Video Premiere: “Turkey in the Straw” – Andy Z

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What do you get when you mix a popular San Francisco Bay Area-based children’s singer/songwriter and performer, a farm, some puppets and a couple of apes? If you guessed the world premiere video for “Turkey in the Straw,” a single from Andy Z’s latest album, Classic Songs & Traditional Tunes, then you guessed right! Though if you guessed a new spinoff of Planet of the Apes you could be close.

Filmed on location at the lovely Ardenwood Historic Farm, in Fremont, CA, Andy Z (with a special appearance by the Andyland Band) presents one of the most popular singles from the album. As someone who has had the pleasure of working with and getting to know Andy, I am pleased to present this video as it so accurately represents the reason why Andy has been greatly successful as a children’s musician and entertainer. HIs charisma and playful sense of humor regularly brings delight into the musical experiences he creates for families. Those familiar with Andy Z’s live show and existing catalog of music videos will recognize a celebrity puppet friend, i.e. Rasta Froggy, who graciously donned a wedding veil for his role.

Andy explains, “I used a little artistic license when I cast the Mr Bullfrog and Miss Toad puppets (as per the lyrics). I pictured them being newlywed, and dressed them up in bride and groom wear. The Miss Toad puppet is actually my character puppet Rasta Froggy, so I had to cover his head completely with the wedding veil, but the dread locks ended up working well as long flowing hair.”

Eager to present the most authentic renditions, Andy spent hours researching the original verses of the songs featured on Classic Songs and Traditional Tunes, With “Turkey in the Straw” in particular, Andy found that there weren’t many music videos featuring all of the song’s verses and words, and thus the idea to create his own was born. Add in a little jocularity mixed with an ode to Sci-Fi and you’ve got the right formula for today’s premiere!

Andy Z’s Classic Songs and Traditional Tunes is the winner of a Parents’ Choice Silver Award is available via CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon and Pandora. Keep up with Andy Z through his Facebook page, and if you are in the SF Bay Area, check out one of his shows.

Video: “Gather Round” by Renee and friends featuring Lisa Loeb

downloadRenee Stahl of Renee & Jeremy will be releasing a new album called Simpatico (under the name of Renee & Friendswhich contains a wonderful collection of songs featuring special guests such as Molly Shannon, Maya Rudolph, Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket, Colin Hay (from Men at Work!) and Lisa Loeb. Heads up, this album is simply gorgeous.

“Gather Round,” the first video off of Simpatico, makes it’s debut into the world today. The song, featuring delicately balanced harmonies between Stahl and Loeb, is just beautiful both in its sound and its meaning. I love the bare naked rawness that is also so comforting in the spirit of family and community.

Little things like a close up of a girl’s freckles, and Loeb playing her guitar barefoot, underscores the “just bring yourself” aspect of the song. The welcoming lyrics which ask “What can you bring to the table?” feel symbolic in a greater, more profound way. What we can bring to the table in any situation (parenting, work, life, relationships) is ourselves because that’s enough, and as the lyrics remind us “what you bring is always what we need.”

Simpatico will officially release on August 28, 2015. You can download the single for “Gather Round” and preorder the album via iTunes SimpaticoAmazon and Google Play.

Keep up with Renee & Friends on Facebook and Twitter for updates and stories and visit the official site to learn more about the project and special guests on the album.

Ralph’s World – Video Premiere “Follow the Leader and Dance” + Interview with Ralph Covert


Without signposts and clues to meaning, the brain shuts down. With help along the way, the brain can do amazing things as it learns to organize and acquire language.

Music and literacy are two of my favorite topics, and today I am proud to feature a new video and interview by a Grammy nominated Kindie rock veteran who just released an album that reinforces the link between the two.

A new Illinois Reading Ambassador, Ralph Covert of Ralph’s World has been rockin’ kids’ (and parents’) worlds for over 10 years. Throughout his career, he has produced 10 original records, authored 4 children’s books (he is currently working on his first chapter book!) and has been featured on Disney TV.

