Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Backstroke Raptor

Backstroke Raptor. Performed by The Story Pirates. CD. Approx. 41 min. Gimlet Media. 2019. CD: $15.00; Digital: $9.99.
Grades K - 5

            This motley crew presents 11 original and funny songs, created from stories submitted by children ages 5 - 13. A few of the songs also include narration or dialogue. Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame joins in on one of the songs. The album features an eclectic mix of musical styles, including surf rock dance, a rap set to the melody of “Pachelbel’s Canon,” folk pop, ska, R&B, calypso, and country western. “Backstroke Raptor” tells the story of a velociraptor who attaches a motor to a rowboat in order to leave the island he lives on. The monster “Samantha” tells her parents that she wants to be a human. Miranda raps about “The Wizard Who Could Just Go Poof,” whose spells always fizzle. Grace is assigned to write a report on a wallaby in “The Great Wallaby Adventure.” Still wet, “Cement Dude” travels to the desert in order to dry out, with narration by a man with a Johnny Cash-like voice. “The Girl with Superpowers” wants to be a superhero but realizes that she needs something to defeat first. “The Person Who Could Not Spin” gets lessons in spinning from others. Fashionista hamster Sally gets ready for work in “A Hamster’s Workday.” Koala Barry in “Barry and the Big Climbing Tree,” wants to climb trees, but keeps falling. “The Giraffe Didn’t Know” how to change the world but persisted in asking various animals if they knew how. In the barn, the “Dreaming Sheep” dream about going to school. The Story Pirates have hit another home run with these fun and lively songs crafted from the ideas of children.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Baby on the Subway

Baby on the Subway. Performed by Camille Harris. CD. Approx. 35 min. Camille Harris. 2019. CD: $15.00; Digital: $9.99.
Pre-S – Gr 2

            With experience in musical theater, stand-up comedy, and vocal jazz, Camille Harris presents 14 wonderful songs, most of which are infused with a bright, lively jazz vibe; but she also rounds out the styles with some rock, calypso, bossa-nova, and pop. This 4th album features excellent musicians performing on
guitar, bass, upright bass, flute, clarinet, saxophone, piano, trumpet, flugelhorn, drums, and percussion.
Listeners are invited to dance along on “Jiggly Wiggly.” Listeners are introduced to a Chinese restaurant in which there is no silverware, only “Chopsticks” (jazzing up the famous traditional piano tune). Following a short, traditional singing of the “Muffin Man Nursery Rhyme” is an extended version of “Muffin Man” with additional lyrics. “Procrastination” is exactly that—she never got around to writing the lyrics or giving the song a title. “The Wheels on the Bus” contains the traditional lyrics, plus a few extra. Camille gives her vocal cords a workout on “Baby on the Subway,” in which she confesses to love the baby. The most sophisticated piece, “The Aegean Sea” is smooth jazz at its best. Young toddlers will love the traditional “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” while older children will appreciate the extended lyrics which encourage one to “Get Up and Try Again.”  On his farm, “Old MacDonald” has not only farm animals, but also a dinosaur and a pigeon. “The Backwards Alphabet” will test young listener’s abilities to recite the alphabet backwards. The “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star/Baa Baa Black Sheep/ABCs Medley” plays off the fact that they all have the same tune. “Lullaby” slows down and quiets down the music to ease babies to sleep.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Sharon and Bram: Four Singles

Sharon & Bram Singles. Performed by Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison. CD. Approx. 14 min. Elephant Records, Inc. 2018-2019. Digital only: $1.29 each (available at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and other digital retailers).
K – Gr 3

            Sharon and Bram have been releasing four brand new singles written by Sharon’s late husband, Joe Hampson, and with additional lyrics by daughter Randi Hampson. These fun, lively songs feature pop, jazz and music hall musical styles. The vocals are great, the harmonies lovely, and the accompanying children enthusiastic.
            In “The Colour Song” Colin Mochrie (Canadian comedian) tries to teach Sharon and Bram the concept of homonyms, using “red” and “read,” but without success (and he gets more and more frustrated). Young listeners will need to be somewhat familiar with homonyms in order to understand and enjoy the great humor in this song.
            Everyone needs a hug today in “The Hug Song.”
            Jim Cuddy of the country rock band Blue Rodeo joins in on “Talk About Peace,” love, a world full of happiness, friendliness, and doing unto other as you would have others do unto you.  
            Finally, there is nothing wrong with being “Different,” because it would be a shame if everyone looked the same.
            Sharon and Bram have done themselves proud with these four new additions to their musical oeuvre.

(P. S.: Let Colin Mochrie know I am a fan of his funny performances on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

All I Do Is Hop

All I Do Is Hop. Performed by Grin Brigade. CD. Approx. 1 hour, 17 min. Song Wizard Records. 2019. $14.98.
Pre-S –  Gr 4

