I was intrigued by the idea of Loog Guitars from the first time I saw Rafael Atijas' Kickstarter proposal this spring to manufacture a high-quality three-string guitar sized for kids (but playable for adults) intended to be assembled by both kids and adults. How intrigued? Well, to begin with, I interview Atijas about the Loog. And then I became a backer of the project. After some manufacturing delays -- which is one thing that Kickstarter has laid bare for a number of projects I've backed -- the guitars became production realities this fall, and sure enough last month a large package arrived. I -- along with Little Boy Blue -- finally got a chance to assemble the Loog and play with it a bit and I thought you'd be interested in the process and some thoughts from my (our) hands-on with the guitar. Despite the comparatively large shipping box, the actual product box is pretty reasonably-sized. That's it, right there -- kinda elegant, especially when you realize that the product box doubles as a guitar case. A cardbox guitar case, but a sturdy one nonetheless, and a heck of a lot more protective than, say, a cheap gig bag you might get with a $40 ukulele.
A gorgeous new video from Australian band The Mighty Buzzniks. It's for "To the Moon," from their recent release Bug Out. Directed and animated by Kate Cawley, who appears to be in line to draw the moon when Harold and his purple crayon actually find it. A driving rock song for preschoolers with a fun video to match. The Mighty Buzzniks - "To the Moon" [Vimeo]
If you've read this site for any length of time, you know that I just as interested in making music yourself as I am in finding excellent and cool music for kids. Singing hymns, singing in other groups, playing ukulele, getting ukulele lessons from Dan Zanes -- yeah, it's all a part of a musical life. So with holidays associated with gift-giving coming up, I've decided to put together a list of instruments that would cost you roughly $100 and allow a family of all ages and sizes to make music together. Now, don't get me wrong, it's perfectly OK to make your own instrument -- I've been known to make my own drum set -- but over time I've noticed that our kids (or we adults) don't tend to use those paper-plate shakers. It's a useful process to know how to make those sorts of things when you're 3 years old, but I also think it's important to have high-quality instruments. What have I excluded in putting together this list? 1) A place to store all this stuff: We have a couple of big, lined wicker baskets we got from Target that, if I recall correctly, probably cost around $10 each. 2) Accessories: Depending on what you get, you may need (or want) to get tuners, mallets, or bags. 3) Songbooks: This topic deserves a whole separate post on its own. You don't need a songbook, but there are times -- more often than you think -- when you will realize you know exactly one line of a song and that's all. Or need chords to go along with the words. 4) Books on making music: I'd recommend Nerissa & Katryna Nields' All Together Singing in the Kitchen, particularly if you've not made music before yourself, but there are obviously many ways to learn how to play just about any instrument. 5) Large, expensive instruments: Pianos are great, but even the cheapest piano on Craigslist will spend your entire budget. Full-sized guitars or Loog guitars will also generally exceed the $100 limit. My goal with this list is to get your family enough musical diversity to get y'all to the point where you want to learn to play the piano or guitar or violin or drum set. To make my $100 limit more practical, I aimed for a $90 list of instruments on Amazon, giving you room, therefore, for shipping costs, pricing variability, or, should you decide to shop at your local music store (also a good bet), sales tax and local pricing variability. If you want more than the Basics, I've made a few suggestions for Extra instruments should your interest or budget allow. Ready? Good, let's begin.
Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of kids' music, I'm always excited to find that the North American kids music scene is making waves elsewhere in the world. So when the South American parenting site Emma & Rob mentioned this site a while back, I tooled around their site to see what music I could find. What I found was Minimúsica. Minimúsica is a Spanish educational project headquartered in the Catalonian capital of Barcelona. The project releases records, hosts concerts, and generally spreads the word about music for kids. It's associated with the Spanish record label Sones, distributor of artists such as Mujeres and Dirty Beaches, so you're pretty sure it's got an indie tilt. And once you hear a track like "Autocar" ["Coach"] from the band Me & the Bees, you know it's got an indie tilt. Me & the Bees - "Autocar" [YouTube] The track -- about getting ready to get on a bus for a six-hour ride to Pamplona -- is from the Els Transports album, Minimúsica's second collection of kid-friendly tunes. It is, as you might guess even if you don't speak Catalan, all about transportation, featuring songs about trains, bikes, rockets, planes, running shoes, and dreamboats (OK, that last one's a bit of a stretch perhaps). In the tradition of the For the Kids series and many other compilations, the collection features music from bands who spend most of their time playing for audiences with drivers' licenses. There's more where that came from...
