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Preview: Kids' Music that Rocks

Kids' Music that Rocks

Music for families all over the world.

Updated: 2017-12-13T09:11:44.677-05:00


Getting to Know You...


The political trend of late (one unashamedly fed by news outlets, then grasped onto by friends and neighbors) seems to endorse the ideas of personal safety through keeping others different from "you" at arms length, and entrenching oneself in a foxhole of prejudices. I would counter those ideas with the classic tune from Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 musical The King and I, "Getting to Know You." Dig these lyrics:

"Getting to know you,
getting to feel free and easy
when I am with you,
getting to know what to say."

"Haven't you noticed
suddenly I'm bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new things
I'm learning about you day by day."

That idea of becoming familiar with the unfamiliar was the seedling that sprouted into my recently-published piece in School Library Journal. Think about this, then act upon this: a society that encourages talking with instead of talking about; that offers hugs, not shoves; that emphasizes inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. The more we know about others' cultures, including music, the better.

  • Image Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers/Rosemary Wells
  • Lyrics Courtesy Hal Leonard Corporation/Oscar Hammerstein II

Oswald - Pop Goes the Octopus


Our youngest son LOVES Oswald, a tv show based on the picture book by Dan Yaccarino, so we searched for related music: what we found might be the most minimalist, most existential kids' CD ever produced. The 13 tunes on this album explore heady subjects like collecting clouds, looking for the owner of a lost umbrella, and sharing slices of a banana, all in an almost stream of consciousness manner.Despite boasting over a dozen tunes, the release can best be described as an EP, as the total running time of the CD is 16 minutes. Songs range from half a minute to 2 1/2 minutes in length, three are instrumentals, and a couple more are sparse on lyrics. Don't let this put you off, however: listening to Pop Goes the Octopus is a little like watching a leaf float slowly downstream or running your hand across a puppy's fur. Pure and simple joy.The tunes on Pop Goes the Octopus (and for the show itself) were created by Evan Lurie, founding member of The Lounge Lizards. Lurie has also composed music for many television shows and film soundtracks, including The Backyardigans. The majority of the sparsely-arranged musical accompaniment is provided by piano and lightly-played brass and woodwinds, giving the songs a timeless feel. Two of Oswald's voiceover stars, The Wonder Years' Fred Savage (Oswald) and '70s pop crooner Tony Orlando (Sammy Starfish), also showcase their singing talents here.The CD begins with the show's loping and cheerful theme song, followed by Oswald's ode to roller skating that, half way through the song, repeats the melody at a much slower tempo. Oswald then ponders "What to Collect" and quietly concludes, "...clouds." This leads into "The Perfect Cloud Collection," an instrumental perfectly designed to convey the feeling of watching and mentally collecting favorite clouds as they drift by. Then Oswald tries desperately to figure out who lost their "Polka Dot Umbrella;" the tune's tempo-free arrangement and instrumental coda mirror his thoughtful search around town. Oswald's favorite television program is The Sammy Starfish Show, and Tony Orlando sings the theme song as the character of Sammy. "Here She Is" follows as Sammy Starfish's finger-poppin' equivalent of Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea."Oswald and friends participate in the "Big Parade" accompanied by jaunty marching music, then Oswald quietly declares "I'm in the Air" as he describes a bird's eye view of Big City. Oswald and friends spend the day helping each other and reward themselves with some "Tutti Frutti Pie," then Oswald does a little spring cleaning and takes a load of objects "Down in the Dump." By the way, in the actual episode everything he takes is reclaimed and reused by his pals. Oswald offers his buddies "A Big Banana" for snack, and the song's rolling piano, tempo changes, and joyful horns make the tune an album highlight. The CD ends appropriately with the "Oswald Closing Theme," a slightly different take and tempo on the show, and album, opener.If you happen to pay attention to reviews of this album on a particularly popular sales website, several listeners complain about the brevity of Pop Goes the Octopus. Think bigger picture: this CD played on a loop provides endless, soothing vibes that'll appeal to every member of the family.Released August 20, 2001; Nick RecordsTrack Listing"Oswald Opening Theme""Roller Skating""What to Collect""The Perfect Cloud Collection""Polka Dot Umbrella""Sammy Starfish Theme""Here She Is (AKA Pet Show)""The Big Parade""I'm in the Air (AKA One More Marshmallow)""Tutti Frutti Pie""Down in the Dump""A Big Banana""Oswald Closing Theme"[...]

Mailbox Monday: What's New in Kindie Rock


Vered - Hello My Baby: Songs to Bond You and Your Baby

(Release Date: March 24, 2015; Baby In Tune)

The 16 laid-back tracks on Vered Benhorin's second album of baby-centric tunes feature layers of harmonies and lots of finger-snap percussion. Producer Dean Jones works his particular earthy, organic magic on Vered's compositions, and a constellation of performers contribute, including David Levine (ex-Dog On Fleas), Justin Lansing (Okee Dokee Brothers), Rachel Loshak (Gustafer Yellowgold), Amadou Diallo, and Joanie Leeds. Dig the beautiful album art by Luisa Possas.

Standout Tracks: "More of a Baby," "All I Want"

Randy & Dave - Calling All the Elephants

(Release Date: April 2015; Song Wizard Records)

Randy Sharp has a songwriting resume that goes back to the mid-70s, and Dave Kinnoin has released eight solo kids' albums. Their debut CD as the duo Randy & Dave features a dozen tunes with lots of stylistic range and loads of silliness. Comes with a booklet of lyrics and chords. Particularly enjoyed the 7/8 chorus of the classroom-appropriate tune "Counting One, Two, Three."

