Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Flash Single Review: Gee Up! - Poco Drom

You better buckle up for this one, because the latest single "Gee Up!" from Poco Drom is an absolute stormer of a track, where electronica pumps up the volume with earth shattering intensity. This song is really out there, an extraordinary piece of high-energy music, which firmly establishes this UK artist as a major new talent.

This song would stand out on any playlist; it literally hits you over the head from the start, where an explosive rhythm, releases the type of raw energy that would be celebrated on any dance floor. The song also features some dreamy and wistful backing vocals, providing additional texture to the overall sound. 

Despite it's electronic appeal, the song works equally well, when played on an acoustic guitar and stripped down to its bare essentials.  I know this because I've seen it on YouTube, and you should check it out to.

Despite the artist being something of an eco warrior, living off the grid, and adopting an alternative lifestyle, there is no specific message here as such. The song simply describes the rapturous thrill of a hectic horse ride. The listener is then left hanging on for dear life, as the music shifts through the gears, with an explosive chorus repeating the words 'gee up, gee up' through a melting microphone. This could be an imaginary or real journey, either way, the song works through its fusion of power and simplicity, which never lets up for a second.

All in all, a superb track, which is as original as it is appealing. Here, Hot Butter meets the Cocteau Twins, with a little help from Lenny Kravitz on the way. A fabulous fusion of eclectic musical styles, which merge together in one moment of sheer magic. Poco Drom is clearly worth keeping your eye on, and may indeed be a dark horse for future greatness, who knows? Watch this space.

Poco Drom - high energy with a smile.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Flash Single Review: Try Try Again - Professor Jefferson Band

Professor Jefferson Band are a four-piece band from the USA, who write educational songs for children, and do so with tremendous expertise. Their most recent release "Try Try Again" is something of a quirky classic, featuring lyrics which regard failure as an opportunity, and not something to be feared. The cover sleeve features a picture of non other than Thomas Edison himself, who you may be aware regarded failure as an essential part of the creative process. 

He was in good company as Samuel Beckett, Confucius and Sumner Redstone all believed misfortune to be a prerequisite to success, as long as you don't give up on the way. The fact is, those who never failed never did anything, and this sentiment is outlined superbly here, where harmonica blends with acoustic guitar to create a song earnest in message, but nonetheless upbeat and very catchy. 

The bass playing is excellent throughout, and the drums kick like a mule. The vocals are superb, assisted by lyrics which are warm and informative, providing solace to all those sensitive souls who might be afraid to have a go.  The Smiths experimented with a similar idea in the eighties with their famous hit "Ask," but this song discards the petulant sarcasm of Morrisey, and offers instead, heartfelt sincerity and genuine room for growth.

The harmonica takes centre stage on the chorus, adding further dynamics; hitting the target in almost Dylanesque fashion. The lyrics appear somewhat conversational at times, revealing the type of dialogue that might occur between a caring parent and a sensitive child. Despite this didactic approach, the song is very catchy, and loaded with pop sensibility.

This band truly are the thinking person's rock 'n' roll. They somehow manage to merge sublime musicianship, with a cerebral approach that easily resonates with the listener.   An absolute gift for teachers or parents, trying to find the right message to motivate children.

Professor Jefferson Band - cerebral rock.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Flash Single Review: Catch Me If You Can - Lah-Lah

As a music teacher and musician I have always admired Lah-Lah's commitment to educating children about the joys of live music making. Bearing this in mind, a notification for their latest single just popped into my Insta feed so I thought it was about time I further investigated this band and their impressive back catalogue. The latest track "Follow Me" is great fun, but it was the earlier single "Catch Me If You Can" that really caught my attention. It certainly is an appropriate title considering how catchy the tune is.

The song lays down the gauntlet right from the start beginning with an almost declarative outburst of the chorus, before the verse really kicks in with some verve. Here a lively keyboard fuses with a bass line that pays homage to Peter Hook. The song is upbeat and intoxicating and really captures the attention of the listener with its steady hypnotic vibe.  Here electronica fuses with pop opera where Kate Bush teams up with Sarah Brightman and employ New Order to come up with a backing track.

There's an interesting diversion during the middle eight, where a staccato keyboard breaks up the rhythm pattern, providing temporary respite, before we return to the groove with some vengeance. Additional instrumentation is included towards the end to further build the intensity, before everything is eventually stripped out, to finish as we began. Poetic justice, or simply an interesting arrangement, I'll let you be the judge of that.

This is a truly great song, and is one of many classic tracks that Lah-Lah's Big Live Band have been involved in over the years. It is punchy, melodic and easy to dance to. The vocals are bright and piercing, and lead the song in fine style. Lah-Lah truly is one of Australia's finest exports, with their growing reputation now reaching across the globe. You really need to check out the band's back catalogue, there are plenty more where this one came from.

Lah-Lah - songs to learn and sing.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Single Review: Everyday Heroes - Music With Michal and Claudia Robin Gunn

Well Christmas came early for me this year as I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy of "Everyday Heroes" the new single from two giants of independent music, Michal Amy Bush (Music with Michal) and Claudia Robin Gunn. These two inspirational artists have collaborated to create a song that is both educational and entertaining. The tone is upbeat and optimistic, and spreads a message of gratitude for all the essential workers out there doing their best to keep us all safe in these uncertain times.

The opening four bars draw the listener in immediately, with elements of the Police classic "Message In a Bottle" on display. The lyrics are compelling and highly effective, and effortlessly stay on topic throughout. The song is essentially a celebration of essential workers, whether this is postal workers, teachers or nurses, they are all 'heroes' here, with the listener consistently encouraged to 'come and celebrate them all with me'. 

