Monday, 29 December 2014

Melbourne - Kindie Rock Capital Of The Universe

You may ask yourself what is kindie rock?  And the question this time won’t come in the form of a twenty-first century rewrite of the Talking Heads classic, “Once in a Lifetime”, but from the accumulated interest of an inspiring musical genre - namely kindie rock.  So what is kindie rock?  Salon defines it as a type of children’s music that ‘melds the sensibility of the singer-songwriter with themes aimed at kids under ten years of age’. Furthermore, it is a sound that brings music and families together, with the music often appealing to both young and old alike.  This has resulted in a shift from the time when parents would venture out to watch their favourite artists at night, unaccompanied by their kids, to a new paradigm where parents and children can now enjoy the same music together during the day.

Kindie rock is already well established in the USA with the likes of Dan Zanes and They Might Be Giants leading the way.  For many Australians, the dominance of the mighty Wiggles over many years has meant the Australian public is largely unaware of many of these innovative artists who operate outside the mainstream.  The reality is kindie rock is hip and happening throughout Australia, and nowhere more so than in Melbourne.

Everybody loves Melbourne, whether it is the Australian Open, the Melbourne Cup or the best coffee in the Southern hemisphere, Melbourne has always been the place to be.  From The Seekers to The Birthday Party, over the years Melbourne has provided the world with an array of outstanding musical talent that continues to expand to this day.  In the light of all this, perhaps it is about time we explore some of the artists currently embracing the kindie rock genre emerging right in the heart of this great city.

These include The Kazoos, Little Feet Music, The Mudcakes, The Mighty Buzzniks, The Rrrrrockets and Zucchini Clan.  All these bands share similar features, as they are great live, play original music, perform copious gigs and all offer something different from the mainstream.  Indeed they are part of an organic movement, which is actively growing, and inspiring children and families in ever increasing numbers.  Consequently, they have given a new collective voice to the Melbourne music scene, but this time for families.  Despite the similar strengths of these bands, they all have their own unique and individual approach, an approach that is certainly worth exploring in more detail.

Kicking off with The Kazoos a duo that combines early childhood educational principles, with a theatrical and hilarious live show.  The Kazoos is the brainchild of husband and wife team Chris and Celia Hill who use comedy, theatre and music to engage their audiences.  Standout songs such as “The Funky Shuffle” and “The Animal Walk” encourage movement and dancing, further complementing the interactive dynamic of the show.

The natural rapport between Chris and Celia forms the bedrock of their live performance. With a bright and colourful image, and an impressive set of props, the band literally transports their audiences to another world.  This is a world of theatrical interaction, underpinned with catchy songs that are easy to dance to.  They clearly play to their strengths, and must be doing something right, as they have already built up an army of fans including a number of famous musicians and celebrities.  Kasey Chambers has expressed how much her ‘little boy loves the Kazoos’, and Chris Cheney from The Living End is also a huge fan.

Next up, Little Feet Music, who I was fortunate enough to see perform live at the Rhymes Festival in Melbourne in 2012.  Their live show impressed me a great deal, and encouraged me to dig a bit deeper.  Singer-songwriter Rachel Parkinson is the creative powerhouse behind Little Feet Music, and has been involved in the entertainment industry since the early nineties.  Having played in a number of bands, and on a variety of instruments since the age of sixteen, her vast experience has proved invaluable over the years particularly in the live format.  The Little Feet Music live show is well worth watching, as Rachel has amalgamated an impressive array of musicians, well capable of delivering a highly entertaining, and colourful performance.  However, Rachel’s primary motivation appears to be educating and inspiring children, with education lying at the very centre of her artistic approach.

Her new CD Giggle Jiggle featuring songs such as “Five, Four, Three, Two, One”, point to a new fun way of learning, adding further potency to her music.  She has taken this educational ethos a step further by running her own music classes where her musical expertise and ability to engage with young children aims to unlock their creativity, open up their imaginations and stimulate their senses. I’m sure William Blake would have approved.