Standout Track: "Counting One, Two, Three"

Lloyd H. Miller - Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! An Introduction to the Civil War Era for Kids

(Release Date: April 14, 2015)

Miller has become one of the preeminent history rockers on the scene, as his albums and live presentations help spread the gospel of significant but sometimes overlooked historical events and personalities. Yet another album produced by Dean Jones, Glory! revels in melding traditional arrangements and instrumentation with the power of rock and roll. This first in a series of "musical textbooks" is highly recommended for upper elementary classroom media collections and history buffs.

Standout Tracks: "John Brown," "Tenting on the Old Campground," "Weeksville"

The Beauty of Music


As a child care provider, I've thoroughly enjoyed playing a part in helping curious, impressionable, and energetic young children grow and mature during their first few years of life. Every week I loved sharing songs with them for the sheer joy if it, but there are actually many benefits to singing and playing music with your children.
  • Music helps develop children's language, math, and listening skills
  • Music helps develop children's self-esteem and social skills
  • Music improves memory
  • Music relieves stress and encourages creativity
  • Music is a multisensory experience
  • Music helps improve fine motor skills, coordination, and rhythm
  • Music provides an outlet for self-expression
  • Music improves self-regulation skills and makes transitions easier
Having said all that, though, the most beautiful thing about music is that melody is universal and crosses all cultural boundaries. We were very fortunate at our early learning center to have the opportunity to work with a culturally diverse group of children, some of whom had a limited grasp of the English language when they first arrived at the school. However, after just a few days of singing songs together, those children joined in enthusiastically with everyone else.

It’s also important for children to have knowledge about and appreciate the traditions and lifestyles of kids from different lands. This can only help to lessen their fear and misunderstanding of anyone not like them. Those fears and misunderstandings tend to lead to prejudices many of us adults can't let go of. Record labels like Putumayo Kids, The Secret Mountain, and Smithsonian Folkways provide rich, deep collections of children’s songs from around the world, while artists like Elena Moon Park and José-Luis Orozco share collections of childhood songs from their native countries. Have fun exploring these resources and collaborating with your children in the beautiful global language of music!

Mailbox Monday: What's New in Kindie Rock


Jonathan Sprout - American Heroes #4

(Release Date: February 11, 2015; Jonathan Sprout)

Sprout's fourth collection of musical biographies. Slickly produced and full of information, AH4 would make a nice addition to an upper elementary media center collection, or the basis of a school social studies presentation. Includes a booklet of lyrics and brief bios.

Standout Track: "E=mc2"

Earthworm Ensemble - Backyard Garden

(Release Date: April 21, 2015; Western Seed Records)

Beautifully organic country rock from members of I See Hawks In L.A. Their second album for families visit themes of home-grown food, animals and insects, and enjoying and appreciating the outdoors. Parents who dig indie rock will find this CD in their stereo even when the kids aren't around.

Standout Tracks: "Picture This You're a Fish," "Ladybug"

Stephanie Coldwell-Anderson - Dreams

(Release Date: March 12, 2015; Sakura Melody Music)

Classical vocalist Coldwell-Anderson's 5-song EP celebrates imagination and childhood experiences. The quiet tunes feature Stephanie's voice and piano, along with occasional acoustic guitar and mandolin. Perfect for naptimes.

Standout Track: "If I Were a Wizard"

The Free Design - Sing for Very Important People


The Free Design produced an album of songs for "very important people" back in 1970, and its appeal hasn't weakened a bit as those very important people have grown up. Inspired by the release of Peter, Paul and Mary's 1969 album Peter, Paul and Mommy, The Free Design produced a batch of new songs specifically for younger listeners, combined those tunes with a few the band had already released, and came up with their fifth album, Sing for Very Important People.The Free Design were a band of siblings from Delevan, New York, who created jazzy, bubbly, sunshine pop similar to the sounds of The Carpenters, The Fifth Dimension, The Zombies, or The Millennium. The Dedrick family lived and recorded in Queens, New York, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, releasing seven albums during their time together.Chris Dedrick wrote and arranged most of The Free Design's songs, although Sandy, Bruce, and Ellen Dedrick all contributed their considerable instrumental and vocal talents. Besides performing their own songs, The Free Design created unique cover versions of songs by The Beatles, The Doors, Paul Simon, The Mamas and The Papas, Tim Hardin, and The Turtles, as well as by composers like Stephen Schwartz, Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Hugo Montenegro, and George Gershwin.The Dedrick siblings were all accomplished musicians, but during their tenure as The Free Design the band utilized the instrumental talents of some of the best session musicians around at the time. The Free Design's albums featured guitarists like Ralph Casale, Tony Mottola, and Jay Berliner, keyboardists like Paul Griffin and Dick Hyman, and bassists like Chuck Rainey.Sing for Very Important People begins with "Don't Cry, Baby," a Carole King-like piano number that offers comfort to little ones. Joe Raposo, Jon Stone, and Bruce Hart's classic "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?" follows, offering an even sunnier, more upbeat version of the Sesame Street theme than the original, if that's possible! The gentle, atmospheric "Children's Waltz" asks, "what makes a raindrop fall?" while the sprightly piano ballad "Scarlet Tree" is full of vibrant imagery. The Dedrick siblings' father Art wrote "Little Cowboy," whose jazzy clippety clop helps bring little range riders' days to a gentle close.The tune "Love You" may be the most well-known song by The Free Design because of its use on movie soundtracks and in commercials. The song was featured during the credits of the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction, at the very end of season four of the Showtime series Weeds, and as the theme song to the internet podcast “Jordan Jesse Go." “Love You” was also featured in TV commercials for Peter’s Drumstick ice creams in Australia, “Smil” chocolate in Norway, “Cosmote” in Greece, DC Shoes’ second “Progression” short, in Toyota advertisements internationally, and most recently with Delta Airlines. "Love You" encourages grownups to find the child within and live life with a sense of wonder, via an unforgettable weave of mostly a cappella vocal harmonies."Ronda Go Round" describes a magical merry-go-round with a gently funky pop backing, explaining that "this one’s special, the beasts they are free, showing little children sights they can’t see." The rhythmically challenging "Bubbles," originally released on 1970's Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love, includes a wicked guitar solo and contemplates such heavy subjects as parental conflict, aging and death, and the second coming of Jesus Christ, acknowledging that kids think about heavy stuff like that. "Daniel Dolphin," a baroque, chamber music-like tune that describes a friendship with an aquatic creature, first appeared on You Could Be Born Again in 1968. And "Kites Are Fun," arguably The Free Design's poppiest, catchiest tune, was originally released on the band's 1967 album of the same name. Sing for Very Important People gently comes to a close with an a cappella "Lullaby[...]

