#WhatMakesYouSmile Interview: Frances England featured on Mighty Mo Productions debut Smiles Ahead

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Since the school year started, and we’ve gone up a grade, I’ve been feeling conflicted. Almost 7, my little girl is growing up and with developmental changes and maturity comes the desire for more independence. As much pride as I feel watching her flap her wings, I also feel some unexplainable pangs of fear and vulnerability. I already see her setting higher expectations for herself and staying affected for a little longer than usual after a challenging situation. At the same time, the zeal she carries with her every day is inspiring. Together our perspective is shared, and as a result we are constantly learning new ways to navigate the life’s greatest adventures together. In reality, though, she is my muse.

Regardless of what comes her way, I just want her to be able to draw upon the wealth of knowledge she gains from our shared experiences. And to help achieve that, I am striving to better model my reactions for her. It’s not always easy to articulate the right words, and thankfully, when words can’t describe big emotions, music does. It can set the scene, undeniably capture the spirit of the moment, and offer just the right words. It can literally turn a frown upside down.

Frances England has consistently been able to capture the unexplainable with her soft but powerful voice. Her words are precious as well, and together with her euphonious acoustic melodies she just finds a way to breathe out compassion and courage. England’s song “The Sun Will Shine Again,” is featured on a new kindie compilation called Smiles Ahead which is being released on October 16, 2015 through Mighty Mo Productions. Also featured on her 2013 release, Blink of an Eye, “The Sun Will Shine Again” is a comforting track that looks at life with an optimistic view. Life can be unpredictable and reassurance from a comforting voice is sometimes exactly what we need to find that smile ahead.

 Mo Productions was created by Jim “Mr. Stinky Feet” Cosgrove and Tom Brantman a Kansas City musician and integral part of Kansas City Jiggle-Jam, a highly regarded family music festival. Smiles Ahead is the label’s first album and, in addition to England, the compilation features a slew of top, award-winning artists making music for families like The Okee Dokee Brothers, Grammy nominated The Pop Ups, Brady Rymer, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Rissi Palmer, Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips, Johnny Bregar, Grenadilla and Kira Willey. The album also includes fresh new tracks by Caspar Babypants and The Verve Pipe, and a debut single from Katydid. It’s an excellently curated compilation and one that is aptly named. It definitely delivers on the promise of its name.

As to how England’s track adds to the compilation, Cosgrove explains, “When I first heard this song, I fell in love with it. And then when we decided to do this project, I knew we had to include it. It’s so full of hope, and it’s a great reminder that sometimes happiness can blossom from a very low place. Kids get that. And Frances‘ voice is so comforting! She makes us all feel like everything is going to be just fine and beautiful.”

In honor of today’s release, I am so pleased to present an interview with Frances England. Check out what makes her smile. And to keep the warm, fuzzy feeling going, please leave a comment letting us know what makes you happy!


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Kids Can Groove: Can you tell us the inspiration behind the song, “The Sun Will Shine Again?”

Frances England: “The Sun Will Shine Again” is really about accepting that some days bad things happen — you get knocked down, you feel mad or angry about something — but you have to move past those feelings and start again.  It’s also about taking risks – if you never try something new, you don’t grow as a person.  Taking risks is also about being ok with making mistakes, learning from them and trying again.

KCG: How did you come to learn about Smiles Ahead and what drew you to it?

FE: I learned about Smiles Ahead from Jim Cosgrove and I was immediately interested because of him. Jim’s been making wonderful music for kids and families for a long time and he has so much heart and passion around the projects he’s involved in. So when he told me he was putting together a compilation of good-vibe songs that make people smile, I wanted to be part of that!  And so many of my favorite kindie artists are on this cd so I feel really honored to be part of this project for that reason too.

KCG: What makes you smile? 

FE: So many things make me smile everyday –  my sons’ original jokes & detailed sketches and drawings, my husband skating boarding with my boys, my dog when she gets to run off leash, the quirky neighbors on my block that always have something to say about the weather, the surfers who walk through my neighborhood in wetsuits down to Ocean Beach.  There are so many reasons to smile – I feel lucky everyday.

KCG: What is next on the horizon for you?