Unsurprisingly, it is the vocals that are the real stand out, and in particular the musical blend of these two superb artists; who combine with breathtaking clarity. We are also treated to some endearing children's voices during the break, who contribute to the growing list of essential workers before finally declaring them as 'everyday heroes'. This warm embrace between the enthusiastic outbursts of the children and the wistful backing vocals of the artists brings a certain sense of vulnerability and charm to the track. The melodic diversion that follows is similarly effective, and cements the central idea that 'if we work together we can keep each other safe'.

The overall arrangement features a highly melodic bass, a hypnotic drum pattern, and some nimble guitar work throughout, constantly searching for space to add additional melody to the track. Towards the end the instrumentation is removed almost entirely, with just the drums and the vocals left to carry the message. Here the song takes on an anthemic tone, inviting the listener to sing along and celebrate these every day heroes 'who make the world go round and round'. 

These two artists clearly understand the power of dynamics, where all the instrumentation is then reintroduced for a final flourish, alongside a sumptuous vocal blend, cleverly adapted to bring the verse and chorus together. It leaves the listener feeling both inspired and informed, and does so with a melody as sprightly and engaging as anything you're likely to hear.

All in all a fabulous song, delivered with tremendous expertise and skill. The message is compelling and delivered with both style and substance. I take my hat off to these two superb artists who have delivered the world a much needed boost, and done so with both flair and imagination. This song is certainly going to be the number one song on my playlist, and you should make it yours too. Also make sure you check out the official YouTube video where, due to the wonders of modern technology, the artists still manage to perform 'together' despite the current lockdown in New Zealand.

Music with Michal and Claudia Robin Gunn - a match made in heaven.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Video Review: Slow Down - Animal Farm

Animal Farm are a quartet from Chicago, who perform a colourful blend of music, storytelling and comedy suitable for children of all ages.  "Slow Down" is taken from their latest album, and is something of a melodic masterpiece. The song highlights the problems we all face in a hectic and fast-paced world. The solution is provided through the metaphorical journey of a snail, who despite his obvious limitations, always finds time to appreciate the beauty that surrounds him each and every day. 

The video is an allegorical portrayal of this journey, where the snail moves slowly across the screen staring up at the lyrics that appear on the screen above. Here, the snail shuffles his body in time to a double bass groaning away in the background, accompanied by some delicate interplay between guitar and violin.  The snail, we are informed, takes his time 'because the roses are oh so sweet', and of course he has 'no particular place to go'.  The lead vocal is sublime, and reminded me a little of Smokey Robinson. 

The verse creates the necessary space to launch the chorus, which explodes in a psychedelic cacophony of sound that is both enticing and seductive in turn. The melody is like something Coldplay might come up with on a good day, with the lyrics questioning 'how can anyone notice this beautiful world if they won't just slow down'. Additional impact is portrayed in the video which displays an array of buildings and vehicles spinning round in a circular motion, which appear to represent the planet.

The snail meanwhile ponders this predicament, incredulous, and resolute, encompassing the visual representation of what is required. Further metaphors of snail mail, which may take 'three to five days', are also featured with a number of signed, sealed and delivered envelopes floating across the screen in turn. These are then swiftly replied to with speedy texts that clearly don't get the message. Speed is further represented in the video by cheetahs and eagles who are impressive, but of no concern to the snail who is quite happy 'chilling on the garden floor'.

The song then once again explodes into another uplifting chorus, swimming in melancholy, and pining with a certain nostalgia for the way things were.  The lyrics further emphasise the central message of the song, that you can ultimately never be happy if this state of affairs continues. 

The video then portrays footsteps on the screen representing movement, and at this point the musical depth and lyrical potency of the song, rekindle memories of Pink Floyds "On The Run", or perhaps "Time" from "The Dark Side of the Moon". Yes, you heard me, that's right Pink Floyd, so if the band are trying to reach all age groups they are on the right track here.

A wonderful song, an inspiring video, a tremendous message, and beautiful musicanship performed throughout. Animal Farm really cut the mustard when it comes to highlighting problems, finding solutions, and entertaining us in the process. All in all, three minutes of sheer magic that deserves your immediate attention.

Animal Farm - live in the moment.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Flash Single Review: It's So Easy Being Green - Esther Crow

"It's So Easy Being Green" is the fabulous new single from Esther Crow an award-winning songwriter from New York City, and founding member of post-punk rockers The Electric Mess. In addition to being an environmental warrior, she is also a teacher and part-time actor, although where she gets the time, I have no idea. I came across this song recently when I was browsing through Spotify, and I was absolutely blown away by the potency of the lyric and the power and precision of the music.

The song incorporates a delightful call and response technique, where a series of environmental challenges are brought to our attention, and are then disarmed with noticeable flair and lyrical dexterity. Whether this involves 'picking up bottles on the beach', or eating 'more veggies less meat', there are a variety of solutions on display.   Incidentally, it is none other than the artist's son Vincent, who steps in to pose these dillemas, ensuring that the song is indeed a truly family affair. 

The music has wonderful energy, and further benefits from a slightly sixties flavouring, where jangly guitars meet inspired vocal melodies to complete the three chord magic. The vocals are clear, nonchalant and easy to decipher, revealing perhaps a slight Dylan influence on occasions. The chorus sums up the sentiment succinctly,  informing the listener to 'save the planet change your habits', a message that I'm sure we would all support.  

This is a truly great song, where somehow the artist has managed to cram copious ideas into a tight space, and yet still come up shining with pop sensibility. The bass and drums are tight and punchy, with the music at times slightly reminiscent of Blondie at their best, which is no bad thing. The music is loaded with attitude, and despite the charming melodic content, you can hear the gutsy post-punk New York delivery just beneath the surface. 

This artist is pure class, she has a fantastic message, a great sound, a superb band, and a fabulous generosity of spirit. Perhaps most importantly, she has delivered a song for our times, and done so with style, substance and certainty.

