Sound Bites for July

I don’t know about you, but this summer feels like it’s flying by. It’s been jam packed with swimming, camps, travels, popsicles, and binge-watching Orange Is the New Black.

And the field of family music is just as full this July! So, since I have a lot to introduce you to, let’s just dive right in.

The Jolly Pops is a great little band founded by three musicians/fathers: Ryan Ecklund, Billy Hartong, and Angus Clark. Their newest CD, I Didn’t Do It clearly shows that these are fathers who know what kids like. If your kids favor musicians like The Imagination Movers or Suzi Shelton, they’ll love The Jolly Pops.

Their sound is a wonderful mix of rock and pop with solid vocals, driving guitars and kickin’ drum beats. It’s a sound that adults can identify with, but contain lyrics that showcase the band’s ability to “get” kids.

For instance, fun songs like “Popsicles” and “Chicken Nuggets” will appeal to young ears and appetites. “Alligator Dance” is a bright new-wave song that brings back memories of me dancing to “Safety Dance” in my teens. “I’m Mad” and “Feelings” teaches kids it’s okay to feel a range of emotions. And “Mama’s Not a Monkey Bar” falls in to the camp of things you never thought you’d say as a parent.

With appearances by the lovely Suzi Shelton and others, The Jolly Pops might just be that missing piece to your family’s music collection.

You can find The Jolly Pops I Didn’t Do It on their site and CD Baby.

Somewhere Beautiful by Roses For Panjo is one of those albums that I listen to and can’t get enough of.
From the first few notes, I fell in love with Tanya Leah’s crystal clear and spellbinding voice. Created for her father after he suffered a stroke to help soothe him, Somewhere Beautiful is a mellow album that you’ll want to put on repeat.

While not designed as children’s album, it is great as a family album, and something you could put on while reading books or getting ready for bed. Tanya Leah’s sound is a similar flavor to Shawn Colvin or Norah Jones, and shines on her latest album.

Standout songs on the album include the uplifting title track “Somewhere Beautiful”, the upbeat “Signs of Spring” and her dreamy rendition of “What a Wonderful World.”

Roses for Panjo’s Somewhere Beautiful is available on their site and iTunes.

Putumayo Kids has a knack for transporting me to another world, and they’re back with their latest collection to sweep me away to the land down under with Putumayo Kids Presents Australian Playground. With songs by Australian singer-songrwriters and Aboriginal groups, and mentions of kangaroos, vegemite and kookaburras, I can’t help but feel a bit Aussie. Don’t worry, though, this isn’t The Wiggles.

I am amazed by the variety on the album, and the tunes are vastly different but feel like a coherent group. There’s a bit of pop and folk (Bob Brown’s “Give Me a Home Among the Gumtrees,” Joe Hall and The Treehouse Band’s “Loose Change,” Don Spencer’s “Kangaroo,” and the beguiling voice of Rosie Burgess on “Random Acts”), to  island music similar to Carribbean music (The Neo and Garrangali’s “Let’s Go” and Garrangali’s “Mirri”), to what we classify as more “world music” (Kamerung’s “Seisia” and Seaman Dan’s “Mango Rain”).

And what Australian album would be complete without a rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”? Lazy Harry provides a lovely version of the best-known Australian tune.

A percentage of proceeds benefit the Australian Children’s Music Foundation which provides music programs to the disadvantaged. Liner notes provide insight about each musician and song, making the album a complete educational experience. And as a bonus, it also includes a kid-friendly Australian recipe for damper bread.

Putumayo Kids Presents Australian Playground is available from Putumayo Kids’ site,  iTunes, and Amazon.

Seattle band The Not-Its‘ distinct sound sets them apart from many other children’s musicians. Being veteran punk rockers, there is some seriously rockin’ music back behind those kid-friendly lyrics, sung with gratifyingly edgy voices. And now, they’re back with their fifth album (and the follow up to KidQuake!) Raise Your Hand.

Parents, brace yourselves. You may find yourself listening to this when your kids aren’t around.

The Not-Its understand what kids go through. Their struggles (“Funniest Cat Video,” “When I Fell (The Scab Song),” and “Waiting List”) and preferences (“Flannel Jammies”) get some attention through lively harmonies. Summer-appropriate songs of insects (“Mosquito Eater”, and “Bee’s Knees”, a save-the-bees/save-the-planet anthem) and outdoor activities (“We’re Gonna Hike”) demonstrate The Not-Its humor and fun.

