But in a good way. News from MTV that Luscious Jackson -- best known for their 1996 album Fever In Fever Out -- will release a kids' album in the not-too-distant future. Frontwoman Jill Cunniff told MTV.com that they're seeking a label for the album. (Hello, Little Monster Records, are you listening?) In addition, they'll be performing "family concerts where parents can come with their kids, because a lot of our fans have kids now." Now if only the Beastie Boys would do a kids' album. (Thanks to Bill and the Pokey Pup for the heads-up.)
They've posted Franz Ferdinand's song "Jackie Jackson" at the Colours Are Brighter Myspace page, but after constant buffering, all I get is about 30 seconds of Franz Ferdinand-y goodness about a greedy boy eating too much cake before an abrupt cutoff. Your mileage may vary, and hopefully it's better than mine. The Belle and Sebastian-compiled benefit album is set to be released in the UK on Oct. 16th.
Longtime friend of the site Eric Herman released his third kids' album, Snow Day!, earlier this year. His new blog, Cool Tunes for Kids, is filled with thoughtful posts on other kids' music artists, famous and not, and what Herman finds worthwhile in their music. I thought he'd be a great artist to lead off this "How I Got Here" series (for more details, go here). Without further ado, then, here's Eric on Paul Simon's You're the One. ************ Paul Simon may be best known for his “and Garfunkel” years and his enormously successful Graceland album. But for me, his best album is 2000's You're the One. Being a big fan of Graceland, I picked up You're the One on a whim, thinking “ah, it's probably pretty good”. And on my first listen, that was the exact reaction I had. There was nothing necessarily innovative like Graceland's fusion of world music and pop, nor were there any standout hits like “You Can Call Me Al” or “Diamonds...” But it was intriguing enough, musically, and had some pretty interesting tunes, so I kept listening... and listening... and listening. More than any other album I've heard, You're the One has layers that reveal themselves upon repeated listens. The words of a song like “Look at That” work both literally and metaphorically, and the music is both immediately engaging and also densely arranged with some cleverly involved percussion. The album is full of brilliantly poetic lyrics like these from the title track: “Nature gives us shapeless shapes/Clouds and waves and flame/But human expectation/Is that love remains the same”. There is also ample wit and humor evident on songs like “Old” and “Darling Lorraine”, and sometimes even delicate humor within songs that are otherwise serious. Tracks like “The Teacher”, “Love” and “Quiet” are deeply moving and a nice contrast to more energized songs like “Hurricane Eye”, “Look at That” and “You're the One”. And yet, the upbeat songs may be just as likely to generate goose bumps with the power of their sentiment. You're the One makes me want to laugh, cry, love, learn, pray, mourn, sing and rejoice for the mysterious wonder that is life. I doubt anyone would hear my music (especially my kids' music) and think, “Oh, it sounds like Paul Simon”, but this album has been an enormous influence on me as an artist striving to color my world as vibrantly as possible.
In thinking about ways to: a) add more content to the site, and b) avoid doing a lot of the work actually creating that content, I realized that one thing that really interested me about kids and family musicians was what albums influenced them. So I've set up this occasional series for artists to talk about a particular album that influenced their kids' music work. It doesn't have to be a kids' album, it doesn't have to be an album they even liked -- all it needs to be is an album that had some impact on them as a kids' musician (even if they heard it long before they ever became a "kids' musician," whatever that is). Hope you enjoy these.
