Monday, 14 May 2018

Album Review: The Tiger Tail - Pevan & Sarah

The Tiger Tail is the second album from the irrepressible Pevan & Sarah, a musical duo from Melbourne, Australia. The album contains a host of catchy, upbeat and interactive songs that the whole family will love.  A major strength of the album is its diversity, and its ambitious attempt to explore a whole range of musical styles, including reggae, rap, pop, rock and disco.  The lead vocals are as clear as crystal, with a clarity of purpose second to none, and the songs are highly melodic, and brimming with pop sensibility throughout. Each song has a definitive hook, is easy to dance to and contains some unique and empowering lyrics written to inspire a whole new generation.

The album kicks off in superb form with the song “Get Up”, with its hypnotic beat, and potent lyrics urging the listener to get up, ‘get your body moving’ and make the most of every day. The arrangement features keyboards, bass and drums on the verse, with an additional brass arrangement on the chorus to add further verve to the track. The song is delightful, effective, and encourages kids to get moving.

The party really gets going with the second track “Imagination”, with its unique blend of rhythm and melody. The vocal interplay between Pevan and Sarah is really quite charming, but it is the chorus, which really grabs the listener’s attention, with a lyric, emphatically declaring how we must ‘use our imagination’. The song is highly interactive, providing opportunities throughout for children to imitate monsters, pirates or even mermaids where they can even ‘talk under water to the fishes’. 

“It’s OK to Make Mistakes” has a message that should resonate with all teachers and parents. Inhibition and fear is something that needs to be tackled head on, and what better way to go about this than through music. The melody is once again, tight and focused, with an uplifting chorus that takes off like a rocket. The middle eight encourages Pevan to join in, and after a couple of clumsy attempts he eventually succeeds, further emphasising the point.  The arrangement is interesting, with the song quite dramatically grinding to a halt half way through, and then storming back with a noticeable change of key to emphatically declare, it really is ‘ok to make mistakes’.

“Gibberish Rap” is essentially a rap with nonsensical lyrics, with Pevan adopting the role of enthusiastic student to further encourage children to participate. The lyrics really are quite bizarre but clearly work in the context of the song, where we are either ‘walking on bread’ or observing our socks bursting into song. There is plenty of impact in the lead vocal, with a delivery that would make Eminem sit up and take notice

“Give it a Go” has something of a ska feel, and races along hardly pausing for breath. The vocal delivery reminded me a little of The Not-Its,with its tight musicality and ferocity of purpose. The song encourages children to ‘give it a go’ and ‘try it today’, so that later on, we can ‘face our fears with no more tears.’  The lyrics are sharp and focused emphasising the importance of getting involved and having a go, with the outro providing examples of how this can be achieved. 

“My Balloon” introduces a slight reggae feel, with the additional use of steel drums adding a Caribbean flavour to the overall sound. The song is vibrant and lively and describes the fun you can have when simply playing with a balloon.  Although the balloon sadly drifts away at the end, we are reminded that we can always blow another one up to keep the game going.  The song is again easy to dance to, with lyrics that encourage the listener to bounce along, as we go ‘up, up, up, up, up’.

“Bath Time” blends together a Motown drum pattern with an inventive brass section, and is an absolute must for any parent trying to persuade their children to take a bath. Bath time here is no longer drudgery but great fun, with children encouraged to grab their rubber duck, and jump into the bath. The song is vibrant melodic and instructive, and features some well timed power chords in the background for additional impact. The song finishes with a reminder of what we need to take to the bath, a checklist that Pevan happily assists with.

“Don’t Pop My Bubble”, deals with the sensitive issue of personal space, how we may experience different emotions, and how to act when we feel vulnerable or angry. The fact that the song can make complex subject matter both fun and engaging, highlights how the band never lose sight of the big picture. The music certainly lifts the mood with the additional inclusion of nineteen fifties harmonies, which would not be out of place on the set of Grease or Happy Days. I am sure Fonzie would approve.

“I Like it Loud” cleverly alternates between music which is both loud and soft. The lyrics emphasise the importance of being quiet, such as 'when the baby is asleep’, and other times when it is okay to be loud, ‘especially when I’m dancing’.  The way the music modulates between the two moods is very effective with some power chords thrown in to pump up the volume where required. Towards the end Pevan and Sarah take alternative positions, with Sarah preferring it loud and Pevan soft.This technique serves to further engage the listener; assisted by some additional Beatles inspired harmonies to add further intrigue.

