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 Z‘s 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 →
Imagine, for a moment, strolling barefoot through a lush grassy meadow. As the first light hits your face you are instantly caressed by its warmth. The joy that comes from bathing in that moment describes the feeling I get when listening to Suz Slezak sing. Her gentle voice tenderly radiates warmth and peace.
Slezak’s solo debut, Watching the Nighttime Come, was originally written for friends who are also young parents. As a lullaby album it does it’s job of providing soothing ambient sounds that are perfect for, as Suz explains, “anyone that just needs some chilling out in their life.” I can definitely relate to this, and actually found myself mostly playing this album after my daughter was asleep as a way to help me unwind and reflect on my own day.
Watching the Nighttime Come was started while Slezak was pregnant and finished after she had a babe in her arms. As someone who seeks a creative outlet while trying to balance my responsibilities as a mom, I greatly admire Slezak’s dedication to herself as an artist.
The collection of songs on the album present a nice blend of originals and classics, some with vocals and some that are simply instrumental which make for nice, fluid transitions. There are also some cultural songs such as “Caballito Blanco,” a Mexican lullaby which features Slezak’s husband, David Wax, singing in harmony with her. One of my favorites, “Leather Winged Bat,” a well known English Folk Song, is actually an uptempo song, adding some buoyancy to the collection.
Another talent of Slezak’s is the fiddle, which she plays in the acclaimed indie-folk band David Wax Museum. We get to hear a bit of her magic in “Jessie’s Waltz,” an instrumental track showcasing the stringed instrument’s gorgeous and contemplative sounds. “Jessie’s Waltz” echoes the graceful, gliding movement of an actual waltz. I enjoyed taking my daughter’s hands and slowly dancing with her. She loves this song and at times she would close her eyes as she danced like a ballerina, feeling the music. It’s an intimate song that would also be wonderful to hum to a sleepy infant while smoothly sliding around as you cradle them in your arms.
Watching the Nighttime Come is officially released tomorrow, February 10, 2015. You can sample several songs, and get an up close and personal look at their touring van, through Slezak’s Pledge Music site.
In honor of the album’s official release, you can stream “Where Did You Come From,” (the album’s first song) through the Soundcloud widget below. As you listen to this track and experience the remaining 9 tracks on this album, you will quickly discover what a treasure it is, for you, for your family, and for your friends, as its meant to be.
Slezak will be playing a bunch of CD Release shows leading up to Valentine’s Day. For more information, check out the David Wax Museum website and follow Suz Slezak on Facebook.
I love album art! Since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the imagery that accompanies music. Two art forms in one package has always been a source of wonder. Getting a new record, taking in the smell of fresh pressed vinyl, and examining the cover was just as exciting as dropping the needle and hearing the crackle and pop.
LP jackets adorned our walls as though they were installations in a gallery, and with each one I would spend a considerable amount of time examining the art, wondering why a specific image had been chosen, what inspiration and story lay behind it, and how it represented the music within.
As music is increasingly consumed digitally, album art is at risk of becoming an afterthought. There are still many musicians, however, who are taking the time to ensure that their music has a visually distinctive identity. In the children’s genre many kindie artists are preserving the novelty by releasing a complementary LP version of their album while others are beefing up their album packages with informational booklets, and DVDs.
The graphic at the top of this post shows a sampling of albums from 2014 that caught my eye. As you glance at this collection, you’ll immediately notice what a diverse array of artwork it is! I feel so fortunate to be a part of such a talented community of artists and musicians, each working hard to create a lasting multi-sensory impression.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be talking with musicians and artists, gaining and sharing insight into the creative process that led to the final packaging you see today. If you’re a music fan, a fan of art, or simply a collector of interesting artifacts, I hope you’ll join me in learning about the “other half” of the album…. the one you see, but never hear.
Imagine you were sitting in a dimly lit cafe at a small round table with a single frosted votive flickering. The stage is but a shadow awaiting its wake up call.
Suddenly, a spotlight’s wide owl eye shines in the center of the curtain, the music strikes up, and out comes the brightest smile you’ve ever seen. Your heart is warmed and you feel your own smile widen as the lovely lady in front of you begins to sing.
