Album Cover Art & New Single – Finding Friends Far from Home: A Journey with Clara Net

I’ve always loved pictures that tell a story, and that is exactly what the cover art for Oran Etkin’s album Finding Friends Far from Home: A Journey with Clara Net does. Etkin is the founder of the Timbalooloo Method for learning music in which each instrument comes to life, adding character, humor and emotion to music. This album cover captures that methodology by depicting several instruments from around the world as characters who are sharing with one another and building a friendship. 

This beautiful cover art was created by Mexican artist Lynda M. Tovar. In working on the project, Tovar says

“While listening to the album and doing the sketches and different explorations of the characters I got to know Clara, her brother, the Bass Clarinet, little Mbira and the rest of the characters. As they were presented to me through the music, the designs of the characters grew in me like they were present. I could listen to them while creating them and that helped me while creating their images and personalities.

While working on it, it also brought a certain feeling of nostalgia. I thought of my childhood and how when I was little I listened to an album with my parents, everyone humming, whistling or singing to it with a very different perspective, and me, as I imagine the children could also do with this album, looking at the cover of it and getting every detail of the characters and imagining all the scenarios the songs tell. It made me smile every time I thought of this and how the kids would be able to do that with this cover.”

Finding Friends Far from Home was a project several years in the making. Etkin, a clarinetist, traveled the world, recording the songs on this album with artists from the countries that he visited. One of the tracks, “Tumbalalaika,” is a riddle-filled tune featuring the balalaika – a triangular, three-stringed Russian instrument. Take a listen hereFinding Friends Far from Home will be released on August 30.
 

Song Premiere – “I Know You See Me” performed by Alphabet Rockers

In 2017 Alphabet Rockers landed far outside the realm of traditional children’s music with their groundbreaking GRAMMY-nominated album Rise Shine #Woke. Named to School Library Journal‘s Top 10 list of 2017 that album taught listeners that you are never too young to start a conversation about social justice. Filled with powerful lyrics and engaging rhythms and rhymes, it was the must have hip hop album of the year. Now, almost two years later, Alphabet Rockers are back and better than ever with their new album, The Love.

Recorded on land originally inhabited by the Ohlone people and produced at Zoo Labs in Oakland, California, The Love is a massive musical collaboration incorporating more than 60 guest artists who perform alongside Alphabet Rockers founders Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Soulati Shepherd.  The themes of love and belonging continue from Rise Shine #Woke to The Love but this time rather than the focus being social justice, the group is turning their attention to gender justice with the goal of the album being to honor the diverse identities within our society. Once again featuring well-thought out, powerful lyrics, The Love is an album that everyone should listen to.

Today it is my great honor to debut the track, “I Know You See Me.” Written as a response to the daily harassment experienced by a transgender/gender non-conforming parent of a four-year-old, this song takes that experience and makes it into something positive.  “I Know You See Me” begins and ends with a gorgeous string performance that captures the emotion of the main character in the song. At the beginning of the track, they are walking down the sidewalk when someone says horrible things to them. Rather than giving that person the power, they embrace their belief in themselves and when Tommy’s character breaks into a hard driving rap, he flips the script and rather than harassing them,  tells them, “You’re the powerful one/All assumptions be gone/You’re the ultimate you just do what you do and I’ll see you thru.” It’s a powerful message of love, acceptance and understanding. A message that we all could stand to hear and to share, no matter how we identify. Learn more about the Alphabet Rockers at www.alphabetrockers.com and listen to “I Know You See Me” on Spotify or Amazon The Love is available to stream now, and will be available on CD beginning August 8.

Growing Up Performed by Josh Lovelace

Josh Lovelace (of the adult rock group NEEDTOBREATHE) returns with a follow-up to his 2017 debut family album, Young Folk. On Growing Up singer-songwriter Lovelace captures universal life experiences that affect everyone no matter their age like friendship, family, the birth of a baby and saying goodbye to those we love. His solo voice is occasionally joined to great effect by children’s backing vocals on the twelve Americana-tinged rock songs in this collection. While there are plenty of hand-clapping and toe-tapping moments on this album, they are tempered by other tracks such as the gorgeous “You Are Loved,” “Let’s Go Drive” which captures the peaceful moments of unplanned family drives, and the beautiful blending of voices on the Frances England duet, “Butterfly” which encourages listeners to reach your light and follow your dreams.

