Check This Out: Welcome To The Village – Aaron Nigel Smith

“Welcome, we wish you peace. Welcome to the village, share a song with me.” Those few words speak volumes on Aaron Nigel Smith‘s latest release with One World Chorus, Welcome to the Village, where over 300 children sing renditions of songs from greats like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, The Beatles, Jewel and Louis Armstrong. Incorporating an eclectic mix of reggae, classical, world and american folk music, among others, Welcome to the Village welcomes families into a cultural celebration of love and gratitude for the things we have and the people around us.

Welcome to the Village is Aaron’s first release with the children of One World Chorus, a non-profit organization committed to using music as a mechanism to “build bridges” for children, both in the United States and abroad. Aaron and his wife, Diedre, co-founded the chorus in 2009. Over the course of the last couple of years, Aaron spent time traveling around the U.S. between Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, New York City and all the way to Nairobi, Kenya where 30 kids from the Cura Orphanage participated in the recording of this album. The Cura Orphanage is a special place that offers residency for children who have lost their parents to AIDS. Proceeds from the sale of Welcome to the Village will be donated to the orphanage in hopes of building sustainable music and programming.

Aaron carries an extensive background in music and movement, which began while he studied and performed with The American Boychoir School at age 11. Seeking out his passion and love for music, Aaron along with his wife Deidre, founded FUNdamentals of Music and Movement in 2002. FUNdamentals of Music and Movement serves as a music program for over 100 early education centers nationwide.

As much as it is quite evident that Aaron is a talented musician and songwriter, he has also done an excellent job of selecting songs for Welcome to the Village. On a couple of the songs, Aaron brought in fellow friends and highly acclaimed kindie artists for some sweet collaborations. Starting with a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Man Gave Names,” Laurie Berkner, Lucky Diaz and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, each join in as an animal while adding a touch of their personality to the mix. There’s even perhaps a subtle reference to Blue Bear as Lucky sings “…great big furry back with blue hair.” But the real showstopper is when Skidoo jumps in with a quick lyrical jaunt about a Platypus which blew our minds! This strange creature has been of particular interest to my daughter lately. Prior to hearing this song, and in just a few seconds, Skidoo schooled us with way more eloquence than I could have managed. It’s an exciting and well-thought out rendition of this classic, oft covered song.

“Grateful,” one of the originals on the album, features Dan Zanes. The song will warm your heart with Zanes’ Dylan-esque vocals encouraging us to give our “friends a big hug for all that they provide.” It’s oozing with sincerity and appreciation for the people around us, the beauty of the planet we live on and the air we breathe. The song is a prime example of Aaron’s talent to write and compose a deeply meaningful, authentic song.

But the true authenticity in Welcome to the Village is of course, the voices of the children, including Aaron’s duo with his son Zion on the Beatles’ cover of “Mother Nature’s Son.” In fact, it was Zion’s idea to sing the song and include it on the album. There are also traditional African songs which include rhythmic, multi-layered percussion, signature to the sounds of that culture. It’s actually these songs that my 3-year-old likes the best. Starting with “Fanga Alafia,” Em’s absolute favorite and one that she sings on her own even after the album is over. And, when I don’t sing the correct pronunciation (in her opinion) she is quick to correct me. There is also “Che Che Cole,” a fun call and response song to which Em immediately participates as if she’s part of the chorus, while Aaron calls out and the children respond masterfully. The album ends with a traditional choir song called “Siyahamba” which can be translated into a song about unity and peace.

Other notable songs include a slowed down, Dub style rendition of Jewel’s “Hands,” which features the kids from the orphanage. The song fits in nicely with the sentiment behind Welcome to the Village as it was meant to provide hope in the face of misfortune. The song is led by a female soloist whose voice is similar in pitch and tone to Jewel’s. The hauntingly beautiful rendition brings me chills as I hear the innocence and emotion of the children’s voices. There is also the educational “In A Book,” an educational reggae song written by Aaron, featuring his son Zion, as a soloist, along with the kids from the chorus spelling out words. For example: Aaron: “It’s in a book .” Chorus: “That’s right, a b-o-o-k.” Even if your little one can’t quite spell yet, he or she is given the opportunity to learn while singing along with these simple lyrics.

My personal favorite happens to be “Sound the Trumpet” which features Aaron (and a male vocalist from the chorus) flexing his operatic muscles on this short, classic piece. I pretty much just love to roll my r’s along with the guys and pretend I actually am an opera singer.