It is difficult to ignore a band with a name like The Mighty Buzzniks, who perform smart, insightful crisp rock music for kids.  Again like the previous bands mentioned, they have a great image and are excellent live, but for me their major appeal lies largely in the strength of the songwriting.  To date the band have released two CDs The Great Space and Bug Out, which are both brimming with memorable tunes.

Jamie Saxe is the lead singer and main composer of the band, and is a formidable songwriter in his own right. If you won’t take my word for it, he recently achieved international recognition for his composition “Ow Ow Ow”, reaching third place in the hugely competitive International Songwriting Competition 2013 - no mean feat.  The songs do most of the heavy lifting in this band, sure they look great, and can all play well, but it is the songs that give them the edge.

The Mudcakes are an Australian-American duo featuring key members Sherry Rich and Boston’s Rick Plant.  Both members have a rich musical pedigree, which has enabled them to stake their claim at the very forefront of the kindie music scene in Australia.  The band has already released three critically acclaimed CDs to date.  Stand out songs include “Monkey Boy”, “I’m a Sock” and my own personal favourite “Jump”.  The major strength of this band for me however, is their authenticity.  It becomes increasingly obvious when you see and hear The Mudcakes that there is genuine vitality in the music, leaving the recipient with the impression that the band literally live and breathe their craft.

Their sound is melodic and lively, but more importantly authentic and uncontrived.  They come across as the kind of people who would turn up at a dinner party with a guitar and burst into song at any given moment, and not take themselves too seriously in the process. In short, The Mudcakes provide a refreshing and authentic alternative to some of the more prosaic and contrived acts dominating the mainstream.

With an eclectic sound that combines big band, rockabilly and ska, The Rrrrrockets deliver an interesting variety of musical styles, which take the listener on a nostalgic musical trip down memory lane, with a focus on maximum fun.  Everything from Madness to The Monkeys can be heard, with the band quite adept at switching between different musical styles between each and every song.  The band also has a great image, and when playing live take their audience on a journey of retro musical styles with their own original interpretation. Maximum fun, maximum entertainment, and compelling content, enough said.

Last but by no means least Zucchini Clan, who look like a bunch of psychedelic leprechauns, flown in especially from Ireland to wreak havoc.  They have described their live show as ‘a bit vaudeville, fae, with a twist of punk’, or alternatively ‘music for free range kids'.  I believe their music should appeal to all comers, with its unique blend of folk, punk and psychedelia, which reveals an undeniably original sound.

This band once again ticks all the boxes, as they are seasoned musicians, who clearly recognise the value of music and the arts, which they have described as ‘incredibly important in the intellectual, educational and spiritual growth of children’.  However, for me it is their originality that makes them stand out. From their name, to their sound to their image this wonderful, weird and wacky band have managed to explore the unexplored, venturing where no band has gone before.  Expect the unexpected here!

If you do happen to live in Melbourne, and are looking for something different, then it is definitely worth venturing out to see some of these bands.  You might meet some interesting people and have a great time along the way.  Many of the shows are like mini rock concerts, where kids get a chance to dance down the front, and experience the type of live concert they will no doubt encounter later on in life.  Wouldn’t it be great if your child could claim their first gig was The Mudcakes or Zucchini Clan, and perhaps then be inspired enough to pick up their own instrument of choice and have a go?  Melbourne has become the new breeding ground of kindie rock, now it’s time to jump on board and dig the new breed.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Album Review: Dream Big - The Wanna Bees

A few years ago I asked my daughter’s friend, then aged eight, what she wanted to be when she grew up.  Her response was quite elucidating, and perhaps typical for someone of her age.  She wanted to be an actress, a singer and a doctor.  No shortage of ambition here I thought.  Nonetheless, it seems that despite our best efforts, we are still subject to a somewhat flawed education system focused on circumventing the dreams and aspirations of children.  It is refreshing therefore, to discover a band, which have targeted this theme, and in doing so have managed to highlight the inner world of a child’s mind, one of seemingly endless possibilities.

