Monday, 12 October 2020

Single Review: Don't Leave Recess in Pieces - The Morning Announcements

The Morning Announcements are a collaboration of musicians from Norfolk, Virginia, featuring members of power pop band The Mockers, and guest musicians, Eugene Edwards and Walter Clevenger. Here, their collective experience has been harnessed into a musical fusion of country pop for kids, and the result is this fabulous single "Don't Leave Recess in Pieces".

Now I'm no expert on country music as it's not really my cup of tea, but this particular song helped to change my mind. The energy and vitality of the song is unmistakable, and it is delivered with supreme confidence that resonates throughout the track. Furthermore, it is in essence a health and safety song, with the title succinctly expressing the importance of good behaviour and general well-being.  

The song is uptempo and easy to dance to, beginning with a somewhat jangly intro, before crashing straight into the chorus. The chorus itself is quite anthemic, repeating the words 'don't leave' in a reciprocal pattern, where the words return with gusto through a melting microphone. It is also worth mentioning, that this song doesn't take much time to grow on you, it is incredibly catchy, and grabs your attention immediately. 

The verses are short and sweet, and the lyrics whimsical and instructive, reminding the kids that rules are there for a reason, and it's in your own interest to follow them. Whether that involves heeding the bell when it rings, or making sure you don't leave a mess in the playground. The vocal delivery is almost Dylanesque, but this time with life lessons aimed squarely at the kids.

The instrumentation is refreshingly live, with a wandering melodic bass, punchy drums and a quite exquisite guitar part towards the end. The song finishes as it began with the chorus, but this time repeated by a vocalist eager to sing it again 'one more time'.

There is nothing contrived about this song, it is live and authentic, and despite its somewhat serious message is also great fun. As a result, it manages to both instruct and entertain, and does so in a non patronising manner. From my experience as a teacher, getting children to return to the classroom after recess is a perennial problem and this song might just provide the solution.

To fully appreciate the song, you should also check out the accompanying video featuring vintage footage of children navigating the school playground with varying degrees of success. All in all great energy, and a great message, maybe I should give country music a closer look, there is certainly a lot out there.

The Morning Announcements - safe and sound.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Single Review: Sweet Summertime - The Gum Drops

The Gum Drops are a duo from New York who formed as a result of a shared love of music and a passion for educating children. Their music is original and interactive, and they are also a pretty formidable live act. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of their latest single "Sweet Summertime" a few weeks ago, and it has been swimming round my head ever since. The song is a truly intoxicating piece of retro pop, arriving just in time for the Australian Summer. 

The arrangement features live instrumentation throughout, with the bass and drums controlling  the rhythm, as the guitar and piano compete for the remaining space. The piano appears to dominate the verses, but the guitar really lets fly during the middle eight, with a truly mesmerising piece of improvisation. The track had a similar effect on me as when I first heard "Waking Up in the Sun" by the Adult Net, where I was similarly impressed by the gentle warmth of the music. 

The vocals are melodic and sweet, and perfectly capture the spirit of summer, with subtle harmonies that further emphasise the chorus. There is something truly endearing about the lyrics, which gently reminisce about magical moments 'chasing waves' in 'sweet summertime'. The music provides a superb soundtrack for the summer, and the lyrics serve as a celebration of youth where 'the days are long' and 'time is on our side'.  

This song however, is not just for the kids, I am sure there are many older listeners out there who may also appreciate a song that stirs memories of summer days, when there was nothing to do and all day to do it. In this sense, the song also presents itself as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, with wistful dreamy vocals evoking cherished memories of golden years. 

Somehow, the band have managed to create a timeless classic, that is as melodic and imaginative a piece of work as anything you will ever hear.  Essentially the song is a celebration of life, and in particular, how good life can be at the beach in "Sweet Summertime". I love this song and play it often, so make sure you check it out, you won't be disappointed.

The Gum Drops - golden years.

Album Track Review: If You Like - Megan Schoenbohm

Megan Schoenbohm is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and teacher from California. She has released two albums to date, and her new album You Are Enough, is an absolute classic. Apart from having a compelling title, the album also features nine superb tracks, of which my particular favourite is the inspirational "If You Like".  The song is succinct, and seemingly sweet, but encompasses a potent message that resonates deeply.

The track begins with a percussive rhythm sequence interspersed by a glockenspiel, which provides an interesting counter melody to the lead vocal. The voice is clear and engaging, and the guitar playing is superbly played throughout. The musical arrangement is not over complex, enabling the melody to really cut through. There is expert musicianship performed throughout, with the bass exploring further melodic possibilities in the space remaining.

