CD Reviews are in most recent review order...
Billy Kelly / "My First Comedy Album"
“Kids never get a break…except for like, from everything…” In Billy Kelly’s first comedy album, titled “My First Comedy Album,” kids don’t get a break from laughing, either. Parents get a break from having to censor comedy albums with this family-appropriate FUNNY collection of observations from the musician well known to Kids Corner audiences. Ever think about your name? Ever want it to be Mr. Poopy Strongman? You might after listening to this delightful album. Like any great album, “My First Comedy Album” holds together as a total work as well as in individual bits. Kelly is a natural, as is the delighted response of his multi-generational audience. His observations bear repeated listening, like any great album.
Lucy Kalantari / "Big Things"
Lucy’s newest CD gets released in September, and I predict in the future you’ll be hearing a lot from this album on Kids Corner. Lucy creates musical bridges (!) to the best of the jazzy past while remaining completely contemporary. Her rich, full voice and ukulele are beautifully backed by her band’s clarinet and bass, creating a unique sound that’s instantly recognizable. Her opener “Fantastic” sets the enthusiastic tone for the whole album. “Our Garden” is a musical salad turning a crop list into a clarinet showcase. “Balloon” is quite simply the greatest song ever in the history of the world. Her old-timey sound shows its deep roots with 1930’s “Mysterious Mose.” “Lovely” lives up to its title with sweet simplicity. This woman could single-handedly inspire a new generation of scat singers. “It’s Halloween” and “Birthday” make this a CD for all seasons. The sweet, soft personal closers “Love You Always” and “Song for My Son” are where the musician and parent blend into something that will echo with parents as well as kids.
Nathalia / "When I Was Your Age/Cuando era Pequena"
Nathalia’s third CD is based in her own memories growing up in Columbia, which she uses to create a picture of childhood that transcends geography and time. This catchy, rhythmic collection of bilingual original songs captures the universality of childhood like dinosaurs, birthdays and math. She had me intrigued with the first stomping sounds of extinct critters on “Dinosaur Dance,” giving way to joy as the song started. Nathalia moves seamlessly between Spanish and English within the songs themselves, and it’s that ease in her approach that works so well. The experiences she sings about are personal to her own life, yet completely relatable to all families. Every kid has anticipated a birthday, feared it’s being ignored and wanted to shout “It’s My Birthday” as Nathalia does in a song that captures the complexity of those feelings backed by a rich twangy guitar sound. My confused 5th grade self could have used a song like “Oh Math” with its mournful tone that fits any complicated relationship. It’s a wonderful album.
Recess Monkey / "Novelties"
If it’s a day that ends with a “y,” there must be a new Recess Monkey album! This incredibly prolific band’s 13th CD seems to be a celebration of ice cream, then moves with Beatlesque musical craft through 14 delightful original songs. The album opens with the question “Wouldn’t life be sad without a little sweetness?” answered with an anthem to “Every Flavor” of ice cream. “Sweaty Yeti” uses clever wordplay to tell a tale. “Bear with a Bear” is the band’s own “Penny Lane” with a brass section backing a song with many layers…of bears. “Chasing My Tail” speaks to the procrastinator in each of us through dog metaphors and old-timey melody. These guys shine at creating relatable real life kid songs in a wide range of music styles. “Piggyback” uses rhyme and rhythm to create the perfect mood around a classic mode of family transportation. Recess Monkey are three teachers from Seattle whose joy in what they do is evident in everything they create. You can hear the fun they’re having putting together songs like the hard rocking “Mustaches of the World.”
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo / "Infinity Plus One"
This out of this world album gets assistance from beyond the cosmos…and from Cosmos the TV show thanks to the voice of legendary astrophysicist Carl Sagan. The listener’s journey launches with audio from the Voyager Spacecraft. Then you’re set adrift through a cosmic karmic funktastic journey. Skidoo’s lyrics operate on a very personal level with layers of meaning behind titles like “Secret Superhero,” the musings of a kid who just doesn’t know what their superpower is yet. The song takes that Skidoo personal turn into everyday heroism involved with standing for what’s right. The mix is compelling. The lyrics are deep yet catchy. The music is out of this world. This is another Skidoo album that stands tall as a concept piece yet whose parts are individually strong songs. “Young Soul” is both irresistibly danceable and deeply reflective. “Glimmer” is the tale of a lunar moth who falls in love with the moon. That kind of imaginative premise takes flight in a mix of sweet-voiced simplicity (by Indigo DeSouza as Glimmer) and Skidoo’s lyrical complexity. “Smardi Gras” brilliantly uses New Orleans brass to celebrate trying no matter how tough the task. Skidoo stands with musical ancestors like Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone, yet he stands alone among the creators of inventive rhythmic music for families.
Chibi Kodama / "Dragons"
Chibi Kodama is a family band in the truest sense of the word. They are a Dad, Mom and young daughters who create amazing music and bring a bright beautiful energy to the world of music for families. Their latest CD, Dragons, begins with a haunting chorus of young voices urging “fly little one, you’re a dragon…” and develops into the anthem “Dragon at the Door.” This is an album that holds together both as a complete piece and as individual songs. And what songs! Songs that affirm the complexity of child- and parenthood backed by totally danceable rhythms. The haunting Chibi chorus segues into hard driving joyous pop on “Made to Fly” and sets up a remarkable lyrics as reflective as the best of Joni or Dylan. Neither parents nor kids have the answers, but the questions will get you thinking, and all voices are included. This is an album for everyone. The youngest ones will dance. Everyone else will find something in the lyrics that speaks to them as this album speaks to me.