Paul Westerberg's place in the rock canon is safe, thanks to the his work in the 1980s with the Minneapolis band The Replacements. If you had placed a bet back then that he'd eventually score an animated movie replete with a bunny rabbit, chances are you'd received pretty good odds. But here we are in 2006, children's music is all the rage, and Paul Westerberg has scored an animated movie replete with a bunny rabbit -- Open Season, whose Original Soundtrack is being released today. Setting the improbability aside, is it any good? It's a hard question to answer, because you're inevitably judging the album against Westerberg's previous work, much of which was recorded long before you were even thinking about parenthood. In any case, it's a mixed bag. Westerberg, who crafted a great soundtrack cut for the movie Singles ("Dyslexic Heart"), has another great song here in "Meet Me in the Meadow," a gorgeous pop tune with a soaring string-accompanied chorus, the sense of hope very reminiscent of Replacements' themes. It's definitely one of my favorite kids' music tracks of the year. "Love You in the Fall," the lead single, sounds most like an actual Replacements song, and is a decent song to boot. "Right To Arm Bears" is a bit of silliness obviously crafted for a particular bit in the movie and shows off Westerberg's wordplay, as does "Any Better Than This" includes the amusing turn of phrase "knight in shining armchair." Where I think the soundtrack fails, at least for kids, is the slower songs. "I Belong" and "Whisper Me Luck" move too slowly to grab most kids' attention (at least without a visual accompaniment), and I'm not sure the kids are going to respond to the lyrical concerns. In the context of the movie, they may be perfect, but as a set of standalone tracks, they bring the soundtrack to a halt. There are four tracks not performed by Westerberg. Pete Yorn covers "I Belong" and he, too, doesn't make it particularly compelling. Sacramento's Deathray (including members from Cake) cover Westerberg's "Wild As I Wanna Be" and have a fun, poppy original, "I Wanna Lose Control." And the Talking Heads, whose place in the rock canon may be even more safe than Westerberg, contribute "Wild Wild Life," a song whose existence will continue long after the apocalypse happens and cockroaches roam the earth. Needless to say, I'd've rather heard another Westerberg track than that recycled cut. I'm gonna peg the soundtrack as most appropriate for ages 6 and up. I mean, there's nothing inappropriate about the album -- I just don't think 3-year-olds will care much. Listen to four tracks at the soundtrack's Myspace page. The Open Season soundtrack is a good Paul Westerberg album, with probably more good songs than a lot of his recent work. Whether you or your kids will listen to it in the long run probably depends more, however, on whether you (or your kids) care about what Westerberg and his bandmates recorded 20 years ago.
How to describe New York-based Dog On Fleas? Hmmmm... The band itself has used the phrase "Brigitte Bardot will serve you from John Cage's hat" to help describe the Dog on Fleas "recipe." It's a not inaccurate description of the band's attitude, but doesn't really give you any indication of what they sound like. So that's where I'll give it a shot. On their 2006 release When I Get Little, their fourth album, Dog on Fleas play blues, country, jazz, folk, and zydeco -- among other styles -- with a loose feel reminiscent of Dan Zanes, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Woody Guthrie. The five-member band are a talented group of musicians, but the resulting sound on the album is not overproduced, giving it room to breathe and sway. They come at songs from odd angles and most of those angles work. "Come On Down" has a loping New Orleans jazz feel and sounds very much like it could have been recorded strolling down a New Orleans street. "Green Grass of Summer" is a sweet retro-sounding folk-pop tune that would've sounded great on AM radio 35 years ago. (Heck, it would sound great on AM radio today.) And "Big Black Snake" is an instant folk classic that's remiscent of Woody Guthrie songs given a Billy Bragg/Wilco "Mermaid Avenue" treatment, except instead of Bragg's raggedy voice we get the clear voice of Debbie Lan. Thirteen of the fifteen tracks on the 42-minute album are originals (most written by member Dean Jones) and none of them are traditional kids' songs. They're definitely in the traditional of family folk, and even songs about more kid-centric topics are given a twist -- the Cajun stylings and French lyrics for a song about French toast ("Mon Pain Perdu"), for example. The low-key feeling of peace and goodwill throughout the album is helped in no small part by the lyrical components on songs such as "Peace Will Come" and the ska-inflected "What's Behind the Wall." By no means are the messages of peace hammered home, but they're definitely there. As with the best family folk albums, the music is appropriate for all ages, but kids ages 3 through 9 will probably appreciate it the most -- they'll be the ones most willing to dance along, too. Listen to samples here. So how would I describe Dog on Fleas and When I Get Little? How about simply as "good and fun music for listeners of any age." Fans of Dan Zanes' music should especially check out this album, but unless you require your music pitch-corrected to within an inch of its life, you'll find it a vibrant and joyous experience. Highly recommended.