It's November, which in my mind is the month featuring two great things worth celebrating: 1) bountiful harvests and gratitude (tip o' the cap to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving), and 2) kids music. This was the sixth year for the Fids and Kamily Awards, and this weekend the list of the top kids and family music of the year was announced, led by Recess Monkey's win for FLYING!. Every year it's hard for judges to pick out their individual ten favorite albums of the year, but I heard that complaint more so this year than ever. It's one of the reasons I came up with the idea for F&K -- ask me tomorrow what my ten favorite albums of the year were, and you're liable to get a different answer than what I gave in my F&K vote. But crowdsourcing the thing helps even out those ups and downs and personal idiosyncratic preferences. F&K's 29 judges this year (the largest judge pool in our history) listen to a lot of music and the list that resulted is a great list to share with friends who aren't yet completely clued in to this kids music resurgence. Thanks as always to my fellow F&K coordinators Bill Childs and Gwyneth Butera and of course to all the judges. Thanks, too, to Jeff Bogle for updating the F&K logo. It was fun -- let's vote next year, OK? Complete list of winners after the jump.
The Muppet Movie is a hard act to follow. Released in 1979, there have been a number of Muppet attempts to duplicate the first film's magic, none of which quite succeeded. I think that's due primarily to the first film's soundtrack, written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, which was nominated for an Oscar, and remains today a source of inspiration and cover songs. Now comes the latest attempt, the Disney-produced movie The Muppets, which is released on Wednesday, Nov. 23rd, starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, and, yes, a whole bunch of Muppets. Let's get this out of the way up front -- The Muppets Original Soundtrack isn't as good as the soundtrack to The Muppet Movie. It's too closely tied to the movie for the most part to provide the universality that the Williams-Ascher tunes did. But. Once you drop the notion that this is going to be as timeless as songs like "Rainbow Connection," you (and your kids) can enjoy the music from The Muppets on its own terms -- as a very good movie musical, fitting well into Disney's storied movie-musical history. It's not like you need to see the movie in order to understand what you're getting into (and I couldn't make the pre-release press screenings so I lack the context for the songs), but the soundtrack lays it out pretty clearly, even adding about 15 dialogue interstitials from the movie. So that means you have familiar tropes like the character-introducing opening number (the excellent "Life's a Happy Song"), Act 2 conflict songs ("Me Party," featuring a duet between Amy Adams and Miss Piggy), and the-song-where-the-villain-gets-to-shine ("Let's Talk About Me," which features couplets like "I got more cheddar than super-size nachos / I got cashflow like Robert has DeNiros"). Those songs and one more were written by Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords), who was music supervisor for the soundtrack and who, therefore, can be blamed for the inclusion of Starship's "We Built This City" on it as well. (Seriously, I don't care how funny the scene is in the movie -- was there no other song that would have worked?) There are a lot of nods in the direction of longtime fans, such as Kermit's "Pictures in My Head" or Fozzie's cover band The Moopets "covering" "Rainbow Connection." The parents who'll be watching the movie will also be entertained -- the barbershop quartet version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sent the internet into spasms of (totally appropriate) apoplexy, and the Camilla and the Chickens version of "Forget You" (which I like to think of as "Cluck You") is a nifty way to satisfy the mixed audience for the PG movie. You can ignore the mostly superfluous cameos (I would not advise Joanna Newsom and Feist superfans to buy this soundtrack solely for their blink-and-you'll-miss-'em appearances), though Andrew Bird's performance on the "The Whistling Caruso" is cool and actually plot-relevant. You can hear samples from the soundtrack here. It's totally appropriate for kids of all ages, though I don't expect kids under the age of 5 to be that interested. In the end, is The Muppets an album you'd listen to from start to finish solely for the music? Probably not. But as a complement to what appears to be (sight unseen) a solid entry in the Muppet canon, it works very well. It's recommended for any family who enjoyed the movie and wants to relive the musical high points. Disclosure: I was provided with an electronic copy of the album for possible review.