Mailbox Monday: What's New in Kindie Rock


Alison Faith Levy - The Start of Things

(Release Date: April 21, 2015; Mystery Lawn Music)

Former member of San Francisco's The Sippy Cups drops her second kindie rock solo album. Tunes include a cover of Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing, Out, Sing Out." Soulful and groovy.

Standout Track: "Rainbow Tunnel"

Future Hits - Today is Forever (Hoy es para siempre)

(Release Date: May 5, 2015; Coach House Sounds)

Down-to-earth indie rock from Chicago. Each catchy, organic, and educational tune is performed twice, once in English and again in Spanish. Nice addition to ESL classroom collections; comes with bilingual lyric booklet.

Standout Track: "Morning Ritual"

Keith Munslow - Tiny Destroyer

(Release Date: April 7, 2015; Needlenose Music)

The tunes on Munslow's seventh kindie release combine a variety of musical styles, comedy routines, storytelling, and humorous lyrics. The results sound like a cross between Steve Martin, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and a Broadway musical.

Standout Track: "Old Joe's Bones"

Lead Belly - Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly


Huddie Ledbetter had a long and storied life, both in and out of music. Rather than reiterate the details, most of which can be found using much more knowledgeable sources, we'll keep it simple here by concentrating on what might interest you readers the most: Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly, his first collection of children's songs. When the album was first issued in 1941, Walter Winchell famously blasted its release, stating, “How could one issue a children’s record by a convicted murderer?” Again, check out one of the Lead Belly bios listed below to get the full story behind such an incendiary statement!The songs on Play Parties were recorded during May and July 1941 for Asch Recordings, Moses Asch's indie record label, and released as a three-disc 78 rpm set that same year. Those six tunes were later issued on the Stinson Records label in 1952 (that's the image used here). "Ha, Ha Thisaway" is an upbeat song that highlights Ledbetter's enthusiastic 12-string strumming and bright, joyful singing. This particular sing along describes a somewhat difficult childhood, as the singer's dad leaves the family at 12 yrs, although his mom never whooped him and he seemed to have a good time at school. Like many of the children's tunes he performs, Lead Belly explains the movements and motions of the ring song "Little Sally Walker" in the tune's intro."Redbird" is a more spirited circle song than "Sally Walker" in that everyone is circling simultaneously with or without a partner. This is a great shouting tune for group performances as kids yell out the title of the song during the game. The spirited "Christmas Song," a holiday tune known variously as "Christmas Is A-Coming," "Almost Day," and "Chicken Crowing for Midnight,"  describes kids' excitement about Christmas morning as they play out in the yard 'til midnight and the chicken signals the approaching holiday hour. "Skip to My Lou" is the most universally popular song on Play Parties, and countless entertainers have recorded their version of the old tune. Pete Seeger covered Ledbetter's version on Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Little Fishes,  a 10-inch album released in 1955 by Folkways Records. "You Can't Lose Me Cholly" is an oddity in that it's based on the song "Can't Lose Me, Charlie" written by Harry S. Miller in the late 1890s. Miller was well-known for his (to our modern ears, disturbingly racist) minstrel songs, but the emphasis here is on Lead Belly's energetic 12-string work.Much has been written about Lead Belly and his music, so I won't go into a detailed history here. But to get even more insight into these particular songs, check out The Leadbelly Song Book, edited by Moses Asch and Alan Lomax, published by Oak Publications in 1962; or The Leadbelly Legend, edited by John and Alan Lomax, published by TRO/Folkways Music in 1959. Additionally, the album notes for the Smithsonian Folkways CD Lead Belly Sings for Children contain lots of great info. And for more evidence of the power of his voice and guitar, dig specifically the tune "Gallis Pole," a tune from which Led Zeppelin generously borrowed for their song "Gallows Pole" on Led Zeppelin III.Originally Released 1941; Asch RecordingsTrack Listing"Ha, Ha Thisaway""Little Sally Walker""Redbird""Christmas Song""Skip to My Lou""You Can't Lose Me Cholly"[...]

The Effects of GRAMMY Streamlining: Good or Bad for Kindie Rock?


From 1993 to 2010 the annual GRAMMY Foundation awards included the category "Best Spoken Word Album for Children." During that span you might have heard award winners like Bill Harley telling amusing stories, Tom Chapin narrating picture books, and Jim Dale reading Harry Potter novels, along with various actors and politicos retelling fairy tales or verbally accompanying classical music pieces.