FE: I have a new album coming out early next year called, Explorer of the World.  It’s co-produced by Dean Jones & Dave Winer and it’s all about exploration, observation and investigation.  The sound is very different than my previous music – a lot more beats, drum machines, horns, analog synth sounds.  The three of us had such a good time making this record and I can not wait to share it with everyone.

Audio premiere: “It’s Only In Your Head” – Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips

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Life can be a little scary for kids. So many changes are happening it’s as if their heads could start to spin any moment. Unfortunately, little minds tend to process life’s cornucopia while they are asleep. When Emily was younger she used to refer to her dreams as the movies in her mind. When she would wake up, she would either refer to what she saw as a bad movie or a good movie and recount the scenes with plenty of detail. The bad movies were scary and disorienting, and I always found it hard to explain wicked dreams as the result of an overactive mind. Even pretending to spray the monsters away after a sudden nightmare didn’t always provide relief. 

In the spirit of squashing late night haunts, I am proud to present the premiere of the 13th single by Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips. Sprinkled with echoing soundbites and twinkling glockenspiel,“It’s Only In Your Head” reminds kids that no matter how real things seem when they close their eyes, they are safe and surrounded by the love that awaits them when they wake up. And that is the perfect remedy for any scary thoughts or moving images that affect their slumber.

Today’s premiere serves as a mile marker that closes up the circle in Mista Cookie Jar’s “song-a-month” project making 13 a pretty fantastic number. CJ Pizarro (“Mista Cookie Jar”) shares his thoughts and inspiration behind the song:

“‘It’s Only In Your Head’ is four years in the making, so it really took it’s time to simmer. I had a feeling that this was gonna be a deeper one than usual and it took me a while to figure out the full scope of where it was going both musically and lyrically. And now here it is, just in time for the anniversary of the first single, “Halloween Every Night.” I realized it’s a song to encourage the little ones when they hit fear in regards to dreams, odd synchronicities and self-doubt. It’s a heart song about free will really — managing the darkness on a “feeling” level. As the saying goes, “Life is but a dream.” The power of imagination mixed with a good heart plus the collective hearts of a village can turn a major nay into a yay and move mountains.

In terms of children’s works, there’s an abundance of fantasy and stories about dreaming, i.e. Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, and my favorite, the films of Miyazaki. It’s my theory (and not just mine of course) that children by nature are tapped into the otherworldly. Everything is so new to them, they might not even understand the difference between reality and dream. The imagination of the child is sacred for sure. “

Music Review and Free Mother’s Day Download: Hello My Baby – Vered

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Today’s music review is for a special album that will resonate with new parents, new-ish parents, and grandparents. In honor of Mother’s Day, you will find a free download at the end of this post so read on!

The first time I celebrated Mother’s Day was when I was pregnant. It felt so strange to suddenly be included in this Hallmark holiday without actually having a baby yet. At the same time, I knew it marked a major milestone. I just didn’t know how major. After having my daughter, I remember thinking “Now what?!” Suddenly, I was responsible for this new life, so fragile and dependent, and I felt completely unprepared. I had so many questions! Being around other moms kept me together and sane.  Looking back, I wish I had Vered Benhorin’s new album, Hello My Baby.

Hello My Baby reaches out with a loving hand to remind all of us, babies included, that it’s all ok. Through warm, soothing vocals, Vered relates to her audience like a best friend who understands and will support you. Her songs remind me of how lucky I am to be a mom. Hello My Baby delves into the most complicated aspects of parenting in which we are constantly at odds with selflessness and selfishness; being a parent while still wanting to be nurtured ourselves. As I listen, I find myself laughing, crying and just taken by the reality of it all. 

The album opens with the title track “Hello My Baby,” which is more than just a greeting. In many ways, it’s the start of an experience that reflects the diverse and sometimes conflicted range of emotions that we have as parents. The second song, “Jump,” expresses the joy and and physical response our bodies have when we see that beautiful face, glowing eyes, and bright, toothless smile.  …“makes my insides go jump.”

Since her last record, Vered has spent time working with families and developing her company, Baby in Tune. With advanced degrees in both Music Therapy and Psychology, plus being a mom herself, Vered explains that “These songs are first and foremost based on my personal experience as a mom. But they are also informed by the time I spend listening to new parents who are looking for someone to relate to. I hope that these songs express how we all feel as parents and our connections to ourselves and our babies.”

