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: Sugar Free Allstars – Funky Fresh and Sugar Free

When my 3yr old brought out her Parum Drum kit and started slapping some serious skin, I knew we had just stumbled upon some great music. She even looked at me beforehand and said “now we are going to jam.” And we really did.

So, what can I say about the Sugar Free Allstars besides the fact that they bring the funk. Hard! Listening to this album makes you fist pump and head bob harder than you every thought you would listening to “kids music.” At least that is what happened to us. We couldn’t help ourselves and the body rock didn’t stop til the album was over!

The Sugar Free Allstars are an Oklahoma City duo made up of Chris “Boom!” Wiser (Hammond B-3 organ, lead vocals, saxophone) and Rob “Dr. Rock” Martin (drums, back-up vocals). Two guys, that’s it. Together they bring a dynamic mix of humor, energy and serious sound. Their sound is comprised of some New Orleans soul, funk, disco and rock the likes of which could probably be found at Jazzfest or even along Beale Street in Memphis. The addition of the organ and saxophone are much welcome guests to the party.

Starting from the resounding “Rock Awesome,” you are immediately pulled into participating in the whole experience that Funky Fresh and Sugar Free has to offer.

It’s hard to name which tracks are my favorite because it’s all so goooood!! After you finish “rocking awesome,” the album progresses into some funkier tracks, leading up to “SFA Disco Dance Party,” which starts off with Sir Groove-A-Tron luring you in with the incentive of getting all funky and learning some new dance moves “that you can do every day.” Yes, Sir!

“In My Pocket,” a particularly relatable song, talks about stashing treasures in your pocket, some of which include “a little green army man/ and a rubber ball/17 cents in change/ and that’s not all/some rocks I found in my backyard/and a marble or two/and a handful of play-doh/i like to mix yellow and blue.” I think most parents should be able to relate to the regular accumulation of random and most prized posessions.

Other great tracks include “6th Grade Band,” “Cars and Trucks,” “Obla-di, Obla-da,” and “Tiger in My Backyard.”

After participating in the call and response of the “Train Beat Song,” the album ends with an applause and a “Thank You, Goodnight, We Love You.”

But, it’s not just about the music with these two. There is humor, which is most evident in their lyrics, as well as their videos and photos. I especially love the applause and concert-like intro to “Rock Awesome,” as well as, the concluding applause after the “Train Beat Song.”

All wrapped up, it’s a delicious package that can be savored any time of day. I dig it.

Recommended, but with the volume turned way up!!!

Below you will find a selection of videos from SFA but I also wanted to include two collaborative efforts. “Cooperate”, a collaboration between Sugar Free Allstars and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo is featured on “All About Bullies Big and Small”, the anti bullying compilation that just won the Grammy for Best Children’s Album!