This past year marked the first time since the Foundation's move to a more streamlined children's genre that an audiobook was awarded the top GRAMMY prize for the kids' music category. The incredible story of Malala Yousafzai had already caught the attention of millions through her co-written autobiography I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. A young reader version was later published as I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, and the audiobook of this tome won the 57th Annual GRAMMY Award for "Best Children's Album."

So why am I even bring up these points? Stefan Shepherd over at Zooglobble wrote up a great, thought-provoking article about the Children's GRAMMYs that got me thinking. If you look at the list of the most recent nominations for Best Children's Album, you'll notice a ton of super choices afforded judges. These included The Pop Ups' Appetite for Construction, Brady Rymer's Just Say Hi!, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo's The Perfect Quirk, and The Okee Dokee Brothers' Through the Woods, any of which deserved to win the GRAMMY if the category had remained music-only.

My reasoning is that at the very least, the discussions and arguments brought up by this year's winner will help draw the attention of less-informed listeners to inspiring stories like Yousafzai's and to the quality and diversity of new kindie rock music. Hey, if you need more proof of the improvement in children's music GRAMMY nominations in recent times just take a look at the choices between about 1978 to 2002:  a full 16 GRAMMY winners were Disney, Pixar, or Sesame Street products. Any press afforded quality kindie rock is wonderful, and we should be thankful for and proud to include I Am Malala as a fellow nominee in helping to bring new ears to your musical creativity.

Nathalia - Dream a Little (Sueña un Poquito)


Colombian-born singer, music therapist, and early childhood music educator Nathalia Palis-McLaughlin began her Kindie Rock career with the release of From Here to There in 2012. As there is a dearth of well-produced bilingual kids' music out there, it's good to see the arrival of her second collection of songs in Spanish and English, Dream a Little (Sueña un Poquito). The album is highlighted by the work of GRAMMY-winning engineer and co-producer Shafik Palis as well as by the talents of Andres Castro, Fernando Perdoma, Juan De Luque, and Mark Nilan Jr., among others. The musicians in Nathalia's band have worked with a constelación of Latin music estrellas, including Carlos Vives, Alejandro Sanz, Paulina Rubio, Christian Castro, Jennifer Lopez, and Ricky Martin.Dream a Little blasts off with a trip into outer space where Nathalia explores "Los Planetas" with a buzzing power pop tune. The bubbling "El Amazonas" describes the remarkable flora and fauna of the Amazon jungle and features a rap by Colombian singer/songwriter Juan De Luque, while "Magical" celebrates the power of our imaginations via a waltzing power ballad. The explosive and uplifting "Shine" is perfectly crafted for the dance floor, and the biographical story of "Norah's World" vibrantly bops along as a little girl imaginatively interacts with neighborhood animals."Pop Pop Pop" celebrates the joy of blowing bubbles, while the retro feel of the movement song "Shake Them Bones" makes for a perfect Halloween dance ditty. "Tu Dia Puedes Cambiar" mixes reggaeton with an Ace of Base feel, and asserts that you can change your day by keeping in mind the wonderful aspects of our world. Nathalia assures her dog "There's No One Like You" as she lists all the meaningful ways her canine friend enriches her life (and listen for the great wordless harmonies in the chorus and Randy Singer's Mickey Raphael-like harmonica runs!). Dream a Little quietly comes to a close with the brief "Sueño Feliz," as Nathalia and her ukulele wish listeners happy dreams.Sure, there have been several superb bilingual Kindie Rock releases in the recent past (dig Lucky Diaz, Elena Moon Park, Mariana Iranzi, etc.). What sets Dream a Little apart from most of those albums, though, is the production quality. Brian McLaughlin and Shafik Palis have masterfully integrated modern sounds and organic instrumentation to create catchy, up-to-date, radio-ready tunes that'll catch the ears of listeners both young and old. Add Dream a Little to your bilingual Kindie Rock collection, then make sure to check out the official Nathalia website for more information about her tour dates and music releases.Released December 12, 2014; Nathalia MusicTrack Listing"Los Planetas""El Amazonas""Magical""Shine""Norah's World""Pop Pop Pop""Shake Them Bones""Tu Dia Puedes Cambiar""There's No One Like You""Sueño Feliz"[...]