A couple of unique moments are found toward the beginning of the album. The first is in the classic rock sounding “Traveling Band (When I Grow Up)” which tells the tale of a youngster who wants to be in a traveling band and lists a who’s who of performers – like Elton on the keys who makes the people want to shout – who could be in the band too. The second moment is the song “Calypso.” Unlike anything else on the album, it calls to mind ocean breezes and your toes in the sand as people in the neighborhood are encouraged to dance the calypso.

With Growing Up, Josh Lovelace has created that rare family album that sounds like adult music, has lyrics and melodies with kid appeal, and a production value that makes every song sound like it should be on the radio. A must have for family listening.

Which One Am I? Performed by Howie D (yes, that Howie D!)

I have to admit that I was surprised and pretty excited to see a family album by Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough come across my desk. After listening to their music for the past twenty years, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this album. I wondered what Howie D’s take on music for families was going to be and how he was going to handle his association with The Backstreet Boys. Would he try to distance himself from the group in order to establish himself as a solo performer of music for children and not mention the group, or would he slide a quiet  note of thanks into the liner notes? Well, there is a thank you note, but Howie D did so much more. He completely embraced his history with the group and played up his role as the “lesser known” Backstreet Boy with the amusing opening track, “Which One Am I?” Mixed in with questions asking if he’s that guy from that group (*NSYNC, Menudo) are fun lyrics that pay tribute to each of his Backstreet brothers.

With that issue out of the way, the album settles in to tell the tale of nine-year-old Howie D, the insecurities he faced and how he overcame them to find his own way. Adult Howie D serves as co-writer, along with Tor Hyams and Lisa St. Lou, on the eleven original tunes in this collection that span a wide variety of musical genres and really showcase Howie’s array of talents. Every song is a knockout featuring top-notch melodies, vocals and production value.  Standouts include “Monsters in My Head” which has a Lenny Kravitz-vibe that totally fits the tale of the monsters that only come out at bedtime, “Shy” which calls to mind Frankie Avalon’s hit, “Earth Angel,” and the slyly reggae-themed “Worry” about many of the concerns that a child may have. There is a fantastic R&B groove on “Pollyanna’s Shadow” while touches of the tango and the Blues also make appearances before the power ballad “The Me I’m Meant To Be” reaches in and grabs your heart.

Listeners will no longer be wondering “which one is he?” by the end of this album. Instead they’ll be saying, “Howie D? Don’t you know? He’s the one making amazing music for families!” Crossing genres and generations, Which One Am I? is sure to be a hit!

Check out the charming video below for “No Hablo Espanol.”

Canta las Letras performed by 123 Andrés

In the `1970s The Letter People, a literacy program to teach children how to sound out the consonants and vowels in the alphabet, was developed. This program gave each letter its own identity and made the beginning stages of learning phonics fun, Once introduced, The Letter People captured children’s imaginations and made them clamor for more. Who can forget being introduced to the inflatable for the letter “F” Fancy Feet then being assigned to design your own fancy feet and having a parade up and down the halls at school. Or the letter “T” Tall Teeth that featured the largest set of teeth you had ever seen. Each letter was unique in what it taught but they were all the same in that they entertained children while they learned. Listening to Canta las Letras, I felt the same excitement as I did when I first met The Letter People.

On their newest album, 123 Andrés takes the letters of the Spanish alphabet and elevates them from a single song that teaches the order the letters come in, to 38 songs that give each letter and sound combination their own musical identity. The songs are arranged in alphabetical order and composed using the rhythms and sounds that are found throughout Latin America. Many of the tracks feature animals such as “Cinco cerditos,” “El guepado,” and “Katy la koala” or body parts like “Cabeza, codo, corazon” and “Con mis ojos” while others directly speak to the letter such as “La H no suena” and “Aqui está la Q.” Also included are songs about double letter sounds, “La C y la H chocaron” and “Las llaves” as well as a pair of songs about combinations of consonants – “Amigable” and “Gracias a la letra R.”

123 Andrés infuse all of their music with an unbridled joy and this album is no different. With over an hour of original songs, Canta las Letras is the perfect musical learning tool not just for families who are native Spanish speakers but for anyone learning Spanish as a second language as well. Never didactic, but always educational and entertaining, this album is ideal for the classroom, storytimes, or family listening.