Dream Big, the new album by The Wanabees, is the perfect follow-up to their debut Work Together, which I reviewed back in February.  Here we have a whole cast of new characters on display, including pilots, vets, school teachers and firemen introduced to inspire children and empower them to dream big.  The album is also literally brimming with funky rhythms, catchy melodies, and emphatic statements throughout.

The opening track “We are the Wanabees”, is something of a foot stomping crowd pleaser, which reminded me a little of “We Will Rock You”.  The song is a real statement of intent full of enthusiasm, and assisted by a highly effective horn section. “Do You Like” has a pulsating rhythm, and is used on a number of occasions throughout the album as a kind of persuasive chant to introduce each of the characters described.

“Valerie Vet” is more dance orientated, with a stop and start arrangement for additional effect.  There is also an imaginative keyboard on display, which further embellishes the sound, alongside anthemic vocals and pulsating drums.  “Stephanie Stethoscope” combines dance with heavy rock, as the lyrics demand to know ‘are you pumped up’?  Fireman Freddy has an interesting seventies influence, which conjured up images of Starsky and Hutch, if you’re old enough to remember them the first time round.  “Hooray for Heidi Hose” has some delightful children’s backing vocals, which soften what is a quite powerful and percussive track.  The middle eight sounds like you are actually experiencing the ride on the fire truck.  The keyboards again give the song something of a seventies vibe, although the main strength of the song is its superb melodic chorus.  “Pilot Pete” is another super song which reminded me a little of “Give Me Some Loving” by the Spencer Davies Group.

“Penny Plane” introduces some good old-fashioned rock and roll, more reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” than the Beatles.  “Terry Teacher” combines rock and rap very effectively; with that notable seventies style guitar riff again dominating the sound, along with some highly charged drumming from Rob Donaldson.  “Charlie Chalk Board” opens with quite a grungy guitar, and some interesting keyboard patterns throughout.  The song is built around the rhythmic delivery of the title, with the chant ‘Charlie Chalkboard’ vehemently delivered into the microphone.  The lyric ‘he’s old school but we think he’s cool’, is perhaps referring to the proliferation of interactive white boards in classrooms.  The brass section adds further melody to the overall sound, as well as contributing to an almost reggae inspired finale.  “Dream Big”, arguably the best song on the album, brings up the rear with its powerful message right on cue.

There is no shortage of variety or imagination on this album.  The band has once again dreamed up an assortment of compelling characters, which they sing about with gusto and relish.  The songs are catchy upbeat and informative, and the individual musicianship adds an additional layer of melody to the overall sound.  You are left with the impression of a deeply committed band that really cares about their subject matter.  Furthermore, they have managed to capture the spirit of childhood ambition and dreams, through highlighting the importance of role-play in learning.  Full marks to The Wannabees and let the children play!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Album Review: Raise Your Hand - The Not-Its!

Armed with their skinny ties, pink tutus and grungy guitars The Not-Its! have exploded onto the American music scene, with their unique brand of family entertainment.  Their latest album Raise Your Hand is excellent, drawing on influences from sixties psychedelia, seventies new wave and nineties grunge, and delivered with uncompromising power.

An attempt to make a video with an uncooperative cat may have inspired the opening track “Funniest Cat Video,” where an exploding guitar introduces the pristine vocals of Sarah Shannon.  The song reveals the band has a sense of humour, and is able to deliver music that is cool, sophisticated and amusing.  “When I Fell” hints at their Seattle roots, particularly through the grungy guitar intro, which can be heard screaming out of each speaker.  “Motorcycle Mom” benefits from some engaging guitar melodies throughout, and a very catchy chorus.  “Bee’s Knees” emphasises the importance of bees in the food chain, and does so through a child’s perspective, highlighting the declining bee population.

