Premier – Frances England’s “Not Just My Sister”

Frances England is back! It’s been two years since England released her GRAMMY nominated album Explorer of the World and clearly that two years was time well spent. With her new album, Blue Skies and Sunny Days, England presents a collection of songs that are breezy and light while conveying a message of positivity and love.

This collection includes seven original songs with themes ranging from road tripping to that feeling you get when you know it’s going to be a good day. The album also includes a cover of the Cat Stevens classic “If You Want to Sing Out.” Several of the songs will really strike a chord with parents such as “Mama Said” about the encouraging words that Mama shares with her child and “Watching You Grow.”

Me and my little sister

While all of the songs on Blue Skies and Sunny Days are lovely to listen to, it was “Not Just My Sister” that truly touched my heart. England is a talented songwriter who has the ability to set impactful lyrics to a gentle, upbeat melody that really draws listeners in, and that is exactly what she has done here. My little sister has always meant the world to me, and listening to this song as we get ready for her September wedding just brings out all the best kind of emotions.  There is so much that I relate to in “Not Just My Sister,” but when it comes to the place my sister holds in my heart, the chorus really says it all, “She’s not just my sister, she’s my best friend, she’s my mirror, she’s the one who knows me inside and out.”

Listen to “Not Just My Sister” in its entirety below. Blue Skies and Sunny Days will be out on August 14.

New Raffi! – Dog on the Floor

It’s hard to believe that with the July 27th debut of Dog on the Floor, Raffi released his 25th album, but at 70 years young, that is exactly what he did. Listening to a Raffi album makes you feel like you are wrapped up in a blanket warm from the dryer on a cold, rainy day and this album is no exception. From beginning to end it is filled with love. Love for nature, love for each other and love for oneself.

Several of the songs on the album are an ode to Luna, Raffi’s two-year-old border collie/poodle puppy. One of those tracks is “Luna’s Song” which paints a vivid picture of Luna with lyrics like “black and gray with tufts of gold,” “four little paws, soft and white,” and “big brown eyes look my way and Luna is her name.” Another song that aptly captures the relationship between a human and his dog in the jazzy “Walkin’ My Dog” in which Raffi sings “I wake up in the morning and think about walkin’ my dog” and of the dog, “She wakes up in the morning, thinks about walkin’ her dad.”

Other songs in this 15-track collection include “Market Day” and “Play Play Play” which are filled with lots of repetition to encourage listeners to sing along, a gorgeous version of the Beatles tune “Here Comes the Sun” which will enthrall children and adults alike, the fantastic stringed instrument jam, “Fiddle Dance” and the lovely “Rainbow” which starts with the soft, smooth singing of the line “I’ve been working on the railroad” that moves on to ask, when will my rainbow find me.

Raffi wraps up the album with two songs that directly address the needs of our children. The first is “Take a Breath” an important song reminding children (and the grown ups around them) that when we’re not doing fine and we want to be well, take a breath or two, be still, sing a song or two, and soon you will feel better. The bonus track uses the phrase “It takes a village” for it’s title and refrain and is a beautiful, gentle reminder that we are all (parents, teachers, librarians, neighbors) responsible for fostering future generations who will love and care for the earth and others.

It’s amazing that four decades into a career a musician is able to still produce songs that are entertaining, impactful and sure to be pleasing audiences for generations to come, but Raffi is doing just that. Another beautiful album for all to enjoy!

New Songs for Storytimes

In the public library realm of program planning, there are two seasons of programming – all of the programs that we do during the school year, and all the programs we do during summer reading. As our summer reading programs are winding down, I thought it was a good time to turn our attention specifically to storytimes. Many libraries do continuous storytimes, never taking a break (my hat is off to you, that takes a special level of energy and enthusiasm) while others take occasional breaks (often in August, December, and May) for program planning and rejuvenation. No matter where you are in the planning process, here are two new albums featuring songs perfect for use during storytimes.