While so much of Ralph’s World’s material has an educational component, his latest release, Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads!, focuses on literacy. Specifically, the significant role rhythm and music plays in the development of language and skills that lead to a child’s ability to read. Our family first learned about Ralph’s World while listening to his rendition of “The Ants Go Marching” on the Old Town School of Folk Music compilation, Songs for Wiggleworms, and proceeded to completely wear out his first record, Ralph’s Worldamong many others.

The following video premiere for “Follow the Leader and Dance” offers kids an opportunity to get their bodies moving while they are learning. In true Ralph’s World fashion, it’s fun!

Be sure to read on for some insightful thoughts Ralph shares about the role music plays in the development of language, how literacy is integrated into Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads!, and how his son inspired the creation of the album’s special packaging.

Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads! delivers twelve songs from his Ralph’s World Rocks! album, three from his published children’s books, and three new, original songs. The album’s special packaging also includes a 15-page picture book version of his song “Do the Math.”

You can find Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads! through the Ralph’s World store.

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KCG: What was your inspiration for this album?
RC: I’ve always been a big believer in how music can help earlier readers. I was very excited when the Ralph’s World Rocks book came out, because I saw how it could help kids who loved Ralph’s World songs bridge the gap to decoding the written word since they would know the songs already by heart. The Ralph’s World Rocks & Reads! CD was the fulfillment of that vision — those songs, plus all the others embodied in books based on my songs, all gathered together for the benefit of the kids and their parents with a specific focus on helping parents work with their young readers.

KCG: Have you always factored literacy into your creative/songwriting process?
RC: I have incorporated literacy in my songs, but usually in an oblique manner. I’ve always been a fan of what I term “subversive learning,” that is, lessons that are masked by the fun. “Tickle The Tiger” off the very first Ralph’s World album is based on alliteration, and we published lessons plans about how to capitalize on the song in the classroom, for example. “The Rhyming Circus” utilizes many different acrobatic uses of rhyme. Is it fun? Is it silly? Is it poetically informative? Yes, on all counts, but, more importantly, can you dance and sing along? Absolutely, and so the lessons follow subconsciously.

KCG: How do you feel music aids in literacy?
RC: In many ways. Familiarity with the words one is reading (whether from knowing a song, having heard the words read out loud many times, or anticipating them because of meter and rhyme) all help earlier readers more easily decode the written word. I know from my own experience learning foreign languages that without signposts and clues to meaning, the brain shuts down. With help along the way, the brain can do amazing things as it learns to organize and acquire language.

KCG: Does rhythm factor into aiding children’s ability to pick up on language, i.e. the beat sets the pace for example?
RC: Yes, also even more importantly, the ability to understand the rhythms in music aids in the ability to decipher where one word ends and the next begins. That is a fundamental building block of rhythm in language.

KCG: You have written picture books. Does that creative process differ from your songwriting process?
RC: It is very different. Songs are much more driven by the constraints of the melody and the song structure. Picture books are constrained by the what can be communicated conceptually within the images contained on a given page, and even more by the need to condense the written word to the most precise words needed to tell the story. An early reader (and their adult companion reading a given book) are not well served by too many words cluttering the page and slowing down the experience of reading a book. “Quick, clean, and clear” are the essential guide words for the writer of a picture book.

KCG: What were some of your early learning experiences with regard to reading and music?
RC: I was a passionate reader and a passionate lover of music from as early as I remember. That said, I have no memory of my pre-school experiences with either. Somehow, whatever my parents provided must have worked! Given the era, I’m sure it was far more happenstance and random than the opportunities forced upon children today. Kids are resilient, so I’m sure they’ll survive anything — even Ralph’s World!

KCG: What are some ways for parents to enjoy music with their children while reinforcing literacy/reading?
RC: Read, read, read! Sing, sing, sing! Dance, dance, dance! If your kids see you’re having fun and engaging with them, they’ll crave more. So… have fun with it! Don’t read boring books, read fun books. Share it and celebrate it! One of the things I’m most proud about with Ralph’s World is that the parents seem to love it as much as the kids do — that’s awesome, because it means the parents are modeling fun. How cool is that? Well… cooler than cool. The end becomes the means. Victory in parenthood! Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-dum-dum-da! Victory march!! (Am I getting carried away here?) I can’t emphasize this enough.