Esther Crow - positive punk.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

EP Review: Itty Bitty Bubbles - Itty Bitty Beats

Itty Bitty Beats is the brainchild of Jenny Payne and Lucy Hiku, an award-winning musical duo from New Zealand. Since their formation in 2014, they have delivered their own brand of unique children's pop, attaining global appeal and deservedly so. They are indeed as prolific as they are entertaining, and their new EP Itty Bitty Bubbles features six original compositions, propelling the listener on a sea of nostalgia through a charming fusion of sprightly melodies, luscious harmonies and superb production.

The EP opens in fine form with the gentle and endearing title track, featuring some intricate guitar work, a joyful vocal delivery, and a mesmerising array of sounds. The delivery is sweet and uplifting, and has a noticeable sixties influence. It is a song guaranteed to transform the darkest of moods, with its delightful melody and singalong chorus. The appeal of the song lies in its innocent simplicity and its world class vocal delivery, which really has to be heard to be believed.

"Bubble Shop" blasts out of the speakers in true Chuck Berry style, with a sparse rhythm providing the necessary space for some truly inspiring guitar playing. The song is again simple and effective, with lyrics describing the prosaic act of purchasing bubbles, where we 'drop our coins on the counter shop',  to buy some 'bubbles for me and bubbles for you'. The song celebrates the joy children find in the simplest of things, whilst also further reminding us of the magic appeal of bubbles to children.

"Blowing Bubbles With My Teddy Bear" begins with a hypnotic piano, sitting alongside a wistful vocal, which repeats the song title very effectively. The keyboard solo is quite superb and reminded me a little of the late Ray Manzerak. The lyrics are very descriptive throughout, and 'rise like steam and fall like rain' towards the end, delivered with a vocal performance that would sit comfortably on a Janice Joplin album.

"Bubble Storm" begins with an atmospheric flourish before it transforms itself into a kind of Walt Disney ditty. Here we are informed that 'you don't need an umbrella in a bubble storm', because in this world the 'bubble storm' is welcomed and is indeed something to be treasured. The song includes an inspired string section, providing additional rhythm and atmosphere, as the lyrics continue to remind us that instead of 'lightning there's laughter, ' and their role is in 'spreading cheer' not fear. When I heard the song it reminded me of fifties American movies, with maybe Gene Kelly playing a starring role, where life was perhaps less complex, and children were less reliant on technology for their entertainment.

"Blowing Bubbles in My Bath Tub', bounces along in fine style with some delightful harmonies, that support the melody throughout superbly. The bass and drums create the space for the clinical clarity of the guitar solo paying homage to Bill Haley along the way. The song is pure rhythm and blues, delivered with a lyrical flavouring specially for the kids, where we get to 'splash and splash' as we blow 'bubbles in my bath tub'.

The EP finishes with the very impressive '"I Love Watching Bubbles"', where strings meet harmony with a warm embrace. A very emotive ballad, with a melancholy delivery which describes the simple act of observing bubbles through the eyes of a child who gets to watch 'bubbles day and night'. Again the harmonies are breathtaking, and would even give the Everly Brothers a run for their money.

If you're a fan of Simon and Garfunkel, Herman's Hermits, the Zombies or the type of guitar licks that made Chuck Berry famous then you will absolutely love this EP. The band take us on a trip down memory lane, capturing a retro vibe, and catapulting it in to the twenty-first century. The lyrics are aimed squarely at the kids, and succeed in igniting their infinite imaginations. In essence, the EP takes the listener on a musical journey where the bubbles are identified, then purchased then blown, before being described and finally observed. The EP succeeds in creating a world where imagination is king, and fear dissipates 'in a bubble storm'.  

Itty Bitty Beats - back to the future.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Flash Single Review: It's OK 2 Be Me - Twinkle Time

The new single, "It's OK 2 Be Me", from Twinkle Time has finally dropped and seemingly from outer space, because this is unlike anything you've ever heard. Here Madonna meets Van Halen, with the most extraordinary fusion of rock and pop you're ever likely to hear. The song is delivered with heaps of attitude, and a compelling lyric, which encourages individuality and in particular how 'it's okay to be different'.

The song literally explodes right from the start, with an electric blend of guitar and keyboard that takes no prisoners. With a pulsating bass line and a hypnotic drum beat, the music creates the necessary energy for the vocals to really shine. The vocal is clear and melodic, but delivered with the type of angst that literally screams out of the speakers. It's almost as if the artist is angry at the limitations of a judgemental world, and sings with a cathartic outburst of defiance. 

However, it is the overall message which is the real standout, with the listener encouraged  to 'take your fears and throw them away', before being treated to a truly uplifting chorus which reminded me a little of EMF at their best. Despite the song's electric arrangement, like many great songs it would probably sound equally good played on an acoustic guitar or a piano. 

Twinkle doesn't care what you look like, but what she does care about is that young people appreciate 'just how special' they can be if they realise 'it's ok 2 be me'. In under three minutes this track could affect both the mood and outlook of young people, who may feel vulnerable in an era dominated by the pressures of the modern age. Here, the artist has taken the gloves off, and finds herself fighting for a kinder world for the next generation. This is a truly brilliant song, which is superbly executed, and on this form Twinkle is clearly the most exciting children's entertainer on the planet.

Twinkle Time - the gloves are off.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Flash Single Review: Germs - Story Surprise

Story Surprise
 are a lively, energetic and engaging duo from Melbourne, Australia. They have released two singles to date with a new song dropping this Saturday. Although, they have only been around for a relatively short time, they have already made quite an impact on the children's entertainment scene, and are now set to take the world by storm. Their recent single "Germs" was written in response to the COVID outbreak, and highlights the importance of keeping germs at bay.

We're now back in lockdown in many parts of Australia, so this song is no doubt as relevant as ever. The music is sprightly and lighthearted, and manages to convey a serious message in a fun and stimulating way. There is no shortage of detailed instructions either, where fun actions collide with hygiene so that the children are encouraged to 'jump into the sky', and 'wave those germs goodbye'.

