Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes a sweet song from Walter Martin of the indie rock band, The Walkmen. “Sing to Me,” is a track from Martin’s upcoming debut album, We’re All Young Together, which is set to release on May 13 (via Family Jukebox). The album features guest appearances by Karen O and Nick Zinner of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Matt Berninger of the National, Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Kat Edmonson, The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser and Matt Barrick, and more.
I love this song. It’s almost unfair how much I love this song. I have always been a fan of The Walkmen and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs so the pairing of Martin and Karen O on this track is a real treat. Martin’s deep baritone perfectly complements the ethereal beauty of Karen O’s. The words are romantic and whimsical in a fabulous way. This one will make your heart smile for sure! Really, the hardest part of listening to this song is deciding when to stop replaying it. I particularly love the lyrics: “I’d like to breach the castle walls of you & sing a concert in a hall of you” which feel so profound hidden among the other terms of endearment and graceful yodeling.
According to a press release, Martin began writing the songs on his new record when the Walkmen were finishing Heaven, which was also when his wife was pregnant with their first child. He calls We’re All Young Together ”a family record”:
I began to imagine a record I really wanted to hear: something new and original that captured the essence of early rock ‘n’ roll – innocent but mischievous, romantic but funny, and unabashedly sweet. It wasn’t that I wanted to write songs to suit my new situation as a parent, it was more that parenthood made relevant writing the kind of songs I’ve always loved most.
Below is a lyric illustration for “Sing to Me” by illustrator Marcellus Hall, who designed the album’s artwork.
Album Title: Tales From The Monstrosity Scrolls
Description: A magical exploration that celebrates the intricacies of a child’s imagination delivered with musical mastery.
While I am tidying up my review of this album, along with some other goodies from Rainbow Beast, there is absolutely no reason to delay the presentation of this awe-inducing piece of work. Tales From The Monstrosity Scrolls is filled with powerful rock songs made up of original stories written by kids between the ages of 4-8 years old. The kids, referred to as The Rock Band Land Rockers, are members of a collaborative creativity program in San Francisco that is run by Rainbow Beast members Brian Gorman and Marcus Stoesz. The songs may seem dark, certainly darker than standard children’s music today, but I would encourage you to listen to them in their entirety because of the deeply profound messages they contain. Sure, there are superheroes, dragons and fluffy clouds, but they are presented in an atypical way that turns sticky sweet sing-alongs on their head. And, if you’ve spent any time around an imaginative 1st grader, you know the whacky paths their creativity can lead them! By providing a safe, supportive environment Gorman and Stoesz have found a way to honor the intellect and potential of these young kids by allowing them to seek out their polka-dot skeleton and ice girl fantasies within the relative safety of a rock-n-roll education.
When the announcement of Pete Seeger’s passing was made, I was in the midst of preparing a review about Ella Jenkins‘ latest release with Smithsonian Folkways. As I read the obituaries of and tributes to Seeger, I thought more about the profound effects each of these artists have had on audiences of all ages. In light of my reflections, it occurred to me how many parallels there are between these two legends. To start, each has earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for their musical contributions. Along with this honor, they each have had a rich recording history with Smithsonian Folkways, releasing a legacy that will forever set an example for others within the music and educational fields. Not to mention the multigenerational and cultural impact their music has had on children and families throughout the world. Most importantly, what ties them together the most is that they have lived their lives with purpose and that purpose has been fueled by a sense of pride and joy, coupled with the belief that music is meant to be shared.
On her 34th release with Smithsonian Folkways, Ella’s joyful spirit is captured once again. The songs on 123s and ABCs are simple and highly interactive, presented mostly in Ella’s signature call-and-response style and provide layers of benefits for young listeners. The album contains 16 wonderfully curated tracks aimed at teaching letters, counting and basic math (addition and subtraction). The secondary benefits seek to build language skills, strengthen memory, and develop rhythm through a variety of musical games. And, remaining loyal to Ella’s multicultural appreciation, 123s and ABCs presents songs in four languages - English, Spanish, Swahili, and Yiddish.
The album opens with “Easy as ABC,” an alphabet game that encourages listeners to associate a word with a letter and then use that word in a sentence. As Ella sings, “C is for caring/ And I care a lot about you,” it’s hard not to feel comforted by her sincerity. It is this line that captures Ella’s authenticity and loving heart.