KCG: The style of “Follow the Leader” is call-and-response. How does this format lend itself to learning, language development and literacy?
RC: Call and response is a primal musical form. It’s fundamental to the communication that music inspires. Learning is all about response and repetition, both of which help lay the groundwork for language development and literacy. (That being said, let’s be honest — that song is about dancing and having fun! And who are we kidding?! The real purpose behind the song is that it has the hidden message that it’s okay to be shy, but that by reaching out and participating you can find friends and have fun. But who’s keeping score here, anyway?)  No, really, it helps reading, too!!!

KCG: Can you share some experiences you’ve had with your own children with regard to music and literacy?
RC: In our household, music is everywhere, so it’s hard to pick specific examples of what has influenced what. One specific experience definitely shaped the Ralph’s World Rocks & Reads CD — when Rita created the original prototype of the Do The Math book that is included in the CD packaging, our 6-year-old, Jude, read and re-read it until he had literally destroyed that first copy from overuse! He was familiar with the song, and as a result was very proud of how well he was able to read the book. He also loved doing all the math problems included later in the story. His positive reaction to the book confirmed our initial idea that including it would be a unique and positive addition to the CD, and also gave Rita the idea of binding it in with the CD packaging so that hopefully parents would have a sturdier and more book-like book that would last longer than the prototype! Also, we really enjoyed the meta-humor that a CD collection of songs which had been included in books was in and of itself designed not only to look like a book, but to include an actual book inside.

KCG: What was your inspiration for the production of this video?
RC: Regarding the “Follow The Leader And Dance” song, the inspiration for including a song like it featuring dancing kids goes back ten years or so to the Say Hello DVD released by our first kids label. I noticed every time kids put on the DVD that instead of watching TV passively, they would stand up and begin dancing along with and imitating the kids on the screen. This was one of the elements that was important for us to include in the pilot. Other key parts of each episode of the show are musical learning opportunities (both musical styles and music literacy), meeting historical figures (but in a conversational, human way), and social lessons (like learning team-work and sharing.)

KCG: Do you have any updates on your TV pilot Time Machine Guitar? 

While we have not yet secured a network home for the show, we are continuing to pursue options both for creating a first season of full length episodes as well as exploring short form variations that can allow us to develop an audience and create the show independently. The entire first season has been written, and all of the puppets have been created and built. It will be an exciting journey either way, and we hope to have at least some short form pieces to share in 2016.

World UFO Day 2015 – Celebrate with Dino O’ Dell and Zar the Alien!


Today is World UFO Day and what better way to celebrate than with a bunch of friends and an alien named Zar.

Dino O’ Dell, a Kansas City-based musician, educator and storyteller has a deep and abiding interest in anything to do with space, UFOs, and life on other planets. He is also the author of the book Zar and the Broken Spaceship, which tells the story of a hip, three-eyed alien named Zar who finds himself on Earth after his spaceship crashed down and went kaput. This book is colorful and interactive. The sequence of actions that lead to the success of Zar’s journey back home are wildly Screen-Shot-2014-08-25-at-2.34.52-PM-438x300fun and reminiscent of popular reads such as Press Here and Lovable Furry Old Grover’s Resting Places (a classic), all of which encourage literacy, eye-hand coordination and body awareness. Plus, talking like an alien is just naturally entertaining. O’ Dell even goes ahead and includes an alien-speak glossary at the end. Fizzle Moo!

Kids at home can play along with the book (guided along with colorful illustrations by Uruguayan artist SantiagoGermano), and afterwards they can treat themselves to this fine video in which Zar moves from speaking his native tongue to groovin’ and rhymin’ in English.

Zar and the Broken Spaceship is the first in a planned series of “Zar” books and is available today through Dino O’ Dell’s siteBook BabyReading Reptile.

The single is available for purchase and download through iTunes and CD Baby.