And there are some goodies for the parents too. “Motorcycle Mom” paints a picture of a biker mom who tears up the PTA. And “Hey 80’s’ had me nodding my head at every reference. (If you’re a child of the 80’s, it would be fun to go through this song and explain every line.)

“Love is Love” may be one of my favorites on the album, and speaks to the idea that while the definition of family is changing, the foundation of love is the same.

Other great tunes include the title track “Raise Your Hand,” “Haircut,” and “Nose In a Book.”

And check out the video for “Haircut”!


The Not-Its’ Raise Your Hand is available July 15th on their site.

Remember “Baby Beluga”? Or what about “Down by the Bay”? And I think I played “Bananaphone” for my son as a toddler more than I thought humanly possible.

If you know what I’m talking about, then you surely know Raffi.

It’s been twelve years since he’s released an album of children’s songs, but he’s back with Love Bug, an album that was certainly worth the wait.

Raffi still has the ability to capture your attention, creating catchy tunes and heartwarming lyrics. The 16 tracks on Love Bug feel like a treasure chest, filled with all sorts of gems sure to appeal to every taste. It’s a journey through love, the magic of childhood, and the majesty of nature, accompanied by Raffi’s melodic strengths and alluring voice.

“Seeing the Heart” glistens on the album, and is my new favorite love song, reminding me of the purity of a child’s heart. “Magic Wand” feels like a wish list from every parent of a new baby for what they hope the world would be for them. Raffi infuses this hope for a better world and a healthy planet, filled with love, in songs like “Blue White Planet” and “Turn this World Around.”

But he hasn’t lost his aptitude for creating catchy and entertaining tunes such as “Mama Loves It” and “Doggone Woods.” “Cool Down Reggae” is a slow-paced tune that makes me want to swing on a hammock with my kids and chillax. If they’d let me, that is. And the instrumental tracks like “Wind Chimes” and “Pete’s Banjo” adds just the right amount of sprinkles to this delicious treat of an album

Raffi’s Love Bug will be available July 15th on his site, iTunes, and Amazon.

“Simply Fantastic: An Introduction to Classical Music”

We listen to a whole heck of a lot of music in our house, and much of it is either family music, Disney soundtracks, or music that falls in any of the pop/rock/hip hop categories.

So, to shake things up, we often make a switch to classical music on Sunday mornings. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a warm cup of coffee, reading the paper, and begging my daughter to please, for the love of all things, eat her vitamins.

And every time we go classical, I have the thought, “we need to listen to this more often.” Instead of wanting to bounce around the living room like rabbits on speed, my kids tend to gravitate towards coloring, reading, or puzzles while classical music is playing. The genre shifts the energy in our house to one that is a bit more calm. A bit more cerebrally stimulating. A bit more enchanted.

Now I have one more reason to crank up the classical music in our home.

Simply Fantastic

Author Ana Gerhard, concert pianist and music educator, has written a new book with an accompanying CD, Simply Fantastic: An Introduction to Classical Music that is sure to fill your home with magic. It’s not just a book with a CD, it’s an experience.

Cover Simply FantasticThis gorgeously illustrated book (centered on the fantastical world of fairies, witches, gnomes, elves, wizards and the like) covers the Big Hitters of classical music such as Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, among others.

Performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, La Scala Chorus and Orchestra, and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the 20 excerpts found in Simply Fantastic span over 300 years of music history.

For each piece of music, Gerhard has provided brief descriptions that detail what magical creature the piece is about (fairies and their traits, for instance), and summaries of the plots of the ballet, opera or orchestral piece the work comes from. Often, she also includes bits of trivia regarding the composer and the impetus for the piece’s creation.

It’s a great primer for young ones to the world of classical music, and for adults, as well! I felt so knowledgeable after reading this with my children and found new appreciation of classical favorites. The vocabulary Gerhard uses is basic enough to help young readers and listeners comprehend the complexities of the composition, but not so simple that it won’t appeal to older audience.

To add to the magic of the music’s topics and Gerhard’s writing, Claudia Legnazzi created lush, vibrant illustrations that add a rich layer to the entire experience.


And, do I even need to mention how amazing this collection of music is? The CD includes pieces of music that are widely familiar and identifiable, some less recognizable, as well as many compositions that most of us can hum to, but may not know it’s origin. Songs like “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg), for instance. Look! It’s not just a commercial soundtrack!

As a dancer, I was pleased to see excerpts from ballets famous and not-so-famous, such as “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, “Dance of Terror” from Manuel de Falla’s Love, the Magician and “The Infernal Dance of Ali Kashchei’s Subjects” from Stravnisky’s The Firebird.

