Check this out: Alphabet Rockers – The Playground Zone

playgroundzone_COVER.png

Every day another tragic story of intolerance gets added to the pile. The future of our country and the world at large looks pretty bleak—if you believe we are powerless. But I can’t go there. I have to believe that we can DO something. That we can make some change happen. Otherwise, why not just give up and live in bunkers underground?

Thinking about change on a large scale—nationally and internationally—is a tall order. How can we move the needle even just a hair? Can we lean on music to work some magic here?

Letting Go of the Baggage

When my daughter Emily was around three years old, an African American girl sat down next to us at the library. Emily pointed to the girl’s arm and asked, “Why is your skin brown?” The girl’s response was striking. “Because my mom and dad are like that. My brother said it doesn’t come off.” That last part hit me hard.

I went on to explain to Emily that friends are all different colors and come from different places. The diversity of the people in our everyday lives allows us to have a uniquely dynamic social experience. I’ll admit the topic was uncomfortable for me, only because I have already been exposed to the heaviness of how skin color can define you.

Emily wasn’t fazed. She didn’t have the baggage. This year when her first grade class studied Martin Luther King, Jr., she and her classmates were stunned that not so long ago they wouldn’t have been allowed to sit together at lunch because of their skin color. To them, this idea was ridiculous. And their reaction shook me awake. Kids are not inherently biased. Skin color means nothing until someone or something gives it meaning.

If there is going to be change and acceptance and tolerance in our future, kids are where we need to start. It’s not a new idea. But it’s an idea that can’t wait anymore.

This is where music fits in. It becomes the voice inside your head. It reinforces messages in a way that is direct and relatable. Music can empower children with the fuel and fire to move forward with the desire for change, peace, acceptance, and a more inclusive world.

Starting the Conversation with Our Kids

Oakland-based Alphabet Rockers deliver hip-hop music infused with positive messages. This seems simple but the work of Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. goes deep.

Their latest release, The Playground Zone, is a different album for the Alphabet Rockers. It boldly steps into a more social, personal light. Produced while at the Oakland Zoo Labs Music Residency, McGaw and Shepherd created a powerful album that shines a light on timely issues related to race, ethnicity, neuro-diversity and the strength found in community.

These topics may not be obvious dinner table discussions and for sure they aren’t always comfortable to initiate. But we have a responsibility to guide our children—and to help shape their perception of themselves and the world. How children process and integrate words, ideas, fears and beliefs are what drive their thoughts and actions. This is where change is going to happen. 

McGaw and Shepherd are passionate about putting their craft to work and helping parents and educators engage and connect with young children. The music plants seeds of acceptance that can grow to empowerment and knowledge that can ultimately change the world. As a parent, the songs offer a roadmap for questions like: How do I get the conversation started? How do I keep it age appropriate and simple? How do I talk about acceptance in a way that won’t be misconstrued or create more anxiety about what goes on in the world?

As a group, the Alphabet Rockers are stepping forward and putting out the call—for all of us to step up. Change is not going to happen just because it’s the right thing. Or with two hip-hop artists on a stage. We are all responsible. In “Change the World” McGaw and Shepherd emphasize that it’s time to make the changes that we suggest to others. It’s time to recognize the power in numbers and walk together.

Wishing for the day where we don’t have to hide – who we are, how we pray, how we love – it’s all right
Everyone gets the chance to speak their mind
And people stand up – stand up for what’s right
How about you – would you make that change?
How about me – will I do the same?
Wishing for a time when the world’s safe for all
And no matter who it is there’s help when we fall
No one feels alone – love is the call
And people feel safe without borders, or walls
How about you – would you make that change?
How about me – will I do the same?

The brilliance of The Playground Zone’s foundation is that it’s built around the playground—a familiar place where kids get to be kids. It’s a testing ground for negotiation, a lab in itself for divisions and collaboration. It’s where you find who you are and who you want to be with. As serious as this may sound, play is at the heart of if all. The playground is meant for all children to find a place to coexist together. To feel confident that the ground they are standing on belongs as much to them as to their best friend or the kids climbing monkey bars and playing tag next to them. This self-evident truth is the subtext for The Playground Zone.