“The Tiger Tail” is essentially an action song, where Pevan, with a little help from Sarah, puts together a series of actions to create a ‘signature move’.  Here the song seemingly writes itself, as it progresses through a variety of dance moves, which Pevan eagerly imitates. The chorus encourages the children to ‘roll your paws, tiger slide, and swing your tail from side to side’, and is eagerly chanted over a somewhat hypnotic backing track. In many ways the song pulls together many of the ideas featured throughout the album, combining in such a way as to provide a signature theme for the band, which is a great way to finish an album.

This is an excellent album, featuring ten songs of immense variety, captivating lyrics, and musical dexterity throughout. The vocals are as clear as crystal and the lyrics are thoughtful and informative.  It is superbly put together, and like all great albums leaves you wanting more. There is plenty here for children to dance to, but perhaps more importantly, the songs explore many of the challenging issues children face on a daily basis. If we can encourage all children to express themselves, have a go, and not be afraid to make mistakes we can make a better world for all of us.

Pevan and Sarah – let the children boogie.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Album Review: Walla Walla BING - YellowKat

YellowKat are an exciting entertainment company who can boast amongst other achievements, over eight years of live concert experience. Their use of puppets and expertise in musical theatre adds another dimension to their act, enabling them to bring a fascinating and engaging live experience to children everywhere.  They have recently released a new CD Walla Walla Bing, which contains fourteen original songs, three of which featured in the Top Ten of the Australian Songwriting Contest 2016. This album is well worth a listen, as it is packed with well-crafted songs brimming with pop sensibility.

The CD kicks off with the delightful “Uh Oh It’s YellowKat,” which describes the weird and wonderful attributes of YellowKat, who we discover amongst other things, is ‘crazy and zany’. The song is upbeat and energetic, and features some lively piano and dynamic percussion to really get the party started. The song also features both a female and male lead vocal.

Make no mistake, the first time you hear “Ducks In The Garden” you are hooked, it is catchy and direct, which is probably why it will really appeal to children. It has a simple but very memorable melody, which is both gentle and hypnotic. The duck’s name is Jack, who is introduced along with the rest of his friends, including the horse Clive, a pig named Dawn and a chicken called Meg.  The song has a clever way of repeating the names of the animals providing familiarity and an opportunity to sing along, almost like a mini version of  “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”.

Next up is “Favourite Song”, a gentle ballad that cleverly reveals the album title on the chorus. The song again features a piano, alongside what sounds like a clarinet, and some subtle percussion on the verse. The song has a great tune, and lyrics that foster interactivity, as children are encouraged to ‘sing along and tap to the beat.’ The clarity of the vocals ensures that all the lyrics are clearly audible throughout, which is a noticeable strength throughout the CD.

“Jazz Hands and Music Feet” is quite experimental with a whispering vocal introducing the song, and lyrics that inform us that ‘Jazz hands and music feet are bopping out to the beat.’ The keyboards work well with the bass throughout, colouring in the song without overplaying.  Each instrument from bass, to guitar to piano is cleverly introduced as the song progresses from strength to strength.

“Witch In The Washing Machine” bounces along with a real clarity of purpose, and manages to tell a quite novel story. If Roald Dahl actually wrote a song for children, I’m sure it would be similar to this. We discover that the witch, whose name is Bessie, can perform magic as she washes clothes and ‘loves to spin around.’  Clearly she is skilled at this task, as even dried-on spaghetti comes out.

“Fruit Salad” is really quite charming and eccentric, and describes the delights of eating fruit salad, with lyrics that provide a detailed description of the process ranging from ‘munchy crunchy apples, to ‘bendy bananas’. This song features a variety of vocal experimentation like nothing you have ever heard, and like many of the songs, it really sounds like the band had a lot of fun making it.

“This Piggy Went To Market”, boasts a title perhaps inspired by the famous English nursery rhyme. The music certainly has a real nursery rhyme feel, and succeeds in telling a story, where the piggy meets a number of animals including a rabbit who we are informed ‘stole carrots’. The song is divided into two main sections with the first section describing piggy’s decision to visit the market, and the second describing the unfolding events that occur on arrival. The song also incorporates different musical styles and tempos, further emphasising the unique vocal approach on display.