Many of the songs are short in length, perfect for a young listeners attention span.  The book’s selection of music covers a wide musical range, from the sweet and tender (“Dance of the Blessed Spirits” by Christoph Willibald Gluck) to the melodic and joyful (“The Fairy-Queen” by Henry Purcell), to the mischievously perky or dissonant (“Witches Dance” by Niccolo Paganini or “Pucks’ Dance” by Claude Debussy), to the intensely dramatic (“The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” by Modest Mussorgsky or “Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner.) All of the selections display just how powerful a piece of music can be.

Author, Ana Gerhard

Author, Ana Gerhard

Gerhard saved the best for last, with an amazing listening guide at the end.  It’s perfect for folks like me that love listening to music, but aren’t sure how to discuss what they hear in musical terms. The guide sheds a warm and knowledgeable light on what you’re hearing. I would recommend listening first, reading the guide, then listening again for a deeper experience.

Simply Fantastic: An Introduction to Classical Music is a book and CD that should be a staple in any home to young children. It’s available in the United States on June 17th.

But you don’t have to wait until then! I’m so excited about this book and CD that I’m giving one to a lucky reader! If you’d like the chance to win this extraordinary book and CD, it’s as easy as entering the Rafflecopter widget below by 11:59pm on Friday, June 13.  Open to anyone 18 and over in the contiguous United States.

Good luck!


Sound Bites: New Music for June

It’s that time of the year. School is letting out. Pools are open. Kids aren’t complaining of boredom. Yet.

But I know it’s coming soon.

My kids have a half-day left of school, and I will be spending those last precious hours trying to book camps and outings  to keep us occupied. Because lazy days of summer are fun for the first month, and then, we slowly start to implode as a family.

The past few years, we’ve crafted a Summer Bucket List, full of activities to do, places to visit, and things to see when we’ve exhausted the neighborhood pool and playground. We’ve started working on this year’s list already, and I’ve got one more thing to add to it:

Listen to awesome new music!

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June is busting with all kinds of fabulous family music, and I am so excited to share some of it with you.

Eric Herman released Party Animal this past week, an album that delivers songs full of whimsy and quirkiness in a delightful package.

Eric Herman "Party Animal"The album boasts a hearty range of musical genres such as blues, country, rock and pop, and also features members of Recess Monkey, Chris Ballew (who you might know as either family musician Caspar Babypants, or the lead from The Presidents of the United States of America) and DidiPop.

Starting the album with “Up All Night”, Herman illustrates how adept he is at crawling in to a young mind and expressing those thoughts, hopes and thrills. “Up All Night” is a song about that all too familiar goal to stay awake until midnight for New Year’s Eve, though, probably even more familiar, not being able to make it.

Herman’s ability to create songs from a child’s point of view also shows in upbeat songs like “Party at My House,” “The Bicycle Song” and the energetic “November 1st.”

Funky tracks like “The Best Parts” and “A Million Ways” play nicely with quirky tunes like “Can We Buy a New Car (So I Can Have a Balloon)?” and “The Strange and Mysterious Fate of Mister Teddy Bear”

Rounding out the album is the track “Alive,” a charming life-affirming celebration of Herman’s deceased wife, who passed away in 2013.

Eric Herman’s Up All Night is available on his  websiteAmazon, and iTunes.


GRAMMY nominated musician Brady Rymer creates songs filled with humor, optimism and love. If Brady Rymer could call me every morning and sing to me as my alarm clock, I guarantee I’d have an awesome day.

Brady Rymer "Just Say Hi!"He’s back with The Little Band That Could for his seventh album Just Say Hi! A wonderful mix of musical genres, his latest album is the perfect summer soundtrack.

The title song “Just Say Hi!” sets the tone for the album, offering encouragement to listeners to meet new people and introduce yourself.

“Get This Party Started,” “Dance Till I Drop,” and “Gettin’ My YaYa’s Out”” are tunes that will easily jumpstart those morning pajama dance jams. Rymer showcases his range and mastery of different genres with the catchy ragtime jazz tune “Red Piano Rag,” as well as the zydeco sounds of “My Home.”

Mellower songs like the velvety “I Spin” and “Ice Cream Girl” beg you to relent to the lazy ways of summer and relax. Rymer displays his playful side with songs like “Pet Song,” a tribute to all those pet care takers that starts by sounding like Barry White but takes a Prince detour somewhere along the way.