The song has a stop and start type of feel, where the instructions are blasted out in perfect harmony. The backing vocals have a noticeable 1950s influence, which add a certain retro flavouring to the tune. Coming in at just over two minutes, the song is short, sweet and to the point, with the action never letting up for a minute. I'm reliably informed that the chorus comes in at twenty seconds which is the recommended length of time to spend washing your hands, making it the perfect song for little people.

Well, maybe I'm biased because these performers are Australian, but I love this duo, they are great fun, and effortlessly spin their wonderful brand of optimistic melodies with tremendous enthusiasm. They provide a breath of fresh air to the children's music scene, and if you could bottle their energy you'd be all the better for it. 

Story Surprise - energy, excitement and enthusiasm.

Friday, 25 June 2021

Album Review: Unhurried Journey - Elena Moon Park

Elena Moon Park
is a musician, educator and producer from Brooklyn New York, and her most recent album Unhurried Journey is really quite superb. The album is so much more than a mere collection of songs; each song represents an individual segment of a musical journey that unfolds as the album progresses. The music is also a collaborative effort featuring over thirty musicians from all ages and backgrounds.  Although Elena is the major singer-songwriter on the album, many of the tracks feature guest vocalists, and the incredible array of talented musicians she has amalgamated, ensure that there is never a dull moment. 

The journey begins with "A Brilliant New Idea", which is essentially an invitation for every listener to get on board this magical journey and 'sing those songs and stories'. Here the sublime vocal blend of Elena and Sinuhe Padilla Isunza introduce the song, before the music shifts gear courtesy of the irrepressible banjo of James Moore. The music has a lovely country feel, and despite it's esoteric complexity, would probably go down well in a barn dance. 

"Flower Dance" is a traditional Cambodian folk song, featuring lead vocals courtesy of the very talented Yorn Young.  The song opens with a steady bongo pattern, which soon gives way to an array of exotic instrumentation. The song is initially sung in Cambodian before shifting to English, and then returning to the fold with further gusto. There is a dizzying array of musical mayhem going on in the background, leaving the impression that the musicians are enjoying the music every bit as much as the listener. I must admit I'm not familiar with some of the instruments used on this track, but it all blends together superbly, creating a dizzying cacophony of sound unlike anything I've ever heard.

"Unhurried Journey" serves to instruct the audience as to the art of living in the moment. Inspired by the artwork of Kristiana Parn, the song encourages us to slow down, not be in too much of a hurry, and make sure that we fully absorb the beauty of all that surrounds us. Amen to that. Here the artist is joined by Elizabeth Mitchell on vocals, who lays down a truly superb vocal take. The song is in essence quite gentle, and bounces along in fine style, with excellent work from Colin Brooks on drums and Yoshi Waki on double bass. 

"Sea Taryeong" is a famous folk song from South Korea, which transports the listener to a hillside to embrace the beautiful melody of the birds in the distance, and then reciprocate and learn their tunes on the way. The song features Kyungso Park, on vocals who serenades the listener superbly, accompanied by an interesting fusion of French horn, accordion and trumpet.  Again the song shifts between languages very effectively, as the lyrics paint the sky with birds 'that fly two by two over the hillside', as they echo 'the call of spring time'.

"Ito Maki" is sung in Japanese and features Akiko Hiroshima on vocals. The song explores the somewhat prosaic act of making outfits for animals, and at times a spoken voice is used to further emphasise the point. However, this is all part of the musical journey where the listener follows 'the Red Birds to a clearing in the hillside', who are 'delighted to see you because they need your help'. 

"Dia Mal Ka" (Foot On Tar) has more of a jazzy feel, and clearly benefits from the vibrant vocals of Sayung Chang. Here, the song manages to combine an almost big band feel, with Eastern mysticism. This time the journey takes place largely in the mind, where the sheer weight of nostalgia recreates memories of the past, triggered by sensory experience, and in particular the way in which the aroma created by a delicious meal, can capture precious memories of days gone by.  

"Flying Starfish" is a wonderful ballad, which contemplates the forthcoming adventures of the artist's niece, and all the challenges that lay ahead, in a 'world that is yours to see'. The salient point here is that although the child is encouraged to 'fly and be free', there will always be a warm home and welcoming family to return to.

"Springtime In My Hometime" returns to Korea to portray a splendid tribute to springtime. The song features an intriguing intro, which serves to introduce the arrival of of Kyungso Park on vocals. Although the inspiration for the song is steeped in South Korean tradition, some of the instrumentation sounds almost Celtic at times, perhaps as a result of the melodic input of the accordion. The band really pick up the pace in the middle of the song, due to a lively banjo, and an array of compelling instruments competing for space.  

"Let It Come, Let It Go", is my absolute favourite song on the album, which once again benefits from some truly uplifting vocals courtesy of Sonia De Los Santos and Dan and Claudia Zanes. The song combines a shuffle beat with a lively horn section, and is literally bursting with pop sensibility. The song has one of the most inspiring choruses you'll ever hear, with the joyful cohesion of the band on full display collaborating in rapturous delight. I am reliably informed that the title of the song refers to the importance of accepting the moment, however challenging this may be, before then allowing it to blow away like the wind as the journey continues.  

"Musikaru Ride to the Mountain", introduces the listener to the Musikaru family who embark on their incredible journey 'wherever the wind takes them'.  The song begins with some fine drumming from Colin Brooks, who attacks the drums in almost John Bonham style. The lyrics then describe the journey of the family, accompanied by drums, synthesiser and an inspired harmony for additional impact.  The key message here is 'we're all in this together, but each one of us is free'. A superb example of the power of minimalism when the vocals are crystal clear, the lyrics are informative, and the strength of the track lies in its overall simplicity of approach.