“Penelope’s Song” introduces Penelope to the listener, who we soon discover has a preference for eating foods that begins with the letter P. This is further emphasised in the rather percussive chorus where the vocals chant the letter P to really emphasise the point. The song could be almost described as cute, with the lead vocals adopting a child like style to match the music. The music is gentle, progressing along in almost play school style.

“Under the Mountain” is a beautiful song with a terrific tune, and is my personal favourite. It begins with the sound of the ocean accompanying a gentle keyboard, and a minimal bass. Impressively original, beautifully delivered and really quite captivating, the song was one of the top ten finalists in the Australian Songwriting Contest 2016, and deservedly so.

“The Waiting Song” begins with the sound of a clock, before the listener is informed that ‘we are waiting our turn’, while the clock hands turn’. The song marches along in almost military fashion, as we are reminded of some of the past occasions we may have had to wait.  These memories include a visit to the shop where the singer describes the unfolding events from inside a trolley. This clever use of imagery, and engaging melody provides the children with both a visual and melodic hook to tune in to.

“Little Buzzy Bee” has a nice country feel, a great melody, and a simple but effective arrangement. The song uses verse repetition, and a subtle change of lyric to keep the listener alert. At only one minute and seven seconds the song is the shortest on the album, but makes its point in its own modest way, and succeeds in leaving the listener wanting more.

“Swimming In The Bath” is an action song, which provides copious opportunities for kids to perform a number of actions and have heaps of fun in the process. Here the children are encouraged to act like a crocodile, crawl like a lizard, jump like a kangaroo, and even fly like a kookaburra. This is a song that would no doubt be very popular with music teachers everywhere.

“Dance All Day” is very positive and upbeat, and at times reveals a subtle blues influence. The song unsurprisingly encourages children to dance, and has the music to match the message. It also incorporates a very noticeable change of key towards the end, which ensures the energy of the song is maintained right through to the end.

“Goodnight Lullaby” provides a very fitting way to finish off the CD, beginning with a beautiful musical introduction featuring both piano and bass. The vocal has a gentle quality, and is somewhat wistful and even melancholic at times. The backing vocals have an almost beach boys vibe about them and the additional use of strings adds a lovely texture to the sound.  The song is the perfect wind down, after what has proved to be ‘a lovely afternoon’.

The main strength of this album is its simplicity, and the way in which such simplicity really allows the melodies to cut through. It is also well produced and easy to dance to. The band know exactly what they want to sound like, and the message they want to deliver. Clearly the musicianship on the album is very strong, along with the vocals, which provide both resonance and clarity. The songs are original, cleverly crafted, and have their own unique style, and on this form I expect to be hearing a lot more from YellowKat in the future.

YellowKat: Dance All Day!

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Album Review: Wildlife - Zucchini Clan

Attention all you teachers, parents and environmental warriors out there, you really have to check out the zany Celtic duo Zucchini Clan at your earliest opportunity. Currently one of the most exciting kids bands around, they literally look and sound like they are from another planet. Their music is gentle and melodic and yet still packs a punch. They deliver compelling messages, but with a lightness of touch that is both imaginative and great fun. Their debut album Wildlife is superb, containing ten memorable songs, with instantly hummable memories, potent lyrics and skilful musicianship. There is a real revolution going on here, that begins and ends with The Zucchini Clan. Miss them at your peril, because they are seriously seeking out new directions, and boldly going where no band has gone before.

The opening song “Seasons” is sparse and hypnotic, and proceeds like a bizarre nursery rhyme, propelled by a powerful drumbeat. The sparsity of the verse creates the necessary space to launch a truly explosive chorus, which expands the melody very effectively. The lyrics explore how ‘seasons wait for no one, transporting us on an environmental journey, combining infectious melody with crystal clear vocals. The song initially celebrates the arrival of spring, and all the wonders that lie in store as  ‘the sun wakes up from its winter sleep’.  The lyrics also encourage healthy eating reminding the listener that junk food ‘makes you sick’, as we further embark on this musical journey where we are encouraged to ‘plant trees’ and go organic.

“Little Black Fly” is quite psychedelic and reminded me a little of Syd Barrett at his best. Once again there is a simple rhythm pattern, creating the space for the gradual introduction of instruments as the song progresses. The song has a great tune, and finishes with a rip-roaring guitar solo, which really takes the listener by surprise. You should also check out the video, which is equally memorable.  Up next the title track “Wildlife”, which is funkier, atmospheric and again flirts with a psychedelic feel, although this time with more of a nineties Brit Pop vibe. The electric guitar outburst could have been credited to Jimi Hendrix, although the main strength of the song is the way that it describes a selection of Australian animals to celebrate the beauty and diversity of Australian wildlife.

