Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Young Maestros Vol. 1


Young Maestros Vol. 1. Performed by Tracy Bonham. CD. Approx. 29 min. Melodeon Music House Records. 2021. CD: $13.99; Digital: $9.49. Preschool—Grade 3

            Classically trained violinist and pianist, rocker Tracy Bonham performs 11 original songs that teach musical concepts, in folk, jazz, rap, bluegrass, country, rock and other musical styles. Known for her chart-topping hit single “Mother, Mother” in the mid-90s, Bonham has most recently been teaching music concepts to preschool children. Her goal is to demonstrate that the process of making music can be more about fun than achievement. Bonham’s vocals adeptly handle the various musical styles, whether belting it out or quietly crooning. Bonham and the backup musicians perform with excellence on guitar, bass, violin, upright bass, piano, organ, clarinet, trombone, harmonica, drums, and percussion. In “Me Symphony,” the narrator has lost an entire orchestra of instruments in a variety of locations (tuba in Aruba, piano in Indiana, bongo in the Congo, etc.), but the show must go on. “Beats to a Measure” introduces children to rhythm in a measure of music. The black keys on the piano are likened to “All the Blackbirds” sitting in a tree. “Let’s Take the Subway” is a rollicking song using the names of the piano keys (C, B, G, etc.). The organization of a musical staff is detailed in “Lines and Spaces” and is compared to dancing and skipping. “I Like the Big Beats,” a parody of  “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, celebrates various drums. Frightened by a variety of small animals, the reptile’s reaction is to “Shake Like a Rattlesnake.” “I Am a Movable Do” (of Do, re, mi) explains how the tonic note can begin on any pitch. Interesting harmonies and descants characterize the “Background Singers” when the lead singer is locked in a closet. “Feelin’ Pretty Major” musically explains the difference between major and minor keys. “A Song Without an Ending” is exactly that—is just stops in the middle of the song. This excellent album will be a boon to music teachers and parents, and fun for children learning to read music and play an instrument.    

Monday, April 12, 2021

Let's Put on a Show

 Let’s Put on a Show. Performed by Beth Jean. CD. Approx. 25 min. Jetti Winkle Music. 2021. Digital: $9.99. Ages 4—11 

            Award-winning Beth Jean is a songwriter, singer, tap dancer, and actress. She also contributes videos featured on the Emmy-winning PBS children’s show The Friday Zone. On this album she performs 10 original songs in show tune and pop rock musical styles. She envisions her album encouraging listeners to put on their own song and dance shows. Beth’s strong vocals are clear, and the background vocalists harmonize beautifully. Her backup musicians give excellent performances on guitar, bass, ukulele, keys, kazoo, drums, and percussion. “Let’s Put on a Show” invites listeners to put on a show, with tap dancing sound effects in the background. Never forget “You Are Magic!” Penguins sing “Waddlin’ We Go,” as they celebrate winter and sliding on snow and ice. In outer space, there is “No Gravity,” so we can float and fly free. You can do anything, so “Never Give Up.” A small rodent announces, “I Am a Hamster, Yes I Am Sir,” while nibbling and sipping on his water bottle. A man had “The Best Mustache in Michigan,” until one day there was a clipping mishap. In a high falsetto, the “Garden Gnome” describes searching for a new home. “Whoopsie Daisy,” what a doozy of a day, but it will be okay. The bird flies and sings, “Tweet a Little Tweet Tweet.” This fun album will entertain youngsters and encourage their imaginations.