"Pong Dang Pong Dang" is a Korean song for children, which describes the simple act of throwing pebbles in the water and then observing the effect. The song further benefits from the additional expertise of Dan Zanes and Barbara Brousal, who transform the song into a rhyme in English, and harmonise superbly throughout. The song is truly captivating, and although arranged by Elena Moon Park, the song was actually written by Seokjung Yoon and Nanpa Hong. This is a charming and quite sprightly piece of music, further enhanced by a hypnotic guitar, and a restless mandolin, which complement the rhythm superbly.

"Hanagasa Ondo" is a traditional Japanese folk song, featuring the outstanding vocals of Akiko Hiroshima and Sumie Kaneko. It is another flower dance, and is generally performed live with a flower straw hat. During the song we are also treated to some brief intejections from Elena, where the magnificent spectacle of 'snow falling on our trees' is aptly described in English.  The song also encourages a call and response segment, providing space for the audience to join in by chanting 'choi, choi', and 'ha yassho makasho', where required.

Gong Xi Gong Xi is a popular Chinese song, and despite the complexity of the arrangement, provides significant commercial appeal. The song celebrates the Lunar New Year, and was co-written by Annie Chen who also contributes a fine vocal performance. The song again features a lively horn section with additional guitar from Rob Friedman and some inspired flute playing courtesy of Domenica Fossati. All in all, an intoxicating piece of revelry, which serves to dazzle the listener from start to finish.

"Underneath the Marshmallow Tree" has an almost pop contemporary feel, with a laid back beat, fusing expertly with electric guitar, organ and piano. This song is both delicate and highly melodic, and would appeal to all the day dreamers, who enjoy a relaxed singalong. The lyrics are also beautifully descriptive throughout, whether we are 'diving into crystal clear seas', or 'floating through a lavender breeze', it's all happening here 'underneath the marshmallow tree'.  The song also features an interesting trumpet segment, expertly performed by Nathan Koci. The ultimate strength of the song however, lies in its simplicity of delivery, as our musical journey continues through a flight 'through the night-time sky.'   

The album finishes in fine style with the delightful "Count the Waves", an Indonesian song, translated into English by Elena herself. The song features Peni Candra Rini on vocals, whose voice sounds like clear mountain water merging into a vast ocean. The song describes the story of a butterfly that slips away into the void, maybe signifying that our adventure has finally come to an end. The song is both haunting and melancholy in turn, and the vibes of David Cossin make the song sound like a prayer put to music. All in all, the perfect way to finish an album, that captures your attention from start to finish.

Unhurried Journey is a concept album, which has its eye firmly on the prize and is rarely off topic.  Featuring over thirty musicians from around the world, the album incorporates a breathtaking variety of sounds that gel together in one magnificent piece of art. Here, the artist takes the listener on a musical journey, steeped in poetry, melody, adventure and a hint of melancholy along the way. The album itself contains an eclectic mix of music styles that still manage to blend together perfectly. I can't possibly do justice to such a complex piece of work in one single review, so my advice to you dear reader, is to check it out for yourself, you will not be disappointed.  

Elena Moon Park - the journey's end is only the beginning ...

Monday, 31 May 2021

Album Track Review: All The Way Around The World - Katherine Dines

Katherine Dines is an award-winning children's songwriter from Colorado, USA. She performs as a solo artist and also with the Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta Band. Katherine has been entertaining family audiences since 1993, and her songs have been recognised across the globe. She is certainly appreciated here in Australia, so much so, I included this particular song on one of our playlists to take on the road. It initially caught my attention because the music evoked memories of my first visit to Ireland, when I caught the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin all those years ago. Although this particular boat trip is more ambitious, and takes the listener "All The Way Around The World". 

The song is featured on the album Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta: Hits and contains three minutes of inspired magic, combining a wonderful country feel with some Celtic flourishes along the way. The track begins with a melodic flute every bit as catchy as Men at Work's "Down Under", before the arrival of the vocals which take centre stage.  Her voice is as clear as crystal, and dominates the track throughout.

The lyrics are cleverly structured, providing the required space for the artist to describe the various emotions 'this boat's going to carry'. These include 'harmony', 'happiness', 'love and peace' and finally 'hope and strength' which are carried 'all the way around the world.' The chorus further expands the musicality of the track with a lively fiddle and flute playing off each other with flair and zest. The drums really pick up the pace on the second chorus, before we are treated to a truly exquisite fiddle solo during the middle eight. 

The song finishes in fine style repeating the song title to further cement the idea, as what sounds like a  banjo gradually fades into the distance. Before the artist signs off, she has one final treat for the attentive listener including  a swirling mix of Celtic instruments and a haunting, soulful didgeridoo.

Katherine Dines is a talented artist, with an impressive grasp of lyrical composition and melodic ingenuity. Her music is original, diverse and authentic, and she has the most beautiful voice you will ever hear. This is a great song, which is sure to captivate the listener from beginning to end. Incidentally, I have also been exploring her back catalogue, which contains an abundance of fabulous tunes out there for all you music lovers to sing along to.  

Katherine Dines - love and peace to everyone.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Album Review: All Together - Kathryn The Grape

Kathryn Cloward, also known as Kathryn the Grape, is an award-winning author, multigenre songwriter, producer and publisher from California. Her new album All Together is her finest work to date. Featuring ten self penned songs of inspired melody and lyrical ingenuity. The album takes the listener on an emotional journey of fun, self reflection and personal growth. All in all, this is a feel good album, featuring lively instrumentation, uplifting harmonies, and a message of positivity, joy and hope.

There is certainly plenty to dance to on this album. the opening track "Shake Shake Shake", is an absolute foot stomper, featuring some lively retro guitar, hovering between a pulsating rhythm section. "Let's Celebrate" has a similarly upbeat approach, encouraging the listener to both seize the moment and 'celebrate and shine'.  "Jump With Joy" continues in a similar vein; introducing the song with an ambient keyboard, from which the kids are then encouraged to 'jump with joy', over an infectious rhythm.  