“Tomorrow’s People” features a star-studded list of guests including Laurie Berkner, Elizabeth Mitchell and Recess Monkey, and could easily be the “We Are the World” equivalent for the kindie music circuit.  Hearing all of those beautiful voices singing hopes for a bright future makes me all warm inside. And yes, Brady, I feel that better days are coming, too. 

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could releases Just Say Hi! June 17th.


Mister G "The Bossy E"And to help me not make the same educational struggles with my kids that I did last summer, Mister G will release his literary themed album The Bossy E just in time to get your summer brain back in gear.

Mister G (a.k.a. Ben Gundersheimer) sounds cut from the same cloth as my son – a lover of books and reading – and it shows in this album with his use of literary references and devices.  With his love of books in songs like “Love to Read,” “More Books for Me” and “Everything’s Free at the Library,” Mister B’s album could be the theme song for summer reading clubs.

The title track, “The Bossy E” educates listeners on how adding an “e” to the end of a word can change the sound to create a new word.  It’s a fun surf rock tune with guitars, saxophone, organ, and of course, lots of reverb.

And Mister G has released a new video for this tune, TODAY! Check it out:

“Aisle 3” (sounding similar to Matthew Sweet to me), about a kid stuck at a store with his parents and imagining what he could be doing instead, demonstrates Mister G’s songwriting chops with its sophisticated and catchy hook.

Other standouts on the album include the bossa nova grooviness of “Video Games, and “Standing on Top of My Head”, which is musically my favorite song on the album with its rolling melody and quirky lyrics.

Mister G’s The Bossy E will be available from his website (, Amazon and iTunes on June 24th.

And there you have it folks, just some of what we’re planning on listening to this month. The only thing left to cover as I close the books on another school year is this last pop quiz. What are YOU planning on listening to this summer?

NEW The Okee Dokee Brothers: “Through the Woods”

I have always loved the process of making art, more than the art itself.

As a choreographer, I far more enjoyed the experience of exploring an idea in the studio than having it polished, finished and performed.

And I’m a total geek when it comes to hearing how other artists make their work.  I’m the slowpoke that reads all of the plaques at an art museum.  “Behind the scenes” DVD extras are my favorite.  There’s just something irresistible to me about understanding how an artist took a kernel of an idea and then created something beautiful.

I prefer seeing art as a journey, rather than a destination.

Like The Okee Dokee Brothers.

Okee Dokee Brothers Through the Woods.jpg

duo-closeupThese guys? They’re all about process.  And the result is music that is rich, grounded and enamoring.

Embarking on their second “Adventure album”, GRAMMY winning The Okee Dokee Brothers, comprised of Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander, spent a month hiking and camping along the Appalachian Trail.  The result is the highly anticipated “Through the Woods.”

As soon as I cracked open the stunningly gorgeous CD, I already felt like I was on a journey.  Not only does Through the Woods consist of a CD with 15 original and traditional songs, it also contains a supplemental DVD with a film that illustrates the story of The Okee Dokee Brothers’ trip, beautifully shot and edited.

One fun note:  I love that the liner notes disclaim, “No electronic insturments were used in the making of this album.”  And upon listening to the album, anything electronic would seem as out of place as zebras in a dog run.

Lansing and Mailander have gathered a slew of GRAMMY winners of American folk music and “mountain musicians” to play just about everything but the kitchen sink, though I have no doubt the Okee Dokee Brothers could pull that off too. Pots, pans, a log drum, a tomato box; they all make an appearance.

through-the-woods-album-cover-nospineThrough the Woods is an album of discovery, love and adventure.  The Okee Dokee Brothers’ distinctive melodies and lighthearted energy fall easily on young ears, especially with songs like “Echo”  and “Black Bear Mama.”

“Riddle and Rhyme” is a fun tune with short lines and sharp rhymes that tingle in your ears and mouth.  And you can’t get any more fun than with “Jamboree”, one of my favorite songs on the album.  Its celebratory vibe is full of a warm and welcoming energy and spirit,.

“Big Rock Candy Mountain” weaves tales of a magical place, full of sunshine, surprise, and sugar.  And then there’s the trio of songs that I like to call The Cousins: “Fiddlestick Joe”, “Ruby Jane”, and “Hillbilly Willy”.  These songs paint portraits of characters full of history and personality.

To say this is a children’s album is a huge understatement. The Okee Dokee Brothers’ sophisticated harmonies, smooth production and encompassing lyrics could easily translate to adult music. Songs like “Baby Mine” and “Evergreen” are sweet love songs that could land themselves on my next anniversary mixed CD. (Yeah, you read that right. I still do that kind of thing.)