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Under the Pepper Tree

Under the Pepper Tree. Performed by Sara Watkins. CD. Approx. 36 min. New West Records. 2021. Price: CD: $15.00; Digital: $5.00. Preschool—Grade 2

            Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek and I’m With Her) performs with beautiful vocals on two original songs and 13 covers. The songs, some childhood favorites of hers, were chosen as soothing songs for a child’s nightly bedtime rituals. She is accompanied by an excellent group of musicians on guitar, bass, mandolin, violin, banjo, organ, piano, drums, and percussion. A musical interlude seamlessly segues one song into the next. The covers include “Pure Imagination” (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory); “The Second Star to the Right” (Disney’s Peter Pan); “Blue Shadows on the Trail” (The Three Amigos);Edelweiss” (The Sound of Music; with Watkins’ three-year-old daughter); “Moon River” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s); “When You Wish Upon a Star” (Disney’s Pinocchio); “La La Lu” (Disney’s Lady and the Tramp); “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” (Tumbling Tumbleweeds with Gene Autry); “Blanket for a Sail” (Harry Nilsson); “Beautiful Dreamer” (Stephen Foster); “Stay Awake” (Disney’s Mary Poppins); “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel); and “Good Night” (Beatles). Sara contributed two original pieces: “Under the Pepper Tree,” a slow country/bluegrass instrumental; and “Night Singing,” a sweet folk-style lullaby. This album deserves a place in every home with young children.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Let's Go!


Let’s Go! Performed by The Laurie Berkner Band. CD. Approx. 33 min. Two Tomatoes Records. 2021. CD: $10.98; Digital: $9.99. Ages 0—8

            Best-selling kindie artist Laurie Berkner and her band perform 16 original and lively songs, mostly in pop rock musical style, but with a couple of Latin folk tunes and a cappella pieces included for good measure. Laurie’s soaring vocals are joined by a great children's chorus. Her background musicians perform with expertise on guitar, bass, violin, keyboards, organ, saxophones, trumpet, drums and percussion. Those impatiently waiting for others to get ready cry, “Let’s Go!” With a beautiful minor tune, Laurie explains that a lot of movement helps warm one up “When It’s Cold.” Halloween is the time to wonder “What Am I Gonna Be?” In “The Superhero Handwashing Song,” are instructions for effective hand washing. “I Saw a Butterfly,” so I purchased a hat, a jacket, pants, boots, and a scarf because I’m cold. I’m going to the lake and relax while “I’m On Vacation.” When “It’s Time to Eat,” we will have mac and cheese, vegetables, tacos, guacamole, apples, bananas, and strawberries. It is time to quieten down and “Listen to the Sounds,” such as breathing, heartbeat, children playing, traffic, etc. “It’s Hard to Be 3” because everyone says the opposite of what I say. “The Superhero Mask Song” tells children the reasons to wear a mask (although it is not quite true that germs, especially viruses, cannot get in or out of the paper or fabric masks most people wear). The other songs include “Jumping Jack,” “Take a Look at My Face (emotions),” “Tied My Shoes,” “One Step (with whistling),” “Happy New Year,” and “Beautiful Light.” Another terrific winning album from this seasoned performer.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

That's My Piano, Sir!


That’s My Piano, Sir! Written by Ana Gerhard. Illustrated by Marie Lafrance. Book with CD (approx. 11 minutes). The Secret Mountain. 2020. 32 p. $16.95. Ages 7 – 9.

            Based on a real event in the life of 6-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, this story is told by Minim, a little orange-brown mouse wearing a charcoal overcoat, who loves cheese and music. The Mozart family arrives by ship to Vienna, and as they are disembarking, a couple of dock workers drop the crate/piano belonging to the Mozarts. Fortunately, it is not damaged, and when set up, Wolfgang takes out his violin, his sister Nannerl sits at the piano, and together they play Sonata for Piano and Violin KV.8, 1st Movement. Everyone is cheered up, including Minim, whose image appears on most of the pages of the book. After actor/narrator Colm Feore (The Sum of All Fears, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, House of Cards) finishes his expressive reading, the chamber orchestra I Musici de MontrĂ©al performs Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (The Little Night Music) K.525, 4th Movement. (I Musici de MontrĂ©al gives outstanding performances on both pieces of music). The back matter includes a few more details about Mozart. Inserted into the CD pocket is a flyer with a unique code for the digital download of the recordings. The first in a planned series, “Little Stories of Great Composers,” this book and CD are an excellent introduction to Mozart for young elementary students. 