Suz Slezak - Watching the Nighttime Come


Critical darlings David Wax Museum have been creating sonically inventive and intriguing music for several years now, releasing their first album I Turned Off Thinking About in 2008. In general, the fiercely independent band showcase David Wax's exploration of the son mexicano genre; however, Suz Slezak utilizes the band's more ethereal sounds in making her album of quiet tunes: think Eno and Lanois remaking Beck's Sea Change with Ruth Moody or Aoife O'Donovan singing lead, and you have an approximation of what to expect on Watching the Nighttime Come.The first few seconds of the album give listeners a good idea of where Slezak and her production team Josh Kaufman and Nate Martinez are coming from. Distant, echoing, atmospheric percussion leads into a simply-strummed acoustic, pedal steel, and organ, reminiscent of a long lost Friends of Dean Martinez tune, and asks the cosmic question "Where Did You Come From." Backgrounds continue to play a major part in the songs as guitar and vocal are decorated by shimmering, whispery washes of notes and chords on "You Got Love," lyrically surrounding a young child with a multitude of loving relatives and caregivers.Slezak co-wrote the title tune "Watching the Nighttime Come" with bandmate/husband David Wax, a song that describes the wondrous aspects of a day-ending sunset and marries surfer/musician Donavon Frankenreiter's laid-back, shuffling style with Fleet Foxes' experimental sonics. The old English folk song "Leather Winged Bat" quietly choogles along like a Johnny Cash tune; and dig the great dramatic transitions from verses to choruses. Caspar Babypants recently covered this classic on his album Here I Am!, giving it new lyrics and retitling the tune "Brown and Lonely Worm." During the instrumental "Jessie's Waltz," fiddle, guitar, and organ are slowly and somberly propelled by tambourine and thudding kick drum, bringing to mind a panoramic view of the sun falling below rolling, aging hills.One of my favorites from Watching the Nighttime Come is the epic "Tallis Canon," a 500-year-old hymn that, in the hands of Suz Slezak, sounds like a glorious outtake from Brian Wilson's Beach Boys Smile project. She and her band/producers create a track that could easily be the centerpiece of an album by The High Llamas, Stereolab, or Spiritualized. Slezak's brief version of the Chilean folk song "Caballito Blanco" begins with subtle harmonica work, then blooms into a bouncy psychedelic romp that sounds like a collaboration between Os Mutantes and Harry Nilsson. Renowned family music performer José-Luis Orozco recorded his more traditional take on the tune for his classic De Colores and Other Latin American Folk Songs for Children.The final few songs on Watching the Nighttime Come form a trilogy of calming tunes, beginning with "The Quietest Star," a short, piano-led instrumental that features sounds of the evening twilight. Slezak closes the album with two covers, fiddler Alan Kaufman's "Yodel Lullaby" and renowned songwriter/singer Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye." The former is a cosmic cowboy ballad that sleepily wobbles, like a tired child's nodding head; the latter, a tender breakup tune appearing on Cohen's 1967 debut Songs of Leonard Cohen, could serve as a gentle introduction for tiny ears to his catalogue.Strictly speaking, Watching the Nighttime Come isn't a lullaby album; Slezak's songs belong in a genre I like to call "Naptime Music," songs that provide a restful background for those not quite ready to snooze. If you like Suz Slezak's work on Watching the Nighttime Come, check out Mr. David's The Great Adventures of Mr. David, Kesang Marstrand's Hello Night, or Dean Jones' Napper's Delight[...]

Fox & Branch - Let Us Get Together


Fan of the oldies? I mean the reeealy old oldies? Dave Fox and Will Branch have been bringing traditional, roots, and folk music to the attention of families for two decades. The Milwaukee-based duo have issued five albums for kids and their grownups including Mama Don't Allow (2002), Did You Hear That? (2007), Take Time in Life (2009), Things are Coming My Way! (2011), and 2014's CD of originals and covers Let Us Get Together. Their recording debut Bootlegger's Blues (2001) and later album Hot Time (2007) are considered grownup releases, but hey, the entire family will dig both collections. Although their albums are great, Fox & Branch's drawing card is their interactive, informative, and entertaining live show, so make sure to catch them in concert if possible!Let Us Get Together kicks off with a jaunty Vaudeville-blues song describing qualities that make one a "Big Kid" now, complete with a Spike Jones-inspired instrumental breakdown. The next tune suggests we respect the calmness and sanctity of nature as we walk "In the Woods," increasing the likelihood of seeing and hearing the wonders of those special places. The duo then perform their rendition of Elizabeth Cotten's "Shake Sugaree," a tune covered by Taj Mahal, Fred Neil, and Bob Dylan, among others; fiddler Susan Nicholson takes over lead vocals on the quiet song. The animals and landscape of Arizona are described during a trip out west as Tejano music spices up the tune "Tucson," and fellow Milwaukee resident Lil' Rev (aka Marc Revenson) sings the traditional Hebrew song "Zum Gali Gali" accompanied only by his banjo. The stark clarity of the performance makes it perfect for young classrooms learning the lyrics and melody."New Orleans Hop Scop Blues" was written by George Thomas Jr., one of the earliest champions of the boogie woogie piano style, of which this early 20th Century tune is one of the first examples. Fox & Branch perform a breezy, mandolin-led version; as a contrast, make sure to check out Bessie Smith's grittier, bluesy version! The band then promote the joys of being "Up in a Tree" as the waltzing tune describes the sense of greatness a young boy feels high in the branches. "Let Us Get Together" was written by blues singer and guitarist extraordinaire Reverend Gary Davis, who was a particular inspiration to Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady's Jefferson Airplane side project Hot Tuna (one of my favorite bands!).The gently waltzing "Stewball," a British folk song that first appeared in the 18th Century, tells the story of a celebrated racehorse. Interestingly, John Lennon later inadvertently borrowed the melody for his single "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"! The brief and rousing instrumental "Banjo Tramp" utilizes that five-string instrument, fiddle, and tambourine to create a great square dance tune. Then the duo cover the food-related "Aiken Drum," a now-popular nursery rhyme and song from Scotland that dates back to the early 19th Century. Harold Arlen (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) wrote "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" in 1944, and the song appeared in the film Here Come the Waves that same year. Fox & Branch's version of "Accentuate the Positive" keep the joy of the original while trimming down the musical backdrop."I've Been Working on the Railroad" dates back to the late 1800s, with an end section originating even earlier that century. The tune usually gets a rowdy, rousing reading; however, Fox & Branch invited recently-passed Milwaukee musical legend Larry Penn to deliver his gentle, fingerpicked version, accentuated by his warm, back porch vocals and[...]

