Sunday, 26 June 2022

Album Review: The Little Rockers Band - Getting to the Gig.

The Little Rockers Band are a duo from New Jersey, USA, and their most recent album Getting to the Gig provides a much needed tonic for the troops. This album is seemingly dedicated to all the kids out there, who may have missed out recently as a result of the pandemic. It's superbly put together, and is essentially a concept album, which focuses on travel and movement, with a particular emphasis on children's fascination with travel generally. The songs on display here, entice the children to both have fun and use their imaginations on this magical journey of wonder and intrigue. 

The album begins its intrepid journey with the opening track "Travelling Rock", a flirtation with twelve bar blues which you are sure to love if if you are an Elvis fan. Shades of "Jail House Rock" come to mind, but this time around the lyrics anticipates all the excitement that lies ahead 'all the way across the country'. The song also features some superb harmonies which add both melody and texture to the track. The song also includes a mesmerising guitar break, followed by some intricate piano playing, that is sure to have everybody's feet tapping.

"Anywhere" features a Hammond organ, and a rhythm pattern slightly reminiscent of the Kinks "See My Friends". The song is quite rich in texture and provides a running narrative of this particular magical mystery tour.  In this world, it doesn't really matter where we are going, or when we get there, we just kick back and enjoy the trip. Here we are 'riding round without a care', all is well with the world because I have 'you by my side', and 'you can take me anywhere'. Great stuff!

"Riding on My Bike" is slightly funkier, featuring a clean guitar sound sparring with a quite sophisticated drum pattern and an almost reggae inspired bass. The lyrics are tight and compressed, creating the necessary tension for the chorus to really explode. Again, the song reflects on the simple pleasure of enjoying a bicycle ride as we take in a bit of sightseeing and 'make friends with the clouds up here'. Being an avid cyclist myself, I can really relate to this song, with its cool, laid-back delivery.

"Super Kid" also incorporates a funkier approach, with the Hammond organ once again taking centre stage. The bass and drums create a sublime groove with effortless expertise. I also love the reciprocal vocal, which blends together with noticeable clarity throughout. Again a clean guitar with a hint of delay provides a superb introduction for the bridge to fully materialise. Now I'm only guessing here because I don't have the sleeve notes, but are the lyrics here referring to the quiet achievers who don't always get noticed, but make a huge difference? I'll leave that for you to decide.

"Looking Out My Back Door" provides a wonderful rendition of the famous Creedence song, beginning with a guitar sound that could have been lifted from David Bowie's "Let's Dance". This is an excellent rendition of a classic song, by one of my favourite US bands. You are sure to love this, the musicianship is exquisite, as are the vocals, which blend together perfectly.

"Smoothie Shake" provides a surprising musical departure, featuring a drum machine, which could sit quite comfortably on an OMD or Human League album. Despite this seemingly eighties vibe, the lyrical imagery is steeped in fifties nostalgia, as we 'do the smoothie shake'; a dance which turns out to be suitable 'for both young and old'. The lyrics really hit the mark, and you could almost imagine Fonzie grooving along to this song with the rest of the gang on the set of Happy Days.

"I Wanna Have Some Fun" is a real foot stomper, and in true eighties fashion, sounds like Robert Smith has been drafted in to write the backing track. The bass and drums really drive the song along with exquisite power and minimalism. The message is clear and to the point 'I wanna have some fun', don't we all?  This is a truly uplifting song, that attempts to move and groove in time with the heartbeat of the universe.

"Shooting Star" is slightly heavier, incorporating a more distorted guitar, along with a hypnotic keyboard. The arrangement on the verse creates the type of tension and release that allows the chorus to really soar. The message here is clear, get out there and try and reach your potential, because you too can be a 'shooting star'. The song also features a truly fabulous solo on the bridge, adding additional vitality to the track. The music finally draws to a close with some delightful piano, serenading a somewhat sweet and yet powerful vocal.