We Are Not All Created Equally. That’s a Beautiful Thing.

Children start off with a clean slate, able to see equality across differences. In fact, without other influences, labels don’t even emerge for a good portion of their little lives. Differences are curiosities but easily embraced. As children grow and outside influences seep in, they become aware that not only are they different from their peers, but those differences mean something. In songs like “Oddball,” the Alphabet Rockers welcome the idea that we are all different.

This song goes out to all the brains of the world
We all got them, they all work differently
You feel like you don’t fit in? Well…

In “Gimme Some Skin,” Alphabet Rockers take a familiar gesture and turn it into an opportunity for connection between races, highlighting the magnificence of different skin tones coming together. The symbolism of something so basic and familiar is electrifying when spoken through Shepherd’s voice.

Skin color is a spectrum we know that fact
Highlight its beauty through high five contact
Human is human we have the same parts
Skin tones are different but not too far apart
Every high five is special because we are
The colors, together they raise the bar
Bringing us together, dropping that guard

The Lyrical Flow—Conversation is Key

Through lyrically poetic verses, hip-hop and rap speak out and communicate to others who can relate. McGaw and Shepherd passionately and confidently begin timely conversations carried along by their own self-expression with heartfelt lyrics and rhymes articulated over infectious DJ beats. Their technique is solid and clear. Their quest to encourage inclusion, tolerance and equality is felt in every syllable.

Unity and love are at the forefront of the Alphabet Rockers’ messages and with those guiding principles kids are encouraged to embrace their uniqueness, rock an ultimate high five with a friend and just get their wiggle jiggle on. A refreshing spectrum that has the possibility to make a significant, rippling impact.

Alphabet Rockers’ music presents their young audience with a fundamental shift in thinking—to see the world with more open and tolerant eyes than generations before. The Playground Zone gives parents a place to start conversations with kids and a place to let the music speak for itself uniting us with a vision of liberty and justice for all.


The Playground Zone is available through the official Alphabet Rockers store, iTunes, and Bandcamp.

More information on Alphabet Rockers can be found at their official site.

Stay in touch through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.

Singled Out: Free Music – “Time to Make the Donuts” – Recess Monkey

CDBookletOutsideTemplate

Following in the footsteps of their kindie peers, Recess Monkey’s 12th(!) album, Noveltieswill be released exclusively through Amazon Music to Prime members starting June 17, 2016.

In honor of this milestone, the Seattle band of spunky monkeys is offering a free download of “Time to Make the Donuts.”

Amazon Prime Members can stream or download this new single starting today through June 23, 2016 at no additional cost via Amazon’s Prime Music service.

RECESSMONKEY66.72Novelties arrives just in time for summer with a celebration of original and frosty treats. The album is now available for pre-order through Amazon. Customers who pre-order the album will also instantly receive the single, “Time to Make the Donuts” to enjoy at no additional cost. Novelties will be available on June 17, 2016 for digital download and CD purchase on Amazon Music as well as on Prime Music for Amazon Prime members to listen ad-free at no additional cost to their membership.

Go on, give your ears a little sugar!

 

 

Red Yarn – Wake Up & Sing

a2399228574_10
Lately it seems music has stopped evolving—or slowed to a subtle crawl. Where there used to be well defined, bold eras (think disco, punk, grunge, R&B), now is a mixed pot of electronic-accented indie with indie becoming ever more mainstream.

The children’s music genre holds onto boundaries a little better with more definitive styles that still largely lean toward the folk/acoustic side. Portland-based Red Yarn is a star of this style and the devotion that Andy Furgeson, the man behind the moniker, has toward reviving traditional folksongs and lyrical tale telling is worth noting.

Folk Music Alchemy
Furgeson is redefining this style ever so slightly, encouraging its evolution. Like an alchemist, he infuses elements of modern sound while holding tight to the constitution under which this folksy music was born. For his third release, Wake Up & Sing, Ferguson journeyed to the Hudson River Valley to see the grounds that inspired some of his musical heroes, from Seeger’s Clearwater to The Band’s Big Pink House in Woodstock.