Lori Henriques - How Great Can This Day Be


How Great Can This Day Be is Portland, Oregon resident Lori Henriques' fourth album of music for families, following The World is a Curious Place to Live (2013), Outside My Door: Songs for Children of All Ages (2011), and Lullaby Piano: Peaceful Classical Pieces (2008). Right off the bat the cover art gives listeners a clue as to Henriques' musical tack, with its mod, late '50s-early'60s layout. She lists her influences for this album specifically as Mose Allison ("Parchman Farm"), Laura Nyro ("Wedding Bell Blues"), Jacques Brel ("Ne Me Quitte Pas"), Bob Dorough ("Three Is a Magic Number"), Cole Porter ("Night and Day"), and Nina Simone ("Feeling Good"); in fact, one of the appealing things about How Great Can This Day Be is how Henriques sticks to one style, jazz, rather than ping pong amongst a variety of musical techniques. The album kicks off with the title tune, a lively song that utilizes a repetitive modal riff reminiscent of "So What" from Miles Davis' 1959 classic Kind of Blue. The next song finds Henriques hanging out "In a Park" in Seattle where she discovers a vast cornucopia of veggies in the community garden. She then finds her "Groove" as the band lead us through a flute-filled samba, encouraging us to move in a wide variety of ways. Brother Joel Henriques' musical saw haunts the waltzing "Beau Paris" as Henriques and her young son Leo sing us a brief French language lesson; while "Free Ride Everyday," Henriques' homage to Mr. Rogers and his show, provides another example of her use of modal chord movement. The brief "I Say Woo" features a smokin' Hammond B3 organ solo by Randy Porter (look out, Sugar Free Allstars' Chris Wiser!), throws in some French verses, and utilizes that choppy hook from James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)" in creating a great live concert sing along. "Monkey Monkey Monkey" sneaks its way through the jungle via trombone and clarinet, marking humans' similarities to our fellow primates. Along with husband Matt Keeslar, Henriques assures that "I Am Your Friend," performing an absolutely cheerful song that'll remind you of a Broadway-based Lunch Money song; hey, now that Molly Ledford and gang are producing theater shows, a collaboration may not be a bad idea! The smoky "Dream Jane Dream" features Tim Jensen's Paul Desmond-like saxophone tone in Henriques' tribute to scientist Jane Goodall. The album comes to a close by describing "Another Good Year," a warmly celebratory boogie woogie tune that makes for a great Holiday Season/New Year's Eve song. Listen for Ben Medler's trumpet solo and the way the song's intro echoes The Everly Brothers' 1961 hit "Walk Right Back." Lori Henriques has carved a neat little niche for herself in the world of children's music, as jazzy bands and musicians are few and far between in Kindie Rock. Her sincere dedication to jazz and the prominence of her piano skills on How Great Can This Day Be will not only appeal to those who appreciate that style but also to young families who want to have a live, jazz-filled musical experience with their children. Make sure to check the official Lori Henriques website for tour dates and more info about her music. Released November 10, 2014; Human Puppy Records Track Listing"How Great Can This Day Be""In a Park""Groove""Beau Paris""Free Ride Everyday""I Say Woo""Monkey Monkey Monkey""I Am Your Friend""Dream Jane Dream""Another Good Year"[...]

Papa Crow - Full Moon, Full Moon


Marquette, Michigan's Papa Crow has finally released his long-awaited album Full Moon, Full Moon, his third collection of music for kids and families. The project was funded by a PledgeMusic campaign that directs a portion of the proceds to Oxfam, an organization that works to find solutions to poverty and social injustice.The album kicks off with "Daylight in the Swamp," a brief acoustic preview of what's to come on Full Moon, Full Moon, sounding like a Ronnie Lane outtake from Rough Mix, the album on which Lane collaborated with Pete Townshend. "I've Got a Feeling" isn't The Beatles' Let It Be track; instead it's a vaudevillian celebration of another wonderful day. Papa Crow then gets us "Moving to the Beat" with a breezy, ska-influenced tune that features a nifty instrumental break. The upbeat Alt Country tune "Great White Pine" provides an up-high view of the wonders of outdoor adventures, while the increasingly loud and rowdy "I Wanna Rock & Roll" introduces the instruments of the band, punctuated by a Papa Crow guitar solo. "Outside Sounds" catalogues aural experiences that occur throughout the day via some super catchy newgrass, and the traditional country-sounding tune "Bumpy Bump Road" would make a great live concert sing along. Next comes one of the highlights of Full Moon, Full Moon, "Give Some, Get Some," a waltzing Alt Country duet with Frances England that would make Emmylou Harris and Jeff Tweedy jealous."In All of the World" is yet another top tune on the album; the lighter-waving, soulful song is deserving of a cover by Daptone Records recording star Charles Bradley. Papa Crow's dad wrote "The Michigan Waltz," a tune of memories; think a quieter, more contemplative version of Palmer and Ward's classic "The Band Played On." "Fireflies" juxtaposes the unlikely instrumental pals of acoustic guitar and synthesizer, and celebrates sharing the wonder of natural nighttime flashlights with our young ones. The mandolin-driven tune, "Over the Rooftops," is a family sing along that has the instrumental feel of an old folk song from Great Britain. Sounding like a minor key Neil Young classic, the title tune "Full Moon, Full Moon" anthropomorphisizes our lunar neighbor and features haunting fiddle work by Sara Pajunen. Another highlight is "A Billion Stars" whose thoughtful lyrics, chord changes, and fingerpicking style sound like a mix of Nick Drake, James Iha, and Robert Pollard. On "The Sun is Yellow" Papa Crow duets with Liat Tova Lis, a singer/songwriter who is sort of a modern day Malvina Reynolds, and the two deliver a song about opposites so simple in its lyrical design it becomes almost cosmic. Full Moon, Full Moon comes to a close with a reprise of "Daylight in the Swamp." This second time 'round, the Green Garden 4H Club band give the tune a distinctive Irish lilt, and their song-concluding laughter is a perfect way to end the album.Sure, Jeff Krebs has released several animal- and sound-themed EPs and albums for kids, but Full Moon, Full Moon feels like his first true collection. The songs on this release speak to the entire family, they're accessible to kids while still being intelligent, and they're catchy as hell. Let's hope the Kindie Rock world hears more from Papa Crow in the future.Released October 8, 2014; Things That RoarTrack Listing"Daylight in the Swamp""I've Got a Feeling""Moving to the Beat""Great White Pine""I Wanna Rock & Roll""Outside Sounds""Bumpy Bump Road""Give Some, Get Some""In All of the World""The Michigan Waltz""Fireflies""Over the Rooftops""Full Moon, Full Moon""A Billion Stars""The Sun is Yellow""Day[...]