Love Is Te Quiero Performed by Alina Celeste

I just listened to this album three times in a row while I tried to figure out how I wanted to describe it. Did I want to start by saying this album is light and airy? Or maybe filled with infectious melodies? How about a showcase for Alina’s lovely soprano? After several stops and starts, I think the best way to start is by saying, Love Is Te Quiero  is all of these things, but most importantly, it is music to make you smile. From the opening notes of “Love Is” through the closing chords of “Los Pollitos,” listeners will feel their spirits lift while their and minds and bodies fill with joy.  

 Alina Celeste’s Cuban-American upbringing is evident throughout the entire album as she deftly weaves bluegrass, Caribbean, and Latin American sounds together to create a delightful tapestry of songs. The eleven tracks are artfully arranged to smoothly flow back and forth between those performed in English and those in Spanish. Featuring repeated lyrics set to catchy tunes, every song invites listeners to join in no matter their native language. Standouts include the 1943 Spanish children’s song “Vaca Lechera” and “Baila Conmigo.” If you are looking for storytime songs, try “Coquinas” which will have children counting to ten in Spanish, while “Clap Your Hands” will get children up and moving. (The words mama and papa in this song can easily be changed to suit your audience.)

Love Is Te Quiero will find a home with families and storytime presenters alike. For a taste of Alina Celeste’s style of music, take a peek at her vast catalog of videos on YouTube.

Earworm performed by Sean McCollough

I’m guessing that roots music aficionado Sean McCollough probably knows a thing or two about earworms. Having studied music from a very young age, McCollough performs music professionally, serves as a professor of music at the University of Tennessee, and is the host of The Kidstuff Show on WDVX. I’m sure in these various capacities, that he’s gotten more than one song stuck in his head. And you will too while listening to his latest album for children, Earworm.

The album opens with the title track which in a very meta way is itself an earworm. The simple melody, combined with catchy lyrics – “It’s an earworm, it’s not a wiggly worm, it’s not a squirmy worm, it’s just another term for a song stuck in your head” – will quickly engage listeners and play on repeat in their heads. A combination of original tunes and cover songs fill out the album’s often rock/pop tinged Americana sound. Some of the songs are just fun little ditties like “Her Name Was Lady” which gives a list of the names given to a variety of different goats while others like “Fuzzy Brown Vine (aka Poison Ivy)” teach children valuable information. “ABC (The Writing Song)” provides a new tune to learn the ABCs by as well as encourages children to try their hand at all kinds of writing from short things like haikus to long novels. Many listeners will relate to the very true tale of “Carsick” while others will appreciate the message of “Don’t Let them Get Yer Goat.” A couple of special guests join in the fun as well. Molly Ledford appears on her original tune, “Sunsphere” while Billy Jonas joins McCollough on the polyrhythmic chant, “Green Means Go.”

Earworm features accompaniment filled with a wide range of instruments with everything from a mandolin to African drums. While the musicianship is top-notch, it’s McCollough’s slightly gravely voice however that lends the album a sound that will appeal to children and adults alike. Like it’s namesake, Earworm will slowly make it’s way into your head and before you know it, you’ll be humming the various tunes and happily asking yourself – where do I know that from?

*While taking a listen to the 13 songs in this collection, take a few moments to check out the album’s cover featuring artwork by Knoxville-based printmaker Riley Bronough. Riley first came to McCollough’s attention when his wife bought a couple of Riley’s prints at an art show. Liking the look of the linocuts, McCollough contacted Riley and the Earworm album cover was born. What at first appears to be simple line drawings featuring just three main characters quickly becomes a seek and find for some of the things mentioned on the album.  For more information on Riley and her art, visit www.cleversomedayprints.com.

May the 4th Be With You!

Happy May the 4th! Designated as the official Star Wars Day back in 2011, fans around the world celebrate this date by showing their love for this pop culture cornerstone.  My husband and I are fans because we are of an age that we remember what life was like for kids during the original trilogy’s debut in the 1970s and early 80s. In fact, just this past December, my husband unearthed his original action figures and Death Star and I found my full size Princess Leia doll. Still fans at heart, we also attended Star Wars Celebration in Chicago just a couple of weeks ago where we had our picture taken with the ever suave Billy Dee Williams and had a blast taking in all of the costumes and life size models. 