“Tooth Faery, is slower in tempo, and with a bit of a stretch could almost be described as ‘easy listening’. Here a female voice recaptures the nursery rhyme style featured earlier. Young children often struggle with the painful reality of wobbly teeth, and would no doubt be able to relate to this song. The lyrics focus on the problems children with loose teeth may experience, particularly during lunch break, and the sudden realisation that they  ‘can’t eat an apple yet’. The tooth fairy makes a cameo appearance, with lyrics that celebrate how the child has managed to ‘get coins from the tooth fairy.’  The drum pattern is imaginative, and the array of musicality on display throughout the song gives it an extra sparkle.  The reciprocal vocal at the end is also very effective taking the song out with shades of both blues and jazz competing for space.

“Happy Puppy” harnesses a somewhat layered orchestral vocal style in true sixties fashion, with shades of the Byrds or even Jefferson Airplane on display. The song is quite anthemic and features lyrics, which elaborate on a host of animals and their daily antics. The song also features a variety of instruments including what sounds like an accordion, effectively underpinned by a dynamic rhythm section. Some of the lyrics are rather eccentric, as we are informed that a ‘goose got loose on the fermenting juice.’   The somewhat melancholy backing vocals add an additional richness of texture to the track, which is hauntingly melodic and highly experimental.

Surely there can’t be another song in the world with the title “Crumbs From The Kitchen Floor”, and if there is I want to know about it.  Here, what sound like a banjo, and a variety of percussion instruments soon make way for a Celtic style vocal chant demanding ‘give me more more more crumbs from the kitchen floor.’ This is another highly melodic track, but with a more evocative style of delivery, and a musical depth that reminded me a little of Steeleye Span.

 “Black Fella/White Fella” has a tougher more uncompromising feel, and is a song, which unsurprisingly celebrates difference, emphasising the importance of being judged on individual merit. The song is much more up-tempo, with a sound brimming with pop sensibility. The song exudes total attitude with potent lyrics that hit the point as accurately as the drummer hits the snare drum.  This is a real call to arms climatically building to the point where the lead vocals emphatically declare ‘stand up and be counted.’

“Who are you?” is slower, and again reverts to the nursery rhyme style featured on some of the earlier tracks. This time we have a quite relaxed vocal delivery with a tonality reminiscent of Peter Gabriel.  In addition, there is a somewhat refined keyboard, enhanced by some rather sumptuous backing vocals. I’m sure the kids would love this song, as it is both clever and imaginative, and at times the music reminded me a little of the Pixies around their “Bossanova” era. Peter Gabriel meets The Pixies, now there’s an interesting combination!

“Log Trux” is a song that effectively berates deforestation, counting the carnage as a number of trees are decimated. The song is quite intense, and explores the full extent to which this destruction goes on ‘all day up and down the road.’  The vocal harmony is morbidly effective, with the band aversely joining in as they count the logs with dismay. This song packs a punch is hard hitting and delivers a stern message that we simply must ‘save the forest and let it grow’ The middle eight takes the pace down a notch as we are given time to reflect on how long these trees have actually been around. The musical diversion is also interesting, as is the electric guitar, which complements the vocal delivery. Here, the song flirts with the blues, drifting at times almost into Doors territory, or perhaps even Pink Floyd during their Animals phase.

“Spirit Princess” begins with a gentle piano and a lightness of touch, creating the space for the beautiful serenity of the lead vocal. What sounds like a mandolin resonates in the background, providing the perfect feel for the beauty and serenity of this Celtic lullaby to really shine.  The haunting majesty of the track is a great way to finish an album, leaving the listener in a kind of dream like state, contemplating life as the melody glides away.

This album has it all, wonderful musicianship, beautiful vocals, and songs which bridge the gap between musical depth and instant accessibility. The bands lyrical strength enables them to stand up as poets in their own right, through telling stories, which pan out like miniature folk tales.  Whether it is through their unique image or the originality of the music, you will never have seen or heard anything quite like this before. Perhaps their greatest appeal is they have created a new music; mixing psychedelic pop with nursery rhymes to deliver a potent message that is accessible to both adults and children.  I have heard that there's a new album in the pipeline, and if there is I look forward to hearing it.