Little Miss Ann - Follow Me


Chicago's Ann Torralba has released several albums of family music over the past few years, each CD better than the last. Her latest, Follow Me, continues her string of organic, thoughtful, joyful collections of tunes for music-loving families.Follow Me kicks off with a cover of "Someday, Some Morning, Sometime," a music-less Woody Guthrie lyric that Billy Bragg and Wilco refurbished with a new melody for Mermaid Avenue Vol. II. Ann performs a much more energetic reading than Bragg and Wilco's woozy, laid back version, giving the tune a "wake up, let's live!" feeling. The title track follows, continuing the "celebrate the day" vibe; then Ann asks, "Can You Make a Circle?" as the band perform an activity song for which Kristi Thom provided the lyrics. Ann brilliantly updates the old camp song "I Love the Mountains," aka "Boom De Ah Da," by giving it more of a jam band, danceable feel (dig the groovy tambourine and flute during the instrumental interlude!). And the droning musical accompaniment and the excitedly rushed vocals in the verses make "Two's Today" sound like a long-lost Velvet Underground song.Rather than present a typical "I miss you" tune, the singer exclaims she "Can't Wait to See You" because she wants to dance, dance, dance with her friend, as early '90s jangle pop meets Jefferson Airplane in this great movement song. Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell of You Are My Flower join Ann on "I Got a Light," one of the highlights of Follow Me, sounding like no less than Fairport Convention playing a Decemberists song. Ann then covers Frank Loesser's "Bushel and a Peck," a tune originally written for the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls and later made famous by Perry Como and Betty Hutton. The song was also covered by fellow kindie rocker Dan Zanes on his 2000 album Rocket Ship Beach.; here, Ann updates the tune by utilizing Chris Frumkin's funky clavinet and a crowd-participatory wordless chorus. Ann then performs "Jolly Ole' Soul," an original song that sounds like it could be an ancient nursery rhyme performed by The Incredible String Band. Follow Me comes to a gentle close with the counting song, "Three Little Pumpkins," a sort of neo-bluegrass alternative to the old storytime standby "Five Little Ducks."To my ears, the songs on Follow Me are more "feels" than compositions; Little Miss Ann seems to be writing from the soul rather than trying to document literal events with cookie cutter arrangements. It sounds as if these songs came together in the moment for Ann rather than her trying to fit a traditional "I must construct a song that fits a certain children's music style" mold. And we listeners are better off for it!Released May 1, 2014; Late Bloomer RecordsTrack Listing"Someday, Some Morning, Sometime""Follow Me""Can You Make a Circle?""I Love the Mountains""Two's Today""Can't Wait to See You""I Got a Light""Bushel and a Peck""Jolly Ole' Soul""Three Little Pumpkins"[...]

An Alternative 4 from The Beatles


OK, I realize that the point of this release is to promote upcoming remastered music, but, c'mon, the song selection could have been a bit more imaginative. iTunes recently offered up a free four-song EP of solo material by those guys who used to be in The Beatles: John's “Love," from 1970’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Paul's “Call Me Back Again," from Wings’ 1975 Venus and Mars, George's “Let It Down,” from 1970’s All Things Must Pass, and Ringo's “Walk With You," from 2010’s Y Not.

A much more darkly amusing quartet of tunes would have included "How Do You Sleep?" and "Too Many People," John and Paul's respective musical "fuck you" directed toward each other right after the band's breakup. Also, George's "Sue Me, Sue You Blues," his desperately frustrated reaction to the legal wranglings that roiled within the Beatles camp post breakup, and poor Ringo's "Early 1970," the loveable drummer's message of "I miss you guys, let's get back together," would have nicely rounded out four solo Beatles tunes that revealed the Fab Four's individual takes on a difficult time in their personal and musical lives.

Happy Autumn Equinox!



It's Good to Be Back!


After a short stint at another media outlet, I'm back at good ol' Kids Music That Rocks. I'll be digging deeper into stuff I like: kindiependent bands and performers, obscure oldies, grownup music that kids might like, and weird tunes that probably appeal to nobody but me.

If you have music you'd like me to check out, please feel free to send me a message at my new email listed over there in the left-hand column. Can't wait to hear what you've created!

It's good to be back!

***Dean Jones***


(image) I've been a die-hard follower of Dog On Fleas since I found Cranberry Sauce Flotilla over four years ago. Became a bigger fan after getting to see them live at the Donnell Central Children's Room when I worked there. Got to the point of obsessive stalkerism when Dean Jones released Napper's Delight in 2007. Now Jones has upped the ante on his second solo disc by getting The Felice Brothers involved, resulting in one of the best family albums of 2010.

Check out a full review of Dean Jones' Rock Paper Scissors over at!