“Eight Clay Pigeons” and “And One and Two…” are fun counting songs that encourage movement while “ABCs” is a sweet little chant that underscores the positive effects music has on learning: “123, 123 were the very first numbers that were taught to me…/ ABC, ABC were the very first letters that were taught to me/ XYZ, XYZ were the very last letters that were taught to me.”
123s and ABCs is another fine example of how wonderful it feels to sing along together. Ella is a teacher, a leader and a friend who has devoted her life to sharing that which has enlightened, educated and enriched so many children’s (and grown-ups’) lives. The following quote perfectly describes Ella’s grace and thoughtful approach to music making. (source: NPR):
“I think most people like music and most children like music, and there’s a variety of music. But whatever you happen upon with something that you really feel that you really like, I’d say listen to it and listen to it often. And if you want to kind of emulate it, if you want to try to repeat or imitate, do it in a way that when you’re sharing it, someone else is going to think it’s beautiful, too. So there are a lot of wonderful composers around the world, and sometimes we get a lot of them right here in Chicago. But anyway, when you get these and you start to sing or you can dance like the people that you have heard or watched, then put your best performance forward, and I think the children will do the same.”
“You’re Bound To Look Like A Monkey” is based on a song that Krebs’ grandpa used to sing for kids back when he was a kid. It’s a fun track that is clever and….cute. The lyrics refer to monkeys in an unexpected way that serve as a good reminder not to take life too seriously (especially if we are bound to look like a monkey). “You’re “Bound To Look Like A Monkey” is a sprightly, knee knocking little tune. Another promising glimpse into what is proving to be a great album so far.
I recently attended a presentation at my daughter’s school called “The Celebration of Learning.” The entire presentation was focused on young change makers, i.e. kids who are making positive change for the greater good. Each grade level (K – 5) researched, interviewed and spoke about a change maker and the outcome(s) of their efforts. It was incredible to hear these little voices talk passionately about how they were inspired by these young people. In some cases, there were kids showcasing what they are personally doing to give back, i.e. creating a petition to save a sacred Nature Area in California, hosting a bake sale to benefit the ASPCA, standing outside a homeless shelter (with mom) doling out food on cold nights, raising money to help build a school in Africa, and even raising money to name a sea turtle (“Wilson”) from Costa Rica and track another sea turtle (“Chubby”) from Bermuda who has traveled 600 miles since birth.
The Not-Its!, one of Seattle’s most popular kindie rock bands, refers to these acts of kindness as “KidQuakes.” Or, as bassist Jennie Helman describes it, “A KidQuake! describes an act of good, by a kid. It’s that seismic energy kids have that translates to dance, smiles and good times.” Lead singer, Sarah Shannon continues,“Kids are powerful, they have some serious mojo to make good things happen.”
When I first heard about what The Not-Its! were doing, I was blown away. As the parent of a child who is regularly disgusted by litter on the streets (and has walked around our neighborhood with a mini broom and a bag picking up garbage), I can personally attest to experiencing that serious kid mojo. The innocence and sense of justice kids have is incredible and something I have always been intrigued by. As one of the students**, age 10, put it: “I believe [kids are the ones who will make changes in this world] because children can have more open hearts. They believe in things that grown ups don’t. If you told a grown up that humans could fly, they wouldn’t believe you because of ‘course’ humans can not fly. But if you told a young child he would think ‘could humans fly? Maybe if you…’ They would think of ideas. That is why the younger generation is going to save this world.” Kid power!
I love that The Not-Its!, one of our favorite kindie rock bands, is working hard to “showcase and inspire kids who are doing good.”
In my interview below, Sarah and Jennie talk more about the inspiration for one of 2013′s best albums, KidQuake!, what The Not-Its! are doing to highlight all of these amazing changemakers, and how you can become a part of The Not-Its! Nation!
Sarah Shannon: I heard this heart-wrenching story about a little girl who passed away in a car accident here in the Pacific Northwest. When she was alive, she heard that a lot of people in Africa didn’t have access to clean drinking water, so she started a fundraising drive (in lieu of birthday presents) to help build a well in Africa. After she died, her story went viral, funds started pouring in and she raised millions of dollars for clean water.
After I cried for about an hour and a half, I started to think about how amazing it was that this little girl’s spirit – her instinct to do good – was so potent that she continued to make something huge happen even after she passed.