The first album is Moving to the ABCs from Kansas-based Jammin’ Randy. Clocking in at almost 75 minutes, this album features 26 songs – one for each letter of the alphabet – with titles ranging from “Awesome Alphabet Rap” to “Zany Zebra.” Jammin’ Randy performs this collection of all original songs with just his solo voice set against simple melodies that children will find easy to follow along with. Many of the songs encourage participation either through movement or echo/repeat in the lyrics. Clear instructions to perform various actions like stomp, clap, hop, jump and count to four are given on songs such as “Clap Your Hands,” “Penguin Hop,” “Wiggle Wiggle Waggle,” and the “Egg Shaker Dance.” Additional movements include move to the front, the back, the left, and the right. All movements are developmentally appropriate for the target age group and are set at a pace that most preschoolers will be able to follow with little difficulty. Jammin’ Randy, or Randy Sauer as he is known in his every day life, let’s his experience as a K-6 music teacher shine in the lesson plans that he provides for this album. For each song, he provides suggested art, music and physical education activities making the songs easy to incorporate into the storytime planning process. For more information, or to check out the lesson plans, visit www.jamminrandy.com.

The second album is from Chicagoland-based Jeanie B! Jeanie B! & the Jelly Beans released the album I Love Music this year, but it is Jeanie B!’s solo album, Come Together that I would like to highlight. This album is split into two parts. The first part is “Come Together Songs” and the second, “Classroom Transitional Songs.” Thirteen of the fourteen songs in the first part are Jeanie B! originals. It is clear that she knows her audience because the songs all range in length from 1 to 2.5 minutes, making them perfect for storytimes. Several of the tracks are beautiful songs about nature that are just lovely to listen to, including “How Do You Build a Nest” and “I’m a Little Butterfly.” The rest of the tracks in this section of the album are very interactive including “If I Was An Ant” which gets kids snapping, clapping, and stomping, “Marching On My Feet” which highlights various body parts and “5 Little Pieces of Bubble Gum” which gets kids counting down from five to none. Additional songs include “Mary Had a Little Farm” during which children are encouraged to make the sounds of a variety of animals and “Zim Zamma Zoom” a fun call and response tune. The second part of the album would work best in a preschool environment with song breaks averaging around 30 seconds and covering topics from “Time To Wash Hands” to “Snack Time” and “Right Hand On The Rail.” Jeanie B!’s live shows are always a lot of fun and a real hit with the preschool set. If you find her performing in your area, make sure to check it out. For more information about Jeanie B! and all of her music, visit www.jeaniebmusic.com.

 

 

Wake Up The Dream Performed by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo is back! This Amazon Original album, 23 Skidoo’s first full length venture since the GRAMMY winning Infinity Plus One, is set during a show on WREM Dreamtime Radio where all-original hip hop, R&B, funk and soul tunes are played. Each song on this album has its own unique style and flair yet they all work together united by the same theme of exploring your dreams and imagination. Things kick off with the totally funkadelic title track which urges listeners, “Life can be what you want it to be, you gotta dream it first then wake it up.” This tune is quickly followed by the haunting “Where Did the Magic Go,” which is a song about a dragon and a unicorn discussing the loss of magic because of so much screen time but is set to a gorgeous, haunting 1960s melody that would fit right in playing in the background at Pop’s ChockLit Shoppe (yes, that’s a Riverdale reference!). Several additional songs including “Dreaming Again” and “Broken Dreams” would also be right at home spinning on the jukebox.

The lead vocals and instrumentations by a whole host of guest artists are just out of this world. 23 Skidoo’s vocal rhymes are on full display on “Makeshift Spaceship” and on the hip hop version of the Chinese folk tale, “The Stonecutter,” while “You Caught My Eye” brings back the character Pickles the Pirate who tells in true pirate fashion his tale of falling in love with his wife the mermaid. All of the songs feature incredibly well-crafted lyrics, but it is “Black & White Squares” that has the greatest impact, using the imagery of a chess board to illustrate the issues facing society and how we can change the rules.

This entire album is powerful, yet totally fun to listen to. And that’s the Secret Agent 23 Skidoo way. Families with older children will love this album. It’s smart, filled with complex melodies and sounds like something kids might hear on the “grown-up” radio stations. And grown ups, be prepared, there’s a very good chance you’ll be listening to this even when the kids aren’t around!

Music Video Debut: “Camping Song”

Just before the July 4th holiday I reviewed Andy Z’s new album, Camp Andyland. Now, just a little over a week later comes a brand new video for “Camping Song,” the seventh track on the album.