While in New York State, he joined forces with Grammy-winning producer Dean Jones (another musical alchemist), whose influence is recognizable through the variety of eclectic instruments. But the genius behind Jones’s producer mastery is honoring Furgeson’s style and giving him space and encouragement to emit even more electricity. Songs like “Clap Your Hands” and “Fourth of July” are fueled with a mix of classic rock and bluegrass, punctuated by a rollicking banjo.

In many ways, Furgeson’s style echoes that of Pete Seeger, a man with an acoustic guitar and a passion for encouraging kids to sing. Seeger came riding the tide of a social landscape that drew strength from community, knowing that there is power in numbers especially when it comes to music. In this environment, singing along isn’t really a conscious choice. The music draws you in with a force that is consuming.

Furgeson breaks through in this way as well. His approach is vibrant. It’s passionate. He steps so fully into the lyrical content and traditional stories that he becomes the music. Though Wake Up & Sing features prominent vocals by Furgeson, it toys with the possibility of full stage ensemble with special guest appearances by the likes of Mo Phillips, Morgan Taylor (Gustafer Yellowgold) and Furgeson’s wife, Jessie Eller-Issacs.

Simple Melodies that Start a Sing-a-Long
In his previous two releases, Deep Woods and Deep Woods Revival, Ferguson reintroduced American folk classics from anthologies such as Carl Sandburg’s Great American Songbook (1927) and Alan Lomax’s Folk Songs of North America (1960)—with a balance of light and dark content and a focus on animal perspectives. Wake Up & Sing preserves some animal subject matter but moves into a more playful, sunny arena with the songs retaining a formula that has made children’s musicians like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Ella Jenkins such celebrated artists. Furgeson knows exactly how to get his young audience to participate through simple, gentle melodies, playful lyrics, and familiar and appealing language.

Songs Filled with Big Love
Wake Up & Sing also takes a somewhat more personal detour as much of the album comes from Furgeson’s archives—notebooks of folksong adaptations and rhymes he had written for his son. The tender and original ballad, “Welcome to the World,” is instilled with the staggeringly raw emotion of first-time parenthood and reminds us that song is a powerful mouthpiece for the heart. It articulates the inarticulate moments when your chest swells, throat tightens and eyes well up, overcome by the depth of love and the longing to protect and shield your child from the world.

“If I could take you in my arms and tell you that I’m going to
Keep you safe from harm, you know my boy I’d want to
But it’s a mean and mystic world and everybody’s going to

Find out on their own, you know my boy you got to
And I’m just looking for the words…

Just when you’re grabbing for the tissues, the song comes back around to comfort not only your child but you as well.

But remember now and then, anytime you want to
Find your way back home, you need a place to run to
To feel the sky above, to feel the earth below you
You got this heart to love, you got these arms to hold you

And I’ll say, “Welcome to the world…”

The Background to a Beautiful Day
Wake Up & Sing is a delightful addition to the Red Yarn repertoire and an album absolutely worth exploring. Its 11 songs offer a sun-moon cycle as it coaxes listeners into a day full of discovery and wonder, gently lulling you back into a sweet little slumber. As Red Yarn, Ferguson has created a style all his own which will no doubt take him on a path to reach the same time-honored status as some of this genre’s classically favored artists including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Ella Jenkins and Raffi.

Wake Up & Sing is available through BandcampiTunes and Amazon. Find additional music and videos by Red Yarn at his official site and stay in touch through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Shout out to Ryan Bruce for the brilliantly colored vintage linocut print found on the album’s cover.

Bonus Material: Families new to Red Yarn should know that there is so much more to this artist. Behind the music is a brilliant stage show featuring a family of puppets (endearingly referred to as “critters”) familiar to many from The Deep Woods albums and productions. Furgeson has also become a staunch supporter of the Portland kindie music community by producing a family music series called The Family Ramble in downtown Portland. This year’s series capped off with a performance by Grammy winning artist Tim Kubart, and will return in the fall.

