Behind the Blog

Stephanie
Seattle, Washington
Mother of two
Kids' music enthusiast

I do this for fun. I don't get paid by anyone, but I get to hear lots of great music and meet so many cool artists! I may not be an expert in the industry, but I have kids and I know what does and does not get old after listening to it 1,000 times in a row.

Comments?
Want me to review your music?
Email me

LISTEN TO SAMPLE SONGS

Friday, October 17, 2008

Update

Many apologies for another long delay in posting; I am in the first trimester of my third pregnancy and with this pregnancy bringing a sickness I've not yet experienced, not much else matters right now except making sure the basic needs of my family are met...

I've received emails from some artists wishing to submit music for review. I am saving all those emails and will respond to them as soon as I feel well enough to follow through!

I truly wish I could devote all my time and energy to this blog - I sometimes wonder if I should have waited to start it until my kids are grown and out of the house! Seems like I never have the time I want, and I'm sure adding another child to the mix (three kids in 3 years!) won't help anything, but I want them to grow up on good music so as long as I have kids I'll keep this blog and share the music I come across.

Thanks for your patience - until I return, check out artist links and other great kids' music blog links!

- Stephanie

Monday, September 8, 2008

Jam Toast: Silly Grown-Ups, Punk Is For Kids

This album came to me a long time ago. I have major guilt over not reviewing it until now, but I think I needed to broaden my horizons a bit so I could fully appreciate how cool this album is.

I've mentioned before that my favorite genre of music (childrens' and adult music alike) is folk. This is definitely not folk. It's definitely not like any other kids' music I've heard. And that's what is so cool about it.

Jam Toast's debut album, "Silly Grown-Ups, Punk Is For Kids" is the creation of lifelong punk-er (okay, I made up that word) Michael McKinnon. He created this so "pint-sized punks had an album to call their own." I paraphrased, but how brilliant is that? I've seen punk bands mellow out and write lullabies, but I just love the idea of keeping true to the style of punk while making it safe for kids' (and parents') ears. You won't find any swearing in these songs, just creative adaptations of familiar happenings in a child's life. One of my favorites is "Rock! Paper! Scissors!" Also, check out "Monday Pants" - it totally makes me laugh. And "Are We There Yet" is so much more of an accurate description of what our kids actually sound like when they launch that assault in the car...

So I have to admit, when I first got this to review I was worried about what I would write because it just wasn't my style. I realize that not everyone shares my taste, and I know there are punk enthusiasts everywhere that will be ecstatic to find something right up their alley that they can share with their kids. But, now this is my style too. I mean, that's what is so great about kids' music these days - it's so varied and different. It's not just cheesy versions of Old MacDonald Had a Farm, or incredibly chirpy count-with-me songs you'd hear on Barney.



I have to give this album five stars. It shatters the mold and sets a new standard for expressing your unique style through music. I won't say the style is for everyone, but I will say that even those of us with stubborn tastes will be pleasantly surprised at the total likability of this whole CD. If you're looking to add variety to your kids' music collection, or if your child is into the punk thing and you are tired of worrying about what words they might hear...this is your answer.

Samples will be up at the Listening Station shortly, or check out his website for more info and to order.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Funny Little Fella

I really had no reason to until the last few years, but I wish I had been following children's music since my own childhood. Obviously "better" things like New Kids on the Block (that will give away my generation) came along and took my attention away...and then high school happened and all I liked was country music (I lived in Houston), and then when I went to college my interests turned more to bluegrass and folk. I always enjoyed going back and listening to the music of my childhood like Raffi and Joe Scruggs, but I had absolutely no idea just how cool kids' music had become until I had kids of my own and looked for it. I need to do some research and find out when the turning point was from "please don't make me listen to another nursery rhyme" to"I'd rather listen to kids' music than anything else."