Welcome to the Village is a true reflection, regardless of age, who, what or where you are, you can experience and participate in the joy of music. Not to mention children love to hear other children sing and Aaron is no stranger to making quality music for families. In addition to being a father of two sons, who both appear on this album (as soloists and part of the chorus), he has received various parenting awards for his first two releases Let’s Pretend and Everyone Loves to Dance. He has also appeared on the PBS Kids Emmy Award winning show Between the Lions and is featured on several new Music for Little People releases, including Buckwheat Zydeco’s Bayou Boogie, and World Travels.

Music is fulfilling, brings people together and is meant to be shared. This is exactly what Aaron and the children of One World Chorus bring with the release of Welcome to the Village. In Aaron’s words, “When kids sing together, I hope that they enjoy sharing the gift of music and learning a valuable discipline that can be used to promote positive change in the world. It’s great to see the light in kids’ eyes as they realize just how many other kids are participating in the project.”

On this album, it literally took a village and then some, to create this special treasure. So kick off your shoes and stay a while; you won’t be disappointed. Ages 2 – 5 will enjoy learning, singing along and participating in the album.

See below for videos related to the making of Welcome to the Village.  You can learn more about and support One World Chorus here, as well as, the Cura Orphanage Home here.

Digital samples and downloads can be found on Amazon. The album is also available for download and purchase on iTunes.

[Courtesy of YouTube]

Disclosure: I received a copy for possible review and was overjoyed to provide my honest opinion regarding the album.

Check This Out: The Harmonica Pocket – Apple Apple

Fall is approaching and that means beautiful colors, cozy sweaters and delicious apples. What better way to celebrate the upcoming season than with a new release from The Harmonica Pocket.

Apple Apple, the third children’s release from The Harmonica Pocket, is a melodic dream. The eloquence with which the words and instrumentation flow throughout the album leave you feeling like someone just whispered a gentle lullaby in your ear. It’s very sweet and the stories these songs tell contain simple words and familiar concepts which the wee ones should easily identify with.

The Harmonica Pocket is primarily made up of Keeth Apgar (main vocals, master songwriter, multi-instrumentalist) but also features a regular group of folks, one of which includes partner, Nala Walla, who delivers rich harmonic vocals throughout the album, as well as, fellow Seattle-based Kindiependent artists such as Johnny Bregar (banjo), Jack Foreman from Recess Monkey (bass throughout) and Caspar Babypants (vocals). The recording of this album, as well as their previous albums, took place in a solar powered studio on a tiny island in Puget Sound, Washington.

Many of the songs on Apple Apple are like poems, with each line complementing the one before it. What I particularly love about the album is how it plays with linguistics, character development and timing. The songs are multi-dimensional, containing carefully paired lyrical and musical melodies. The instruments in many of these songs are just as important as the words, often times acting as another voice with the pluck of a chord or the warm, rich tone of the saxophone at just the right time. They even serve to heighten a climatic moment within a song just by a change in time signature. A great example of this is in “Afraid of Heights,” a beautiful song about a bird who comes out of its shell and is afraid to fly. The song starts in 4/4 time and makes a transition to 3/4 time when the bird sees the sky, faces its fears and flies. It’s this simple change that evokes a feeling of exhileration that comes from overcoming your fears, just as the little bird did.

The sentiment behind Apple Apple is somewhat different than the previous, highly acclaimed “Ladybug One” as both Keeth and Nala have become parents. As a result, several of the songs, i.e. “Diaperman,” “Monkey Love,” “Reflections” and “Little Baby,” to name a few, are inspired by this new development. The songs carry a calming, chilled out vibe with some notes of folk, jazz, pop and even some reggae.

Conceptually, there is also this notion of experiencing life “naturally” and having that be the driving force behind the creative process. A great example of this is the smooth, jazzy little song “Bare Feet,” which was inspired by Apgar’s personal experience with climbing trees as a child (and somewhat occasionally as an adult). The song describes kicking off your shoes, climbing a tree with bare feet and observing the feeling of the bark, the wind blowing, as well as, looking with wonder at the birds and the leaves on the trees. I love the lyrics “Kick off my shoes/Pull myself up by my own hands/A breeze blows through/Everything moves and we slow dance/Above me only clear blue sky/So good to be outside/I forget sometimes/That I need to play/Everyday/…And all I need are my bare feet/climbing up to the top of this apple tree.”

In addition to apples, the album covers a variety of topics. There is counting in “I’m Gonna Count” which invites listeners to count stones on the beach by single digits (1, 2, 3), leaves on the trees by even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8) and stars in the sky by 5’s (5, 10, 15, 20…) and syllabic playfulness in the title track “Apple Apple” where each word is broken up and sung with one syllable. It’s a great game to play with the actual lyrics of the song, but also in making up your own words. It’s always good for a few laughs.