This primarily lively, high energy album features the Grin Brigade, made up of Dave Kinnoin, Randy Sharp, Red Grammar, Jimmy Hammer, Ellie Baer, Melanie Browoleit, Carly Riggs, Leslie Smith, and Oliver Kinnoin. The 29 original songs are performed in a variety of musical styles, including kid funk, rap, blues, pop, rock, country, anthem, ballad, calypso, and jazz. The excellent backup musicians perform on different instruments on each song, which include guitars, violin, bass, keyboards clarinet, pennywhistle, harmonica, and drums. Every child should be taught the concepts in “I Don’t Think So,” which teaches them two important things: to be aware of false advertising, and to never give out personal information over the phone or online. The “Dog Alphabet Song” features a variety of breeds, including Collie, Harrier, Mexican Hairless, Japanese Chin, Vizsla and more. The “Seaweed Café” is an underwater establishment serving bubble kelp sodas and algae hors d’oeuvres. “Mi Pelota” teaches a few Spanish words to English speakers. One traveling family goes “Bouncin’ on the Bumps” by taking the scenic route instead of the highway. “I Think I Can” encourages listeners to try things they haven’t done before. “Otter Facts” celebrates river otters—their appearance and activities. One child has a whole stack of “Night Lights” to choose from. Listeners are encouraged to “Look for the Helpers” when they are scared, sad, or lonely. One hyper-active child is always on the “Go, Go, Go.” The remaining songs include “All I Do Is Hop,” “Buttons,” “Just Like Magic,” “One Fuzzy Caterpillar” (counting song), “All Mixed Up” (diversity), “Dr. Ticklebone,” “High-Paying Job,” “Tiptoe” (encourages participatory movement), “The Good Life,” “Halloween Party Tonight” (in a haunted mansion), “What Can’t Be,” “Gotta Be Mine,” “Every Time We Hear a Sound,” “Keep on Shining” (following dreams), “Tookie, Tookie,” “Safe Here,” “Locomotivation,” “Let My Colors Flow,” and “Cool As a Cucumber.” This wonderful album is partly fun, partly silly, and partly informational.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Which One Am I?

Which One Am I? Performed by Howie D. CD. Approx. 38 min. Produced by Tor Hyams. 2019. $15.00.
K – Gr 5

Howie Dorough, best known as a member of the Backstreet Boys, launches his first album of 12 original songs for children, inspired by his own sons. Now, as a child of the 1960s, I was too old to take any notice of the “boy bands” that flourished in the 1990s. So, I was pleasantly surprised by this excellent album, which features a variety of musical styles: rock, rap, doo wop, reggae, Motown, tango, blues, Latin, and pop, and Howie handles each style with aplomb. The backup musicians perform beautifully on guitars, bass, piano, drums, and percussion. The title song “Which One Am I” introduces the members of Backstreet Boys. In “Back in the Day,” Howie shares tidbits about his childhood in Orlando, Florida. Not finding any in his room, Howie admits that the only monsters are the “Monsters in My Head.” Howie showcases his amazing falsetto as he describes being “Shy.” He also had “Worry” about many things, such as doctor’s visits, the playground and the lunchroom. He must learn to come out from “Pollyanna’s Shadow,” his older sister. In the “School Bell Tango,” Howie admits how much he disliked school (except for recess). Because he’s too short for the rides at the amusement park, or can’t reach the shelf for a snack, Howie sings the “Small Time Blues.” He also performs a great cover of “Lean on Me.” The other songs include “No Hablo Español,” and “The Me I’m Meant to Be.” This fun, toe-tapping album is due to be turned into a musical theater production in 2020.

The Robot EP

The Robot EP. Performed by Ants Ants Ants. CD. Approx. 11 min. Pinwheel Records. 2019. Price: $4.99.
PreS – Gr 3

This is probably the shortest (in time) album I have ever reviewed. Johnny Clay, Dave Gulick, and Nat Johnson comprise the band and wrote the 4 original songs in pop rock musical style. The band and their guest musicians give excellent performances on guitar, piano, bass, synthesizer, and percussion. The vocalists harmonize beautifully together. The four songs together tell a short story about a robot’s day. In “Robot, Robot,” the narrator is trying to wake up the robot. “Dance, Robot, Dance” explains that the robot was sleeping because the night before it danced until it ran its battery down. “The Robot Suite” tells listeners that the robot dreams about computers, circuits, cables, dancing, and more. The bridge of the song showcases the robot as a Disco King. “Robot Reprise” repeats parts of the first and second songs. The songs also include lots of robotic sound effects. This is a fun, lively, and energetic album for young robot enthusiasts.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Can You Feel It?

Can You Feel It? Performed by Jessa Campbell & the Saplings. CD. Approx. 30 min. Produced by Dave Smith. 2019. Digital: $9.49.
Pre-S-Gr 3

Portland-based Jessa Campbell & the Saplings perform 10 lively, original songs about nature in pop, bluegrass, folk, and waltz musical styles. The Saplings--Dave Smith, Amy Hakansson, Darcy Wallace, Jay Jay Harris, and Paul Brainard--join in with great performances on guitar, banjo, bass, keyboards, and drums. Jessa’s vocals are clear and strong, easily handling the different musical styles. “Can You Feel It?” details the life cycle of a salmon from hatching to returning to the home pond to breed. In “Mole in the Ground” the narrator wishes she were a mole, lizard, turtle, and other creatures for various reasons. “Waltz of Trillium and Ant” tells how ants spread seeds from trillium plants. The “T-Rex in the Forest” lived there a long time ago. “How I Love You Sun” shares facts about our star, such as it takes 8 minutes for Sun’s light to reach Earth. “Shadow Doo-Dah,” to the tune of “Camptown Ladies,” describes the changing lengths of shadows during the day. “The Great Happening” wants listeners to connect with nature by playing outside in the trees, etc. Spirals in shells and other patterns are called c “Fractals” in nature. “Water Worth” explains the water cycle—evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and percolation. “Goodnight Pacific Northwest” says goodnight to the diurnal animals and hello to the nocturnal animals. This terrific album will teach young listeners more about nature and science.