As much as I have heard the ABCs, and sung them (backwards and forwards), I am always pleased when artists come up with their own unique versions. Below are two that we encountered recently that are worth mentioning.
San Francisco singer-songwriter, Kristin Kellner, serves up a fun version of the alphabet with eye pleasing animation (hat tip to Jovanna Tosello) and some rock n’ roll swagger. Each letter is attached to a word which makes this song an excellent vehicle for supporting language and literacy skills. Rock n’ Roll ABCs is perfect visual aid for little ones just learning the song, toddlers ready to recognize letters, as well as big boys and girls who are ready to practice reading and writing.
Rock n’ Roll ABCs can be found on Kellner’s children’s music debut, Obstacle Course, which she hopes will “prompt family jam sessions and inspire budding musicians everywhere to pick up an instrument and ROCK!” Check her out!
Play Date – “XYZ” Keeping on the alphabet rock tip, Play Date’s “XYZ,” from their NPR featured album Imagination, features Shanti Wintergate’s sweet voice with even sweeter lyrics: “J is for Joy..to the world/K is for Kindness for every boy and girl.”
While “XYZ” does not have an original video, Nordstrom loved the song so much that they created their own Back to School 2014 version for a commercial called “The A-Z Life.” Pretty stylin’!
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.”
Whenever a new video from The Pop Ups, um, pops up, it’s always brimming with humor and creativity. Their videos, like their songs, are clever and have a way of luring me into pressing repeat/rewind several times over.
The Brooklyn duo’s latest video for the song “Subway Train” was debuted at the New York International Children’s Film Festival and is ah-mazing. Wow! The animation, done by Garret Davis (who did “Box of Crayons”), is an art form in and of itself and a reminder of why music videos are such an integral part of our musical culture. Frankly, it makes me want to scream “I Want My MTV!”
“Subway Train,” featured on The Pop Ups’ 2010 debut Outside Voices, is a zany underground journey on various subway trains with a bunch of animal riders. The song’s concept is really interesting in that it engages young listeners (5 and under) in a developmentally appropriate way while incorporating educational elements in a non-traditional way. Set to electronic beats, listeners can interact with the song by making animal sounds when prompted. For example, “Apes on the A train going ‘oo oo ah ah’,” Bees on the B train goin’ Bzzz Bzzz,’” etc. It’s a hip, condensed blend of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and “The Alphabet Song.”
As usual, The Pop Ups do not disappoint. “Subway Train” is definitely a trip.
Wanna hear the rest of the album, take a listen and consider buying it via the Bandcamp widget below:
Cat Doorman, the alter-ego of Julianna Bright, is the latest shining star to enter the world of kindie music. From Portland, Oregon, Bright recently released Cat Doorman Songbook. The album contains 14 impressive tracks (12 originals) offering thoughtful lyrics and a gamut of musical styles and accompaniment by performers such as Chris Funk (Decemberists), Seth Lorinczi (Corin Tucker Band), Garth Klippert (Old Light), Nick Reddel (Golden Bears), Annalisa Tornfelt (Black Prairie) and Ralf Youtz (Built to Spill).
While the Cat Doorman Songbook is Bright’s debut into the children’s music arena, the bulk of the album could very well hold its own in the adult indie world, which is not surprising as Bright has experience with indie successes such as The Quails and her current adult band, The Golden Bears.
Bright is also a talented visual artist, which is made evident throughout the album’s “songbook” as her colorful drawings and funky fonts add charm to its pages.
There is so much depth to this album, it’s incredible. To start, Bright has an undeniably beautiful voice which soars and expands with great control. The songs on the album are melodic and smart, containing sophisticated lyrics which were no doubt inspired by Bright’s educational background in English literature, but also by her wonderfully creative mind as an artist. For example, Bright takes a literary approach to the traditional alphabet song in “So Many Words” as she introduces fun words like “Bandicoot,” “Hemlock” and “Katydid.” There are, however, some familiar words mixed in like “Allosaurus,” for the dinosaur loving fans, as well as, “Archipelago,” “Glacier” and “Nocturnal.” Even if these words are not familiar to little ears, they are fun to say and offer a perfect opportunity for learning.
Other familiar songs include a rendition of Syd Barrett’s “Effervescing Elephant” and Bright’s fetching take on “Little Red Wagon,” which was released with an iPad app of the same name (produced in collaboration with Night & Day Studios).
While I appreciate the songs my 4 year old can sing along to, it’s the complexity of the other songs that I enjoy the most, mainly because of the eloquence with which the words are sung and the deeper meaning of the messages they convey. It’s as if some songs on the album are speaking back to a childhood version of Bright while others celebrate the delight she experiences as a parent.
“Two Old Shoes,” a gorgeously arranged song with some wonderful brass accents, is all about being yourself, accepting who you are and finding the beauty in things that are unpolished, despite the expectations of the world. “Lonely Girl” is a message of self-empowerment with a gentle reminder that we are capable of breaking free from the insecurities that keep us from moving towards greater things.
“With Linked Arms,” is a haunting ballad that moves at a saunter while Bright’s voice reinforces devotion and the promise of companionship. “Whistling Song,” reminiscent of Norah Jones in “Come Away With Me,” is a sentimental jaunt that encapsulates the bliss of sharing an afternoon with your little loved one. “Inspiration” is a dreamy reflection of the feelings associated with having your first child while “Let’s Get Dressed Up,” celebrates the fanciful delight in wearing grown-up clothes.
“Turn Around,” my absolute favorite song on the album, features Bright’s golden voice soaring over the following lyrics which reinforces the universal reach of this album. The last verse gives me chills every time I hear it.
The radio sounds a serenade that’s carrying us on. Surely it is my song Surely it is yours Surely it was made just for us all at one and all at once Surely it is my poem surely it is yours Let the meter move us, turn us, take us up and ever make us new…
The Cat Doorman Songbook is a lovely gift for the entire family that is best enjoyed while easing into the morning, during lazy afternoons and winding down in the evenings. Julianna Bright delivers each song as though it is a poem and she does it with “all the grace of a flower.”
You can listen to clips from Cat Doorman Songbook via the SoundCloud widget below, as well as a video for “Inspiration,” which was inspired by the birth of Bright’s daughter. The story & illustrations for the “Inspiration” video were made by Bright based on drawings by her daughter.