Meet Lucy Kalantari, a New York-based singer-songwriter who has a dazzling voice reminiscent of notables like Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Kalantari’s debut children’s EP, Pockets full of Joy, captures the spirit of the Roaring Twenties with 6 ukulele ditties that express the elation and humor found in parenting. Each song reflects an observation or emotion, both from the point of view of a parent and of a child, though the songs could easily stand on their own and be enjoyed with a loved one of any age.
Pockets Full of Joy opens with the title track, which expresses the enchantment you feel when you are around that special someone who melts (or swells) your heart with a smile or warm embrace.
“The Only Thing” enlivens the ecstatic effects of true love with heartfelt lyrics:
Celebrating life with you Grateful for the things you do Falling in your loving arms Greeted by your graceful charm I can’t imagine this life without your magic And I’m the one you chose to woo
In “Wait and See” Kalantari balances out her feelings of adoration with a more contemplative song that daydreams into the future, pondering what the little person in her life will grow up to be. I find myself often wondering the same thing about my daughter, while wanting to stop time and just stay suspended in our special moments together.
Once you become a parent, you are given a fresh sense of the world. So much of what you see is viewed through new lenses. Suddenly the canvas in front of you changes, a new painting appears, vivid and complex. The unexplainable love that one feels is not easily communicated, but Kalantari so beautifully channels what this new identity, new role, feels like. This expression is what I enjoy so much about the album.
Pockets Full of Joy is a wonderful keepsake for new parents, one that can be passed to child(ren) later on, and also be a treasure for you as you revisit those special moments every step of the way.
Check out Lucy Kalantari’s official site where you can download the album, sample songs and sing along with the lyrics. Or, visit her Joy Store where you can purchase a physical signed copy of the album.
The practice of being mindful is often associated with being still, so as to be fully in the moment. It’s not thinking about the past or future, but a distinguishable present. The idea of purposefully being in the moment, and not thinking about the flurry of things waiting to be checked off throughout the day, or the things I didn’t get to yesterday, seems like an impossible feat on most days.
The times I feel most in the moment are when I’m listening to my favorite song, or when I’m dancing. Yoga is also a reliable resource that helps me find a way to just be.
My daughter is very active and though I have tried to connect with her through yoga, encouraging her to try out various poses, she regularly finds a way to augment our practice by challenging me to try an even harder Twister-like pose or some sort of gymnastic move like flipping over the arm of our couch and then flying down to the floor. Though our zen moments tend to be more active than still, I appreciate that we can both just “be” together, in the moment, mindfully trying things out.
Kira Willey, a popular kindie artist and musical yogini, recently released her third album, How to be a Cloud; Yoga Songs for Kids Vol. 3. Similar to her previous albums, this one includes a full-length “side” of 13 songs followed by 9 bonus tracks featuring yoga instruction. So depending on how you’re feeling, you can choose to sing, dance or get your yoga on, all of which are viable vehicles for cultivating mindfulness, and can be done at the same time. It also helps that the album includes a booklet illustrating yoga poses which removes any awkwardness that comes with trying to figure out how you should position your body.
What struck me most about this album is the clever way the songs are arranged. While most albums usually build to a peak and then wind down, ending with a soft song or lullaby, How to be a Cloud was organized such that the slow songs are interspersed throughout the album. The changing from upbeat boogie tunes to soft, restful songs is similar to the way a yoga class might run where there is guided movement and then there are holding poses. By giving kids the opportunity to be active for a few songs, they are more likely to engage with the slower songs that pique their imagination. “Kids need to move their bodies, it’s how they learn best,” notes Willey. I noticed this with my daughter whose method of cultivating mindfulness is through action, as mentioned above. Feeling her feet hit the ground and then push upward again provides her brain with enough feedback so that she is able to focus and reap the restorative benefits of songs like the title track (“How to be a Cloud”), which encourages sitting and imagining what it feels like to be a cloud, feeling the weightless floating. The restful lullaby, “When You Sleep,” also offers the opportunity for a reflective pause as Willey’s peaceful wishes gracefully glide like dandelion seeds through the air.
There is a lot of joy sprinkled throughout this album and while you can feel it in the aforementioned songs, there are plenty opportunities to break out your happy dance. “Gotta Lotta Happy” reminds us that we can keep our hearts smiling by offering positive energy to others: “Happy is contagious like a cold in a good way/ so let’s not hesitate to share/ we gotta talk about it celebrate it shine a light on it/ because everybody needs it everywhere.” “Wings On A String,” a gorgeous song with soaring vocals that give me chills every time, was written as a kite song because, as Willey explains, “kids love to fly.”