Despite the upbeat approach, many of the songs dig deeper and explore the importance of self-love, and the need to simply be yourself. "I Like Being Me" explores this theme with a fresh funky feel, whereas "I Feel Good About Myself" combines an awesome guitar hook with a slightly harder edge. The message here is not just one of personal joy, it's also about self-awareness, gratitude and appreciation 'for family and friends, and all that I have been given'.

Some songs have a more melancholy feel. 'It's Okay To Cry', features a gentle piano, and a wistful voice desperately trying to come to terms with an array of emotions that 'come out of my eyes'.  However, there is always a positive spin as we are then told that this is 'a natural thing to do'.  I'm reliably informed that the song was inspired by witnessing a man instructing his son that 'boys don't cry'. Well, if we can create a positive message out of narrow-minded assertions then count me in.

"Choosing Kindness" has more of a funky laid back feel, and features a lively bass, some nimble drumming and an assertive piano. The chorus is more anthemic, expressing the importance of being kind through a detailed explanation of 'what choosing kindness means'. Here the artist expresses how it's what we think that really matters, because 'thoughts can be like weeds that spread negativity', or 'like water that streams positivity'. The listener is therefore encouraged to 'think thoughts that are kind', not just for ourselves 'but others all the time'. The lyrics have a wonderful resonance, and manage to explore deep emotional challenges, but with a lightness of touch that is both gentle and thought provoking.

"I Am That I Am" is a real feel-good track, and arguably the most commercial track on the album. Here, the artist lists a number of positive attributes on the verse, before exploding into a celebratory chorus, which reminded me a little of vintage Blondie. The song, also features some captivating harmonies that further emphasise the point. Undoubtedly the most original track on the album, where a list of positive attributes are read out almost like a shopping list for self-esteem and personal growth.

My favourite track on the album is the magnificent "Just Be". Featuring some guitar work that reminded me a little of Coldplay on the verse and Hank Marvin on the chorus.  The song could almost fit alongside the Brit pop sound of the nineties, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. The song also contains wonderfully uplifting harmonies, that add immense flair and zest to the song throughout. I literally had the music swimming round my head all day.

Last but by no means least, the intoxicating "You Matter To Me", which features a lively synth competing with an intricate rhythm section. The chorus again utilises the song title, and like many of the tracks it features at the start of the song. Themes of respect and acceptance are captured throughout, and fit perfectly with the overall theme of the album.

This album features a wonderful selection of songs, with potent lyrics, hummable harmonies, and musical dexterity throughout. The major strength of the album is in the lyrics, which are quite brilliant throughout. The album highlights how kind thoughts, words, and actions can lead to positive outcomes for everyone. The music is superbly arranged and produced, and succeeds in combining upbeat dance songs, with an introspective and yet consistently positive message. All in all a tremendous selection of songs, and an absolute must for music lovers everywhere.

Kathryn the Grape - using words to be kind.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Album Review: It's Music Time - B Minor Music

B Minor Music is the brainchild of Bree Hansen, an early childhood educator, who writes and performs original music for children. Her new album "It's Music Time" combines educational content for teachers with action packed songs for children. It achieves this using a variety of musical styles, from country to jazz to pop.  Whether this involves clapping, jumping, counting, or simply enjoying the sunshine safely, it is all here, wrapped up in one fabulous package.  So, if you are looking for music that will both captivate your students and ignite their imaginations then look no further, this truly is an educator's delight.

The album kicks off in fine form with the uptempo "B Minor Music". The song unfolds almost like a TV theme tune, accompanied by some energetic kids' vocals bringing up the rear. "Until I Tell You" is more laid back with a melodic piano dominating the track throughout. Here the kids are encouraged to jump, stomp, run, clap, wiggle and spin until they are commanded to stop. Speaking as a music teacher, this song would be a valuable acquisition in any music room.

"Can You?" is another call to action song, this time challenging the listener with the question 'can you?' to a variety of instructions which turn out to be 'as easy as can be'. It clearly benefits from an infectious groove, which will surely have the kids up and dancing in no time. Interestingly "Play Along With Me" uses a similar formula, but this time it is the playing of musical instruments which is encouraged. Each instrument is announced and performed in turn, whether this is a shaker, a tambourine or a triangle. The song instructs the children to perform the particular instrument, either individually or in a group. The gentle pace of the song is also significant, giving the kids the opportunity to perform at their own pace. 

"Fluffy Unicorns" is essentially a counting song, where the number of unicorns gradually disappears until we are left with only one. The song reminded me at times of "Five Little Ducks" but this time without the encore. Although the listener is reassured that despite their gradual disappearance the unicorns 'still love you'. I guess in some ways, the artist is bringing traditional ideas up to date for the twenty-first century.

Yes, there really is a song called "Sharing a Banana" on this album, which has more of a jazz feel, with a lively bass and some swing drumming throughout. Although the album has an overall eclectic approach, there are a few songs which draw their influence from jazz. "Clap to the Beat" also benefits from a noticeable jazz influence, as well as some superb harmonies throughout.  There is also a similar feel on "Fun in the Sun," where a lively piano and a double bass compete with guitar and trumpet to lay down the groove. Here, the song reminds children of the importance of sun safety, with lyrics that convey the point with noticeable skill and dexterity.

The artist effortlessly moves between a variety of themes on the album. The multicultural "Shades", with its somewhat hypnotic start and stop approach, seamlessly moves on to the more wacky and acerbic "Who's that Knocking?" Where, in almost "Finger Family" style, the artist invites various family members to announce themselves.