The title track “Raise Your Hand” invites the listener into the classroom, accompanied by an interesting orchestration of vocal harmonies slightly reminiscent of Queen.  The grungy rhythm provides background noise to this lyrical lesson in early development, emphasising the importance of raising your hand to be heard.  “Nose In A Book” further explores educational matters with Jennie Helman’s hypnotic bass leading the way.  Additional potency is achieved through punchy guitars and defiant lyrics, revealing the frustration of the imaginative child forced to put a book away by an overtly officious teacher.  Any song that values reading is all right by me, as the bookworm fights back, and about time too.

There is also an interesting flirtation with nostalgia on the album, where the past is revisited, in order to be shared with the next generation.  “Hey Eighties” takes the informed parent on a trip down memory lane, where Rubik’s Cube, Ghostbusters and break dancing are some of the themes explored where cherished memories are delivered into a melting microphone.  “Great Day” is optimistic, unfolding like a celebration of life, harnessing lyrics that remind the more mature listener of the timeless flight of early childhood, and of more innocent days.

However eclectic the song content appears, there is nonetheless a unifying musical style throughout.  The music revels in a consistent flirtation with punk, psychedelia and grunge.  “Haircut,” although lyrically bearing some resemblance to Crosby Stills and Nash or the Troggs, is delivered with a raw even venomous reaction to the threat of a haircut, somewhat reminiscent of Elvis Costello’s “Pump it Up”.  This conflation of musical influences serves the band well throughout. “Love Is Love” further embraces the psychedelic feel, as a wafting melody serenades an image of the love shared during a family meal.  Social issues are also addressed, as we are reminded, “love is patient and always kind, even if your family doesn’t look like mine”.

The album also benefits from some quite sophisticated arrangements.  Captivating harmonies are utilised throughout, and on tracks such as “Mosquito Eater” in particular, the boy girl vocal blend seems to add to the energy and overall vibe of the song.  The track “Echo” is also enhanced by a kind of reciprocal vocal effect, to further dramatise a family excursion to the Grand Canyon.  The song “Waiting List” a kind of cathartic rant against the frustrations of standing in line, incorporates some skilful drumming from Michael Welke, punctuating the melody to great effect. The dual guitars of Tom Baisden and Danny Adamson effortlessly complement each other throughout the album, utilising the necessary space, and playing off each other to great effect.  The guitars can also really tear it up where required on tracks such as “Flannel Jammies” where the hard-hitting guitar, reminded me a little of the Cult’s “Wild Flower”.

This album has fifteen superb songs, sung with vocals as clear as crystal and delivered with music as powerful as an electric storm.  Whether singing about ordinary everyday events, educational values, environmental concerns, love or even nostalgia it is all here in one unifying and compelling piece of work.  The music is energetic, powerful and highly melodic, and the subject matter is both cheerful and engaging.  If this band is as good live as they are in the studio, they would certainly be worth watching.  So all you motorcycle moms, do yourself a favour, check out The Not-Its! and have a truly “Great Day”.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Album Review: Everyone's Invited! - Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Hats off to Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam for their impressive new album Everyone’s Invited. The album combines an interesting blend of fine musicianship, stirring melodies and lyrical flair, and is built around four key themes - kindness, active play, imagination, and love of learning.

The album kicks off with the rocking anthem “Jungle Gym Jamming”.  Here lively instrumentation and action packed lyrics set the tone, inspiring children to clap their hands and play their air guitars as they jam with their friends.  “Window of the Train” is more mellow and invites the listener to jump aboard in order to witness the “tall and shiny buildings” or the “cows grazing in the pasture”.  The song reminds us how simple everyday things can often be a source of wonder to the young enquiring mind.

“Five Sea Lions” would be a real asset in any classroom, providing a counting theme as the sea lions swim off to the shore one by one.  The lyrics are informative, effective and educational, and the song further benefits from a hint of ska in the rhythm, courtesy of some subtle bass playing and nimble drumming.  “The People Exhibit at the Zoo” reverses traditional roles, where the animals now scrutinise the people and ‘marvel at all the silly things they do.’  “My Glasses” has a funkier feel and celebrates some interesting benefits of wearing glasses. 