Em particularly gets a kick out of the baby tooting in “Little Baby” and laughs with a slight squeal after waiting for it. She knows it’s coming and waits in anticipation with a smile, repeating “just wait, it’s comin’ up, it’s comin’ up, the baby’s gonna toot!” until she hears it.

Other notable songs include one of our favorites “Monkey Love,” features Caspar Babypants as Monkey two. The song basically uses the word Monkey repetitiously to tell the tale of three monkeys who come together and become a family. “Monkey one Monkey two Monkey three/Monkey me Monkey he Monkey she/ Monkey love Monkey we Monkey be family….” “Turkey in the Straw,” one of my personal favorites, is a slowed down rendition of the original with a funky kind of groove.

Rounding out the album are some slower songs which make perfect lullabies and embody the love that Apple Apple was premised on. ‘Reflections,’ for example, was written while Keeth was out walking with his son, sometimes in the middle of the night or early in the morning, to help him fall asleep. I think most parents should either relate to or remember this very vividly.

Apgar, along with the rest of The Harmonica Pocket contingent, create a rich environment that carries the message of love, acceptance, wonder and respect for the world around us. Apple Apple is sure to be enjoyed by the 0 – 5 crowd and their grown-ups. Without a doubt one of our favorite albums of the year so far. I encourage all of you to tempt your palate and take a bite out of this record. It will absolutely satisfy your “aural” taste buds.

Copies of the album are available at and Individual songs and album downloads can be found at the aforementioned sites as well as iTunes,,, eMusic, Spotify and many other digital download stores.

You can also “look inside” the album here, find lyrics and read about the songs’ stories here. Highly Recommended.

Below you will find a clip for the reggae influenced “Happy Mother’s Day,” as well as, a video for the silly yet heroic tale of “Diaperman.”

“Happy Mother’s Day”

Diaperman [courtesy of YouTube]

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of the album for possible review. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are based solely on my honest opinion.

Check It Out: Elizabeth Mitchell – Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie

July 14, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birthday and just a few days before that Smithsonian Folkways released ”Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie” by Elizabeth Mitchell, the only CD of Guthrie’s children’s songs coinciding with the Woody Guthrie Centennial. This is Mitchell’s third release from the Smithsonian Folkways label and her sixth children’s album to date. “Little Seed” is a mix of 8 previously released tracks and 5 newly-recorded tracks by Mitchell which sound great laid out on one album together.

The songs covered on “Little Seed” stem from two of Woody Guthrie’s children’s albums, recorded in 1947, called “Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child” and “Nursery Days.” Like Guthrie, Mitchell is a folk frontrunner and icon in her own right, being the first female artist signed to the Smithsonian Folkways label and certainly one of the most beloved artists within the kid’s music scene. So it is with little surprise that Elizabeth Mitchell released a children’s album in celebration of Woody Guthrie’s life. And, while all of her music in the last 10+ years has been directed towards children and families, her sound is highly portable and could very well crossover into the adult arena without a snicker or sneer.

In comparison to the otherwise dusty recordings of the Guthrie originals, Mitchell brings color and life to her re-imagined versions on “Little Seed.” Not to mention she very easily glides through some complex tongue-twisting lyrics, which happen to remind me of a few Dr. Seuss books, making it even easier to follow along than some of the originals. Mitchell’s voice is soothing and clear like a serene lake and refreshing like a cold glass of water on a hot day.

“Little Seed” contains regularly covered classics like “Riding In My Car” which features Mitchell’s niece’s sweet little voice singing along and laughing about a frog riding in a car, and “Bling Blang” which is brought to life by the upbeat rhythm of some chest thumps and knee slaps. There is also an ode to the wonderment with which a child experiences while riding on a carousel in “Merry Go Round” which personifies the experience of riding a pony and reels us into the innocence and wonder of a child’s imagination. The lyrics so sweetly and vividly bring the pony to life as Mitchell sings /come lets rub the ponies hair…/now let’s climb on the ponies back…/pick up my reins and buckle my straps…/it’s faster now my pony runs/up to the mooon and down to the sun/my pony runs to the music and drums/around and around and around/now he runs as fast as the wind and gallops and trots and dances a jig/ my pony is tired and wants to slow down/around and around and around.

Mitchell is not alone in the arrangement and production of this album. As in previous albums, her daughter Storey and her husband Daniel Littleton join in with additional vocals and instrumentation. I particularly like the dimension Littleton’s voice adds on “Why Oh Why” and his guitar solo on “Who’s My Pretty Baby,” which happens to be a beloved Elizabeth Mitchell classic in our home.