"At the Zoo" is essentially an uptempo tribute to Melbourne Zoo, where we are treated to a musical description of a variety of animals, including elephants, kangaroos, crocodiles, lions, and frogs. There are many opportunities for children to imitate the actions of the animals described in the song. Towards the end, the song takes on more of a melancholy twist, and slows down in time to flutter softly like a butterfly. The artist cleverly concludes the song with a brief summary of the adventures they have experienced. 

"I Love Counting" is an action song that is also educational. Here the children are encouraged to count to ten, and then count backwards. I guess it is slightly similar in arrangement to "Ten Little Indians," although a more updated version. There is also a very effective string section used for additional impact. The chorus is really quite uplifting, and serves to stir the emotions with its emphatic declaration of how 'I love counting', which is 'so much fun'. If we are trying to get the kids super keen to learn then this surely is a step in the right direction.

There is also plenty to dance to on this album. Whether it is the intoxicating "Scarf", an action song, with an anthemic chorus where the children are encouraged to 'twirl round and round'. To the delightful "Down in the Garden", where we can both witness and join in the dance, along with the energetic Fairy Harmony who leads the way. There are clearly heaps of opportunities to move and groove throughout. 

My favourite track is the delightful "Show a Little Kindness". It has a slight country feel, with shades of bluegrass on display. The song incorporates a shuffle beat, which provides a nice uptempo groove throughout the song. The song also features a splendid honky-tonk piano sprinkled throughout the track.  It also has one of the more memorable tunes on the album, along with an equally important message, where we are encouraged to 'show a little kindness'.  

This album takes the kids on an action packed musical adventure that never lets up for a second. Whether we are enjoying a visit to the zoo, or witnessing fluffy unicorns on the way, there is something here for everyone. The album is saturated in melody and optimism, and boasts a number of important educational themes. The whole album is put together beautifully, from the title, to the artwork to the overall production. There is nothing minor about this artist, so if you're looking for something a little bit special, grab a copy of this album, because 'It's Music Time', and you better believe it.

The album will be available everywhere on 20 February 2021.

B Minor Music - learning is fun.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Album Review: Sing Through The Year - A Little Wild Childhood - Claudia Robin Gunn

Claudia Robin Gunn is a singer-songwriter from Auckland, New Zealand, and her new album "Sing Through the Year - A Little Wild Childhood", is quite superb. It features twenty-five original songs brimming with poetic charm and delightful melodies. The album harnesses themes of nature, weather and the seasons into one colourful journey for children and families. The music has a lovely rich vibe, and the lyrics are imaginative and inspired throughout. The album is beautifully sung from beginning to end, and also benefits from the thoughtful arrangements and excellent production of Tom Fox.

The album kicks off in superb style with the enchanting "Apple Tree", a song that is both funky and atmospheric. It begins with the delicate picking of an acoustic guitar, before the bass and drums arrive with a vengeance to really shake things up. The lyrics tell the story of a child who grows her very own apple tree, and then delights in the sheer magnificence of the result. "Everyday is a Dance", is another fine song, rich in rhythm and pop sensibility. There truly is plenty to dance to here, as we are informed that 'everyday is a great day.'  Like all innovative songwriters, many of the songs are like short stories, dragged from the past, and then tossed into a sea of melody swimming in nostalgia.

The album then embarks on a magical journey through the seasons, inviting the listener on board to negotiate a full sensory overload of images along the way. The "Spring Song" highlights the innocent joy of a spring day, when 'there's nothing to do but sing'. "Summertime and Sunshine", reminds us of the numerous options summer provides, whether that is finding 'time for a swim right now,' or simply getting out on your 'boogie board.' "Kids in Autumn" is more circumspect, temporarily shutting the world out, and reminding us of all the comforts of home when the day is done. "Winter Snow" focuses on the true splendour of a winter's day, 'where winter life is but a dream', and 'such a pretty scene'.

This musical journey unravels like a stream of consciousness, where distant memories are resurrected, and return as an experience very much in the present. This is all captured through a series of moments, which come together in one singular theme. The lyrics harness an almost Joycean ability to express informal dialogue, as in the song "Dear Umbrella", where the artist embarks on an imaginary conversation with her umbrella as naturally as one would speak to an old friend. The song is then delivered with a wistful vocal, which floats around the guitar chords like a seagull in the breeze. 

The album also provides opportunities to fully embrace nature, whether we are "Walking Through The Seasons", or watching "The Acorns Roll", The salient message here is one of gratitude for things we may have taken for granted. Such sentiments are expressed either through detailed reflections of the past, or through childhood memories expressed in the present, as in "Winter Snow", where Claudia affectionately describes how 'winter snow got me all aglow.' There is also no shortage of elaborate imagery on the album either, with her "Treehouse" compared to 'a mountain top, a dragon's den, or a castle ten feet tall'.

Many of the songs celebrate the sheer beauty of nature and its omnipotent presence. Whether this is represented by the transitory essence of "Clouds"or the mystical sound of leaves, nature always seems to leave its mark. The songs actively encourage us to fully engage with the elements, through listening to the rustle of the leaves, or by embracing the awesome power of the wind, which is essentially 'everywhere'.  The lofty ambition of the lyrics further inspire the music, which is delivered with some expertise; sparse at times, and more complex where necessary. In doing so, the music occasionally captures the spirit of Enya, or Steeleye Span, where less is more, and imagination rules the day. 

"Listen to the Leaves" has a cool relaxed vibe, and describes the exotic sounds made by the leaves during a typical family outing. The song features the very talented Lucy Hiku from Itty Bitty Beats, who co-wrote the song, and delivers an astonishing vocal performance, courtesy of her expertise in Te Reo Maori pronunciation. Next up "Heart Beats" digs even deeper, declaring the 'movement of our every breath', and the blood that 'runs in our veins', as a representation of the music which exists 'in all of us'.  In this sense, music emanates from our own intrinsic response to nature, through the 'choreography in our veins', or the 'million words inside us that need to be free'.