“Mimi the Ladybug” has an almost English eccentricity about it, with its vocal delivery, somewhat reminiscent of Elvis Costello describing a ladybug who is amongst other things definitively ‘cute'.  “The Pick Song” uses a clever shuffle beat, and informs children ‘not to put the pick in their mouth, nose or ear’.  I hope all you kids are paying attention; a swallowed pick could be quite nasty.  “A Bowling Parade” introduces a delightful honky tonk piano, which for me really should have been louder in the mix.  Again the song benefits from a delightful chorus where we all ‘go bowling to get the ball rolling’.

“Shy in the Pool” begins with a hypnotic marching beat, and has a slightly Beach Boys feel, describing the reluctance of the child to leave the swimming pool.  The song explores the inner workings of the child’s mind with a relentless enthusiasm of delivery.  “Glass Bottom Boat”, a fascinating idea for a song, describes the variety of sea life on display such as the fish and ancient fossils on their ‘aquarium that floats’. 

“Peak-A-Boo Moon” is a gentle ballad, which was apparently inspired by the singer’s daughter.  Here the moon becomes part of a kind of ethereal game of hide and seek which keeps the child guessing as to when it will reappear.  Finally, “Down by the Bay” finishes the album similarly to the way it starts, with an upbeat track, using a traditional tune, with its own unique twist.

This is a feel good album, which stands out as a result of its wistful melodies, poetic verse and uplifting harmonies.  It has a lightness of feel and yet it doesn’t lack punch.  It also incorporates some informative and positive messages, delivered with an original lyrical style.  It is not over produced, and is a triumph of the imagination over practicality and budget constraints.  This is clearly the party that everyone wants to be at, and fortunately Everyone’s Invited. 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Album Review: Tiny, Magical People - Chibi Kodama

Calling all you little rockers out there, you better fasten your seatbelts because the new album by Chibi Kodama is set to burn your ears off.  Here grunge meets electronic, with a hint of Weezer, Metallica, The Cars and even Juliana Hatfield on display.  There is an interesting flirtation with darkness throughout, particularly through the use of a heavily distorted guitar.  Yet the album Tiny, Magical People is essentially optimistic, even informative, providing a narrative to the complex dilemmas children face each day.

The album kicks off with the track “Shorter Than Everyone”, a real indie classic, slightly funky in tone, highlighting the need to be listened to, and the frustrations of being at the beck and call of others.  “Me Time” explores the craving to be alone, and is delivered with a memorable melody, and an exploding guitar, which further cement the frustration.

“It’s Time To Make Some Noise” encourages the urge in children to get loud, and is assisted by a hypnotic rhythm and an interesting sprinkle of keyboard effects throughout.  “Mama, I’m a Warrior” begins with a slow menacing Metallica style intro, and then unravels like a cry for freedom, where the bicycle precedes the motorbike in a yearning for adventure.  

"Just Because” is also defiant in tone, but has a lighter feel on the verse, somewhat reminiscent of The Cars. The chorus urges the listener to be assertive and not follow blindly; with accompanying power chords to further emphasise the point.  “The Roach Waved Hello” is as bizarre a topic as you are ever likely to hear, describing a families’ encounter with a giant roach, and benefits from some really uplifting harmonies on the chorus.  “This Dance is Mine,” has a more esoteric feel, with its wistful melody and accompanying grunge guitar, a combination of sounds unlike anything I have ever heard before.

“Different Like Me” has more of an electronic feel, with lyrics emphasizing the importance of diversity.  “Smile” continues this electric mood, and is a great song although somewhat compromised by power chords that cut through the track like a chainsaw.  “Mama’s Bossy Friend” is actually a mobile phone that constantly interrupts; stealing precious moments from the child ‘who really hopes his battery dies’.  “Hard Times are Good Times” introduces a lovely female vocal, that reminded me a little of Juliana Hatfield.  The salient message here is don’t give up, and remember that problems are merely a prerequisite to growth.  The album closes with the gentler acoustic ballad “The Night is the Time”, a song written to help children deal with their nighttime fears.