Contributing no small part of that greatness is newcomer Matt Clark. Hailing from my favorite city in the world, Portland, Oregon, he mastered the idea of detailing a child's first year through music in "Funny Little Fella." In honor of his own son, Rowan, Matt wrote several songs with no intention of putting together an entire album. At some point the future tapped him on the shoulder and said, "You can't stop there," and Matt created one of the most creative baby-ographies I've heard yet. Starting from the womb and documenting the milestones all the way until his first steps, Matt puts a funny spin on all the proud and painful moments that occur in the first year of a child's life. It's done from the perspective of the baby - almost like that movie "Look Who's Talking," but without the late-80s hairstyles and unnecessary sequel.

Really though, I felt like I was looking at Rowan's first year through his own eyes & hearing his own cute thoughts. I imagine my kids thought similar things, and it's pretty funny to stop and look at life from their point of view for a bit. Aside from the humorous lyrics, the music itself is great - a good beat and great, varying melodies that don't repeat song after song.


All in all, a fantastic debut CD from artist Matt Clark, and I hope there is more. He has a day job that he doesn't plan to quit just yet, but I know things will get busier for him once this album makes its way around the circuit. I had the chance to get a lot more details from him, including the interesting process through which he got the album produced, which I'll publish over at the Listening Station with his music samples.

I have been debating on stars for this one. Five stars already? But I love the album. I love the concept. I love his voice. I love the music. I give five stars to CDs I wouldn't hesitate to buy for my own family or friends, and this one is surely on the list. My son is next to me saying, "Mommy, dance!" as we listen to the last track "Feelin' Bipedal." I guess that says it all...

Five stars it is.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Recess Monkey Fever

They do seem to get a lot of attention on this blog, don't they? Maybe it's cause they are from around here...or maybe it's cause they have an excellent publicist that keeps me informed of all their goings-on...or maybe it's just cause they're that good.

I gathered some friends and all our kids on Wednesday to make the short trip up to Kent to see them finish their tour. I actually thought this was the beginning of it, but they said they'd been all over the country and Kent was their last stop. And what a stop it was...

I put it all together in a little video montage...you'll have to pardon my videographer skills, or lack thereof. I was also trying to keep an eye on my two little kids and some friends' little kids - so the camera gets shaky at times. I'm sure you'll still get the gist, though, of just how awesome these guys are.

It's interesting how you see some people doing something (like entertaining) and you can't imagine them not doing it. That's how it is with Recess Monkey. They are all schoolteachers, something I'm sure they also excel at, but I just cannot imagine if they had never formed this band and made all of this great music. It's just natural for them, and I hope they do it as long as possible.

Recess Monkey, LIVE IN CONCERT -

video


Believe me, I wish the quality was better, but it was too big to post in the best quality format. Unless someone knows something I don't about Blogger.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Follow-up: That Baby CD/DVD


I posted a little while ago about That Baby CD/DVD, and I wanted to let people know that it's been in our car since then and I still love it. Even more than when I first heard it. We have the DVD in our car and I absolutely love that it's entertaining the kids without being Spongebob or Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse. There are two tracks that they especially love-- where the narrator speaks the alphabet and then where he counts to ten. My son yells out the letters and numbers along with the guy - and then asks for it again, and again, and again. My 15-month old daughter has started shouting out too, though she isn't really saying anything intelligible. She just likes to play the game her brother is playing. Also, I've transported older, school-aged kids around several times and they've enjoyed it as well.

My absolute favorite song on this CD is "Garden Song (Inch by Inch)." I literally have probably listened to that song hundreds of times in the last month of my own accord, and I am still not sick of it. At all. I also love "Sunday Sun," and my kids are big fans of "Pony Boy."

Seriously. I've changed my mind.



I have to upgrade this CD to five fabulous stars (from 4 and 3/4) because it has been so well-received in our house, has been played a billion times over and is still requested daily.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Funkiest Mama I "Know"

So I'm cleaning up breakfast this morning, inhaling secondhand absurdity as my son is watching Wonder Pets. Secondhand because I'm not actually watching the cartoon, but I'm listening to Ming Ming's speech impediment and trying to figure out why a cartoon aimed at kids learning to talk would make one of the main characters speak so incorrectly. The cartoon is cute enough and my son doesn't have to be learning physics from every show he watches, but the songs the little creatures sing are even less palpable - the words don't even rhyme. Ever. Or flow with the music.

