It takes a lot for a CD to earn its scratches. Well-worn records of my childhood meant they were played over and over so much, we knew the lyrics by heart. Bruised knees weren’t a sign of rough play, but having been pounded one too many times as we mimicked the drum beat of our favorite songs. Well, it may be time for my kids to rack up a few bumps of their own, thanks to the effervescent, contagious sounds of Josh & the Jamtones’ Bear Hunt! What starts out as ode to gospel with “Swing Low” quickly segues into a mix of storytelling and songs that make themselves known–in the best possible way. The title track takes attentive listeners on an imaginative journey that carries them through the entire play list. By the time we got to “I Love U,” the sound had shifted to a ska-like beat, reminiscent of one of my favorites, The Specials. (“I think we’ve heard this song before,” claimed my 9-year-old, a kid who’s been listening to the band since she was in utero.) While the music may at times appear familiar, it is never unoriginal. Other favorites include the you-can’t-sit-still “Everybody Dance!” and the delightful pairing of “The Snow is Falling Down” and “Snow Day,” making the impending season a little more ‘bear-able.’ As our musical adventure began to wind down and my girls and I regained our breath, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. I expect we’ll be rocking out a lot more this season.
In a Nutshell: Surrender to the beat of a fresh new sound that dares to be different–and succeeds.
Who doesn’t remember the first Beatles song they ever heard? For me, it was “Octopus’s Garden.” While I don’t recall exactly how old I was, it was pre-MTV music videos and the visuals in my head stimulated my imagination much like a picture book might. For my daughters, both girls learned “Yellow Submarine” in their preschool days. A perfect singalong, this tune’s repetitious verse and rhythm is perfectly paced for the untrained listening ear whose just getting the hang of following instructions and paying attention. So naturally, we weren’t surprised when Caspar Babypants decided to pay tribute to these living legends with his own musical love letter. Baby Beatles marks the seventh album for this alt-rocker-turned-kid-rock-musician whose own experience as a Beatles worshipper dates back to his toddler days. The vocalist for The President of the United States of America puts his own personal stamp on beloved Beatles classics, many of which easily translate into ideal kiddie tunes. “Here Comes the Sun” leads the pack as a gentle rendition to get kids accustomed to this unique sound. As is true in his earlier releases, Babypants has a knack for putting his own personal stamp on each song, so that by the time we get to “Ob La Di Ob La Da,” kids will be signing right along with them, as though they too were born to rock. Diehard fans will appreciate Babypants‘ choice to include some lesser-known favorites, including “Anytime at All” and “I’m Only Sleeping.” In our opinion, “All You Need is Love” should be considered the album’s signature song. Because, for the adult Beatles listener looking to introduce his own kids to this timeless sound, all he needs is Babypants.
In a Nutshell: The Beatles fan base is destined to grow even bigger, with this updated compilation for a new generation. We think Sir Paul would approve.
I don’t know where I’d be without our public library these last few weeks. Given the unsettled weather as of late, we’ve been more book-bound than beach-bound, and that means taking advantage of the wealth of children’s programs. Today’s class was an unexpected treasure, as my girls were treated to a lively performance by a children’s musician I’d not yet stumbled upon. The aptly named Story Laurie was a sight for sore eyes…or perhaps it was the other way around? As she emerged from her tent and feigned surprise to her audience, we got our first taste of this silly, yet playful songwriter. What we liked best about Laurie is her down-to-earth way she relates to her young audience. Rather than just launching into song as some kids’ artists do, she takes advantage of the intimate performance venues by asking questions, sharing a tidbit or two from her own life story and then tying it all into her music. The result is engaging, thoughtful entertainment that clearly comes from the heart. And judging from the expressions on the other parents’ faces in the audience, they too got caught up in Laurie’s infectious energy. Favorite numbers taken from the Groovin’ in the Garden CD included “Wonderful Wiggly Worms” and “Homegrown Tomatoes.” Laurie brought along her own props, including worms that traveled all the way from her compost pile back home in the Hudson Valley, and seed packets that doubled as take-home gifts for each family in the audience. Don’t worry, Laurie; the memory of your music will linger long after those seeds have sprouted.
In a Nutshell: One part storyteller, one part songstress equals all-around great listening. This is one kid performer that rocks.