Free Music Download: Summer Sounds Playlist

ScreenShot2016-05-18at9.49.49AM

We love playlists any time of year but there are certain times where it feels like the season dictates the need for certain kinds of sounds. Summer is one of them. Every summer, we look forward to creating a soundtrack that echoes the feeling of warmer weather, beach days, outdoor concerts, nature walks and road trip adventures. Even when the hot, sticky weather calls for more time spent indoors, we reach for things that are upbeat, breezy and remind us to just take it easy.

Thanks to our friends at Sugar Mountain PR, the following playlist will help kick-start your summer soundtrack. Starting today, the playlist is available for download through May 25, 2016.

Like what you hear? Click on the artist’s name to visit their site and learn more. Be sure to also check their shows/schedule pages to see if you can catch a summer concert in your town.
Frances England – “Explorer of the World” (Explorer of the World) 
Charity and the JAMband – “Sing a Summer Song” (Earth)
Raffi – “Garden Song” (Owl Singalong)
Aaron Nigel Smith – “Take Time In Life” (ONE)
123 Andrés – “Fly, Fly” (Arriba Ababjo)
Alphabet Rockers – “Players’ Life” (The Playground Zone – coming soon
Sugar Free Allstars – “Upside Down Town” (Self-titled)
The Not-Its! – “Bird On A Wire” (Are You Listening?)
The Whizpops – “Pika” (Ranger Rick’s Trail Mix Vol. 1 – out May 20, 2016)
Red Yarn – “I Had A Rooster” (Wake Up & Sing)
Okee Dokee Brothers – “One Horsepower” (Saddle Up)
Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could – “One Day By The Riverside” (Press Play – coming soon)

Audio Premiere: “Shine” – Charity and the JAMband

95562374-0e56-44f4-8b16-648877be89e1

San Francisco’s Charity and the JAMband recently released their sixth album for families entitled Earth. As the title would suggest, the album is an ode to Earth, but moreso to the interconnectedness we have with it (and each other), and how our actions have a direct impact on maintaining a sustainable well-being for our planet.

Though this is a concept album, there is a variety of tracks that are also wonderful meditations meant to cultivate lovingkindness, peace, happiness, unity and build awareness of the power we have to effect change together any day of the year.

As part of the celebration honoring the album’s release, I am pleased to present the premiere of the song “Shine.” “Shine” offers a musical meditation built on cultivating feelings of goodwill within ourselves which can then be given to all other living things, and directed back toward the earth. The intention is to shine out everything we’ve got – love, appreciation, peace – toward others, in hopes that our positive energy will carry far and wide. “Shine” also serves as a starting point for discussion with children about themes of kindness, generosity, and responsibility.

Charity Kahn, lead singer and founder explains:

“Shine” is ultimately about what we have to offer to our world. Part of our job in this life is to cultivate positive qualities in ourselves — like peace, joy, and love — and then to reflect these outward, sharing our best selves with others and our planet. And, perhaps most importantly, to remember that suffering is also part of life, and that all beings suffer. When we remember this truth — that we all suffer, and we all wish to be free from suffering — we are then capable of true compassion.

As with all of Charity and the JAMband’s music, “Shine” is delivered in a powerful way with lots of positive energy that simply rocks.

To learn more about the story behind the song, visit Charity and the JAMband’s official site where you can also find activities to share with your children. Kahn will be posting a new song story every day through May 6, 2016 so tune into Facebook and Twitter for updates.

a1506770584_10“Shine” is featured on Charity and the JAMband’s sixth album Earth. More info can be found on the band’s official site and copies of the album can be downloaded/purhcased through BandcampiTunesCD Baby, Spotify (streaming).

To learn more about Kahn and her mindfulness based practice and offerings check out a guest post previously published here.

 

 

 

The Imaginary Accomplishments Podcast – Todd McHatton

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 10.48.16 AM

I am just gonna dive right into this new find here because I am extremely excited about it.

Todd McHatton has just launched a new podcast that we are cuckoo crazy over.