This video features live versions of Andy Z. (with guitar) and two teen campers inside the animated world of Camp Andyland. Throughout the song, especially during the chorus, the campers do movements that go along with the lyrics to create interactive moments for the viewers. Well-executed, animated characters from Camp Andyland seamlessly interact with Andy and the campers adding to the overall whimsical feel. This video for “Camping Song” is the perfect complement to the upbeat fun of the track. Enjoy (but watch out for those banana slugs)!

Camp Andyland Performed by Andy Z

Summer is the time of year when kids start heading off to camp. For some it’s overnight camp, for some day camp, and for others camp for just a weekend. For those hanging out at home this summer, there’s a new fictional camp filled with musical adventures just waiting for them.

 

Camp Andyland  is the newest entry in the Andyland series from Andy Z (aka Andreas Zamenes). At Camp Andyland, campers/listeners are welcomed to camp, then treated to a delightful array of songs filled with fun lyrics that will make campers singalong. Each of the original songs tells a story that is packed with information wrapped in beautiful melodies like “Butterfly” and upbeat romps like “Drink More Water.” Throughout their time at Camp Andyland, listeners are invited to go stargazing in “Galaxy Song,” join in the hijinx in the “Pirate Song” and imagine what it would be like if “I Went to a Party with Dinosaurs.” While at camp, they enjoy old favorites like “Sticky Bubblegum” and “Row Your Boat” while learning new nature songs about “Squirrely Squirrel,” “Bizzy Bee,” and “La Araña Pequenita.”

 

 

 

Camp Andyland is a true joy from beginning to end. And speaking of end, I love that Andy Z carried the theme of the album all the way through to the details on the back of the CD packaging, including not just a song list, but a Camp Andyland Roster , a schedule of the day’s events while at camp and even emergency numbers for the Vet (555-PAWZ) and the Dino Doctor (555-RAWR).

 

 

Check out the video for “Drink More Water” below. I never thought that a song about the need to drink more water throughout the day would be catchy and fun to sing, but this song definitely proved me wrong! (Love the movements that would make this an easy addition to a program!!)

 

Time to Hit the Road!

It’s that time of year when families are packing up their SUVs and heading to destinations near and far. Whether you’re driving a couple of towns over to go camping or taking that long road trip to Disney World, this playlist, put together by the folks at Sugar Mountain PR, is the perfect accompaniment to any car ride. Filled with fresh new singles as well as some favorites from 2017, this summer-centric playlist is filled with fun road trip tunes. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!

Jessie Baylin – “It’s the Summertime”
Kira Willey – “Brand New Day”
Best Coast – “Cats and Dogs”
Hot Peas N Butter – “Big World Kid”
Ants Ants Ants – “Six Pickup Sticks”
Gunnar Madsen – “Divine Bovine”
Splash and Bubbles – “One Big Ocean”
The Bazillions – “Summer’s Here”
Justin Roberts – “Lemonade”
Lucky Diaz – “Paletero Man”
Lisa Loeb – “Inch Worm”
Sara Lovell – “Wild is Everywhere”

Full STEAM (or is it STEM) Ahead!

There are so many different learning styles. Some children learn best by reading things. Some learn best by seeing things. Some by doing things. Sometimes a combination of these. And then there are those of us who learn best from music. I’m a member of that last group. I like to think of those in my age group as The School House Rock generation. We are those kids who spent Saturday mornings learning about science, math, grammar and more – all set to music that was so catchy, we can still sing all the words to “I’m Just a Bill” and “Conjunction Junction.”  Over the years, I’ve often thought if all of my school subjects had been set to music, they would still be in my brain alongside the lyrics to every song from my teen years. And that’s where the three albums below come in.

As we all know, there is a great emphasis on STEM education in our schools. But sometimes, if you don’t have the most analytical brain or that much of an interest in these subject areas, it’s hard to remember all of the concepts. And that is the beauty of these albums. Each album takes a different approach to STEM subjects and each employs different musical styles, but they all set the STEM concepts to music in a manner that will have kids learning without even realizing it.

 

 

First up, the duo of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer mark their 35th album collaboration with Zoom a Little Zoom! A Ride Through Science. In this collection Fink and Marxer create contemporary arrangements of 10 songs that were written by Hy Zaret, composed by Lou Singer and released in 1961 as part of the educational collection, Ballads for the Age of Science.  With this modern update songs that cover topics such as what makes lightning, the constellations, what makes an insect an insect and gravity are allowed to shine in a way that will appeal to today’s young listeners. 