This album takes the listener on a journey through frustration and uncertainty to redemption and understanding.  Many of the songs explore the challenges and dilemmas facing the growing child in an uncertain world, and do so at times with a ferocity that resembles such angst.  However, there is also a hint of irony in the lyrics, suggesting that kids shouldn’t take life or themselves too seriously.  The music is dark and brooding at times, but the lyrical flair and high melodic content, place it very much on the brighter side of blackness.  This album is menacing, didactic and uncompromising, but ultimately inspiring.  It pierces the darkness, and in doing so, attempts to create resilience, knowledge and the realisation for kids that they can prevail, and music can help.  So come on kids turn it up to eleven, and have a rip roarin' time!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Album Review: Happy Fun, Too - Fred Clark

What do you get when you combine the Pixies, the Byrds and Talking Heads?  Well, interestingly enough, the answer is Fred Clark’s latest album Happy Fun, Too.  Although lacking some of the sophistication of its competitors, the album makes up for it, with its instantly hummable melodies and compelling delivery.  The lead vocals remind me at times of David Byrne, and whether it is intentional or not, the effect is a kind of experimental garage album for kids.

Fred Clark clearly understands that kids love rock and roll, and I’m not talking about Bill Haley here.  He is part of a growing trend of bands, particularly from the USA that are introducing a more grungy style of family music to the masses.  The album also benefits, from a high melodic content and sweetness of delivery, perhaps a result of the songwriting contribution of his wife and the enthusiastic performances of his children.

The party really gets started with the title track “Happy Fun, Too”, which combines the rawness of the Ramones with some cute almost Kim Deal type harmonies. “Alien Robot Party,” is definitely a track for the cool kids, and is officially my favourite ever title for a kids' song.  Here powerful drums and driving bass lines sit alongside sweet harmonies, singing about aliens in search of chocolate cake.

There is a superb guitar hook on “Kids Rock” and lyrics which pretty much sum up the ethos on display here. “Monkeys in the Kitchen” has an intriguing spoken vocal accompanied by some grungy guitar, leaving the listener dazed and confused but keen to hear more.  “Funky Pizza Dance” is great to dance to, and “Pirate Pickle Party” is the strangest pirate song you will ever hear, with its percussive drumming, deadpan vocal and bizarre sound effects.

The spoken vocal technique is again used on “I’m Doing My Homework” venting the frustrations of homework overload, which we can perhaps all relate to.  “Redbird” has a great bass line, and describes the observations of a child witnessing the graceful movements of a beautiful bird.  Perhaps the most unusual track on the album is “ABC Twinkle Sheep”, which merges the alphabet with a selection of famous nursery rhymes, with a drum intro reminiscent of the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”.

This album is truly one of a kind.  The music peers into the darkness, and yet the lyrics are joyful, light and even humorous at times.  The songs are consistently strong; with memorable melodies that are easy to dance to.  There is a no nonsense approach here, what you hear is what you get, and I love it for its raw simplicity and you will certainly hear it blasting out of my car.  Fred Clark is possibly the Black Francis of kids’ music, and if he ever plays in Australia count me in!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Album Review: Keepin' It Green - Splash'N Boots

Splash‘N Boots are a musical duo currently based in Toronto, Canada.  They formed in 2003 while still at University, and have been entertaining family audiences ever since.  Their success to date has enabled them to perform around the world in countries including Australia, the US, Bermuda and even the UAE. Their latest CD Keepin’ it Green is truly outstanding, with a collection of songs designed to get everyone up and moving, in celebration of “our amazing Planet Earth”.

The album is inspired by the simple notion that we can all make a difference to the planet, even “in our own backyard”.  Although there is a serious message here, the album is more of a celebration than a statement of discontent, and is brimming with memorable tunes that should inspire everyone to take action, celebrate our beautiful planet, and have fun.