The Imaginary Accomplishments Podcast, dubbed as “an imaginary NPR style rock and roll space comedy,” debuts (officially) Thursday, April 21, 2016, but is available digitally now for anyone ready to experience a harkening back the golden age of radio. Broadcasting twice monthly from a red and white rocket hurtling through the Galaxy friendly monsters Marvy and Finch along with other special guests (voiced by McHatton) cover topics that channel the mystery, intrigue, drama, and comedy of old time radio. Each character has a very inviting way of drawing you into their world of galactic awesomeness. The podcast covers live sports coverage of events like the Semi-Final Regional Galactic Bubble Blowing Contest, music reviews featuring artists like Flat and U Lence, news programming and even quirky sponsors.

The fact that this podcast is being marketed to kids/families makes it so unique because it’s reach is really so broad. There really is nothing like it out there in the kids podcast market and it’s so refreshing. Adults who love Monty Python and even cult fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will appreciate the way the characters exchange dialogue throughout, and particularly when it comes to the science-based aspects of the podcast. There is also a touch of Mister Rogers in there in terms of the thought McHatton has put into bringing all of these weird and wonderful characters to life. Underneath it all, there is a big-hearted person who has managed to hold on to that sense of wonder and imagination that has allowed him to create infinite amounts of excellent experiences for all ages.

Underneath it all McHatton’s love of comedy, novelty, and preserving vintage gold of yesteryear just shines. Listeners will be drawn in by McHatton’s natural and endearing presentation which feels as though he is sharing his favorite things with you, his friends.
In short, The Imaginary Accomplishments Podcast is just McHatton being McHatton and that has always been my favorite thing about listening to anything he produces. I think it will be yours too.
Subscribe to The Imaginary Accomplishments Podcast today because I really shouldn’t be the only one putting this on repeat more than once an hour.
And there are TWO episodes just waiting for you! Go!

Check this out: “A Club Called Awesome” – The Singing Lizard

a1962297263_10.jpg

Being part of something special. It’s a longing that defines us as humans – whether we’re 7 or 77. Imagine for your child an open club where everyone belongs and is welcome to just be themselves. No overthinking things. No self-consciousness. Just the freedom to enjoy the heck out of every moment of childhood. Pure and simple.

Bay Area-based singer-songwriter Liz DeRoche (aka The Singing Lizard) captures this joy in her new album, Club Called Awesome. With a sun-kissed electro-pop sound, she opens her arms wide and invites everyone to be part of the action, beat by splendid beat.

Throughout the album you get the feeling that DeRoche is the kind of person that EVERYONE would love having as a friend on the playground. You can hear it in her uplifting, breezy tone. There is a reassurance, a sincerity that you are with someone who wants the best for those in her company. Club Called Awesome was inspired by and largely reflects back on DeRoche’s own childhood in which she started her own club in a friend’s tree house and “made friends with every kid in the neighborhood.” DeRoche shares, “I was allowed to grow up in my way, with my own peculiar inquisitiveness. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but there was never a lack of love and laughter.” It is in these thoughts that you can find the bedrock of the album’s heart.

While the album succeeds in its mission of fun, DeRoche also ventures into the territory of feelings and acceptance. “Show Me Your Happy” calls upon kids to demonstrate an expression of happiness (“show me your happy / jump up and down / clap your hands / dance to the beat”). “Feeling Blue” tells kids it’s okay to feel their feelings because everyone has tough days, especially when “you’re growing up and learning how to be yourself.” “Be Yourself” expresses that whether you are a boy or a girl there are no rules that define you. You are welcome to play just as you are, whether that means being the kind of girl that likes to ride her bike in the mud or a boy who makes cookies for his great grandma. It’s an empowering message that I would have wanted to hear as a kid and the message that I want my daughter Emily to hear as often as possible.

There is so much goodness baked into Club Called Awesome. DeRoche fills each song with positive messages, meeting kids where they are, identifying with them and making them feel safe to be themselves. No judgment. As members of this awesome club, kids can expect a wonderfully inclusive, welcoming place that promises to provide nonstop excitement. Friends will be made. Fun will be had.

You can purchase Club Called Awesome on iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp. As a bonus, listeners will receive a comic book version of the album written by DeRoche.

Stay in touch with The Singing Lizard at her official site, Twitter and Facebook to learn about new music releases and shows.