 

 

Kidz STEM Songz is more than just a compilation of songs, it is two full albums and a DVD of music videos. Collected and compiled by children’s music artist Dan Crow and his partners at KidzMusic Records, the first CD in this box set is Crow’s 2016 album of STEM focused songs, Concoctions. The five songs on this album cover simple math concepts, technology and the fact that science is all around us. The album also includes five karoake tracks of these songs to encourage kids to sing along. The second album in this set is KidzMusic’s STEAM. The 15 songs on this album cover topics from the genius of Einstein to botany. Each track is performed by a varied group of children’s artist ranging from Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band to Jonathan Sprout to Eric Ode and Danny Weinkauf. This box set is definitely a one of a kind.

 

 

Finally, enter the world of STEM with Giants of Science by the dynamic duo The Pop Ups. On this, their fifth album, Brooklyn-based musicians Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein let their songwriting and performing talents loose on ten new songs. A very high production value makes each of these tracks ready for play on the radio or TV. In fact, listeners of SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live will already be familiar with the fun, question-filled tune, “How Do We Know.” Covering everything from shadows and inventors to space and time, The Pop Ups unique style of music will keep family members of all ages engaged and asking for more.

Hand in Hand Performed by Suzi Shelton

You know when you listen to a Suzi Shelton album you’re in for a good time and Hand in Hand is no exception. A joy to listen to from beginning to end, Shelton’s latest album showcases her own brand of upbeat pop music filled with feel-good melodies and catchy lyrics. Each song is moderately paced allowing listeners to catch every word making each tune highly singable, while the arrangements are sophisticated yet simple enough to allow a variety of instruments (saxophone, electric guitar, trombone) to shine.

Several of the tracks on Hand in Hand would work well in storytime or early childhood programming. The opening song, “Put Your Hands in the Air,” is a great movement song that is performed fast enough to hold the attention of the young participants, but slow enough for them to catch the instructions that take them from making a joyful sound to stomping their feet to jumping up and down. “Ladybugs” could be made into a fun, interactive song using flannel board pieces, ladybugs on sticks, etc. as the participants count down from five to one in this jazzy version of the traditional rhyme. The tune “Blue Fin” would be fun to use with scarves as different colored “fins” are swimming in the water.

Additional highlights include the very poppy “Never Let You Go,” the island vibe of “River Come Down” and “Raindrop” which incorporates a fantastic new version of “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring.” Much like most of the songs on this album,”The Grass is Always Greener,” a duet with GRAMMY winner and former Sprout TV host Tim Kubart, will have listeners singing and smiling along.

Hand in Hand is a true delight that should not be missed!

High Five! Performed by Laura Doherty

I have been a fan of Laura Doherty since I first heard her charming album Shining Like a Star (2011). From the very beginning, her ability to craft relatable lyrics set to developmentally appropriate tempos spoke to her experience as an early childhood educator, starting with her time as the director of Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music’s Wiggleworms program. With each album Doherty has honed her craft as a songwriter and performer resulting in High Five!, her best album to date.

Coming in at a brief 27 minutes, Doherty packs a lot of fun and musical talent into the 10 songs in this collection. Her signature folk-pop style shines along with the light, airy melodies and catchy lyrics of songs that cover a wide variety of topics including – the first day of school, making friends, lucky charms, different types of pasta and Paulette the Purple Dragonette. Wonderful, complex instrumentations support but never overwhelm Doherty’s lovely soprano. A perfect example being the title song, “High Five.” Featuring a really funky groove, this tune lets the brass section shine while Doherty encourages listeners to get up and move while trying out dances like the Locomotion and The Twist.

Other highlights include the earworm song of the record, “Muddy Puddles” (I’m pretty sure I’ll be singing that chorus in my sleep), Doherty’s duet with mutli-GRAMMY nominee Justin Roberts on “Can’t Wait to Turn 8” and the really touching final track, “Wonderful 1.”

Laura Doherty’s albums are the best kind of children’s music – lyrics are sung from the point of view of a child, songs are short enough to use in programs and storytimes, and the tunes are so catchy and well-produced that parents won’t go crazy listening to them again and again. High Five! is a must-have for libraries and family listening!

1 2 3 9