Additional artists like Dean Jones from Dog On Fleas, as well as Clem Waldmann, a recognized percussionist from Blue Man Group and his wife Kristen Jacobsen also join in broadening the depth of the sound, further bringing Guthrie’s songs to life. The addition of the the balafon, played by Dean Jones, and the flute played by Clem’s wife Kristen Jacobsen in “Sleep Eye,” one of my favorites on this album, brings a playful element to the song. Also notable is Clem Waldmann’s percussive accompaniment on “Rattle my Rattle” which is funky and adds more space to the updated version; whereas Guthrie’s version feels slightly more rushed in order to keep up with the complexity of his own words and much like a baby shaking a rattle.

“Little Seed” was a sentimental project for Mitchell as the discovery of Guthrie’s children’s album “Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child” is what inspired her to start making music for children. She has done an excellent job of capturing Woody’s sweet, loving and sensitive side in her celebration of his life.

The album is 29 minutes long, available for purchase or download through Amazon and is packaged with 20 pages of liner notes containing snippets of lyrics and beautiful photos of Mitchell and her family; it’s a beautiful keepsake for already devoted fans, as well as, newcomers. The booklet also contains a bit of historical fact and references for literary works that have been published on Woody, as well as the song “This Land Is Your Land.” Mitchell not only includes this song on the album, even though it was not intended to be a children’s song when Woody first wrote it, but makes a point of singing three verses that are often left out in more recent versions of the song.

Should you wish to download the album and liner notes, you can find them at the Smithsonian Folkways website, which also offers the option to buy the CD. Either way, it’s an excellent sampler which will invite your family into the beautiful world Mitchell creates through her music. These are classic little ballads that should be passed down (and most likely will be) through generations, as Woody’s songs have thus far.

Recommended for ages 0 – 5, however, older ones will most likely enjoy trying to keep up with Mitchell as she sings some of the quick repetitive verses.

Below is a video released a while ago created for an HBO animated family series.

Grassy Grass Grass [courtesy of YouTube]

Check It Out: Randy Kaplan – Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie

Oh yeah, it’s time for another Randy Kaplan release! Randy is a regular listen at our house and his latest release, “Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie,” has been played so much that we have now started referring to him on a first name basis. As in, “I want Randy, Mom!”

Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, recently awarded a 2012 Gold Award from NAPPA (National Parenting Publications Award) and included in People Magazine’s “8 Cool Kids’ Albums Now!” is Randy’s fourth not-JUST-for-kids release and probably our favorite to date.  The album is a period piece of sorts in which Randy brings us the blues! And boy am I a sucker for the blues. On this album we are taken on a journey through the great musical heritage of country blues and ragtime from the 1920s, 30s and 40s and actually taught a thing or two about the masters who made up the genre.  Some of the most mysterious and wildly talented bluesmen and women are covered here from the likes of Robert Johnson, one of the most influential artists of his time to Muddy Waters, Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Bessie Smith and Elizabeth Cotten whose “Freight Train” was covered on Randy’s first kids album, “Five Cent Piece.” So, although Randy has dabbled in the blues before, we now get to experience a full-length celebration of one of the greatest periods of music. And it’s fantastic!

Various segments of the album are introduced by the craggy voice of Lightnin’ Bodkins, a blues historian extraordinaire who got his blues name because he was a lightning fast knitter back in his day (emeritus president of the Mississippi Mitten Guild, to be exact). Lightnin’ not only provides tidbits of history and sources for each song that Randy covers on the album (both in-between songs and throughout the liner notes), but also participates in some comedic interplay as he tries to cajole Randy into having a blues name for himself. Lightnin’ gets pretty crafty as he strings together hilarious combinations based on things like pools (“Chlorine Kaplan”), breakfast food (“Papa Waffle Kaplan”) and even goes as far as creating a formula based on ailments + fruit + a president of the United States to produce Chicken Pox Kiwi Cleveland, for example.

Randy’s talents lie within his ability to recognize other artists’ talents and successfully blend them together with his own. On Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, the sound of the original songs is mainly intact with the addition of Randy’s masterful storytelling, as well as, accompanying instruments such as drums, bass, trombone, tuba, banjo, mandolin and even a washboard, giving the songs more depth and in some cases a jazzy New Orleans type of feel. Additionally, kids play an integral part in bringing some of these songs to life, adding some serious laugh out loud moments as they interject, inquire, make irrational demands, shake their tushes and even yodel along with Randy. There is even an inquisition in the song “In A Timeout Now” in which a girl from the chorus challenges Randy on whether timeouts existed when he was a kid by asking “aren’t you being anachronistic?” It’s basically an example of Randy’s approach to making kids music. He plays it straight, assuming kids are capable of understanding a lot more than we might expect.