Lest you think I'm an overly-critical cynic, I just sometimes wish that rather than fill in the holes with lameness, more cartoons would follow suit of Jack's Big Music Show, where Laurie Berkner's band provides the musical entertainment and the characters are mostly in charge of the storytelling. I don't mind the occasional cartoon ditty, but the same song every single episode? Seriously? But maybe if there started to be actual music in cartoons I'd be even more inclined to let my kids veg out in front of the TV for hours on end. So I guess I'll take Ming Ming's mispronunciations for what they're worth and use the opportunity to turn off the TV and turn on some REAL music - good kids' music we can dance around to and have fun with.

Like Krista Eyler's third CD from Funky Mama, "Moo Juice."



All original, all funky, and all songs you can jam with your kids to, this CD is overflowing with exhilarating energy. My kids absolutely LOVE "Freeze Dance" - they think it's hilarious to dance then freeze, then dance then freeze...we literally played it ten times in a row the first time we heard it. And then "Potty Train" makes me laugh every time...

There's a train that's runnin', comin' to town
go potty go
gonna get on board when I feel it comin' round
go potty go
It's the most creative and enjoyable "potty song" I've ever come across! True story: My son is potty training right now and a few weeks ago he came to me and said, "Mommy, get on potty train?" So I took him to the bathroom and as he's doing his business he's singing "go potty go, go potty go..." So I guess I owe my child's potty success to Funky Mama. Disclaimer: I can't guarantee your child will learn how to use the toilet by listening to this song. My child is just a genius, apparently. Kidding. Considering he's been "almost potty-trained" for 6 months.

Anyway, I don't know too many moms who can rock the electric guitar like Krista Eyler, and you'd be remiss not to check it out. She'll get your kids giggling, rockin', and dancin' around the house -- may I suggest putting the laundry aside and joining them! She winds down the album with a few slower songs that are less energetic but no less enjoyable...perfect for restoring order to the controlled chaos you created with the jamfest from the previous tracks.

Best of all, Funky Mama throws in a few "inside jokes" for the parents..listen closely and you'll get a good laugh from the lyrics of "My Dad Rocks." Stuff your kids won't pick up on but that make you appreciate her creativity that much more.

Overall, Funky Mama's third album is a storming success - FIVE stars. It's fresh, it's fun, and for sure one you'll be glad you own.

Check out her website and her blog for new, videos, coloring pages, and more of her music! Then head over to the Listening Station for my favorite songs.

Friday, July 18, 2008

All Things Recess Monkey

Recess Monkey's newest CD Tabby Road is now available. This latest compilation brings nothing less than pure enjoyment to the listening ear and inspires energy in the mundane. Put it on while you're cleaning the house, play it in the car while you're running errands, or load it on the iPod while you workout - you won't get tired of it. Oh wait- and don't forget to play it for your kids!

One of my favorite things about good kids' music is that if it's worth its salt, listening to it (with or without kids) just makes you that much happier to be a parent and solidifies the desire to find ways to nurture your children's creativity and education. Adult genres can be motivating for us in themselves, just because we enjoy the music and it creates positive thoughts, but children's music has the ability to inspire kids and parents alike on many different levels. Tabby Road magnifies this concept through the creative lyrics and unbelievably enjoyable music. The Beatles-esque sound has been done many times over, even in the children's music genre, but Recess Monkey redefines what it means to incorporate a musical inspiration through completely reinventing the Beatles' musical genius to fit their own style and audience.

We in the Northwest are lucky- these guys are based in Seattle and are celebrating their CD release with a show at the ACT Theatre TOMORROW. Their CD will be available there for $5! Stock up and use them as memorable birthday or baby gifts. Unfortunately I'll be out of town for this show, but I'm planning on attending the August 6th show in Kent and will be there with bells on. I even get to interview the guys IN PERSON! I'll be posting that interview the day after the show.

