Category Archives: song reviews

The song that makes you think

Two CD’s have been rocking the coveted car CD slot are WIRED by Recess Monkey (upcoming review, releases June 17) and the upcoming release from Secret Agent 23 Skidoo The Perfect Quirk.

skidoo-photo6-lgThe CD is very popular with my kids especially the songs Pillow Fort Pillow Fight (my daughter) and PJ’s All Day (my son).  But for me the song that really makes it is Imaginary Friend.  What a great song! Lyrically and musically. The idea that the imaginary friend thinks the kid is imaginary is pure genius.  That the two characters come to an agreement that neither is a “co-star” but both get equal billing in the friendship. Musically this is filled with horns, violins and a funky haunted house vibe.  Rapping between the kid and the imaginary friend is a lot of fun which I have come to expect from Mr. Skidoo. Fun.  This is one of the smartest songs I have heard in a long time and I suggest you go and get a copy when it comes out.  I shall be sending a request over to the Skidoo camp to get an interview for my Song and the Process series cause it is really a genius song.  The Perfect Quirk will be available  June 24th.  Go check it out and support a kindie artist today.

perfect quirk

 

The music reviewed was provided free to this blogger but the opinions expressed are his own.

 

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The Song and The Process. Looking for Trains by Justin Roberts.

JRwillyThe idea came from a father on the road with a band sending home photos and videos to his train obsessed son.  It was a way to stay in touch even when he couldn’t be with the family.  Bands tend to travel and good bands travel a lot.  Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players are one of the best (Two Grammy nominations.)  They travel quite a bit.  It started with the melody and the words “Seems like you’re always looking for trains.”  So began Looking for Trains by Justin Roberts off of his recently Grammy nominated CD Recess.  The father in the band is drummer Gerald Dowd (drummer, father and good guy extraordinaire) who was doing what dads do.  If the kids wants to see trains you send that kid pictures, books, videos and whatever else you find train related.  With a melody and opening lyric Justin then further djr recesseveloped the song on his guitar which is not how he usually works these days.  Nowadays he likes to develop songs on Logic.  This is an Apple program that allows him to add all sorts of instrumentation.  Strings, horns, guitars, etc.  So when he heads into the studio he already has a direction and feel for a song.  But this time he grabs his guitar and starts working it out old school (I’m a big fan of old school.) Lyrically he comes up with every rhyming verse he can think of that makes references to trains.  Then he inserts the lyrics to mimic the train rhythm he has set up in the instrumentation.  When it comes to the bridge he envisions it as getting bigger.  This is where his co-conspirator/producer and fellow band member Liam Davis stepped in, stripped it down (just piano and violin) holding the listener right when the point of the song is being made.  The best thing about this song is that it’s about more than trains which I suspected and Justin confirmed.  It’s about life. About hope.  How we are all looking for our trains “even though all we can see right now are the cars.”

Maybe it’s caught up in tunnels in the middle of a mountain so wide.  Maybe it’s stuck over bridges trying to get to the other side. Either way it’ll be here any day I can see it now it’s coming through…”

I asked if Mr. Roberts writes the music or words first and he said said both.  That he writes the words and the melody at the same time.  He is also not a constant writer or an inspirational writer but rather a “writes when he has too” writer.  Which is impressive.  Knowing you have a deadline puts added pressure on the Justin Robertswhole process.  This works good for some but poorly for others.  He also made a simple statement when asked why he writes kids songs that I find resoundingly true. That he “just writes songs.” Rather good songs if you ask me.  These days Justin has a new picture book coming out called The Smallest Girl in The Smallest Grade (Putnam Books), is writing a musical, got elected to the Chicago Chapter Board of The Recording Academy and will be touring with the band.  Do yourself a favor.  Whether you have kids or not go and give Recess a listen and you tell me if it’s not a power pop masterpiece (It is).  Good music knows no age is our motto and Justin Roberts and his band mates put out some of the best music around for kids, families, aliens, dockworkers and whoever else is listening. Listen to the track (pun intended) below and  go support your local kindie artist today.

Looking for Trains

Songs you should Check Out!

Here at A man, A band and A plan… sort of We have been catching up on all of our listening and a few songs have really set themselves apart.  I share those tunes with you now.

The Sun is UpMaking silly faces by In the Nick of Time.  Very classic hard rocking fun evoking the sounds of BTO (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) is a raucous fun wake up song with a lot of cool classic guitar.  Power Chords, a cool guitar solo and one hyper energetic morning child make this song universally fun for the whole clan. Check it and the rest of the songs on Making Silly Faces.  See a TV performance of the song below!