My daughter’s piano teacher recently enticed my 9-year-old with a new musical conquest: an introduction to classical music. Since the extent of my daughter’s experience in this genre boils down to the hold music on her father’s office phone, she’s about to enter into a whole new world of sound. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of Bach, Beethoven and the rest of the boys myself, so this should be a brand-new venture for the both of us. In the hopes of making this sound a little more accessible for our untrained ears, we’ve been listening to the just-released Young Avenue Kids’ Whatever I Want To Be. The genius of this CD is its clever adaptation, taking core classical melodies and putting a modern spin on them with the addition of catchy lyrics. Don’t worry about stuffy-sounding compositions or sleep-inducing sonotas; this is one CD that rocks out when you least expect it. From the first number that launches off with a fitting title, “Blast Off With Suppe,” to the equally clever “William Tell Is Oh So Swell,” each composition delivers a well-paired sound/voice combination that will keep young listeners engaged and eagerly awaiting the next track. And even after the music winds down, the learning doesn’t come to an immediate close, thanks to plenty of post-track content in which kids share fun factoids about the famous composers themselves. Who knows? Maybe my daughter will be able to teach me a thing or two.
In a Nutshell: A crash course in classical music for the beginning listener, Whatever I Want To Be gives kids the flexibility to learn at their own pace, and in a unique format.
Still trying to come to the grips with yesterday’s tragedy in Boston, I had a hard time getting myself in writing mode this morning. But after dropping my daughter off at preschool and seeing all those happy, little faces, I found the motivation I was looking for. If reviewing kids’ products and working in the children’s industry isn’t a sign of hope and rejuvenation, I don’t know what is. It was precisely this morning that my 4-year-old and I discovered the just-released CD from Miss Nina. A follow-up to Singing & Dancing Together, Sha Doo Be Doop is a spirited release of toe-tapping tunes that can’t help give you a little bit of a lift. Miss Nina’s music teacher background is evident throughout this collection of catchy sing-a-longs, many of which kids can pick up after just a few listens. From “Angry Song,” which playfully grants permission to let it all out, to “Ridin’ In My Car,” which takes the boredom out of ho-hum errands, these tracks keep the beat without going overboard. Our favorite, by far, was “The Brown Bear Rap,” a hip-hop ode to our favorite Eric Carle story, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Miss Nina has a clever way of combining classic kid lit with nursery rhymes to create a unique sound. In fact, it’s just one of several book-inspired tunes that bring a liveliness to the printed page, like “How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?” and “Wild Things”–perfect teaching tools for the preschool classroom. An upbeat tempo and memorable lyrics make Sha Doo Be Doop a way to enjoy the world as it should be seen: through the eyes of child…or at least, a child at heart.
In a Nutshell: The perfect panacea for tough times, this new kiddie CD delivers smiles all around.
Musicians come and go, especially in the temperamental kid biz, but when a band has been around the block, we can effortlessly turn on their tunes and know we won’t be disappointed. One such kid rock band with staying power is Milkshake and the band’s latest concoction, Got a Minute?, is worth more than a listen. Like most seasoned musicians, Milkshake’s sound has matured over the years, but this release reflects a well-rounded sound to suit a myriad of different tastes. From the jammin’ “We Just Wanna Have Fun,” to the more mellow “Starry, Starry Night,” the band exudes a self- assurance that allows them to bounce back and forth between pop rock, to country, without missing a beat. With more than 30 tracks on this comprehensive CD, Milkshake covers a lot of musical ground and rightfully owns up to its eclectic style. On a recent day spent towing kids around on various errands, spot-on songs like “Look Out Window” punched up some otherwise mundane chores. “Rainy Day Dance Party” may just be on our play list this spring when inclement weather keeps us indoors. Giving us plenty of food for thought, Milkshake is a listening treat worth indulging in.
In a Nutshell: Drink in the sound of rockin’ kid band that just won’t quit. Milkshake’s fifth CD takes the cake!