“Great Big Starry Sky,” one of my favorites, expresses the innocence of a child’s thoughts as they marvel at the bright lights that twinkle like fireflies in the night sky. The childlike wonder expressed in the lyrics resonates with me as I am deeply fascinated by all things astral: “…are they always there, even when the sun is shining does anyone ever turn them off/ or are they always there even when we can’t see them does anyone ever turn them off.”
“Colors – 2014,” a remix of the original song that appeared on Willey’s first album, Dance for the Sun, and was later featured in a Dell commercial, features a choir of 75 Kindergartners who bring a powerful element as they sing “I am a rainbow today/ all the colors of the world are in me.” Many listeners will relate to “Dancing with My Daddy,” which is basically a literal translation of the utter joy and magic that happens when Daddy comes home, while “Jazzy” and “Cookie Jar” nab you with some catchy lyrics and hip shaking rhythm. Just try and get those two out of your head!
Willey’s approach to songwriting and passion to encourage kids (and grown-ups) to find beauty in themselves is ever-present throughout this album. Each song, whether upbeat or slow provides a meaningful message that delivers a sense of calm and comfort. Delivered through beautiful melodies, How to be a Cloud offers the comfort of a hug, the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day, and a heart full of gratitude. Families will enjoy spending time with this album in a variety of ways, which is especially nice on wintry days when Jack Frost is nipping at our noses. Definitely recommended.
Liner notes – Favorite songs: Jazzy, Cookie Jar, Great Big Starry Sky, Wings on a String
– SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s Kids Place Live (Channel 78) airs Willey’s “Backseat Yoga Breaks” in the morning on the Absolutely Mindy show. The “Backseat Yoga Breaks” guide children in breathing exercises, mini stretches and guided imagery that can be done in the car.
– Willey has a musical yoga-for-kids interstitial series that airs on selected PBS TV affiliates!
Connect with Willey via Facebook, Twitter and her official site where you can purchase How to be a Cloud, as well as merchandise (including a ribbon ring to use while you dance to “Colors” as shown in the video below).
Recently, Jason Didner (of Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam) and Suzi Shelton teamed up to record a cover of the song “Free to Be…You And Me,” which is the title track for an album of the same name. Produced by Marc Bazerman from Baze and His Silly Friends, the sound of this version is very similar to the original with the modern-day addition of the saxophone played by Alyssa Menes. Listening to Didner and Shelton bring this track back to life, I found myself hearing a song from my youth with a more mature ear. I was inspired to dig deeper and upon listening to the full album, I felt a great appreciation for just how revolutionary it was for its time.
42 years ago, the album Free to Be…You and Me was created by actress Marlo Thomas and released into the world based on the notion that children, regardless of gender, should be free to feel and express their feelings, and grow up to be whomever they think they ought to be. It was, in many ways, a benchmark in support of a more gender neutral society. The album was so popular that it’s concept was expanded into a book and later a TV special. Many of the songs on the album touched upon progressive topics for their time (1972), i.e a girl could choose to be a doctor, and a boy could hone his paternal instincts by playing with a (baby) doll. The latter, found in the song “William Wants a Doll” was especially profound. I have never heard or seen anything encouraging boys to play with dolls. It seems so natural to encourage this based on the long-term benefit it could have on them later in life. A provocative assertion, maybe, but quite astounding when I think about it now as a parent. As a whole, the entire album really opened my eyes to how much progress we have made and yet how much more there is to go.
Didner felt the same way about the song when he revisited it recently and shared his thoughts: “Today, 42 years after the song’s original debut, it holds new meaning, celebrating the fact that women have become astronauts and CEO’s, and men have become stay-at-home dads and nurses since then. On a personal level, I celebrate the upbringing I had where I learned that I get to define my manhood on my own terms and that I don’t have to fear anyone’s judgment for painting my daughter’s nails and being a nurturing daddy.”
Didner continues, “When I reconnected with this song, I felt the pull to learn the song and sing it acoustically. The inspiration came quickly that I should record the song with the band and bring on a special guest singer — one whose voice radiates warmth and happiness (ed note: SO TRUE!) — I reached out to Suzi Shelton to sing this as a duet with me. It was only natural to also connect with Suzi’s producer Marc “Baze” Bazerman, a friend of mine from NJ’s kindie scene.”