Come on, Come onmr singer atsc, Come on! by Mr. Singer and the Sharp Cookies.  High energy rocking music is the theme of this blog post so far and Mr. Singer brings it!  What I really love about this song is the the lyrically bouncing rhythm on the aptly named Bouncing Ball of Energy. It also has a great grooving baritone sax powering the way.  This one will be on a bunch of our playlists! Make sure it’s on yours as well!

I Must Be a Genius dog on fleas bogofby Dog on Fleas.  While this song is a bit more relaxed then the previous two it’s brimming full of happiness. Lyrically smart and emotionally catchy with the trombone played with some sublime joy this is truly one of my favorite love songs ever written.  Dean Jones (mentioned in this blog a few times)  does so much great work for so many other artists it’s nice to see him and his bandmates put out such a great tune.   The song is available on Buy One Get One Flea.  Go buy this CD today and check out the video below.

The Song and the Process. Grandma Said by Story Laurie

Story LaurieThe journey in which Story Laurie (2013 Best Children’s Performer, Hudson Valley Magazine) became Story Laurie is a tale unto itself. There shall be a slight reveal here because of it’s connection to one of my favorite songs Grandma Said but it is definitely a yarn spinner for another time… What caught me about this song was the deep rich vocals of Lauri McIntosh and the depth and simplicity of the uke led three piece band (ukulele, bass, drums) backing her up. The song itself is a sweet conversation between the Grandma and a child who is asking many questions and grandma doesn’t have the answers but really admires the questions.  The lyrics came from “Grandma” Avis who was a legendary storyteller in Woodstock, NY.  Avis was a mentor, friend and family to Laurie (and many others) who helped guide her in her storytelling craft and endeavors. After Avis passed away too soon from cancer.  While Laurie was dealing with her grief she took the funeral bookmark which instead of a proverb or scripture passage had a poem written by GrandmaCD-Story-Laurie Avis called… Grandma Said.  She then put those words to music and added just a chorus keeping the poem almost entirely intact.  The song is simple, sweet and sentimental without the sapp (I’m not even gonna mention it was recorded with Dean Jones.) Anyone who ever listened to a child ask questions knows the feeling.  This is a departure from her usual songwriting technique.  Usually Laurie goes for walks (another theme here visit Dan Zanes article), finds a melody and the comes home to record it on whatever is available.  iPods, answering machines, tape recorders,  etc.  I asked why she didn’t use her phone and she says it’s a simple machine lacking such features. She just recently put out a new song and  has a bunch more to record.  That is when she’s not homeschooling the kids, storytelling, gardening, teaching song workshops, singing about organic foods and of course being Story Laurie.  One of her recent teaching collaborations turned into the song Who Grew My Soup which is worth a listen as well.  So give Laurie’s webpage a look and while you’re there buy the CD. Go support your local kindie artist today!

In case of songwriting emergency

I just discovered this brilliant emergency hotline due to a posting by Stefan over at Zooglobble on Monday.  Robbie Fulks is a really talented singer/songwriter based here in Chicago and usually plays Mondays at the Hideout for a mere 10 smackaroos (one of the best deals in the city!)  As I like to write here about how songs come to be  it seems he has discovered where to go when the process bogs down via the Fountains of Wayne Hotline.  The “where to go” when you get stuck in a song.  Have a listen and look for some “expert advice”.

We’ll be catching up with one of my favorites Brady Rymer this week on The Song and the Process.