At times the sentiment is more instructive as in "Kind Words", where we are informed that 'sweet words will warm our hearts', unlike 'cruel words' which 'send shivers'. This song gives the listener time to pause and reflect, reminding us that we all have a moral responsibility to be kind to each other. Here a gentle keyboard and a sparse bass provide the required space for the intricate guitar work to really shine. Alternatively, "Happy Place," offers more of a feel-good approach, with a sprightly tune bouncing along in quiet contentment, fondly remembering our 'beach of dreams' under 'our sky of blue'. 

Although the album presents itself in the traditional acoustic singer-songwriter style, the music is at times eclectic and difficult to define. From the acapella delivery of "Kids In Autumn", to the more lively and uplifting "Hello Neighbourhood", there is plenty of light and shade on display. The music always appears to be on the move, continually searching for a new and more inspired route to fully complement each song.  The arrangements are forever restless, ever in search of a new harmony, a string section to add more texture, or an imaginative bass line for additional impact. 

Of all the songs on the album, my personal favourite is the truly endearing "I Love the Rain," a heart rending song of outstanding beauty. Here poetry meets melody head on, and is delivered with a deep visceral connection of real substance. As Bob Marley once famously remarked, 'some people feel the rain, 'others just get wet'. Few songs could express the validity of this statement with more accuracy. Not only does the artist feel the rain, she describes it with such veracity, it makes me almost miss British weather.

Continuing on this theme, "The Weather Report", reflects on the type of weather we have no doubt all experienced,  and does so with a gentleness of touch, and a lightness of delivery that is both inspired and informative . The lyrics are superb throughout, with the kind of flair and attention to detail that would charm perhaps even Thomas Hardy.  There is an almost mystical tone throughout the song, where once again, poetic verse combines with potent melody to leaving the listener somewhat dazed and confused but never bored.

"Save The Daisies" has similar appeal, with a gentle acoustic guitar, immersed in a sea of harmony adding sweet resonance to the lyrics. Such detailed descriptions are a major strength on this album, where the artist manages to capture memories from the past so vividly that it leaves the listener spinning in a sea of nostalgia. "Camping Holiday" continues this approach, with candid negotiations between parent and child revealing opportunities for adventure that arise when there is 'no school no kindy tomorrow'. Perhaps somewhat ironic in the age of Covid.

"The Skybirds", finally make their belated arrival, landing 'on the letterboxes like mail from far away places'.  The song exudes warmth and charm, and is delivered with a real sense of reverence. The song benefits from a hypnotic melody during the verse, and a tasteful combination of musical instrumentation in the chorus. It is the clarity of the lead vocal however, that is the real stand out, complemented superbly by a sublime guitar break which reminded me a little of Hank Marvin.

"Grandfather Tree" finally brings the curtain down, arriving in almost sinister fashion with a stirring string section of some intensity. The measured introduction provides brief respite for the listener to reminisce on a musical journey that may have come full circle.  Has the seed planted in the first song now grown old, and kept a watchful eye 'over so many years in the making'? The artist gives nothing away, but gradually exits the song, conversing with the tree, as if asking a relative for advice, before finally crying out in quiet desperation to 'shelter me'. The haunting conclusion to the song, suggests a child pleading to the tree for protection, the sheer intensity of which, reminded me of Kate Bush during her "Hounds of Love" phase.

This is a truly superb album; it is ambitious, compelling and brilliantly executed. The music is haunting and tantalising in turn, and effortlessly stimulates the senses throughout. From the funky laid-back opening track "Apple Tree", to the didactic and somewhat wistful "Kind Words," the album ultimately delivers on its promise of joy, optimism and kindness. It remains a family-friendly album despite its musical depth, and succeeds in transporting the listener to a more innocent age, when days were long, and filled with hope. Claudia Robin Gunn is a truly gifted artist, with an originality of sound and a clarity of purpose second to none. 

Claudia Robin Gunn - the circle of life.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Single Review: Mask It Up - Twinkle Time

Twinkle, also known as Alitzah Wiener, is an award winning Peruvian-American musician based in Los Angeles, California. "Mask It Up", is her latest single and it is an absolute classic. The song highlights the importance of wearing a mask, and does so in a light and original way. The music is incredibly catchy, and succeeds because it is highly melodic and easy to dance to. It also provides a unifying message, and does so with flair, zest and imagination.

The song comes straight out of the blocks, giving the listener hardly a moment to pause for breath, with music that is infectious and intoxicating, incorporating elements of both EDM and hip-hop. The vocal delivery is equally effective, with the artist spelling out the urgent need to 'protect my family and friends', and essentially 'do whatever it takes' to stay safe.  'Respect' is clearly 'what you get' from wearing a mask, which is presented here as being stylish, sensible and cool.  

The arrangement is excellent, with a hypnotic beat sparring with a subtle bass, providing additional warmth and flair to the track. The simplicity of the rhythm provides the required space for the guitar to float in and out, with a sound reminiscent of Carlos Alomar. I have no idea of Twinkle's influences, but if I was to take a punt, I'd say that Chic, Deee-Lite and Aretha Franklin may have been an inspiration at some stage.  

She has also put together a superb video, featuring Twinkle and friends honing their moves on the dance floor; all with masks firmly in place. It really is great fun, and the co-ordinated execution of the dance steps make Twinkle come across like a new age Madonna for kids. It's also impressive how she has managed to make a somewhat serious subject so engaging. This is a message that really needs to be heard, and the vitality of the presentation will no doubt ensure that it is.

This girl really has it all, she can sing, dance, and literally oozes charisma. She has clearly transcended the genre, with music that would be as equally suitable on the dance floor as it would be in the classroom. She has also managed to make a serious subject hugely entertaining, encouraging kids to "Mask It Up" through choice, and not coercion. In doing so, she has combined an infectious melody with a vital message of unification and hope. 

Twinkle Time - bringing cool back!