    

The very next day, I heard a Star Wars-themed song on Kids Place Live which led me to do some digging into children’s songs that would appeal to young Star Wars fans. Here are some of my favorites, what are yours?

Why is Dad So Mad?” by Board of Education
“Oh, Lando” and “Chewy to Your Han” by Recess Monkey
Yodeling Yoda” by Jack Forman

 

 

 

Under the Big Umbrella performed by Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

“Different is beautiful, just like a rainbow, just like the colors that shine. Different is beautiful, just let your colors show. Yours go perfect with mine.”
– “Different is Beautiful” from Under the Big Umbrella

Brady Rymer’s 10th studio album with The Little Band That Could is filled with important messages for every listener that are inspired by those striving to create cultures of kindness in their families, schools, and communities. The opening, title track, “Under the Big Umbrella” was written for Lincoln Center’s inaugural Big Umbrella Festival, a celebration for children with autism and their families. The perfect way to kick-off the album, this song invites everyone to sing and dance however they want under the accepting protection of the big umbrella.

The upbeat, positive messages continue throughout the album in a collection of original and cover songs that encourage listeners to be kind to themselves and one another as well as to do good out in the world. In a departure from his kindie rock style, Rymer is joined by Sonia De Los Santos on a country-tinged bilingual version of the Woody Guthrie tune, “Don’t You Push Me Down,” while on his groovy take on “I’m Coming Out,” Rymer fills breaks in the song with children’s answers to the question, “What do you want the world to know?” Additional covers include Jimmy Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” and the Beatles “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

Children will enjoy the original songs just as much as the covers. From “You Do You” to “Thank You for Being You” the importance of being happy and confident in yourself is emphasized without ever becoming overly didactic or touchy-feely in sentiment. My personal favorite is “The Smile Shop.” I love the concept of a store that has aisles and aisles of smiles for every occasion – the school picture smile, the shy smile, the playing in the park smile. Backed by a rhythm that demands listeners clap along, this tune would be a perfect introduction to activities where children talk about, write about or draw those things in life that make them smile.

Rain or shine, families will find themselves right at home Under the Big Umbrella.

Kindred performed by Renee & Friends

I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached my limit for the negativity and self-righteous snarkiness that I encounter online. So, this past weekend, I took a break from the internet. I decided no social media, no email, no surfing the web. I was going to dedicate myself to the beautiful weather and those people around me. And you know what? The weekend was lovely, peaceful and restorative. Just what I needed.

I discovered something else that I needed. While looking for something this evening, I knocked over a stack of new music on my desk and before straightening it, I reached in and blindly grabbed a CD. And the album I pulled out was Kindred. This was just what I needed. What a beautiful collection of music! It is the perfect antidote to all of the things in the world that bring you down.

Those familiar with Renee Stahl’s first Renee & Friends album, Simpatico, will not be disappointed with these new collaborations. Kindred is filled with gentle, soothing songs that can be enjoyed by the entire family. The opening track “Kindness is Cool” sets the tone for the album. Performed by Renee & Jeremy, this reminder of the importance of being kind to one another is wrapped in catchy lyrics highlighted by the refrain, “I’ll be for you. You’ll be for me. Kindness. Kindness.” This is followed by the dynamite performance by Renee’s 12-year-old-daughter, Amelia, on “Super Fragile World” as well as a lovely cover of the Cat Stevens tune, “Where do the Children Play” with vocals by Renee and Ziggy Marley.

It’s hard to imagine a rap by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo being overshadowed by anyone, but that’s exactly what happens on “Leaders of the World.” While Skidoo’s words are powerful and strong, it’s the beauty of the vocals of Addi Rose, Amelia Dektor and the Cold Spring School Chorus that truly capture the essence of this song.

Additional friends on this album include Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell who join Renee in their rendition of the classic, “High Hopes.” Finally, there are two tracks that allow Renee’s crystal clear voice to shine.  “Nothing and No One” focuses on the fact that there is nothing in the world that could take away a mother’s love for her children and could easily be used as a lullaby. The last track on the album, “How Did You Get So?” is a gorgeous song that asks a child – how did you get so sweet/smart/beautiful? It is the perfect ending to a much needed album. Every family would benefit from taking a few minutes, unplugging from the outside world and taking in the messages of Kindred.

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