Zucchini Clan – New Music for a new generation.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Album Review: Pevan & Sarah

Pevan & Sarah are a musical duo from Melbourne, Australia.  Their debut album is an interesting mix of musical genres, including, jazz, blues, pop, rock, and even reggae.  Apart from its musical merits, the album also provides teachers with a number of useful educational themes to incorporate in the classroom.  Lead vocalist Sarah has used her experience as a teacher to create a musical soundtrack that deals with the numerous challenges teachers face every day.  The main themes include friendship, adventure, acceptance, hygiene, cooperation and exercise.  So let’s put on our dancing shoes and explore the content in more detail, beginning with the theme of friendship.

The lyrics to the songFriend,” highlight the importance of inclusivity, the complexities involved in negotiating friendships, and further advice on how to be a good friend, such as using ‘friendly words’.  The music is funky and easy to dance to, with a dynamic guitar, competing for space with some interesting sound effects.  The chorus unfolds like a musical spelling test, with each letter of the word F-R-I-E-N-D chanted in hypnotic rhythm.  The lyrics also really hit the target as we are advised that ‘if we stick together good friends we could be’.

There is also plenty of opportunity for adventure on the CD, as the listener is catapulted to a number of exciting destinations along the way.  Our first stop is a “Space Ride”, where keyboard pads combine with slap bass to propel the listener into orbit in true eighties fashion.  “At the Beach” takes us into blues territory as we are reminded to ‘slip slop slap’ on our way.  The song begins with an extended drum pattern, before a lyrical account of our beach necessities blends with backing vocals somewhat reminiscent of the Supremes.  Our trip to “The Circus” also has its roots steeped in the blues, with some heavy keyboards underpinning a description of ‘all the things I see at the circus’.

Acceptance is another key theme on the CD, and is tackled with considerable expertise on the track “Get What You Get”.  The lyrics emphasise the importance of sharing, with the music exuding a laid-back rumba feel, capturing the mood of the song superbly.  Here we are firmly informed that ‘you get what you get and you don’t get upset’, and this ability to fit such complex ideas into an instantly hummable chorus is very impressive.  “We’re All The Same”, continues the theme of acceptance, with lyrics explaining how we may all look different, but inside we’re all the same.  The song begins with a clever shuffle beat creating a nice country feel, and finishes in true seventies fashion with the bass line doubling the guitar riff.

‘The Tidy Up Song”, with its emphasis on cooperation, explores another key educational theme on the album.  The song has a noticeable jazz influence with the inclusion of double bass providing additional impact.  This song is invaluable if you are a teacher attempting to encourage jaded kids to tidy up.  The vocals provide further encouragement from Pevan & Sarah themselves, who can be heard leaping and yelling in the background urging the children to join. The lyrics demand that we ‘put things back where they belong’ and also advise us to ‘work together and it won’t take long’.  We even have room for a countdown at the end, a teaching technique that is sure to get the kids moving.  “Stop Look And Listen” brings us into classic rock territory, with the inclusion of a surprisingly heavy guitar.  The chorus explores the tipping point for teachers where they are advised on how to stop the class when it gets out of control.  The music reminded me a little of “We Love To Boogie” by T. Rex, now there’s a blast from the past.

“Hands” focuses on the importance of good hygiene; which serves as pretty useful advice to prep students who are liable to get their hands dirty. The song is also interactive and great fun, encouraging the children to use their hands in a variety of fun activities including clapping, pointing and high fives. The music has a noticeable reggae feel, and bobs along with a stabbing keyboard, and a deep bass line which interestingly follows the melody on the chorus. I imagine that if Bob Marley or Peter Tosh wrote a song for kids it would probably sound something like this.

“Keep It Moving” explores the importance of exercise through lyrics, which express the need to keep your body moving.  The staccato drum pattern dominates the song, which unfolds like a kind of military manoeuvre. “The Freeze” continues the theme of movement, with music designed to accompany the lively game of musical statues.  The music is engaging, and the space between the tracks provides the necessary dynamics for this hugely popular musical game. The song also adds an interesting seventies flavor to the proceedings with shades of the Jackson 5 on display.

This CD serves as a musical guidebook on how to motivate, mollify and instruct young children. The lyrics are informative and the music is engaging.  I’m sure the album would appeal to both teachers and parents keen to motivate their children when they find themselves ‘bored with nothing to do’. The production of the album is first rate, with a real clarity of sound, ensuring you can always hear the lyrics.  Furthermore, many of the tracks feature enthusiastic vocal outbursts in the background from both band and kids, giving the album a real party feel. Although the major influence appears to be eighties electronic pop, the album integrates a number of different musical styles, and is produced and performed superbly by Pevan & Sarah.