***Roy Handy and The Moonshot***


(image) Ever wonder what it would sound like if Neil Young and Crazy Horse made a kids' album? Think on it no more, music lovers, Roy Handy and The Moonshot are here! The "group" is actually Gerry Stanek doin' the solo thing, and his debut CD, (I'm Gonna Be) Your Best Friend, borrows heavily from the loud, loping sound created by Young and his legendary backing band.

Stanek says that the entire album was conceived and recorded in a mere three weeks. This, and the fact that half the songs are under two minutes long gives the album an immediate, shambolic, but not messy, sound and feel ... kinda like your uncle's band playing in the garage. Amusing side note: all the song titles are followed by three exclamation points, except, of course, the lone tender-hearted (but still pretty loud) tune "Sometimes You Need to Be Cuddled."

The album kicks off with a song from the canine's point of view, "I Am a Dog!!!" complete with guitar solo and howls, followed by the Who-like chordfest, and second single from (I'm Gonna Be) Your Best Friend, "Crayon Man!!!" And the loping "That's a Great Idea!!!" which includes a few suggestions that are sarcastically categorized as "great," would give Atlanta kindie rocker Daddy A Go Go a run for his money.

Stanek dips into Jason and The Scorchers' amped-up version of country rock to declare that "Socks are Overrated!!!" while the Crazy Horse influence resurfaces on Stanek's ode to his comforting "Blanket!!!" Some big ol' chunky chords, a la Bachman Turner Overdrive, describe the awesomeness of the "Playground!!!" and a great T. Rex boogie celebrates the "Hotdog!!!"

The lighter-hoisting "Sometimes You Need to Be Cuddled" slows down the pace a little with some Teenage Fanclub-inspired chord changes and the admission that we all need a hug every once in a while. But then the breakneck speed of "Pancakes!!!" wakes everyone up again, highlighted by a ridiculous solo that'll have yer budding juke box heroes air guitaring all over the living room.

The straight-ahead rocker "Shopping List!!!" details a trip to the grocery store, while "Space Kitty!!!" the first single from the album, would be a perfect theme song for a Saturday morning cartoon. The album ends with "Moonshot!!!" a raging tribute to space travel that would make Alabama garage rockers The Quadrajets proud. If you dig the rowdy, grungy, guitar-driven rock and roll of, say, Ragged Glory or Rust Never Sleeps, Roy Handy is right down your alley. Play this one LOUD!

***Heidi Swedberg***


(image) Gotta admit, this CD had three things going against it from the start: kids' music by a famous person (Swedberg played George's fiance on Seinfeld), children's voices in the songs (tends to make tunes too cutesy), and venturing into classic folk territory (beloved material often gets too modernized or shined up to within an inch of its life). Not so with Heidi Swedberg's PLAY!

Swedberg and The Sukey Jump Band run through a veritable greatest hits of classic folk tunes on the L.A.-based ukulele teacher/enthusiast's debut album PLAY! From long-lost classics like "Paw Paw Patch," "Japanese Umbrella Song," and "Cricket's Lullaby" to well-known tunes like "Muffin Man," "Buckeye Jim," and "Dream a Little Dream," Swedberg infuses each song on PLAY! with warmth, joy, playfulness, and, most importantly, ukuleles!

PLAY! includes a couple of medleys: "Skip to My Shoo" joins "Skip to My Lou" and "Shoo Fly," while "Train Medley" ties together folk favorites "I've Been Working on the Railroad," "Rock Island Line," and "Freight Train." Swedberg also performs a nice cover Chubby Parker's version of "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" (remember that "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" refrain?).

The most unique tune on PLAY!, though, has to be the Frank Zappa-meets-Spike Jones and His City Slickers version of "Pop Goes the Weasel," as a simple ukulele verse of the familiar rhyme is followed by a discordant, percussion-filled middle section.

Don't forget to check out the booklet insert, where you'll find a short background story for each song, as well as ukulele chords and finger placements. If you're a fan of Laura Doherty or Elizabeth Mitchell, you'll dig Heidi's quiet but fun-loving, sweet but not syrupy style on PLAY!

Top 10 Best Sesame Street Songs


(image) It wasn't that difficult to come up with my Top 10 Sesame Street songs of all time. In fact, most of them instantly popped into my head...then were stuck there for the next few days!

Check out my faves over at, and let me know what you would include on your list of best Sesame Street songs.

***Wayne Potash***


(image) Already one of my faves of 2010...a rock opera about a typical kid's day from sunup to sundown! Wayne Potash's A Day in the Life takes musical cues from classic rock and country, but maintains a cohesive sound throughout.

Read a full review of A Day in the Life over at, and make sure to check out the tunes "Snack Time," "I Wanna Take a Nap," and "After My Bath," just to name a few.

Happy 30th Birthday, PAC-MAN!


Know what's awesome? Wasting time playing PAC-MAN on Google! The game is 30 years old today, so celebrate by dropping a few quarters in your PC and listening to Buckner & Garcia's re-recorded version of "PAC-MAN Fever" on your Walkman.


New Lullabies for Babies


(image) Sure, there are tons of lullaby albums out there. On one end of the spectrum you have classical music instrumentals performed either by humans or synthesizers, and on the other end you have traditional and original tunes sung by anyone from Rick Springfield to Nicolette Larson, from Jewel to Linda Ronstadt.

Over at, I compiled a short list of some of the best new lullabies for babies, a list that will be expanded, I'm sure. But for now, these few CDs are great examples of the new wave of music for sleepy babies (and for adults who just want to chill). Check 'em out.

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