Check out their website for tour dates across the country, and for info on where to buy the CD if you can't make any of the shows. And of course, go over to the Listening Station to hear a few songs.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Catch Up!

Has it really almost been a month? That's shameful. I have, like, at least ten (maybe more) albums to tell you all about...but where do I start? With my favorite, or the one that's been in the holding pen the longest? (That might be embarrassing.) Can I cheat and just give you a quick list of them and then promise to follow with a full review for each one starting next week when my life calms down a bit? Okay, good. In no particular order...


Recess Monkey - Tabby Road (Release date - July 15, 2008...GET EXCITED!)

Funky Mama - Moo Juice (Release date - September 2, 2008 - This is a FUN CD.)

Gunnar Madsen - I'm Growing (Newest release - 2007)

Brainy Tunes - Dream Time
(Newest release - 2008)

Dixieland Jazz for Children (Newest release - 2008)

Jam Toast - Silly Grown-Ups, Punk Is For Kids (Newest release - 2007)

Princess Katie & Racer Steve - Fast & Feisty (Newest release - 2007)

Debi Derryberry - Very Derryberry (Newest release - 2007)

Milkshake - Play! (Newest release- 2006)

The Blankies - Peace!
(Newest release - 2007)

Robbi K & Friends - Music Makes Me Happy (Newest release - 2007)

Thaddeus Rex - Shakin' in Chicago (Newest release - 2008)


Phew. That's my queue. There are definitely more new albums out there (like Justin Roberts' Pop Fly, for example - but I don't have any more in my hands right now so they'll be added to the list as they come.)

Some of these listed are older than others...but I figure it's never too late to share good music and I KNOW there are parents out there just getting into the realm of great kids' music so all of this is new to them.

Anyway, so now I'm committed. I will review each and every one of those I've listed during the coming weeks. In the meantime, click on the links and do some exploring for yourselves. I've listened to every single one of these albums - not one of them sounds like another and they all have something great to offer you and your kids. I wish I had the time to review them all right here and now, but it's 1:36 a.m. and my brain is working on fumes. I just wanted to get these names out there - I say this a lot, but I know for a fact that these artists work hard, long, and countless hours away from their families so we can have quality entertainment for ours. They each deserve to have their praises sung in a post dedicated just to their music, but for now they'll have to accept my peace offering of some basic publicity...

Oh, and P.S. - I'm in the process of putting together show and concert info on each of the artists I write about. Be on the lookout for summer concert info!

P.P.S. I'll update the Listening Station soon too, I promise.

I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Homegrown Music

So, I've been learning the guitar lately and when I'm not stumbling through chords I listen to CDs like this one to inspire me to keep trying. The CD, called "That Baby CD" has meaning to me because it has true Northwest ties. Headquartered in Mercer Island, a DVD filmed in the Seattle area, and featuring the fantastic talent of Northwest native Stephanie Schneiderman (who I heard play a few times during our years in Portland), this CD/DVD is a superb collection of acoustic covers of classics by The Beatles, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and more. Each song has been softened and infused with a little bit of adolescence, making the whole album one we can enjoy with our children.

Here's what's even cooler about the whole thing - the DVD features each song with footage of kids playing outside, getting active, and having FUN. There are some great musical DVDs out there, but I love how this one brings the concept of musically-inspired activity to life. Our children need to connect these two important aspects of life more often, and this is a great way to introduce or reinforce it, whichever the case may be with your children.

Here are my stars: (4 and 3/4)

I know I just gave the previously reviewed album five stars, but this is also a truly very nearly five-star collection of music. You cannot go wrong with classics and acoustic guitar. Ever.

Creativity/Originality: This is 3/4 of a star, only because the songs aren't original work (if that's important to you), but let me emphasize as strongly as I can that the versions of these songs are VERY creative, original, and likable, and the DVD concept they put to use is completely original as far as I'm aware.

Propriety: Full star. Not only are the songs appropriate, but they encourage movement in children. Very appropriate as far as I'm concerned!