Pevan & Sarah – something for everyone.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Album Review: For The Kids - Fire Dog

Fire Dog are a three-piece band from St Louis, USA, who describe themselves as a ‘pop rock harmony explosion,’ and on hearing their album, I couldn’t have put it better myself. Although the band generally plays to adult audiences, they have released their new album For The Kids after numerous requests to do so from their fans.  The result is a superb album containing seven songs that are original, upbeat, engaging and delivered with fine musicianship throughout.  The album also contains an array of interesting and diverse subject matter ranging from eventful birthdays, to historical characters, to conservation and beyond. 

The album kicks off with the lively “Everybody Has A Birthday”.  Here a grungy guitar sets the overall tone of the track, providing a soundtrack to the various rituals of birthday parties, with a particular emphasis on food.  We are reminded not to forget the ice cream during this festival of fun, which is clearly a birthday party that ‘rocks’.  The guitar solo is pure grunge, intense and to the point, with children’s backing vocals adding a shade of charm to the proceedings.  The bass improvises with some expertise towards the end, and we are also treated to a lively drum solo unusually early in the proceedings.  Clearly the band is quite at ease playing live, and does so with impressive verve and spontaneity. 

“You Don’t Know My Mama” has a gentler feel; it is slightly funky, melodic and engaging in a melancholy type of way.  We are informed that Mama who is clearly the hero of the hour ‘is sweeter than a sweet potato’. The addition of a piano adds further texture to the overall sound.  The song also includes a spoken tribute to Mama, which begins like Elvis before metamorphosing into an engaging rap.  Again the bass is imaginative and experimental and deviates from the script throughout.  I’m sure no major record company executive would have approved such an ambitious arrangement, and the song is all the better for it.

“I Love Myself,” is delivered with a grungy laid-back guitar, accompanied by lyrics that illustrate the multiple reasons to feel good about yourself.  These include ‘being talented, lucky and cool’.  This is a great message for young people, expertly assisted by some spirited kids’ backing vocals providing additional enthusiasm to the track.  To add further chaos to the proceedings, the song finishes with a guitar solo that reminded me of something Slash might have attempted back in the nineties.  Those were the days my friends.

“Hellbender” is the single taken from the album and is a tribute to Missouri’s Hellbender the largest salamander in North America and a native amphibian to Missouri.  The track also features a voice over by renowned Canadian folk icon and activist Bruce Cockburn.  The song itself reminded me a bit of the Doors, with shades of Blondie thrown in for good measure.  The middle eight features a spoken voice, which is delivered in the style of a radio broadcast.  The lyrics describe the threats to this endangered species, with authentic background noise leaving the impression that the recipient is actually tuning in to listen.

“Bessie Coleman” provides a tribute to the first female pilot of African American descent, exploring her life, how famous she became and all the resultant media attention.  The song itself powers along in uncompromising fashion with a no-nonsense message musically elaborating on the prejudice of the age.  However the chorus is uplifting, optimistic even, perhaps implying how Bessie overcame the many challenges of life, and all these ‘obstacles never giving up her dream.’  Despite the grungy garage vibe, the song is catchy, kid friendly and upbeat, with a chorus that truly soars like an aeroplane. I literally had it swirling around my head all day. 

“Chame” mixes an interesting bass line with an acutely percussive rhythm to create a lovely ska feel.  The song discusses the plight of indigenous people, their ancient language, and the stories they tell.  The title apparently means ‘let’s go’, and some of the lyrics use the indigenous language to pursue the message. The guitar part that ensues is more melodic and suits the ska feel with its slightly cleaner sound.  The song also benefits from some interesting key changes at the end, and elaborate percussion finally giving way to some crunchy power chords bringing up the rear.

“For The Birds” is quite simply brilliant, and provides a perfect finale to the album.  The song itself is quite stripped back, with perhaps no more than four chords on display, allowing space for the lyrics to really soar.  The song also benefits from a quite mesmerising piece of guitar work, which literally lifts you off your seat.  The major strength of the track is its instantly hummable melody, which is both unique and original.  The additional children’s backing vocals add further dynamics to a song, which for me is clearly the best track on the album.