In “Something other than a Mom,” Vered unmasks the naked, raw emotion of remembering who you were, who are you are now and how the two identities converge into one: “These days i forget to look into a mirror/ But if a glass catches me/ I see something other than a mom/ When I run my hands over my body/ I feel something strange/ It’s not like when i was something other than a mom/ It’s not to say that I don’t like being her/ But I’ve grown to know and love another/ So my baby/ Since you came/ I wonder if she’ll return.” This is something that goes through my mind all the time. Though I have been a mom for six years, and have mostly returned to my pre-baby form, I am still very aware that my body has changed, as has my identity. I know I can’t be the same girl I used to be, but as I listen to this song, I feel that I can be both the mom I am now and the girl I once was. 

Parenting is an adventure which presents many opportunities to learn, change and grow with your baby. Hello My Baby is a memorable album and one that I have not yet encountered in terms of its intent, depth and honesty for parents. This special collection of songs bridges the connection between parent to baby, encouraging a rich bonding experience. This album is a perfect companion to Vered’s debut, Good Morning My Love. I just wish I was handed these CDs instead of sitting through a birthing video from the 60’s in Lamaze class.

BONUS: I hope you enjoyed today’s music review! Hello My Baby is an exceptional album. In honor of Mother’s Day, Vered is offering Kids Can Groove readers a free download of her song “Changing.” Grab it here

Learn more about Vered’s work at the Baby in Tune official site.

For tips on using music to bond with your baby, check out Vered’s guest post here.

Check This Out: Classic Songs and Traditional Tunes – Andy Z

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In the children’s music genre there are folk songs a plenty, and with good reason. Their repetitive choruses encourage language development, and build a foundation for rhythm and rhyme. Many of them offer opportunities for movement, as well. I know I’m not the only one who has galloped around the room while singing “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain!”

Releasing an album full of traditional folk and classic children’s songs may not be out of the ordinary, however, as much as I have heard “This Land Is Your Land,” “Your Are My Sunshine,” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” I always appreciate when artists put an original spin on them, essentially creating something that feels new. That’s the difference for me every time.

Andy Zs sixth studio album, Classic Songs and Traditional Tunes, does just that. While planning for the release of this album, the Bay Area-based musician spent time researching the origins of popular folk songs in an effort to present them in their original lyrical form. Andy preserves the authentic sounds of the genre through carefully curated orchestral arrangements and infuses them with his signature charm and positive energy.

Families will enjoy singing along with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” a seasonal classic, revisiting the wild west with “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and harmonizing to “Happy Trails,” which features a sweet duet with Karla Kane from The Corner Laughers. Younger listeners (pre-school to lower elementary ages) will smile as they “Shake a Friend’s Hand,” “Shake Their Sillies Out,” and do “The Hokey Pokey.”

Em and I listened to the album together, and as she heard “This Land is Your Land” followed by “Shake a Friend’s Hand,” she proudly sang along excited by the fact that she knew all of the words. As I listened to her, I recalled how we sang together during her toddler years. It was surprisingly nostalgic.

Classic Songs and Traditional Tunes is an enjoyable collection of time-honored tracks that will appeal to children and adults of all ages. Sometimes reinventing the wheel can fall flat, but taking that same wheel and giving it a fresh coat of paint can be a wonderful thing.

Learn more about Andy’s latest efforts and Listen to samples from the album at the official “Classic Songs and Traditional Tunes site.”

Also make sure to check out the stellar troupe of Bay Area artists that accompanied Andy on “The Team” page at the official “Classic Songs and Traditional Tunes site.”

The album is available for purchase through CDBaby, Itunes, and Amazon.

Be sure to catch more of Andy’s tunes by subscribing to his Pandora channel.

“The Siblings Shake” – Happy National Siblings Day with The Mother Company And Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

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It’s hard enough navigating through this world as a single child, and just when you feel like you’ve got a handle on things a sibling comes into your world and changes up the dynamic. I have heard from many moms with multiples how intense the fighting can be at times. On the other hand, there are beautiful moments where siblings just hug it out like crazy and play together like the best friends.

The Siblings Show,” the latest installment in the “Ruby’s Studio” series, a multiple award winning show produced by The Mother Company, aims to encourage harmonious relationships between young siblings. Through animation and problem solving skits The Siblings Show offers relatable scenarios and tools to help siblings learn to understand and express their feelings, embrace teamwork and celebrate family. The show also addresses topics such as birth order, adoption, and anxiety around a new baby. Em has been very outspoken about not wanting a sibling for fear of losing time with us so being able to watch something that speaks to her and can comfort her is reassuring.