Opening the album is a fiery Robert Johnson ragtime number which Em refers to as “the tasty song.” “They’re Red Hot” is a fast paced ragtime jig with a catchy chorus “Hot Tamales and They’re Red Hot” that will get you and your family up and moving as if you just ate some hot tamales.

There are several songs about bullies which provide enough of a message to kids about the consequences of being mean. “In A Time Out Now,” adapted from Jimmie Rodgers’ “In The Jailhouse Now,” does an excellent job of drawing a parallel between timeouts and being in jail. The song features a troublemaker named Carl who is constantly trailed by his Mom and consequently gets “throwed in the can” for tormenting Randy and his friends. “You’ve Been a Good Ole Wagon”, a Bessie Smith tune, features some hubris on Randy’s part as his 10-year old self defends his right to help a girl in his class with her math homework by referring to a bully as a metaphorical wagon who is past his prime (which was his single digit years). As a result, the bully starts to fake cry and, as Randy says “he let out a counterfeit hoax of a howl and a dissembling invention of attention.” And then there is a Blind Blake inspired tune called “That Will Never Happen No More” featuring Denise, a childhood tormentor whom Randy was in elementary school and sleepaway camp with. In this song, Denise comes up with ways to terrorize Randy including giving him lice and dropping a bowling ball on his big toe.

Other notables songs include “Ice Cream Rag”, a rag about getting the Ice Cream Man’s attention in which Randy comes up with a plan to do a dance called the “Pigeon Wing” which he is sure will not only capture the Ice Cream Man’s attention but may just crown him the Official Ice Cream King. Not only does the song feature some tap dancing but we get to hear some mighty fine scat singing along the way.

“Green Green Rocky Road” is a sweet, sweet Dave Van Ronk inspired song in which Randy asks the chorus of kids who they love. As Randy sings “Green Green Rocky Road/ promenade in green/ tell me who you love/ tell me who you love,” the kids reply with things like their dog, Dad, brother, pet bird, and even piano teacher. It’s a perfect song to engage in with your kids and what better topic to discuss than those you love.

Finally, “Black Mountain Blues” is a creative song about a land where babies cry grape juice tears and it’s illegal for cats to sharpen their nails. I happen to personally know two cats who wouldn’t live a free life if they found themselves on Black Mountain, ahem. Kids are also able to make irrational demands and are prompted to dole them out at the end of the song and they gladly do with things like wearing shorts in the snow and even having the power to have all the powers in the world.

Randy Kaplan has made quite a name for himself in the kindie music scene. With his serious storytelling chops and musicianship, he has won over both kids and adults alike. In my mind, Randy is a pioneer who is able to tackle a wide range of styles from broadway to blues underscoring the fact that he is one of the most versatile and creative voices in kids music today.

Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie is being released by MyKaZoo Music and runs for about 1 hour containing 17 songs with 7 segments featuring Lightnin’ Bodkins. The CD contains 20 colorful pages of liner notes giving kids more information on what they are listening to, and features Randy posing as some of the great bluesman he pays tribute to, creating a pleasing visual element to tie it all together.

I could totally see this as a Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 series but I will gladly take the full-length of Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie for now. Very highly recommended and appropriate for kids ages 3-10, but adults may just find themselves reaching for a listen without their kids.

As the almost eponymous title track suggests, listening to this is good for your health and will put a spring in your step.

You can preview the album on Randy’s MySpage page here, as well as download and/or purchase Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie from Amazon.

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this album for review.

Check It Out: Sugar Free Allstars – All on a Sunday Afternoon

The Sugar Free Allstars are back with their third kids’ album, “All On A Sunday Afternoon.” This album, like other releases from the duo of Chris “Boom” Wiser and Rob “Dr. Rock” Martin, contains the usual infectious funk/soul/rhythm and blues sound while also paying tribute to Motown and Stax Records.  And, they’ve brought some additional friends to, er, pump up the jam.

“All On A Sunday Afternoon” is filled with sentiment and love and feels as though it is coming from the personal parenting experiences and musical influences of its creators.  This is most evident in “Sunday Afternoon,” (featuring additional strings from Keith and Ezra of Trout Fishing in America) which talks about spending time with family, as well as, a couple of smoother jams like “Very Best Friend,” a sweet little song about love and companionship, “99 Questions,” a gospel number featuring Wiser preaching about gaining a better understanding of the world by asking lots of questions and “Ready To Give Up Teddy,” a heartwarming ballad expressing a child’s feelings about being ready to give up sleeping with their teddy bear.  But, instead of being sad about the separation, the child is reassuring Mom and Dad that they are ready for it.  The song coincidentally has some parallel melodies to “Easy” by the Commodores which further supports the bands appreciation for Motown.