I guess you can't have a song about a road trip without mentioning "Traffic Lights;" a song which describes the regimental directions emanating from traffic lights, which we are sure to encounter on our way. The lights are then cleverly utilised to dictate the movement of the song, resulting in the lyrics inspiring the musical arrangement. There are also some interesting musical hooks dispersed throughout, with some tasteful guitar playing adding a certain ambience to the overall sound.

"The Wheels on the Tour Bus" actually plays homage to the famous nursery rhyme, although this particular rendition features a bass line which reminded me a little of T. Rex's "Hot Love". The song is incredibly catchy, and a great way to finish off the album, with a lively rendition of a famous children's song, executed with a quite detached and yet whimsical delivery. 

This duo have created a soundtrack to a wonderful uplifting journey, where children are entertained and inspired in turn. Although the album appears to be firmly entrenched in fifties nostalgia, it also references musical influences from other decades and does so seamlessly. The harmonies are superb and the musicianship is thought-provoking and tasteful throughout. All in all a magical journey of melodic delight, which is sure to have wide appeal.

The Little Rockers Band - the golden age of rock 'n' roll.

Monday, 6 June 2022

Flash Single Review: Tom Weber - I Need a New Song

I met Tom Weber on Instagram during the early days of the Pandemic. We've never actually met face to face, or even spoken on the phone, but due to the wonders of modern technology we've been able to keep in touch bonding over a mutual appreciation of some of our favourite bands. Including the Psychedelic Furs and New Order, a band who I was lucky enough to play support to back in the day.

Having become more familiar with his work of late, I've realised he must qualify as one of the hardest working children's musicians around. His most recent single "I Need a New Song" is great; it immediately grabs your attention with the kind of hook that really makes you sit up and take notice. 

The song has a nice relaxed groove, with bongos carrying the momentum, alongside an imaginative bass, and some subtle guitar underpinning the groove. The keyboard floats around in melodic sympathy to the lead vocal, and the lyrics cleverly describe what the artist hopes to achieve by creating this elusive song.  He does this by emphasising how this isn't 'any kind of song', but a song which is going to make me 'sing along', and 'move my feet'. I'm sure we would all agree with that.

Towards the end the music gradually slows down, as the artist quietly reflects on his search for a melody to 'sooth my soul'. The music almost floats into jazz territory here, as the individual parts gradually dissipate into the ether. The trumpet which had previously boldly declared the instrumental hook, now moves around almost forlornly amongst the ashes of the dying song, searching for a place to rest. Well, I'm not sure if that's what the artist intended, but that's what it sounds like to me. A melancholy drift into the unknown.

All in all an inspired idea, and a great song with a hook to die for. Tom Weber clearly knows how to craft music that has real singalong appeal. A man with an ear for a great melody, who has come up with a fantastic song that I for one, would love to cover myself.

Tom Weber - lost and found.

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Flash Single Review: Claudia Robin Gunn - Baby Blue Whale

I absolutely love this; the latest piece of pop perfection supplied courtesy of the very talented and highly prolific Claudia Robin Gunn. I'm referring to her recent single "Baby Blue Whale" a gentle and thought-provoking song which ebbs and flows like the waves of the ocean. There's more to this song than meets the ear, as it represents just a small piece of a much bigger picture on display here, but more on that later.

The song opens with a highly melodic acoustic guitar which set the scene for the arrival of the vocals which begin interestingly on the chorus. The song features a sparse rhythm section with the drums pulsating like a heartbeat, and the bass exploring the space in-between. 

The lyrics are simple and descriptive, and the vocal scan leaves enough space for the guitar to create the type of atmospheric soundscapes often heard on Brian Eno albums. This whaling adventure is clearly a family affair with a brief mention of 'Mama Blue Whale', before the song disappears into that good night with a feast of swirling guitars left in its wake.

The song is taken from the forthcoming album - Sing For the Sea - Little Wild Ocean Friends, which includes some of her finest work to date. Featuring twenty four original songs which celebrate our breathtaking oceans and the variety of creatures that call it home. Created with funding from Creative New Zealand, this is the first of a two phase project which focuses on wildlife conservation and awareness. Soon to be followed by Sing for the Earth - Little Wild Animals.