Video: “The Cat Came Back” – Laurie Berkner


“The Cat Came Back” is one of the classics we’ve listened to from Laurie Berkner since Emily was little. I am thrilled to see Laurie’s new video for it, which was made through YouTube Spaces.

Ok so there’s a cat in it, and it’s cute. But what I also love about this video is Laurie’s charm. Her vibrant personality lights it all up, right along with the mustaches, and the cat ears. It’s just a feel good experience and it’s exactly why Laurie has been such a staple in our home!

Without further ado, from the recently released Ultimate Laurie Berkner Band Collection, here is “The Cat Came Back!”

Want to play along with Laurie? If you are in the New York City area, the next Laurie Berkner’s The Music in Me Teacher Training will be held August 28-31. Learn Laurie’s classroom philosophy and teaching style, 40+ Laurie Berkner songs, and get tools to begin your The Music in Me classes or supplement your current music classes. Learn more or enroll today!

Video: “Bile Them Cabbage” – Red Yarn

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Portland-based artist, Red Yarn (aka Andy Furgeson) made his Kindie debut in 2013 with The Deep Woods. Prior to releasing The Deep Woods, Furgeson spent half a decade researching folklore and American folk music. Ultimately, he drew inspiration from the role animals played within these folk songs and from there he built a whole world featuring animal puppets (endearingly referred to as “critters”) that join him on stage and in videos. The result has been a fabulous production harkening back to Jim Henson’s Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. Needless to say, traveling through the Deep Woods with Red Yarn is quite an experience.

What I have always been drawn to is the magnificent energy of Red Yarn’s music. The rollicking sound always quickens my pulse, as soon as the rhythm gets going, and the community of singers chime in. And then there’s the dancing…Furgeson can whoop it up quite a bit, inspiring anyone to get up and get to stomping, clapping and singing. The latest video for “Bile them Cabbage,” the first track from his forthcoming album Deep Woods Revival (due out June 23, 2015), does just that. It’s a good ole jamboree, and we’re all invited!

The Deep Woods Revival, introduces a whole new anthology of American folk classics adapted from the great American folk music canon, including works collected by John and Alan Lomax, Carl Sandburg and Ruth Crawford Seeger. “Bile them Cabbage” (“bile” is an old-time variant of “boil”), was adapted from the traditional “Bile Them Cabbage Down,” which Red Yarn first discovered in Alan Lomax’s in Folk Songs of North America (1960). Red explains, “Variations of these lyrics about raccoon, possum and rabbit appear in many old American folksongs. They were some of the first animal lyrics I discovered, which piqued my curiosity and set me down this path into the Deep Woods. In fact, Red Yarn‘s first puppet music video was for a song called “Tails,” which incorporated many of the same lyrics and a bit of “Bile Them Cabbage Down.“‘

The video was shot at Furgeson’s house and features his wife Jesse, as well as six expert puppeteers who handle all of Red Yarn’s critter friends. The vibe of the video gives you some good insight into the magic of Red Yarn’s live performances which is typically akin to “a community-building, almost spiritual experience with devoted fans – both adults and children – singing and dancing along.” In “Bile Them Cabbage Down” friends, neighbors, and even a few Kickstarter backers join in the fun.

“In my mind, the video echoes the trajectory of Red Yarn. What started as a pet project with my wife and a few puppets has grown into this larger, community-based movement to preserve old American folksongs. So many people have helped me get to this point, from fellow musicians and puppeteers and visual artists to the sweet families who keep coming to my regular shows. The Deep Woods Revival is real and growing stronger every day!”

“Bile Them Cabbage” was produced by Red Yarn Productions, directed by LA filmmaker and puppeteer Jeff Speetjens (who directed the “Deep Woods” pilot), with Laki Karavias (of Portland-based troupe The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow) as director of photography.

Video: “Lighter Than Air” – Recess Monkey + Dads Who Rock! Father’s Day Q&A with Jack Forman

RECESS MONKEY HOT AIR.300Recess Monkey just celebrated the release of their 12th album, Hot Air. Man, talk about prolific! Throughout the band’s kindie music career, there has always been a Beatles-esque quality to their sound, and their admiration for the Fab Four can be seen on older album covers and in album titles (see Animal House and Tabby Road).