Gems like “Tiny Little Life”, “Out of Tune”, and “Lighten Your Load” provide listeners observations and contemplations about life, offering the kind of sound advice that comes with having taken a transformative trip.

“Walking with Spring” seems to echo The Okee Dokee Brothers’ adventure’s motto, and gets me excited about lazy summers of exploration and wonder.

Perhaps the standout tune of the album, though, is the title track, “Through the Woods”.  Reminiscent of their “Along For the Ride”, it showcases not only their smart writing but gratifying harmonies that could rival the Indigo Girls.

The Okee Dokee Brothers have hit their latest album out of the park. I’m definitely playing this album while we’re hanging by our fire pit this spring, or wherever our summer journey takes us.

And you can, too!  I’m giving away a CD to one of you lovely readers!  All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter widget below by 11:59pm on Friday, May 23rd.  Open to anyone 18 and over in the contiguous United States.

Good luck, and may you enjoy your journey!

Quick Sound Bites for May

Okay, YES I realize that we are past the mid-mark of May. Like many of you, the end of my kids’ school year looms near, and with it, a surge of parties and school events, life-sucking meetings and things to organize.

Thankfully, some sweet new family music has been released to get me through the final push.

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For starters, the Sugar Free Allstars released a single “My Daddy’s Record Collection” on a stunning vinyl 45 in honor of national Record Store Day (which was April 19th. Yes, call me a procrastinator. I can take it).


Photo courtesy Sugar Free Allstars

Pulling the 45 out of the album jacket brought up all kinds of nostalgia about my childhood music experience. The sad thing was my kids were like “what the heck is that?”  as they stared at the record. And I didn’t even have anything to play it on. I need to fix this. STAT.

But, I digress.

“My Daddys Record Collection” is a perfect mix of funk and pop, with it’s delicious baseline and groovy organ. Listening to this song makes me start wiggling like Cliff Huxtable and do this weird thing with my eyebrows that I’m sure looks smarmy, but makes me feel soulful. SFA’s classic “Banana Pudding” appears on the flip side.

You can buy this track on their site, iTunes, and Amazon, and check out the song on this video here:


And if that didn’t make you all warm and fuzzy, Malaysian-American, multi-talented artist Zee Avi’s latest album, and first for families, Zee Avi’s Nightlight certainly will.

Her tune “Bitter Heart” won me over a few years ago, with her rich mesmerizing sound, and it’s a voice beautifully suited for children’s music as well.

This lady knows how to take an existing song and make it her very own. Zee Avi’s covers of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s Pocahontas, Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game”, The Velvet Underground’s “Who Loves the Sun”, and Michael Jackson’s “Ben” will change the way you hear these songs forever. Her voice was made for songs like “Dream a Little Dream.”

But perhaps my favorite cover on the album is “Rainbow Connection”. Move over, Sarah McLaughlin’s version of this Muppet classic, there’s a new favorite rendition in my town. “Nightlight Medley” weaves in lullabies from many cultures in to one poignant goodnight song.

You can buy Zee Avi’s latest at her store, on iTunes, or on Amazon.

And rounding out the crop is Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, back with a new Spanish language album, Aqui, Alla that varies in timbre and mood, keeping you both on your toes, and tapping them.

jpegIt’s smoothly produced, with songs that remind me of something out of a Quentin Tarantino flick, (“Órale!”) or of strolling near La Vajita in my once-hometown of San Antonio, to songs that sound so distincly “Lucky Diaz” to me like “La Pequeña Araña” (Itsy Bitsy Spider) and “Cantaba La Rana” with their infections melodies and tempos.

“El Cucuy”, with its boogeyman intro, has an underlying darkness unlike Diaz’s others, but don’t worry, it’s not so scary when presented with Lucky’s warm vocals. The bouncy doo-wop of “Vamos a Contar” teaches counting in Spanish, “Tú Eres Mi Amor”, speaks of love, and the final Track “De Colores” builds to a big celebratory crescendo.

The album’s title track “Aqui, Alla” begins with a hauting guitar solo similar to something the late Jeff Buckley might have crafted.  The song ponders the thoughts “Where do we come from and where are we going? We are from here and we’re from there as well.”  Thoughts that perhaps many second generation Mexican Americans, or for any second generation immigrant for that matter, may ask themselves.

Find Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band’s latest album on their site, iTunes, and Amazon.

Here’s hoping these tunes get you through the rest of May.  On to summer!