Claudia Robin Gunn is an artist that cares, a true poet and tunesmith who captures the imagination and stirs the senses with her work. She has an ability to create musical soundscapes that resonate deeply with her audience. She is an artist on a mission, who utilises her art, in order to both raise awareness and entertain, providing a deep emotional connection with her ever-increasing fan base. 

Claudia Robin Gunn - an artist on a mission.

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Flash Video Review: Blackberry Jam and Jack Hartmann - Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

If you're looking for an inspirational new video for kids, then look no further than Teamwork Makes the Dream Work, a recent collaboration between Anthony Haughton from Blackberry Jam and Jack Hartmann. These two fabulous artists recently got together and came up with this priceless piece of uplifting pop. The song is incredibly catchy, superbly produced and features inspirational lyrics which amongst other things 'show kindness and give love'.

The video transports the viewers off to their very own fantasy island, where the calypso inspired music is performed surrounded by palm trees, sun sea and sand. The video also features everyday footage cleverly inserted into the frame, where the lyrics match the film in a perfect fit.

The two vocals blend together superbly, as does the instrumentation, with a solid bass, supporting a penetrating keyboard and a minimalist guitar. It's almost impossible not to feel good after watching this  video which conjures up images of love, peace and kindness, performed with a vibrant purity of intent.

Both artists are currently taking the world by storm, with their prolific songwriting, inspired videos and relentless work ethic. I suggest you check out their back catalogue at your earliest opportunity, where you will find an absolute treasure trove of inspiring and educational songs for children. I'm not sure who's idea it was to get together, but I'm glad they did, because I've had this song humming round my head all week.

Blackberry Jam and Jack Hartmann - the dream team.

Flash Single Review: Captain Festus McBoyle - Breathe

Captain Festus McBoyle and his motley crew are a comedy trio from New Zealand, and their recent single "Breathe" is as catchy a tune as you are ever likely to hear. The song is great fun, has a lively upbeat delivery, and tackles the complex issue of how to deal with adversity when it arrives, which is hinted at in the song title "Breathe".

The music features a ukulele driving the rhythm, alongside a lively accordion providing the additional melodic flavour in true Celtic fashion. The lyrics describe a random series of misfortunes which may occur at any time, including bumped heads, sore toes and flat tyres. The solution is to 'take one deep breath' and then everything will be 'all right'.

The song also explores how although we're all different this simple truth of taking one deep breath applies to each and every one of us. In this world the clouds that appear in your day can be overcome 'like a dance in the rain'. There is a lot going on here, so be sure to give this song a spin, it's sure to brighten up the darkest day.

From what I can gather, they are a pretty phenomenal live act too, with their own particular brand of Vaudevillian musical comedy lighting up concerts and festivals across the country. The trio have been described as a cross between Monty Python and Spike Milligan and their award-winning music continues to reach an ever growing audience.  With songs as didactic and inspirational as this, I'm sure their reputation will continue to grow.

Captain Festus McBoyle - piercing the darkness.

Friday, 3 June 2022

Album Review: The Zing Zangs - The Good Day

The Zing Zangs are a folk duo from Vancouver, Canada, who have already made their mark on the world despite only recently bursting on to the scene. Their new album The Good Day is quite superb, featuring eleven delightful tunes, expertly produced by award-winning producer Dean Jones. The album in true "Virginia Woolf" fashion, recites the story of a single day in the life of two good friends.

The opening track "Prelude" sets the scene, with the sound of birds taking centre stage alongside some lively percussion. The music although only thirty nine seconds long, captures the essence of a brand new day and a genuine sense of wonder about what lies ahead. 

The next track immediately provides the answer, where a 'sleepy Sunday cooked up inside' eventuates in the idea to form a band. Here, fingers are no longer wasted tapping on the table top, but are used to locate the required instruments that 'could use a helping hand'. A major strength of the song is its coherent melody, combined with a simplicity of delivery both sweet and charming in turn.