There is no time for introspection here, the music is in your face from the start.  The opening track “Backyard Conservation Celebration”, really is a celebration, and the high energy groove adds further potency to the message “it all starts with you”.  “Hey Little Tree” has a more gentle feel, as it traces the journey of a tree’s growth.  It is a song of gratitude for the air we breathe, and the food and shelter provided to animals.

“Little Brown Bat” is another upbeat song, which eloquently describes the numerous talents of the brown bat, who can sing, fly, spin and squeak when he is not “sleeping away the day”.  The descriptive lyrical verse gives the song a nice punchy feel adding further impact.  
In fact, melody is splashed all over this album.  “Spotted Turtle” has a beautiful acoustic introduction, revealing a turtle that smiles and “has a story to tell”.  The acoustic guitar carries the melody of the song throughout, as the vocals describe the turtle’s adventures capturing the essence of this wonderful creature.

And finally to “Recycle (Everybody Wins)”, which is pretty self-explanatory.  Here the listener is provided with various examples of what and how to recycle.  Newspapers are not just for the news; we can make a hat, or put them to another use.  We are asked to think about what bins to use, and the repetitive refrain of the chorus enables the message to really sink in.

You can also hear some interesting musical references on this album.  The opening track “Backyard Conservation Celebration” owes its rhythm to Chuck Berry.  “Water Water” pays homage to Elvis.  “Tiger Beetlemania” with its retro turntable intro has a lovely sixties feel.  “Arctic Song” with its mix of eighties keyboards, and sprightly harmonies reminded me of “Video Killed the Radio Star”.

Although it could be argued that the environment as a theme has been somewhat overdone of late.  I’m sure there are plenty of educators out there who would appreciate a coherent environmental album to help them develop suitable themes in the classroom, particularly, one that is well written and arranged.  The production of this album is also first rate, with excellent musicianship throughout.  Another plus is the group can boast two lead singers, giving them another unique selling point.

Splash’N Boots are certainly one of the most colourful, innovative and exciting groups around, and this album fully justifies their multi award winning status.  The songs inform, inspire, and celebrate with a refreshingly upbeat sound.  An absolute must on your playlist, Splash’N Boots clearly have set the bar very high, and in doing so have entertained families throughout the world.  I salute them.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Album Review: Why Is The Sky Blue? - Nick Cope

Nick Cope is an English musician based in Oxford, and former front man of nineties indie rockers The Candyskins.  Nick has already released three albums, and his latest effort, Why Is The Sky Blue? is superb.  Released in 2012, the album contains ten highly memorable songs that demonstrate his ability to skillfully merge a number of influences to create a highly unique sound.  Furthermore, the songwriting is of the highest standard, and delivered with top-drawer musicianship.

Indeed every song is a winner.  The title track “Why Is The Sky Blue?” is reminiscent of Ray Davies at his best, "Wobbly Tooth” adapts a traditional nursery rhyme with precision and flair.  “Dirty Washing” and “Crazy Dinner Lady” both benefit from some beautiful guitar picking.  “There’s a Nose in the Middle of My Face” is delivered with a hypnotic, almost Andy Partridge intensity.

Other standout tracks include “Whole Lotta Fun,” an action song celebrating togetherness and unity with its truly anthemic chorus.  “Pizza pie", with its slight country feel, describes the delights and hazards of baking and distributing pizza.  “Snowman Kind Of Day” has some uplifting children’s harmonies on the chorus. “The Story Of The Very Silly Dog,” is more punchy and up tempo, and “Tidy Up”, a song reminiscent of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” may enable the over stressed teacher to restore order in the classroom.

The production is simple and effective, allowing the rich variety of melodies and technically perfect vocal delivery to really soar.  The acoustic guitar is played superbly throughout, and the tasteful use of strings adds a warm texture to the overall sound.  Although this is essentially a fun album with plenty of sing-along tunes, occasionally, songs such as “Crazy Dinner Lady” reveal a slight hint of melancholy, unusual on a children’s album, but rewarding for the listener.