KB Whirly / "Camp Songs"
Whether you’re heading to camp or enjoying a staycation, the old-timey musical goofiness of Camp Songs from KB Whirly is as satisfying as learning to swim and as refreshing as cold bug juice at the end of a long hike. This is definitely a concept album, singing of classic and current summer camp experiences. An awesome mix of kindie favorites like Dean Jones, Jazzy Ash and Alastair Moock combine with KB’s brilliant musicality to deliver one-stop shopping for the camp experience. Brass horns and intricate strings deliver a great mix. KB gives new energy to “Hello Mudda (Hello Faddah)” and borrows a melody from my grandmother’s time (“When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on His Tuba”) to tell the tale of the “Theft of the Red Canoe.” “Peter Piper’s Pickle Palace” is the kind of tongue twisted storytelling at home around a campfire and in your CD player. For the complete camp experience, there’s even “Reveille” and “Taps” with KB’s unique musical imprint.
Alastair Moock / "All Kinds Of You And Me"
Marlo Thomas let loose a whole lot of wonderful when she let loose "Free to Be You and Me." The following three CDs are the natural descendents. First up, "All Kinds Of You And Me" by Alastair Moock. Alastair makes me feel comfortable whenever he picks up a guitar. His warm scratchy voice, commitment to making the world a better place and clever songwriting ability comes together beautifully on “All Kinds of You and Me.” This latest Moock CD had me with his opener “It Takes All Kinds,” then segued into a celebration of “People” walking down the street. “I am Malala” is infectious and inspiring at the same time. “You Might Be a Girl” just made me happy with its jazzy rocky duet with Samirah Evans naming the vast variety of options open to anyone who identifies as a girl…or a boy, for that matter.
Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer / "Dancin’ in the Kitchen: Songs for ALL Families"
Cathy and Marcy have spent decades using music to enhance and reflect the real lives of their audiences. Their audiences are as varied as the families and individuals celebrated on this wonderful recording. This CD reimagines older songs like “I’m My Own Grandpa” (performed by Riders in the Sky) and John McCutcheon’s “Happy Adoption Day” for new ears. The musicians’ folkie roots are clear throughout this well-produced CD that throws some Woody Guthrie into the mix with “Howdy Little Newlycome.” “I Belong to a Family” was inspired by Marlo Thomas’ (the creator of “Free to Be You and Me”) describing family as “a feeling of belonging.” Here, they use the original tracks from 1992 and blend in a children’s choir for this song about a parent’s unconditional love for a child. The choir was a dream deferred in 1992, when several parents and educators balked at having young kids involved in a musical project about diversity. Celebrate how far we’ve come with this CD.
Chana Rothman / "Rainbow Train"
“Rainbow Train” is a true labor of love for creator Chana Rothman. The project grew from her own thoughts about gender identity and her own life with her children. She heard many stories from parents and teachers about kids who don’t fit into traditional gender roles. Clearly, there was a need for a resource to help families navigate their way through gender freedom. Her love of music and way of expressing herself will make you love this album that takes a new look at gender roles. Trans kids know who they are at a pretty early age even if they don’t have the words to express it. This CD gives them and the people who love them a way to express gender identity in an accessible and entertaining form. As someone who sat in a class with what felt like 47 other Kathys, “Everybody Gets to Choose Their Own Name” struck a chord. “Dress Up and Dance” and “Gender Bender” get the whole family dancing. The musical excellence of this CD delivers its message of freedom brilliantly.
Earthworm Ensemble / "Backyard Garden"
You can stay perfectly clean listening to this CD about having fun with dirt. Earthworm Ensemble’s song titles reflect their green-living philosophy: “Backyard Garden,” “Compost,” “Chicken Coop,” “Reduce Reuse Recycle.” The songs themselves reflect a high level of musicianship and a nice variety of musical styles. “Invisible Wind” has a complex feel reminiscent of Steeleye Span. “I Didn’t Give Up” backs inspirational lyrics with a hand-clapping “yeah yeah” beat. “Compost” has an infectious twangy sound. This CD adheres to my first rule of a great kindie CD: make good music first. Do good works second. The musical range of this CD packs a great lyrical wallop.
Eric Ode/ “Rock Nocturnal”
So many nature-centered CDs celebrate the sunshine and creatures that go along with it. This one doesn’t. “Rock Nocturnal” is about “dirt diggers and nighttime critters.” This imaginative collection of original songs addresses real-life garden challenges like “Gophers in the Garden” and veers into delightful imagery in the Irish-tinged “Raccoon and the Wizard’s Daughter.” There’s a nice range of musical styles (e.g., Stray Cats-sounding “Possibly the Possum,” twangy call-and-response in“There’s a Mole in a Hole”) with the good environmental information. This is a bouncy, fun CD saturated with Ode’s naturally positive sound. Perfect to introduce young kids to the animals of the night.
Molly Ledford and Billy Kelly / “Trees”
It’s a CD about trees. Molly Ledford is the lead singer of Lunch Money. Billy Kelly leads Billy Kelly and the Blah Blah Blahs. Together with noted kindie producer Dean Jones, they have sprouted an album as sturdy and majestic as “The National Tree of England” (which you’ll learn from this CD is the oak). “Trees” speaks in a smart, literate way to the natural joy a walk in the woods can bring. The CD is a mix of styles and references as varied as “The Dichotomous Key”---something else this CD will explain to you. “Let’s Go to the Woods” references Narnia and Thoreau to a rock and roll beat. “Acorns” has a wispy old-timey sound under Molly’s comforting voice. There’s mischief bubbling under that comfort, evident in “Angel Oak.” Combining good information (“Coniferous Trees”) with witty nonsense (“It’s Just a Dumb Ol’ Stick”) suits Billy Kelly’s comedic strengths just fine. This CD truly is the sum of its creative partners.