please try it.  Highly recommended.