My 8-year-old’s school has reduced its recess from two periods to one–and believe me when I say how much this bums her–and me–out. After sitting in class through math, reading, science and all those other learning-intensive subjects, she is more than ready for a break. Too bad it’s so short; she tells me that sometimes it feels like they have just bundled up and headed outdoors…only to be told to “line up” again and head back into the classroom. I’m sure that’s why SteveSongs can relate to this childhood woe in “Recess Rocks,” the first track off his new CD, Orangutan Van. No stranger to the kids’ music scene (this marks his 8th CD of the guy who’s alter ego Mr. Steve is a mainstay on PBS Kids), Steve acknowledges these profound kiddie moments that let listeners feel comforted in that “yeah, he gets me” kind of way. The cheeky ” ‘A’ is for Silly” will have the most astute pleased as punch for their keen listening ears, while “Flat Stanley” plays homage to the everyday elementary hero. As my daughter’s school gears up for its annual literacy program, the “Soaring with Reading” track takes on even greater significance. A winning release, Orangutan Van proves that with age comes great wisdom, and so SteveSongs can rest assured that yes, he definitely “gets us.”
In a Nutshell: Tons of fun, this latest release from SteveSongs continues to delight with catchy tunes that resonate with young listeners.
Now that I’ve managed to clear out my Christmas CDs from my cluttered car, it’s the perfect time to update my traveling music collection, and that includes kid-friendly selections. Lucky for me, Caspar Babypants (Chris Ballew from The Presidents of the United States of America’s alter ego) is dropping a new kiddie CD in the nick of time. Filled with plenty of original tracks, along with some updated classics like “Twinkle Twinkle” and “Row Row Row Your Boat,” this release packs 19 rockin’ tracks that won’t have you reaching for the fast-forward button. The title track sets the tone for an upbeat mood, while “Baby of Mine” is a gentler lullaby-esque number. Our personal favorite is “Yes and No,” the cleverly written antidote to all those hard-to-answer questions that kids always manage to spring on us at the most “opportune” moments. Easy on the ears without sacrificing smarts, I Found You! is definitely a find for any parent in search of a new sound.
In a Nutshell: Fresh new tunes for car rides and just hanging at home? We’re all ears. I Found You! drops on 1/15/13.
It’s not even December 1st, and I’ve already heard “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” so many times, I’m beginning to take issue with the song’s title. Nothing against Andy Williams, but overplaying those Christmas carols is an easy way to drain you of any holiday spirit. If you’re looking for something fresh for your December playlist, and your listening audience includes the wee ones, give a listen to Renee & Jeremy’s Sunny Christmas. This duo will take the jitter out of your jingle with six oh-so-calming tracks, you’ll be dubbing this a mellow merry medley. From “Deck the Halls” to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” you’re bound to find a favorite among this assortment. And if you’re looking for something a little different, try the title track, a warm tribute to spreading holiday joy. Because each song’s rhythm is gentle on the eardrums, we think it’s ideal pre-bedtime music for helping wind down those wired and worn out kiddies.
In a Nutshell: A soundtrack for the season, this holiday CD is great accompaniment for card writing, gift wrapping or settling down for a long winter’s nap.
When I was in high school, my boyfriend (now husband!) bought me a copy of Margaret Wise Brown’s “The Runaway Bunny.” Because I adored children’s literature–and he wasn’t too bad either–I treasured this charming story of a young rabbit determined to break free from his mother’s strong, yet caring grasp. After we had kids of our own, I relished the moment I could share this quietly beautiful, timeless tale with our girls. Because I can practically recite this story backwards and forwards, it has earned a well-deserved spot on their bookshelf. As much as I do love it, like any parent, who doesn’t tire of reading the same story over and over? (Ah, the curse of introducing your kids to it in the first place!) For any mom or dad who could use a bit of reprieve from all that reading comes a new audiobook with plenty of star power. This holiday season, GPR Records releases Catherine Zeta-Jones narrating “The Runaway Bunny,” Michael Douglas reading “The Story of Babar” and English baritone Mark Stone singing “Goodnight Moon.” The soothing voices of this Hollywood husband/wife duo are balanced by Stone’s rich vocals, creating a CD that will calm any crying babe and relax a frazzled caregiver to boot. Available on CD or as an MP3 download, we think it makes for a welcome gift that any young family will appreciate.
In a Nutshell: Hollywood turns into Dreamland as a handful of celebrated stars lend their voices to classic children’s stories.