Review: Way Out - Justin Roberts

Children's music doesn't have a lot of great anthems. Sure, the Wiggles may be able to get a bunch of kids screaming like Shea Stadium with the Beatles in 1963 with the strains of "Hot Potato," but there are few songs that I can envision getting a crowd of kids singing along. (Think U2 and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" or "Beautiful Day," or, in a less enobling way, KISS songs.) But on his most recent album Way Out, Justin Roberts writes a couple songs that I think reach kids' anthemic status. "Way Out" is about various characters and their dreams and encourages kids to "sing this song as loud as you dare," while "Humpty's At It Again" adds an interesting twist to the traditional nursery rhyme with a fun "oo oo oo" chorus. In concert, these must be fun to listen to (or sing with). The other songs are another strong collection of mostly upbeat rockers. The use of brass on four songs may induce Herb Alpert flashbacks in adults, but is a nice expansion of the sonic palette. Roberts still has fun with his lyrics, likely to generate amused smiles from kids and their parents (though the phrase "Why-oh-why-oh-why-oh-J-C-C!" in "Day Camp" is likely to go over the heads of the kids). Way Out is Roberts' strongest album yet. With songs about school and the tooth fairy, it's targeted mostly at kids 5 to 8 years of age. It can be found at the usual online and offline suspects as well as through Roberts' website. Highly recommended.

News: DZ and Disney, Laurie-Palooza

An article in Sunday's New York Times notes that Dan Zanes now has a deal with the Playhouse Disney network to produce his own music show. No word on when the music show will actually make it to the air. The article also notes that Laurie Berkner has signed up to be in Jamarama, a Lollapalooza-esque traveling kids' music festival starting this fall. What's intriguing to me about the festival is the locations -- classic rock and alternative rock venues. ("Daddy, tell me again about the time you saw the Pixies here...") Saturday, October 29 Morristown, NJ Community Theater Sunday, October 30 New York, NY Roseland Sunday, November 6 Chicago, IL Rosemont Theater Saturday, November 19 Philadelphia, PA Electric Factory Sunday, November 20 Washington, DC 9:30 Club

Review: Jivin' in the Jungle - Barking Gorillas

Jivin' in the Jungle is the first CD from Barking Gorillas, a two-person band from New York. It's filled with upbeat and musically diverse songs targeted at toddlers and preschoolers -- songs about riding on the train ("Riding on the Train"), fire trucks ("The Fire Truck Song") and playing all day ("Play All Day," natch). There are parts of the CD I was less than fully enamored of -- "Spinning" uses some sort of toy piano that sets me on edge, as does "Poopie Pants." And maybe this is a personal thing, but on some songs, the lead singer's voice annoyed me. But there are also some very worthwhile songs on the album. For example, my personal favorite, "The Park," sounds like the result of the Dead Milkmen recording a kids' song, and I mean that as a compliment -- it has a very punky energy and is lots of fun. "The Fire Truck Song" doesn't do much more than sing about fire trucks, but does that very well. And the two slow songs placed in the middle and end of the CD, are sweet, speaking more to the parents than the kids. (And, for whatever, on those slow songs, I really liked the singer's voice.) A lot of the songs -- even the ones I didn't particularly enjoy on CD -- I can envision being lots of fun in concert with lots of kids around. In the car with just you and your wee one(s), your mileage may vary. Still, this is a promising debut album, and I look forward to hearing their next go-round. (Just lose the toy piano, please.) The album is available from CD Baby.

News: They Might Be Giants Like Kids, But Not Too Much So

One of the things I've always enjoyed about TMBG shows is seeing parents bringing their kids. In the back of the crowd, enjoying the noise and lights and energy, it seemed like a nice way to bring parents and children together. Well, have I been wrong all these years? Because They Might Be Giants' (main) tour page now includes the following disclaimer:
Also, we enjoy having the opportunity to perform for children at our kid's shows, but there is simply no place for children at the regular TMBG shows. Things get very adult specific in terms of language. The volume is extreme even in the back of the hall, and there is usually large amounts of smoke of every variety; but most important of all-there are routinely a small number of very large, drunk, excitable adults who, at regular intervals 1.) jump off the stage directly into the crowd 2.) slam dance through the crowd 3.) throw bottles into the crowd and 4.) knock people down in their revelry. Over the years we regret to report we have seen many different kinds of serious injury due to crowd rowdiness-injury that would be far more serious to a small child than to a flexible 18 year old. There is essentially no controlling the random nature of crowds. This is why we cannot allow children at our shows. Please-get a baby-sitter. Make no mistake-TMBG shows are adult-only affairs. Do not bring children to shows that are not specifically for children. You will be turned away.
Sigh. Maybe they're right. (But I'm still sad I didn't get a chance to take my daughter to a "regular" show.)

Review: Happy Lemons - Ralph's World

By the time Ralph Covert recorded his third children's album, Happy Lemons, he pretty much had the Ralph's World formula down pat: 1. Start with some uptempo originals. 2. Scatter a few covers, children's and otherwise, into the mix. 3. Use a few different musical styles. 4. End with a sappy song that's kinda nice in spite of itself. And so it is with Happy Lemons. Heck, on the peppy title track, which leads off the album, Covert shares songwriting duties with his elementary-aged daughter Fiona. (Of the two father-daughter penned tracks on the album, I prefer the midtempo rocker "Puddle of Mud," which, aside from the lyrical content, would sound OK on modern adult contemporary radio.) "Pony Boy" is a bit draggy for my tastes, but his version of "The Muffin Man" is very energetic, the best I've heard. "Clean Up" is a reggae song, complete with horn section. And "Riding With No Hands" is another standard-issue closing sappy song. Covert is by no means alone among kids' recording artists in ending his CDs with a slower, sweet song, but he may be the most shameless practitioner. For me, a little something is missing from this album -- there's no absolute "you have to hear this one" song like there was on his previous CDs ("Eighteen Wheels on a Big Rig" still -- annoyingly -- runs through my brain). But all in all, it's another solid album, and if you like the other Ralph's World CDs, you'll like (or at least tolerate) this one. Best for ages 4 through 7. Found at most major bookstores and online purveyors of media. You know the ones. Recommended.