Appeal to children: Full star. My kids were dancing around and loved following along with the kids shown on the DVD.

Appeal to parents: Are you kidding me? This is my favorite style. Even if it's not yours, you'll get attached immediately.

Total album likability: FULL, BRIGHT, GLOWING STAR. I love this CD. LOVE it. And the DVD.

I love so many of the songs, but I have to say my favorite is Garden Song (Inch by Inch). Originally performed by Peter Paul and Mary, Stephanie Schneiderman brings an indescribable beauty to this little ballad, which has such symbolism for us mothers as we get our hands dirty every day in this job we love called motherhood. Look for this song on the Listening Station!

Also, check out their website for a video sample of the DVD, and more background info on these great artists.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Have you heard?

Accolades are piling up for this next artist, and I can't find one person who doesn't absolutely love her new album. Frances England's "Family Tree" hit the ground running and nothing I say will catch up to the gigantic snowball of praise it's already received. It's amazing. It's refreshing. It's comforting. It's genuine. And it's all natural talent.

Frances' first album, "Fascinating Creatures" was done as a fundraiser for her son's preschool. I don't doubt they raised more than enough money, especially when that album became the winner of the 2007 Oppenheim Platinum Music Award! Can you imagine? That would be like me baking some brownies for my child's preschool fundraiser, and then all of a sudden finding myself with my own show on the Food Network. Except my show would have been canceled when they found out I made them from a box.

But Frances England is the real thing. It's impossible not to love her voice. It reminds me of Elizabeth Mitchell, one of my all-time favorites. Frances' music takes you to a simpler place in the world, where really all that matters are the children she's singing to. Our children. The reason we look for good music like this. This world is getting depressing, and "Family Tree" is the sun that warms the perfect summer day: an open meadow with green grass and beautiful flowers, lined with big trees where you set up the picnic blanket (half in the shade, and half in the sun) and watch your kids experience the joy this life is meant to be. This album is the kind you listen to on a long road trip as you look out the window and wonder what goes on in those farms you're passing along that rural interstate road. Basically, this album gives me hope. Frances England makes music that entertains children and rejuvenates parents - no small accomplishment!

I was fortunate to get to ask Frances a few questions that will help us get to know her a bit better. The full interview can be found with her music clips on the Listening Station, but here are some interesting things about Frances:

Q. What is the hardest part about being a children's musician?

Making sure the kids are truly engaged at live shows. Although I play at my son’s preschool every week, I’ve just recently started playing for larger audiences and it’s really important to me that the kids are tuned-in and engaged. A lot of my songs are kind of slow and many have (gasp!) minor chords, so for those tunes at live shows I’ve started adding a projector slideshow – slow moving photographs that are semi-synchronized with the music. It’s a nice visual component and so far the kids and parents seem to love it. And I hope that it helps the kids connect to the songs in a deeper way.

Q. If you could do a concert with any other musician in the world, alive or not, who would it be?

That’s so hard but I’m going to have to go with Woodie Guthrie.

Q. When you're not working on your music or doing motherly things, what do you like to do for YOU?

My husband makes fun of me for this, but when I get a second to myself I often head to the public library. It’s always been one of my favorite places on earth. That or a good bookstore. I’m also into making all sorts of handmade stuff, seeing live music, learning the banjo, and frequenting my neighborhood bakery (Arizmendi in San Francisco).

Q. Any favorite TV shows?

I don’t watch very much TV but I’m obsessive about the ones I like. Right now, my favorites are Friday Night Lights and Top Chef. I was also seriously addicted to Six Feet Under for a while there….


Now for the stars.


This is truly a FIVE STAR ALBUM. Maybe it's because this genre is my absolute favorite, but I truly think this album can reach across the dividing lines of preference and be an enjoyable album for every family. I don't even need to specify in each category, because it masters all five. It's original, engaging for children, incredibly enjoyable for adults, appropriate, and all-around a spectacular collection of music.

Check out the clips over at the Listening Station, and this album will be available for purchase on May 20, 2008. I could never wait that long- I'm so glad I have it!