The Song and the Process. Along for the Ride by the Okee Dokee Brothers

okeedokeebrothersotsA couple of years ago a couple of kindie artists I know went and put out one of the finest folk Albums I have heard in a long time. Fooled everyone in to thinking it was a “Children’s” album and then went on to win a Grammy for Best Children’s Album in 2012.   On an album full of great songs (Thousand Star Hotel being my personal favorite) Along for the Ride truly stands out on the CD Can You Canoe?  It totally embodies our philosophy that good music knows no age and is one of the finest songs I know of lyrically and musically.  Back in 2011 Joe and Justin went on a trip down the Mississippi to write songs for an album and shoot a DVD.  What I and many people don’t know is that they had CYC_cover_wGrammymost of the songs written before they even left.  Seems the Okee Dokee Brothers are big fans of preparation.  In fact when they are getting ready to record an album they like to have 30-40 songs ready before they even start recording.  Both Justin and Joe each commit to writing 3 pages a day in their song journals when preparing to record an album.  That’s a lot of writing!  In doing this they try to “eliminate the cliché and look for the original.” This also takes off the pressure of them having to come up with ideas while on the trip and instead allowed them solidify the songs they already had and then come up with a new song or two.   Joe said the trip down the river “really solidified the imagery” in their songs.  Especially the case in Along for the Ride when you’re talking about Huck (Finn), Tom (Sawyer) and Becky (Thatcher).  The song itself started out in the Spring of 2010 in Minnesota and didn’t get finished till Winter 2011 in New York.  The journey of the songwriting sort of parallels the journey of the song.   Originally it started it with a completely different music but it didn’t work. Joe (this songs primary songwriter) liked the imagery of Odysseus and Peter Pan and some of the lyrics and the idea of traveling.  He was also on a personal journey at the time reflected by the words in the song. The theme of the first version Okee-Dokee-Brothers-On-the-Riverstarted out much more one sided and apologetic.  But the idea of relationships is about being an “active participant” as Joe said. The idea you gotta meet each other half way and not just “Come along for the ride.”  So the dynamic of the song changed as did the music.  He then bounces this stuff off of Justin as they always do.  Working verses, rewriting, finding the heart of the song though collaboration.  Once in a while they’ll bring in a finished song but usually it’s through the partnership the song finds a home.  Joe talked about writing 100 songs to find the two worthy of recording. To work in your craft with the idea of finding excellence in a song.  When they finished the trip and validated the imagery on the songs they brought it to record at No Parking Studio with who else but…Dean Jones (I’m thinking there’s a future interview there).  Dean offers them two directions.  Go real simple, stripped down acoustic and bare bones.  Looking for a buttery sound, minimal but full of sentiment or… Go with the full rock production (different than rock sound) meaning drums, piano, organ, etc.  make it BIG which is the direction they chose.  They also do a cool trick of playing the verses at one speed and then slow up the chorus parts.  This causes the ear to focus even if the listener is not aware making the chorus feel more laid back.  Knowing they wanted a female voice on the chorus they ask their friend Rachel Loshak who’s a terrific singer (Joe has a great story about recording with her) and she really helps bring out chorus as well.  They get Jeremy Mage on Piano and he does a terrific job of laying the foundation for the song.  I really love how the song starts acoustically small and the sound grows bigger as the song grows, finishing with the full band after starting with a simple acoustic guitar. Dean (Jones) said the key was to be fill the song without it becoming cheesy.  That it be simple but full.  To have great music behind the lyrics and not over shine them. I’d say they succeeded. It’s really a timeless classic of a song which reaches out to listeners of any age.  They have the emails to prove it. no parking studioFrom Grandparents to 6 and 7 year olds singing along at it’s a magical song that really reaches into the heart of the listener.  Don’t take my word for it.  Go have a listen for yourself and let your ears go Along for the Ride.  Be sure to catch them live at the Old town School of Folk Music this Sunday, February 9th at 11am.  They promise to play the song as well!  They also have a new CD and DVD set to be released later this year.  What more could you ask for! Go support a kindie artist today!

Listen to Along for the Ride here on Spotify and then go buy the CD on their website or the single on iTunes so they can keep on making great records!

Hertiage Littles and next weeks guest

heritage-littles-main-interiorThis afternoon the band had the oppurtunity to play a gig at the Milk and Cookies bar called Heritage Littles located at 2868 N Lincoln Ave in Chicago.  To be honest I had no idea how this gig was going to go.  We went in as a power trio with Frank on Drums, Don on Bass and this guy playing acoustic guitar and singing.  Having never played the venue I had no expectations but knew that if we had 5 or 50 we give 100% at every show we play.  Well we had a super duper large crowd and many active dancers not to mention a few future roadies.  It was a really great show and we had a great time.  Hopefully Miss Jaime (fellow kindie artist and venue organizer) invites us back to play the Milk and Cookies series again cause it was a really great time. Thanks so much for having us.

Okee Dokees at Grammy Show

Okee Dokees at Grammy Show

Next weeks songwriter guest is none other than half of the Grammy award winning duo Okee Dokee Brothers  Joe Mailander.  Not only did I get to talk about one of my favorite songs off of one of my all time favorite CD’s Can You Canoe?  They’ll be in town for a show on Sunday, February 9th at the Old Town School of Folk Music!  They are truly two of the best songwriters and performers you’ll get a chance to see.  So order your tickets and remember to tune in back here as we discuss one of my favorite songs for The Song and the Process.  Here is one of my favorite moments on their last DVD about writing a song.