Welcome to the Kingdom of Animalia! Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke (KWMC) are back and this time they have a whole new cast of animal characters for you to meet. Animal Tales is the duo’s fourth album and one that you should expect to spend a lot of time with because it’s just that good. We have had it on repeat for over a month now and I still learn something new with every spin. Em liked it so much that she illustrated her own book featuring every animal from the album. Now that’s love! She even insisted on contributing her own thoughts “for other kids!” which is featured at the end of this review.
As always, the brilliance of KWMC’s work can be found within the fine-tuned details. Whether it’s Wilde’s gorgeous illustration that graces the album’s cover or the skillful way each song is constructed, it’s clear that this talented duo puts a ton of thought into their work. Imagine if you were to open a National Geographic Kids or Ranger Rick magazine and there was music playing on each page. Animal Tales takes the pages of these beloved magazines and brings them to life with soundtracks that are cleverly matched to a variety of animal personalities. The songs are rich with fun animal facts that also include the the artists’ lovable sense of humor and clever ability to play with words and phrases, making it one of the most listenable and entertaining albums out there. “The Buck Stops Here,” is a prime example of these guys totally nailing it.
“I heard that the buck stops here/ They tell me that the buck stops here/ But I’ve been here for a year/ And I Ain’t seen a single deer/ Gotta move on it’s time to roam/ But I’ll wait until the cows come home/ Heard that the buck stops here/ …/I’m waiting ’til the cows to come home/ But the cows may never come home/ It’s a waste of time and I’ll tell you why/ Cows will come home when pigs can fly… /Some say pigs can fly/ Others say it’s just a lie/ Never seen a pig in the sky/ But the doctor says pigs can fly/ Doctor said it so it must be true/ Doctor said “Swine flu.”
“Larry the Lobster” also includes a brief quip which gets me smiling every time. When Herman the Hermit Crab moves to a new shell, he bids his anemone friends farewell by saying, “With friends like me who needs anemones?”
While most of the 13 tracks on the album relate to animal stories, there is also support for wildlife conservation, reminding us of the challenges animal’s face whether it’s due to population decline, habitat changes or environmental challenges. “The Bear Song,” one of our favorite songs, teaches about 8 species of bears throughout the world.There’s even a shout out for the sugary kind. Do you know the color of a Polar Bear’s skin or which bear sings her cubs to sleep? The song and its accompanying video were created in collaboration with the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, a non-profilt wildlife rehabilitation facility dedicated to the care and release of orphaned and injured wildlife. Emily loves this song so much that she actually said to me “mama, be quiet and listen to the facts.” I mean, that’s for real.
Animals have always been a central theme with this duo. Animal Tales, in particular, was largely inspired by Wilde’s interest in animals from his own childhood and the intrigue they brought him. He explains,
“As a child I was constantly drawing pictures of animals. I loved reading about animals and observing them whenever possible. To me, each species expressed its own character and personality. Music was another big obsession and I suppose I made this record because I would have loved it when I was a kid.”
Animal tales is truly an album for families to share. Listeners will be treated to a musical expedition accompanied by a bountiful supply of fresh tracks that both educate and entertain. You’re always taken on a wild adventure with this dynamic duo which is exactly why we love them.
Emily’s Take: They always know what to do about soaring things in the sky and on land. Bears, birds and bees, squirrels and frogs. Things you don’t know about animals you get to learn! They make children laugh. It’s kind of funny when you think about a cat named Beastapuss. Animal facts are fun.
– Animal Tales was produced by Grammy-winning producer Dean Jones
– Favorite songs: The Bear Song, Alligator Get-Together, Beastapuss
– Key Wilde has done artwork for Avanti Greeting Cards, the Central Park Conservancy and the Woodlands Wildelife Refuge which was featured in a book called Broke Leg Bear, a true story about a badly injured cub who was rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Learn more andpurchase the book here.
– KWMC’s “Animal Alphabet” video has reached over 660,000 views! The song is also featured in a Mibblio app along with Wilde’s beautiful artwork.
Meet Armando Armadillo from last week’s video release and grab a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song.