Their most recent video for the song “Lighter Than Air” contains elements found in classic Beatles songs á la Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Club Hearts Band (think “A Day in the Life”). The arrangement is filled with lush orchestration and infectious Pop-Rock hooks (there is even some megaphone).. There really is no exception to who will get the most out of this recording, and really the entire album. In terms of their audiences’ ages, I guess you could say the sky’s the limit.

Hot Air is a CD/DVD combo containing 15 audio tracks plus a 40-minute beautifully animated story that follows the path of a young boy named Andrew and his adventures with flight, and a penguin. Listen to and purchase the album through Recess Monkey’s store, or from my affiliate Amazon. Make sure to keep up with Recess Monkey through their Facebook page, Twitter or by subscribing to their newsletter (or make it a Trifecta and hit all three!).

Today’s double feature continues with Jack Forman, chief funny man, bass player and beloved host of The Monkey House, an afternoon radio show featured on Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live (ch. 78), as he joins us for the next Father’s Day Q&A. As expected, Jack’s answers are as bright and entertaining as he is. Below Jack explains why laughter is the fuel that runs his familial engine, gives mad props to his wife Ellen and talks about how they find a parental balance, and shares his plans for Father’s Day (which naturally includes rockin’ out).

KCG: What is the best thing about being a Dad?
JF: Both of our kids have completely contagious laughs that are just impossible not to get wrapped up in – there’s nothing quite like the feeling of one of your kids finding something hysterical. That energy is way up there on the dad-scale: laughter can fuel an entire day for sure. But honestly, it’s getting to be a dad alongside my wife who is an exceptional mom. We do a good job of tag-team parenting, and I’m able to be with our kids a lot while Ellen’s teaching during the school year, but I constantly learn from her when our lives become parallel enough to actually be parents in the same room at the same time. She’s crazy intuitive. Though I love 1-on-1 times with each of our two kids, my favorite times are when both kids are happily playing and my wife and I get to kind of not be parents for a couple of unified minutes. Our kids are young and you take those opportunities when you can!

KCG: What is the hardest thing about being a Dad (especially if you’re a touring artist)?
JF: Our son Oscar is just now getting to the age where he notices me being away from home when we go on tour as a band. Skype is a total lifesaver. It’s kind of lucky that we paid a lot of band dues before my kids were born- we get to be a lot more choosey about the shows that we play now, and can strike a better balance of time on the road with time for our families. Out of maybe 110 shows on the books for this year, about 90 of them will allow us to sleep in our own beds. That’s a huge deal and a big stress relief.

KCG: How often do you play music/sing with your kids?
JF: I’m constantly singing or listening to music with our kids- most recently Oscar’s been a die-hard Pop Ups fan and Bea kind of growls along with songs and butt-dances when we have music playing at our house. They both come to a lot of shows of ours- Oscar watches Korum drumming intently, and Bea just grooves on the floor, doing a “baby twist” dance move. We’d call her “Chubby Checker” but we don’t want to give her a body image problem.

KCG: Do your kids join you on stage during performances?
JF: Both kids are big music fans but neither has become a part of our live shows in Recess Monkey- Beatrix is so “Gerberiffic” that she really would help our band’s cuteness factor too… It’s a real missed opportunity. Oscar’s an aspiring drummer and we think Bea’s going to dance. No idea if they’ll ever be in bands of their own, but music will surely play a role in their lives as they grow up.

KCG: What are your plans for Father’s Day?
JF: Ha ha… What else? SHOWS! Summer is our crazy season in Recess Monkey and we’ve booked ourselves 75 shows between now and August. We have two on Father’s Day, but the first is right around the corner from my house so the kids and my wife Ellen will probably come to that one. The only request I’ve made is to sleep in until at least 8am, which I can guarantee you will not actually happen. Our mornings are really fun right now- Pjs until at least 11am, but for Father’s day we’re going to push for noon! This family runs on coffee.