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Sing Out!


Sing Out! Six Classic Folk Songs for Tomorrow. Performed by Sin and Swoon. Illustrated by Sophie Casson. Book with CD (approx.. 17 minutes). The Secret Mountain, 2020. 156 p. $16.95. 978-2-924774-85-4. Preschool-Kindergarten

    This picture book presents six traditional songs, three of which were published as individual picture books in 2018. I reviewed those three books in this blog on November 18, 2018: “Pop Goes the Weasel,” “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The other three songs in this volume are “Little Bingo,” “This Old Man,” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

The book is illustrated with brightly colored, stylized, and folksy illustrations. Each page contains a verse or a phrase from the song. The print is large, so that beginning readers would be able to read the words while listening to the music. On the CD, excellent background musicians perform on acoustic and electric guitars, bass, banjo, mandolin, lapsteel, kora, trombone, trumpet, accordion, and drums and percussion. The vocalists sing beautifully, clearly enunciating the words. Each of the songs is in a musical style suited to the song; i.e., “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is a toe-tapping bluegrass song featuring tight harmonies. “Little Bingo,” with dog howls, is a bouncy rock song with rhyming words: bing-o, ring-o, king-o, etc. “This Old Man,” in folk rock style, counts up to ten. “Pop Goes the Weasel,” is an upbeat, fast accordion folk piece. “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” is a fun country tune. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is a soft folk song accompanied by a quiet acoustic guitar, and light, clear female vocals.

Inserted into the CD pocket is a flyer with a unique code for the digital download of all recordings and a printable file of the illustrated lyrics. This book and the songs are great resources for passing along traditional songs to the next generation.  


Thursday, March 4, 2021


A Mind of Your Own. Performed by The Bright Siders. CD. Approx. 39 min. Smithsonian Folk Ways Recordings. 2021. CD: $20.00. Ages 5—10.

The brain child of Kristin Andreassen, songwriter, and Kari Groff, MD, child psychiatrist, and ten years in the making, this album’s goal is to help children connect to their emotions. An excellent line up of vocalists  perform the 11 original songs, some featuring lovely harmonies: The War & Treaty, Kristin Andreassen, Ed Helms, Kaia Kater, Oh Pep!, Gaby Moreno, Joey Ryan, Gabe Witcher, Zara Bode, Aaron Jonah Lewis, and Punch Brothers. In addition several children add their enthusiastic voices to the songs. The instrumentalists perform with excellence on various guitars, bass, mellotron, fiddle, banjo, violin, mandolin, organ, piano, drums and percussion. Bluegrass, pop, classic rock, and hard rock are only a few of the musical styles performed. Eight brief spoken skits introduce some of the songs. “The Song About Songs” explains that what makes a song a song is that you sing it and feel good. When children are having “The Mad Day,” they learn to calm down by taking deep breaths, letting them out slow, and letting the anger go. “Sad Is Not Forever” advises children to do something they think is fun to chase away the lonely blues. Make new friends while keeping the old “Forever Friends.” When you feel left out and excluded, “You Do You,” because you are cool anyway. “Vamos a Jugar” features a Spanish speaker and an English speaker sharing with each other the names of playground equipment in each language. Although life may seem like “Jumping Through Hoops,” you can always come out the other side. “Oops! I Made a Mistake” and can’t get it out of my brain. “The Moon & the Stars & Me” are watching over the world until the sun comes back. “Bully This” explains that bullies are not brave or cool, and that you are not their walking mat. The album ends with a reprise of “The Song About Songs.” The accompanying booklet includes activities that parents can do with their children that relate to each song, making this album an excellent resource for parents; while the appealing, catchy songs and skits will be enjoyed by both generations.