The album starts out strong with the high-energy “Gotta Get-Up,” featuring the addition of Shawana Kemp from Shine and the Moonbeams and Jack Foreman from Recess Monkey who make excellent and very convincing advocates for getting out of bed in the morning.  I like to think of them as sort of a power-up brigade.  Along with the album release, the duo released a video featuring stop motion animation by Kyle Roberts of Reckless Abandonment Pictures.  The video is packed with action, literally and figuratively, as the duo are turned into action figures while other toys are taking over and trying to get Wiser out of bed which includes everything from cookin’ some eggs to a firetruck rolling Wiser’s clothes over to him.  And in true Sugar Free Allstars fashion, we are called to participate in a funky dance called the “Stretch and Yawn.”  It’s easy and gets your energy flowing.

The following song, “Hiccup” a fun and educational song which is filled with the beloved Allstars organ sounds and some handclaps while adding commentary informing us about the science behind those little buggers.

“Put ‘Em Away,” is a fast paced funk-venture that puts a fun little twist on the traditional clean up song and it features awesome auxiliary percussion by Marty Beller of They Might Be Giants, as well as some sweet bass by Jay Wilkinson.

Another notable song is “Love Train” which not only features Keller Williams giving the song a psychedelic edge with the addition of a guitar and kaosilator, but also features the family funk host Sir Groove-A-Tron.

As a big fan of the Talking Heads, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the Allstars perform their own version of “Stay up Late” which is an excellent rendition of the original version but with the bonus of some sweet organ noise.

The Sugar Free Allstars have once again produced a fun series of songs that are sure to be enjoyed by the 3 through 8 yr old crowd.  The 36-minute album also features a full-length concert DVD which provides some insight into just how energetic and powerful the live shows are.

I will leave you with one last thought that embodies the spirit of this album: Just like Mr. Don Cornelius used to say “we wish you peace, love and soul.”

You can stream the album below, as well as, view the video for “Gotta Get Up.”  Enjoy!

All On A Sunday Afternoon courtesy of YouTube

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the album  for possible review.  

Check It Out: Ellen and Matt – It’s Love

Listening to the second release from Los Angeles-based Ellen and Matt is like a journey through time. “It’s Love” presents itself as a comprehensive music box containing classic sounds from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. It also once again showcases the band’s musical talent and solid songwriting skills.

Since their debut “Best Friends,” released about 5-6 years ago, Ellen and Matt have been busy trying to balance raising their 3 sons, touring and producing a new record. And it’s from their familial experiences that the couple drew inspiration for “It’s Love,” which includes relatable topics packaged up with a retro vibe and some serious rock n’ roll.

The recording of the album was made successful due to the fund raising campaign that took place on indiegogo, a crowd funding site which provides a platform for people to raise money for the projects they are working on, much like Kickstarter. The money that was raised helped make this record possible and, in an offering of gratitude, the couple included a candid thank you song at the end of their album for those who made contributions.

Ellen and Matt’s music is honest and they stick with their roots which is what I think makes this album so special. With each song, “It’s Love” evokes a different emotion and overall carries a more diverse sound within the kids music scene. It reminds me of the awesome music we used to listen to on road trips growing up. Blending progressive rock, soft rock, new wave, punk and even some good ole country twang, the two clearly inject their musical influences into their sound, channeling greats like Karen Carpenter, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and The Sex Pistols, just to name a few. Ah, sweet nostalgia.

As I’ve listened to the album, I’ve grown very fond of it. There are so many levels to each song and with each spin I hear something new that impresses me even more about the band’s musical talents, whether it be sweet guitar licks in “Tickle Bug,” overall composition, storytelling skills or Savannah Duplissea’s echoey vocals at the end of the funky disco track “Drive Thru” (which are reminiscent of Clare Torry’s vocals at the end of Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig In The Sky”). They even have a steady cowbell workin’ the beat in the title track “It’s Love,” which also features a killer guitar solo by Tony Atkinson. It reminded me a lot of the movie “Dazed and Confused” and is sure to be a regular summer jam in our house.