The lyrics unfold almost like a to-do list for children, encouraging personal choice regarding what to wear, play or sing. In this sense, the song promotes individual freedom of expression, as long as you do no harm to others. For example, during play, feel free to catch lizards, insects and frogs, but make sure to 'set them free with love'. Or if you decide to have a children's tea party 'make sure you save a cup for me'.  The lyrics culminate in the central idea that 'you can be anything you want' if you 'follow your heart', and whatever you decide on, you will always be loved.

In this complex and uncertain age, such a significant message really needs to be heard. Children should be free to experiment and make mistakes in a nonthreatening environment, and only then will they have the confidence to reach their full potential. How the artist manages to effortlessly explore such a controversial and emotive topic in under two minutes I really have no idea.

Megan Schoenbohm is a unique artist in that she appears delicate and yet robust. The music is gentle and endearing, but also deep and persuasive. Her lyrics explore the dichotomy between freedom and responsibility, where kindness and inclusion are balanced against free will and self expression.  In this song her lyrics are somewhat didactic; but executed with an approach that exudes both charm and flair. Perhaps most importantly, she has managed to explore a complex issue with delicacy and finesse, and given the right circumstances, has the potential to inspire a whole new generation.

Megan Schoenbohm - do anything you wanna do!

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Video Review: I Am A Robot - Kymberly Stewart Music


Kymberly Stewart is a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, California. Her songs promote positive themes built around an eclectic mix of musical influences including jazz, gospel, hip-hop and soul. Her new video for her song "I Am A Robot" is hugely entertaining, and all you parents and teachers out there should check it out at your earliest opportunity.


The footage begins with a somewhat theatrical introduction, outlining all the fun that lies in store, which reminded me a little of Deee-Lite’s intro to “Groove Is In The Heart”. It is not long before the action starts, and as the song proceeds; there is no shortage of children willing and eager to participate.

 

The song arrangement is in the cumulative tradition, with the actions becoming more complex as the song progresses.  The track therefore, serves as a call to action with an ever-increasing number of moves required to perform along the way. It’s hysterical the way the children imitate these actions determined and undeterred throughout, despite how complex the sequence becomes.  

 

The video features some interesting computer graphics throughout, with robots spinning around the screen, and water appearing where the children are encouraged to swim. These effects however, are used tastefully, and don’t detract from the overall impact, but provide an additional narrative to further complement the video. 

 

The song also includes an interesting twist at the end where the robot’s batteries begin to drain, and the children slow down their movements accordingly.  We are ultimately left with the unfortunate demise of the robot, and... I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself.

 

Kymberly Stewart’s appeal lies in her authenticity, and her genuine passion for music, which is superbly captured in this video. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and the video highlights the way she effortlessly inspires everyone around her. The footage is humorous and engaging, and would provide suitable light relief for parents and teachers looking for something different to entertain the kids.

 

Kymberly Stewart's "I Am A Robot" – fun for all the family!


Please Note: There are two videos for "I Am A Robot", and this review refers to the new, updated version, which was uploaded on 27th June 2020. You can check out the original video on the Kymberly Stewart Music Channel on YouTube.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Single Review: Spring - Music with Michal


There really is some tremendous music coming out of New Zealand at the moment, and it doesn’t get any better than the new single “Spring” by singer-songwriter Michal Bush from Music With Michal. The single is taken from her debut album Can You Make Music?, which is released on 18th September. So, if you like the type of folky acoustic pop that made Joan Baez famous, you really need to check out this artist.

 

Spring” is one of fifteen tracks featured on the album, and is a delightful composition perfectly timed to greet the new season. The arrangement is clear and sparse throughout, with what sounds like two acoustic guitars sharing the chords and the melody line between them.  You can tell by the dexterity of the guitar picking that Michal clearly knows her way around the fret board.  The music paradoxically, seems to combine melancholy with joy, and does so in a way that cuts deeper than many traditional children’s songs.

 

The melodic beauty of the voice is only matched by the poetic charm of the lyrics, where she cleverly refers to the arrival of the new season like an old friend she hasn’t “seen for a while”.  She can whistle as well, with her dulcet tones mirroring the melody of the song very effectively. She’s in good company here, as both David Bowie and Bryan Ferry have demonstrated this technique on classic hits such as “Golden Years” and “Jealous Guy”.