During the time I heard this story, my band, The Not-Its!, were in the process of writing songs for our fourth record. We had a rough little gem that we were calling, “Earthquake.” Boom! The creative muses began swarming and we thought “KidQuake! Kid power for good!” We wrote the song, “KidQuake!,” but then started thinking this needs to be something more. A movement, perhaps? A way to showcase and inspire kids who are doing good.
Jennie Helman: In that moment, KidQuake! took on a whole new meaning. Kids have the power to do good and what better way to help them realize their potential than through music.
KCG: Since you started promoting this movement, have you seen or been a part of any KidQuakes?
JH: Many organizations have already established ways for kids to get involved. This summer, The Not-Its! partnered with Seattle Children’s hospital, who had already published materials on ways kids could raise money for the hospital, i.e. lemonade sales, bake sales, clothing/book drives. The Not-Its! had the opportunity to help promote a lemonade sale at a nearby elementary school, run solely by kids, where proceeds went towards the hospital. The below clip was shared on our Facebook site, which is another example of ways we have been able to promote weekly stories of Kid Power for Good on a national and local level.
KCG: Have there been any KidQuakes within your own families?
SS: I share all of the stories we showcase on Facebook with my kids. This past summer, my daughter’s CampFire troop came up with a KidQuake! of their own. Of course summer is prime lemonade stand time, and we were able to raise money for charity, as a result.
JH: Just last week my 8 year old daughter, Jaden, and I, participated in a fundraising event and 5K obstacle course in which we raised over $250 for LLS (the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society). The event was called the Winter Pineapple Express and we had to each carry a pineapple the entire route. For all our neighbors and friends who donated, we cooked soups or plates of cookies as a Thank You, depending on the amount they donated. Last year she and I did The Big Climb where we raised money towards LLS. Together, we climbed 69 flights of stairs at the tallest building in Seattle. I know that Jaden has been proud of her contributions and is starting to realize the difference she’s making with each KidQuake!. Last Christmas, all my girls spent one Saturday making art and selling it throughout the neighborhood. Their KidQuake! contributions totaled $2.88 and they were more than proud to deliver it to the local Food Bank.
KCG: Where can families participate in and read more about this movement?
SS: We are working on ways to build a social network for families to inspire/encourage each other to do good. In the meantime, we will be showcasing and inspiring families through our KidQuake and Not-Its! Facebook pages, The Not-Its!’ website and live shows.
JH: My hopes are — To generate a movement that The Not-Its! Nation – kids, parents and caretakers – feel connected to and can experience together; to appreciate kids for their acts of good and recognize how the power of kind acts can inspire kids and others towards a more positive approach in life. And, we want to showcase stories that will motivate kids and parents to do more good in their communities.
Dig what you’ve just read? Check out the song that inspired this movement, along with the the rest of the album through the Bandcamp widget below. Do you have a KidQuake! of your own? Share it in the comments below and spread the word!
**The 10-year-old student who I quoted nominated and awarded Pavan Raj Gowda who founded the organization Green Kids Now, Inc when he was 8 years old. Green Kids Now, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity organization purposed to reach youth of all ages around the world to raise awareness on environmental issues, and encourages children to learn, innovate, take action, and share ideas and experiences.
Todd McHatton has a new video for “Santa Flying In Your Sleigh” from his Christmas Songs album. I love this song because it echoes some of the curiosity and wonder kids have about Santa and Christmas. It’s as though McHatton was inspired by his own children’s questions when he wrote this song, which makes it so endearing and totally relatable. My daughter is approaching 5 and lately she has been asking the same kinds of questions that McHatton sings about here like “Santa Flying in your sleigh/ How do make it all the way/ Around the world? And Santa please tell me one more thing/ How do you know just what to bring/ Every boy and girl?” There is something about McHatton’s music that is so comforting. I frequently find myself thinking “yes, this is exactly the way music should sound.” And you are more than likely to feel exactly the same way.
As a special Christmas bonus, Todd McHatton is offering FREE downloads of all his albums (even Marvy Monstone’s album is available for FREE!) through Dec 25. Make sure you grab them through McHatton’s Bandcamp site or via the Bandcamp widget below. This is a rare and special opportunity. Also, check out my post about giving merchandise in addition to music this year. The post features Mchatton’s book, Grass Stained Twilight, a collection of stories, songs, pictures, and poems that echoes the likes of Shel Silverstein. Download the album and grab a copy of the book for an excellent gift.