Ellen and Matt’s songwriting abilities are stellar but you might just find yourself falling into the groove of the music before catching onto the lyrics, which is not a bad thing, but more of a case to replay the album and listen to the message within each song. In general, I think the target audience is mainly the 5-8 crowd. However, there are some sweet songs that the under 5 crowd will catch on to and enjoy as well like “Playground” which goes through all the exciting things that can happen where “all the active kids meet,” “Shadow” which features Ellen’s soulful Carpenter-esque crooning and is E’s favorite song and “Your Body is a Zoo,” a fun little honky-tonk number with a catchy refrain (“moo oink bow wow chicka licka meow meow”). Even Matt does a solo in the sweet song “Teddy Bear” which is about the companionship that only a soft little friend can provide.

“It’s Love” provides an eclectic mix of music aiming to bring families together. And without a doubt, Ellen and Matt show us that rock n’ roll is here to stay!

You can find Ellen and Matt here as well as sample and download their album here.

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the album for possible review.

Below are two videos which further show the band’s ability to get the kids’ movin’.



Check It Out: Lucky Diaz and The Family Band – A Potluck

If you just take a look at the deliciously colorful album cover of Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band’s latest release, “A Potluck,” you will get a sense of how the album feels.  It’s bright, bold and filled with tons of charm.

Los Angeles-based Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band is led by the recently married Lucky Diaz and Alisha Gaddis.  “A Potluck” is their second full-length release which brings us a diverse listening experience made up of many different musical styles aiming to bring fun and delight to children (and grown-ups alike!).  Throughout the album, you can feel the pleasure Diaz and his bandmates derive from making good kids music.  Each song is like a sweet piece of optimistic pie.

Right off the bat, the first 3 songs open the album with true (k)indie-pop flare.  Starting with their first single, the electro-pop appetizer “Lines and Dots,” followed by “On My Bike,” which actually includes the sound effect of a bike bell (true bike awesomeness), and “Lemonade Stand” are all hand-clapping, upbeat numbers that are sure to get your body moving.

My favorite song on the album is the fiesta filled “Monkey Jones” which includes a solid beat and lots of horns that take you to the Caribbean, dancing barefoot on the beach.  Even better is the fact that “Day-O” (The Banana Boat Song) can be heard echoing in the background as the song ends.

Kids will also enjoy crowing like a rooster in the swing-a-delic Lil’ Red Rooster and the “meow meow meow” chorus of “Tres Ratones,” which was inspired by Lucky’s Mexican heritage.  Although the song is in Spanish, E has already learned the words and exclaims “Oh, this is my song!” every time she hears it.

The album wraps up with another poem called “Night” which brings us to the start of the Potluck where people are gathering together for the delicious feast while reminding us that “…we’re all so different but connected every one.  We each bring something special to the table and that’s what makes it so much fun.”  I love how both “Morning” and “Night” act as a prologue and epilogue, tying the album together while making clever references to either a character or message within a song.

I can’t express enough love for Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band.  Their enthusiasm is infectious and “A Potluck” is sure to be a delicious summer treat!

Listen to samples and/or buy/download their album from Amazon here or iTunes here.
Read an interview with Lucky and Alisha (courtesy of Dadnabbit) here.

Check It Out: Charlie Hope – Songs, Stories and Friends: Let’s Go Play

Charlie Hope‘s third release, “Songs, Stories and Friends: Let’s Go Play”, comes at us again with some more charm.  This album, like her first album, “I’m Me,” combines familiar classics like a zany “Wheels on the Bus” and “Ants Go Marching,” as well as, lovely originals like “Best friends,” “One That I Love” and “Hot Air Balloon,” some of our family favorites.

Where “I’m Me” was a collection of songs, “Songs, Stories and Friends: Let’s Go” is broken up by some spoken word, cheerful verses like “Tiny Tim” and a story called The Bear Family, a tale about Goldilocks and the Three Bears in the city, as told by Charlie’s mom.

What I found interesting and unique about this album is that it was designed to be a story in and of itself.  The eighth track, aptly named, “Picnic Party,” welcomes us to play some games, sit on a blanket and share yummy snacks while enjoying music by Charlie and some friends.  The party starts out in the sunshine and, as such, you can hear kids playing in the background.  But then, it starts to rain (which you can hear at the end of the “Tiny Tim” track) and although that would promptly put an end to park fun, it is then that Charlie calls us over to the pavilion to stay dry.

While in the pavilion, we are entertained with a jazzy rendition of Robin In The Rain (which some of you may know from Raffi) and a duet with Caspar Babypants whose audible sloshing can be heard as though he is running through the puddles and mud in his froggy boots.  The two perform a duet of “Alouette” upon request from a little boy and the party is once again turned into some hand-clapping and foot-tapping fun.  The rain finally ends just in time for us to get in our boats and row along with “Row Row.” Hope wraps up with some soft melodies that once again feature her angelic voice encouraging us to remember the fun we had at our party and promising to see us again soon.