"Chatterbox" is even more upbeat, with its sprightly melody, and garrulous lyrics crammed into an increasingly bizarre arrangement. Here a reciprocal vocal dominates the chorus, before the song disappears as quickly as it arrives. 

"Good Day" provides another example of the strength of songwriting on display here. The syncopation of the lyrics, and the space created allows the melody to really soar, and the heartfelt vocal delivery finishes the job in fine style. 

"Invisible Friend" describes the fascinating relationship the artist shares with her imaginary friend; the vocals of which reminded me a little of one of my favourite Irish bands the Cranberries. The music is pulsating and succinct, before it embarks on an intriguing bridge where the melody really explodes before coming to an abrupt end. I would have liked to have heard more but there you go.

"Hide and Seek" is a no-nonsense piece of electronica, which clearly benefits from the input of the very talented Mista Cookie Jar, who brings his own unique brand of rap to the proceedings. This song is so cool, a real foot stomper if there ever was one, and essentially provides a musical illustration of the famous game we can all relate to. 

What can I say about "Park Song", I was literally blown away by this. It proceeds with a melody that even Dylan would be proud of. The ability of these two artists to effortlessly bash out a brilliant tune is very impressive. The lyrics even find the space to describe the song writing process that takes place where 'the melody just kicks in every time'. Certainly a novel idea, and essentially a song which describes the importance of friendship, with just a hint of melancholy. 

"Shadows Dance" features a sparse guitar, some minimal keyboards and the most beautiful vocal you are ever likely to hear. The lyrics are sweet and heartfelt, and the melody complements the lyrics superbly. Like all great wordsmiths the words soar and swirl around an intoxicating melody that clearly hits the target. It is the effortless delivery though that really sets the tone, with the artist expressing a purity of spirit that reminded me a little of Enya.

As the album draws to a close, we finally find ourselves 'On the Front Porch" where the crickets are out, as we reach the end of this majestic day. The music has a light jazzy feel, as the lyrics describe the simple desire to kick back together 'while the nightbirds sing'.  If you are fond of imaginative lyrics then this is the song for you, with a dazzling array of images on display. The music also captures an old-fashioned sense of wonder, with a soundtrack that could fit on a Louis Armstrong album.

The final track "Soup" reminded me a little of "Her Majesty" by the Beatles with its punchy succinct statement squeezed in right at the end. On this occasion "Soup" appears on the menu asking the question 'do you drink soup or do you eat it'? A charming little ditty, perhaps gently reminding the listener that as the night draws in, we may be hungry and just have enough time for a light meal before bed time. The obvious thing to do at this point, would be to write a bed time song, but here the duo have cleverly drawn the curtain on proceedings with a gentle prod in a different direction. 

The Zing Zangs are a very talented duo, who are able to craft songs with intoxicating melodies and memorable lyrics. Their album provides a breath of fresh air in a complex world, where life is viewed here as exciting and opportunistic, despite the perils that may surround. All in all a delightful album, which blends a cerebral sound, with sublime vocals which successfully reflects the optimism on display.

The Zing Zangs - I'll be there for you when the rain starts to fall.

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Album Review: Itty Bitty Beats - Imaginarium

Itty Bitty Beats are back (as if they had ever been away) with their brand new album Imaginariumfeaturing ten fabulous new songs guaranteed to have everyone up and grooving. This is their fourth album to date, and features a delightful brand of melodic ditties which will no doubt charm and inspire in turn. The world also seems to be finally waking up to this dynamic duo, who have been really smashing it on Spotify recently with over eighty thousand monthly listeners to date. 

"Marpo The Hippopotamus" kicks off the proceedings in fine style, with this somewhat classical sounding description of the aforementioned hippo 'with no voice'. The music sounds almost vaudeville at times with its dramatic musical soundscapes, matched with a vocal that pays homage to Liza Minelli in her Cabaret era. The song finishes on a positive note, with our friendly hippo eventually finding her voice and receiving a 'standing ovation'.