 

The lyrics clearly capture the beauty of a spring day, and do so with simplicity of wordplay that even Wordsworth might appreciate. Despite the eloquent description of the new season, she still finds the lyrical space to include some action moves which are sure to be a big hit with the kids.  These include jumping clapping, spinning and shouting, performed with tremendous enthusiasm by a charming selection of children on her new video.

 

This song is an absolute gem, and delivered with supreme confidence from a very exciting artist.  Despite all the uncertainty surrounding the world at the moment, the song succeeds in piercing the darkness, serving to remind us of the role nature plays in providing restoration and healing.  The hypnotic effect of this song is all consuming, and is sure to add sparkle and zest to your day.  Furthermore, it creates a sense of well being that leads the listener to conclude that perhaps all is well with the world after all.

 

Music with Michal – breathing new life into the world around us. 

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Single Review: Wiggles - Ashley Mills Monaghan


Ashley Mills Monaghan is a singer-songwriter, teacher and author from California. Her new single is simply entitled “Wiggles”, and is taken from her forthcoming album Good Times. The song succeeds in blending country music with melodic pop, delivering an upbeat action song exploding with cathartic energy.

The track begins by declaring that ‘it's time for the wiggle dance’, and then bounces along in jolly merriment inviting all comers to join in too.  The message here is clear, feel the music, get dancing and wiggle till you drop.

 

The lyrics describe a variety of body parts in reverse order, beginning with your toes, and then working backwards towards your head, with each body part taking turns to wiggle to the music.  This call to action comes across like a modern version of "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes", no easy feat, but clearly a lot of fun.

 

The vocals are delivered in true country fashion, with the music perhaps revealing a slight Eagles influence at times. The arrangement is simple but effective, with the drums and bass guitar laying down a pulsating rhythm, leaving space for the acoustic guitar to take centre stage. Another bonus is the song sounds like it uses predominantly live instrumentation, a rare quality these days.

 

If you like this song, you should also check out the video, which Ashley herself has described as "my gift to families all around the world, a sweet story of how we all came together to make a video in a time where we had to be apart".  The inclusion of a number of hula hoops strategically placed in order to encourage social distancing further illustrates the point.


Ashley Mills Monaghan is an innovative artist, who performs her music with an energy and vitality second to none. Her new single is melodic, interactive and easy to dance to. There really is something for everyone here, whether you’re a parent, teacher, child, or even a senior citizen, such infectious optimism will have you wiggling in no time.

 

Ashley Mills Monaghan – wiggle, jump and shout.

Friday, 14 August 2020

Single Review: Pluto We Heart You - Claudia Robin Gunn


It doesn't happen very often, but every now and then something particularly special comes along. This is certainly true of "Pluto We Heart You" the new single from Claudia Robin Gunn a singer-songwriter from Auckland, New Zealand.


Clearly on some interplanetary space mission, this song is both delightful and ambitious in all its colourful flavouring. It is taken from her new album Little Wild Universe an extraordinary work of melodic and poetic imagination.


The song begins with a somewhat staccato string arrangement, followed by a hypnotic vocal pattern, where the title Pluto is spelt out in almost Laurie Anderson fashion.  The lead vocal is then delivered with a purity of spirit and a heartfelt delivery that reminded me a little of Suzanne Vega.

 

The lyrics are dreamy and wistful, tantalising the listener with eloquent descriptions of ‘ice mountains and flowing glaciers’ and ‘blue skies and frozen shorelines'. The vocals effortlessly merge with an array of musical soundscapes and potent harmonies, delicately sprinkled throughout the track.

 

Towards the end, the artist delivers a genuine sense of time and place, whilst reminiscing over a photograph of Pluto shown to her by a former teacher, ‘beaming back as precious data’ in all its digital glory.  Whether this is a true story or a lyrical construction I guess we may never know.  

 

I have no prior knowledge of Claudia's influences but I would hazard a guess that if you like Suzanne Vega, The Coors, Brian Eno, The Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel or Kate Bush then you are going to absolutely love this music.  

 

Claudia Robin Gunn is clearly a major talent. Her new single engages the listener, with intriguing hooks and inspired melodies throughout. The lyrics are superb, and sung with heartfelt resonance and inspired originality. So, if you fancy taking a trip to the stars, then check out this new emerging artist, who is literally out of this world. 

 

Claudia Robin Gunn – reach for the stars.