Charlie Hope once again provides a fun and interactive experience for kids and their families.  It’s a party you’ll want to attend over and over again.  I can especially see it as a companion for some car rides.  Recommended for the 0-5 crew for sure and it would probably even work for slightly bigger ones that are a year or two older.

Tracks from the album can be heard here.  Songs can also be previewed and downloaded here.

Check It Out: Charlie Hope – I’m Me

Want to fall in love? Perhaps that’s a presumptuous way to start a review about kids music, however, that is what happened when I first heard Charlie Hope.  Love, just love.  Her soft, enchanting voice instantly transports you to a place filled with flowers and sunshine.  In fact, you can even hear birds chirping throughout the album.

As a multi-award winning artist, the path that led her to success has been one filled with music, family and children. Hope earned a bachelor’s degree in Art Therapy With Children and has worked in preschools and privately as a nanny.  In fact, “Blue Balloon” and “Cowboy Boots” were inspired by a boy she was nannying for at the time the album was being written.

Hope’s approach to music is much like her education and experience.  “It’s Me” is filled with love and appreciation for who children are as individuals.  Imagination makes anything possible and is encouraged while listening to “I’m Me.”  The album is interactive and provides a comfortable platform for kids to express themselves in their best animal voices like in the title track “I’m Me,” move their bodies to the beat of a train in “Train Song,” drive a fire truck in “Fire Truck” and even blast off in a rocket ship to the moon in “Zoom Zoom.,” which provides an educational element as Hope counts backwards from 10 to 1 before the rocket takes off.

“I’m Me” contains familiar classics like a sweet-as-candy “Mr. Sun” (which some may recognize from Raffi), “Mulberry Bush” and “Pop Goes the Weasel, as well as, some wonderful originals which address relevant topics like the addition of a new baby and nap time all wrapped up in some catchy hooks that aim to deliver a positive message to little ears.

Parents should appreciate the “Frog Song” as Hope starts with 5 frogs and counts backwards to 1 frog while making up random things that the frogs are eating on their log (toast with jam, steamed carrots, edamame and applesauce).  Throughout the song, Hope is interrupted by kids pointing out that frogs don’t eat those things until they get to the last frog which correctly eats flies and the children then acknowledge that.  We like to turn it into a fun game and change up some of the food the frogs eat.  Although, to the 3yr old in our home, poop is apparently something hilarious that frogs like to eat. But that’s a whole other post.

With regard to Charlie Hope, there is something to be said about an artist who wholly understands how essential music is to our well-being and just how much it can educate and empower children.  “I’m Me” is a wonderful collection of songs that welcomes acceptance of who we we are while acknowledging the silly we all have inside of us.

While listening to Charlie’s sweet voice, I can’t help but be reminded of the quote “sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching and live like its heaven on earth.”

You can listen to the entire album here and download tracks here.  Below is a video for “Train Song” courtesy of You Tube but it is also featured on the main page of Charlie’s website.

Check It Out: Renee & Jeremy – A Little Love

Renee & Jeremy are back again with their latest release, “A Little Love,” and this time it’s a little different.

The fourth release from the L.A. based duo is a series of covers built on the theme of universal love. The duo hand-picked some of their favorite songs with very specific criteria: the lyrics should encompass this theme and be family friendly.

I was initially intrigued when I first heard that the duo was going to do a cover album.  Cover albums come in all kinds of flavors and some try very hard to recreate an original but sometimes fall short.  “A Little Love” is a perfect example of how Renee & Jeremy don’t try to imitate, they simply and effortlessly recreate in a very natural and harmonious way, resulting in a folksy groove that just makes you feel good inside.

The new release will bedazzle you with mellow renditions of  Coldplay’s “Yellow,” Supertramp’s “Give A Little Bit,” Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” and, perhaps the most surprising, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away.”

What I also love about the album is how well it transitions from track to track. The songs flow together like a clean baton hand-off during a relay race.

Although the album falls under the genre of kids music, I could absolutely see it being played on adult contemporary radio stations as well.  Suitable for all ages, “A Little Love” once again makes a point of reminding us just how lovely and talented these two artists are.

You can view samples of the album, as well as, purchase digital copies at Renee & Jeremy’s website.  Physical copies of their albums are also available at the usual places, i.e. CDBaby and Amazon. I’ve also included a hauntingly beautiful video of Coldplay’s “Yellow” performed by Renee and Jeremy and directed by Jon Izen.

**Updated: Renee & Jeremy also released a video from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of “Give It Away” which can be viewed here.