We are then all invited to a "Party on the Moon", which has a more contemporary sound, and ventures into Tao Cruz territory. In essence the lyrics describe a birthday party which takes place seemingly on the moon. With an album title such as "Imaginarium" clearly anything is possible here. The vocals are delivered with serious conviction assisted by the melodic component which serves to further brighten up the sound.

"Rocktopus" describes an octopus who is in fact also a 'drummer in a rock band'. Here the music utilises a guitar sound which would sit comfortably on an AC/DC album. The drums and bass provide a solid backdrop culminating in a mini drum solo. We are then treated to a mesmerising guitar solo before the song comes to an abrupt end like a car crashing into a brick wall. Not the sort of song you would expect from this duo, but a welcome surprise, and all you heavy metal fans out there are sure to love it.

"Tutti Frutti Island" takes us into calypso territory with a clever reciprocal vocal, which reminded me a little of the Beatles "Twist and Shout". The song has great energy, and features a variety of instrumentation which blends together superbly in this hypnotic feast of sound. The bridge sounds like it's being narrated by a game show host, who invites us all onto the "Tutti Frutti" dance floor, to participate in a variety of dance steps.

"Sock Mess Monster" boasts one of the best song titles I've heard in a while, and has a lovely Celtic feel, which unfolds like an Irish jig. "The Sock Mess Monster" is in fact the 'Irish cousin of the Loch Ness monster', providing a humorous exploration into Scottish folklore. The music is joyful and uplifting, interspersed with a spoken voice. This lyrical technique creates the necessary dialogue for the lead vocal to dictate the pace of the music. An interesting idea, a great arrangement, and without doubt my favourite track on the album.

"Ride on a Cloud" features what sounds like a banjo and a trumpet competing for space. The melody is sublime reaching a crescendo on the chorus where the artist floats 'gently up' and then 'sales through the sky', on this imaginary journey. There is clearly a sixties music influence here, with an overall approach that sounds like a bizarre cross between "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Streets of London".

"Mermaids" will surely have huge appeal, with its easy listening vibe and superb harmonies which keenly inform us that 'we are mermaids and we love to play and swing'.  The song has a lovely country feel, featuring what sounds like a pedal steel guitar floating around in the background. There is also a dreamy lyrical display, which conjures up images of imaginary mermaids gliding through the water through 'the oceans blue green waves'.

Of course you can't have an album which stirs the imagination without mentioning unicorns. "Little Unicorn" is literally drowning in melody, and provides a description of the 'littlest unicorn you've ever seen'. This magical tale is accompanied by a sparse guitar and a gentle keyboard, which creates the required atmosphere that the lyrics demand. An absolute gem, and the type of song that children would probably love to hear at bedtime to serenade them to sleep.

"Dragon Tea Party" features some dexterous guitar playing, accompanying the lead vocals which describe the intrepid outcome of inviting 'a dragon to tea'. This tea party takes place 'under the apple tree', and the dragon clearly contributes to the proceedings, managing to warm up the tea pot with a breath of hot air. A fabulous idea for a children's song; brilliantly executed.

"Dream Machine" is essentially a bed time song, but this time the bed becomes a dream machine, which explores the dreamlike state of a child. Whether this is a cowboy adventure, a deep sea dive, or a rocket trip, the lyrics explore the infinite imagination of a child in great detail. Here bed time is no longer a monotonous ritual, but an exciting experience, providing opportunities for exploration and adventure 

Once again "Itty Bitty Beats" have really knocked it out of the park, with an album that does exactly what the title suggests. The band take the listener on a magical journey where we can party on the moon, sneak off to an imaginary island, ride on clouds, pretend to be mermaids, and even invite a dragon to a tea party. There is no shortage of inspiration here, along with some excellent musicianship, stirring melodies and scintillating vocals throughout. I highly recommend it. 

Itty Bitty Beats - imagination on the run.