This album is great fun, has musical depth, and contains interesting subject matter.  The tone is upbeat and positive, and there is literally never a dull moment.  The album is packed with songs that are diverse, imaginative and brimming with pop sensibility.  There is also a wonderful spontaneity to the music, with the band leaving the impression that they have recorded the entire album jamming in the garage.  Despite the somewhat organic delivery, the album is well produced, and superbly arranged throughout.  The songs have heaps of attitude, are full of energy, and contain melodies that are second to none. Despite its brevity, the album clearly succeeds in providing an authentic message brimming with energy and optimism for the twenty-first century.

Fire Dog – bold, intriguing and brilliant.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Album Review: It's A Beautiful Day - Sonshine & Broccoli

Since 2004 Sonshine and Broccoli have been making music for children and families with immense verve and vitality.  Hailing from Toronto in Canada the duo have released three albums to date, with the new album It’s a Beautiful Day, arguably their best yet.  The album features twelve original songs designed to capture the hearts and minds of children everywhere. It’s time to put on your dancing shoes because it truly is a beautiful day.

The album kicks off with the title track, a wacky weird and wonderful song, with vocals that reminded me a little of Lena Lovich in her prime, if anyone remembers her!  The tune is infectious and is complemented by a gentle rhythm, which enables the chorus to take off like a rocket.  “Wave Hello” is more up-tempo and has a funkier feel, although lyrically it is very much an action song, with the vocals delivering the specific actions required throughout.  The song also gives the listener an early hint of the vocal duets on display, which are used very effectively throughout the album.

“Sing It Out” remains true to its title and further benefits from some hypnotic piano playing, and a two-chord verse pattern creating the necessary space to let the chorus really explode. The chorus also utilises a very percussive lyrical delivery with soaring harmonies bringing up the rear. The middle eight sounds quite ethereal, leaving one with the impression that they are floating along to the music.  “A Good Night” opens with a dramatic dance rhythm and a guitar riff that Alex Van Halen would have been proud of.  Clearly there is nothing off the table here, with all musical genres up for grabs and eagerly seized on by the band. Again the lyrics are a call to action, as the band guides the children through a number of simple movements.

“High Five” has a more electronic feel with a self-explanatory title that features predictably on the chorus. The combination of electronic keyboards, a dance beat and vocals that mutate at times into a slightly rap delivery provides another interesting combination of musical styles.  “The Painter” takes us into blues territory, and is complemented throughout by an acoustic guitar and what sounds like a Hammond organ. The song recites the story of a boy who loves painting, and then describes the different types of imagery that appeal to him.  There is a real upbeat feel to this track, as we follow the boy on a cathartic journey where he learns to ‘paint his blues away’

“Makin’ A Fort” begins with backing vocals that could sit quite comfortably on a Beach Boys album, before the song reveals its country roots, with what sounds like a banjo and a fiddle playing off each other with great expertise.  This is true country style music with superb harmonies and a lively upbeat feel. “You Got Me” is more contemporary in style, with an infectious tune, and a groove that really hits the target.  The lyrics emphasise the importance of friendship, delivered with authentic vocals, which sounds both pure and sincere.  The song finishes with a lively electric guitar that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Isley Brothers album.

“Rock Paper Scissors” reminded me a little of the B52s with its upbeat delivery, potent electric guitar and lyrics that emphasise the importance of finding alternative forms of entertainment.  “Time Travel” really rocks, with a driving bass line and powerful guitar penetrating the sound in almost Pixies fashion. The lyrics then take the listener on a musical journey in time, from the dinosaur age to fifties beach parties.

‘Try Something New” introduces a noticeable change of pace; with a groove that reminded me a little of “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. The song reflects on some painful childhood memories including an ice-skating trip, and an introductory yoga class. Although the lyrics describe the fear and uncertainty involved, the outcome is optimistic emphasising the importance in trying something new which gets ‘a little better every day’. “Music Makes The World Go Round” is sparser, and informative with a driving bass line and a somewhat didactic lyric, which celebrates the importance of music.  We even have time for some musical solos at the end, played with the kind of flourish that should keep the kids bopping till they drop.

This album is energetic engaging and great fun.  The musicianship is first rate and although the arrangements are complex at times, they are not too complex to confuse younger listeners.  The vocal duets are equally strong and complement each other perfectly.  The music is quite difficult to categorise, because as soon as you hear a style emerging, it quickly changes into something different, sometimes even during the same song. The music appears to always be one step ahead of the listener, moving through different musical genres effortlessly.  The vitality of the album lies in the way the band manage to blend a variety of musical influences, yet retain an overall uniqueness of sound.  Perhaps most importantly this is a feel good album, which is great to dance to and is sure to engage the kids throughout.