In honor of National Siblings Day, The Mother Company released a video performed by Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band for the song “The Siblings Shake.” As expected, Lucky and Alisha pour their infectious, sunny personality into this song with a bit of whimsy and humor. It’s hard not to feel the love when watching these two!

The Mother company is an awesome group of moms and experts who aim to provide rich entertainment to young children, and advice for parents. In addition to their latest installment, they also offer episodes empowering kids in areas of friendship, being the boss of their own body and safety. There is something for everyone in the family! Visit The Mother Company’s site and check it all out.

You can learn more about “The Siblings Show” and purchase the full-length DVD here.

Check this out: Cat Doorman – Calling All the Kids to the Yard!

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Cat Doorman (aka Julianna Bright) is back with a new EP! Calling All the Kids to the Yard! takes a quick little jaunt through a garden of fresh, rockin’ songs. Making a perfect companion to the ethereal Songbook, Bright’s kindie music debut, Calling All the Kids to the Yard! kicks things up a notch with 4 sprightly tracks eager to make you dance.

One of the many things I admire about Bright’s music is the cohesion between the vocals and instrumentation. Accents such as the piano or hand claps are perfectly timed and in sync with the meter of the song, as well as Bright’s bouncy vocals. There is clearly a lot of thought put into the production of her work!

Each track, infused with beautiful themes such as peace, love, kindness, and wonder, are filtered through inspiring words that are refreshing to hear.

“Drink this cup” picks up where “Peaceful” (from Songbook) left off. “Peaceful” ends with the lyrics “This life we choose, it fills our cup/ This life we choose, it gives so much,and “Drink this Cup” opens with Bright gratefully declaring that it’s time to “Drink this loving cup” and be nourished by the beauty life has to offer. “Wake Up” encourages kids to move through their day with kindness and an open heart while the title track encourages community building and care for the environment. “All the Pretty Little Horses,” is taken from a saunter to a canter as it urges you to “Kick up your hooves” and shake your tail, which you certainly will. Bright’s playful take on this classic showcases her hip style and dynamic range as a musician.

I love Bright’s style and am really enjoying the upbeat swing of this EP. Calling All the Kids to the Yard! is the first in a series of 4 seasonal EPs that are set to release over the course of this year. You can purchase this digital only release through the Bandcamp widget below.


For more Cat Doorman, check out Bright’s recent DJ spot on the Hilltown Family Variety Show, and her interview with the The Oregonian.

Exploring Kids’ Music Album Art: The Perfect Quirk by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

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Secret Agent 23 SkidooThe Perfect Quirk

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo’s 2014 Grammy nominated release rode in on the wave of encouraging kids to be themselves. This empowering proposition has been the underpinning of Skidoo’s genesis as a kids’ musician.

Throughout his career, Skidoo has been a staunch advocate of embracing your quirks, standing proud and tall and being who you are. His expressive style of encouraging kids to show their natural, bold colors is complemented well with the tonal choices made by North Carolina-based artist, John Hairston, Jr

Hairston, jr. is a fine art painter who often captures the juxtaposition of beauty and oddity. The images that appear throughout The Perfect Quirk packaging are unique for a kids’ album cover, and together with the music make a cohesive package. Skidoo is a kid hop artist and pays respect to the hip hop genre by including elements such as his graffiti tagged name, and the third eye of the boy on the back cover.

Emily carried this CD around for weeks completely fascinated by the metamorphic characteristics of the kids, especially the boy with the third eye. She was intrigued and wanted to know what the reasoning was behind the choices made for the cover. Seeing the peculiar images piqued her curiosity and imagination over and over again which ultimately enhance her listening experience.

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“The kids and parents all represent a mutation towards higher consciousness. The boy is spiritual, with a 3rd eye representing higher awareness. The girl has antennae, representing alien or intergalactic consciousness. The mother is multi-armed, riffing off Hindu deities and the Dad has angel wings. The race is supposed to be a futuristic mix of all races, when racism has been put down and everybody gets with everybody. The skin color, hairstyle, face and eye shape, etc.” Continue reading