Although the album appears to have no obvious theme, the title track “Why Is The Sky Blue?” suggests the songs may have been pitched at the enquiring mind of the young child and their early experiences, both visual and physical.  Whether they are wrestling with a wobbly tooth, having to help tidy up, learning to share food, or simply staring at the sky in wonder, early critical awareness and the importance of developing negotiation skills are clearly addressed.

This is a truly outstanding album, well written, and superbly produced, containing great songs, which should appeal to both young and old.  Nothing sounds contrived, the lyrics tell their own story, and are delivered with the kind of heart-felt emotion, which engages the listener throughout.  If you are a fan of the Lightning Seeds, XTC, Pulp or Scritti Politti you will love this album, and I am sure your children will too.

It seems Britpop is back, but this time for the little ones.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Album Review: Work Together - The Wanna Bees

I received this goody in the post the other day – Work Together ­– the debut CD from The Wanna Bees.  All the way from the USA how cool is that!  Well what can I say about The Wanna Bees?  First of all what a great name, inspired by the big question, “What do you wanna bee when you grow up?”   Well kids, if you don’t know yet, this CD will inspire you in a fun and entertaining way.

The album emphasises ambition, positivity and the importance of making a contribution to society by doing what you love.  The track, “What U Wanna Bee” sets the tone, inviting the listener on a musical journey where ambition and insight combine to point to a future where the sky truly is the limit.

Essentially, the songs are based around the four main characters in the band – Builder Brad, Mailman Mike, Doctor Dan, and Officer Ollie.  The songs also describe their individual friends who accompany them in their roles.  Whether it is Hammer Hank who is not “the sharpest tool in the shed”, or Eddie the Envelope who is in search of a stamp, Betty Badge who stands for honour and justice, or Henrietta Heart who resides in everybody, these loveable characters help kids to further engage with the music.

The opening track “Work Together", for me is arguably the best track on the album; strong on message, but also delivering a brilliant sing-along chorus, almost reminiscent of The Who’s “Join Together.   “Hammer Hank” is irresistible with its melodic vocal delivery and quirky rhythm.  “Lub-Dub Lub-Dub” interestingly compares the sound of a heartbeat to a garden hose pumping blood around the body.  “Mailman Mike” is a gem of a song, with its confident delivery and knockout tune.  “Officer Ollie” uses a very cool military beat, perhaps emphasising the regimented system of policing.

If I was to take a stab in the dark I would pitch the band’s influences as somewhere between The B52s, The Wiggles, and the Cars, although such a narrow pool probably doesn’t do them justice.  The songs really are at times quite anthemic, incorporating live instrumentation, imaginative arrangements and a radio friendly sound.  The album is well produced, and features seasoned musicians.

The band’s sound is built around the strength of Chuck Riepenhoff’s voice, which is inviting, warm and resonates with a noticeable originality.  The keyboards and guitar float around the songs adding a kind of cool melodic ambience, and the rhythm section of Brad Bury and Mike Hayden is both nimble and tight.

There is also a tremendous range of styles on the album.  “Cough, Say Ahh” combines an interesting fusion of pop and rap, “Getterdun!” has a lovely country feel, “What U Wanna Bee sounds” like 70s New Wave, “Put A Stamp On Me” has an interesting shuffle beat which ups the tempo, perhaps suggesting speed of delivery. The repeat refrain at the end, “come and dance along with me” with its reggae style of vocal delivery, could almost be sung by Bob Marley.   “Betty Badge” is perhaps as close to rock as you can get.

This is definitely an album that will appeal to the kids, but I reckon the parents will enjoy it too.  If you are interested in this band (and believe me you should be) check out the single “Get Up And Get Out”, which was released In 2013, and serves to motivate children to exercise.  Already creating a buzz in the American kindie scene, The Wanna Bees serve as a real inspiration to children, so if you want to sing, dance, have fun and be inspired, check out The Wanna Bees coming your way.