Sonshine & Broccoli - It’s A Beautiful Day – harmony in motion.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Album Review: Smile - Mr. Steve & Miss Katie

Smile is the new album from the very talented Mr. Steve & Miss Katie, aka Steve and Katie Piperno.  The album features eleven songs that are literally saturated with melody, and have a brightness and clarity of purpose second to none. The duo also write and produce all their songs, which is some achievement these days.  Interestingly it is the CD sleeve which sets the tone for what is in store, with the band, in Pied Piper fashion, leading a variety of exotic animals on a musical journey to an unknown destination.  It is a journey of imagination and intrigue in anticipation of the magical and musical treats that lie ahead.

The album kicks off with the movement song “I Love Trains", a song that is both catchy and great fun to sing along to. It would also be a useful asset for any teachers looking for a suitable movement song to use in the classroom.  You can almost visualize the children moving in time to the music as the rhythm punctuates a really captivating melody.  The track also features a variety of instrumentation, including a brass section, adding further vibrancy to the overall pop sound on display. 

Continuing on the theme of movement, “Everybody Get Movin’” is a real foot stomper as we hear the artist emphatically declare how he wants  ‘to get up early and see the big sun rise’. The sound is literally sweltering in optimism, with an intoxicating feel-good factor throughout.  It also has an interesting swing feel, with the sound of brass punctuating the vocal delivery very effectively. The harmonies are wonderful, and the tune is infectious.

“The Clean Up Song” is another teacher friendly track, which celebrates the fun involved in making a mess, as well as the process of cleaning up, which with the right attitude can be ‘twice as fun’.  We are then transported to the “Deep Blue Sea”, with a song that captures a somewhat Jamaican feel throughout.  Here Katie Piperno delivers her crystal clear vocal through lyrics that explore the sights that surround us on this fantastic voyage, giving the listener a more profoundly visual experience.

“If I Had A Farm” ponders a visit to the countryside, with a melancholy violin accompanying the vocal introduction.  There is space here for the children to interact, as they are encouraged to do a number of animal impersonations, in what could be described as “Old Macdonald” for the twenty-first century.  “All Around The World” has a more ambitious schedule, as we visit a host of interesting countries and are taught how to say hello in different languages.  The chorus is superb, and is a kind of all-inclusive sing along.

The title track, “Smile”, provides a gentle change of pace, with the use of a shuffle beat, a harmonica and a lazy vocal to give the impression that the day has just begun.  Again the song benefits from an uplifting chorus, and when Steve Piperno sings ‘it makes the world brighter when you smile’, you can’t help but agree.  “Hands Up In The Air” re-establishes the theme of movement, inviting the listener to participate in a variety of actions.  Whether it is stomping your feet, or doing a silly dance, the point is that when you move it can only make you feel better.

“It’s Snowing Now” provides a musical backdrop to the eagerly anticipated arrival of Christmas.  With a musical description of the beautiful impression snow makes on the landscape.  It also describes the special feelings and joy Christmas brings, from reunion with family to the arrival of Santa.  The “Goodnight Song” is surprisingly up-tempo, as the duo bid goodnight to the various items surrounding them.  The song incorporates a lively country feel, setting the listener up nicely for the final track on the album “Lullaby”.

Now I know that putting a lullaby at the end of a children’s album tends to be a bit of a cliché these days, but nonetheless, the song is beautifully sung and also benefits from the inclusion of strings and a hypnotic piano.  It is safe to say the song would be ideal to serenade a child off to sleep, although I might add, that if Brian Eno wrote a lullaby song for kids I would guess it might sound something like this.

On this form I expect to be hearing a lot more from Mr. Steve & Miss Katie.  The songs are simplistic enough to sound appealing, and yet sophisticated enough to sound interesting. A simple message, with a lively melody, delivered with some enthusiastic harmonies throughout appears to be the order of the day.  The songs are engaging and would suit a number of educational themes.  Furthermore, the lyrics leave the listener feeling more optimistic and energized as the songs literally make you smile when you hear them.  Which I guess is what the artists set out to do in the first place.

Mr. Steve & Miss Katie’s Smile – the time to be happy is now.