June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Dan Zanes, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, & Steve Pullara | ClefNotes

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redstarBackyards & Home Fronts. Performed by Steve Pullara and His Cool Beans Band. CD. 32 min. Cool Beans Music. 2017. $10.
Gr 2-5–Grammy winner Steve Pullara has done something unique with his newest album: honored those families where the moms and dads are deployed far from their children. The effects of “Parental Deployment” on the home front are addressed in each of the 11 original songs written and performed by Pullara. Topics such as missed birthdays and special events, letter writing and sending special treats, wishes to share dreams and fun times had with grandma and grandma are all covered with a gentleness that shows the fun of daily life but also captures the feelings of sadness when a child’s parents can’t be there to share in it. This country music album concludes with the hope-filled “Guess Who’s Coming Home.” While the target audience of this album is military families, there is much to be enjoyed by families of all circumstances. ­VERDICT A must-have for all collections that serve military families.–Veronica De Fazio, Plainfield Public Library District, IL

Beanstalk Jack. Performed by Paper Canoe Company. CD. 50 min. Paper Canoe Company. 2018. $14.
PreS- Gr 3–Paper Canoe Company retells the Jack and the Beanstalk folktale with a twist. Using musical styles ranging from folk music to pop to show tunes to operetta, the album features 16 original tunes. Listeners meet our intrepid hero in the upbeat zydeco opener “Beanstalk Jack.” We learn more about him as he strums and sings the laid-back “Daydream.” His mother wants him to go to market to sell their cow, yet he tries to resist (“Let Me Be,” a hoedown duet). “Bestest Bargain” reminds one of the sweet sounds of Paul Simon as Jack strikes a deal in the market for magic beans. After the beans sprout (“Look at Us Now”), Jack climbs the beanstalk channeling John Denver as he sings “Upseedoodledoo,” a capella with only percussion. He meets the gruff, mysterious giant in “Fee Fi Fo Fum,” inspired by Tom Waits. Jack climbs down the beanstalk with the giant’s daughter Harmony as the two sing the lovely duet “Steal Away.” The album closes with the peppy rock and roll “Get On Down the Beanstalk.” Musical arrangements and vocalists are all outstanding. ­VERDICT This is a fresh take and fun way to revisit a favorite old story.–Stephanie Bange, Dayton

The Dance Remixes. Performed by Laurie Berkner. CD. 47 min. Two Tomatoes Records. 2017. $12.98.
PreS-Gr 5–Laurie Berkner has created new electronic dance mixes for 14 of her most popular songs. She got the idea from her many teen YouTube and Twitter followers who had grown up on her music. All of the songs are lively, bouncy, foot-stomping tunes, with one song throwing in a little bluegrass fiddle. The remixed songs include “We Are the Dinosaurs,” “Drive My Car,” “I Really Love to Dance,” “Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz),” “Monster Boogie,” Where Is the Cake,” “I’m Gonna Catch You,” “The Cat Came Back,” “Telephone,” “BOOTS,” “Rocketship Run,” “Shake Your Body Down,” “Victor Vito,” and “My Family.” ­VERDICT This is a great album for the whole family, and for toddler dance programs in libraries.–Beverly Wrigglesworth, San Antonio Public Library

Dreamers. Performed by Lard Dog & The Band of Shy. CD. 36 min. GO Records. 2017. $9.99.
Gr K-5–Lard Dog’s human counterpart, Steve Erdman, and his talented band return with a second album filled with lyrical high jinks and fun. During 2017, the band undertook a “Song of the Month” project, releasing one new song each month, which resulted in this album. The songs cover a wide variety of topics from the Flatiron Building in New York, the controversy between Diego Rivera and the Rockefellers over artwork created for Rockefeller Center, a colander, your favorite Beatle, and the lovely title song, “Dreamers.” Highlighting multiple musical genres, there is certainly something for everyone. ­VERDICT Part reflections on real life and part wacky weirdness, this will be popular with parents who are looking for music that is a little quirkier.–Veronica De Fazio, Plainfield Public Library District, IL

Endangered Species Project. Performed by Fire Dog. CD. 25 min. Regional Arts Commission. 2017. $11.
K-Gr 5–Hailing from St. Louis, Fire Dog (Marko Polo, Celia, Mike Schurk) give solid performances on guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards on 11 classic rock/pop–style songs. The goal of these songs is to raise awareness and passion for animals among the listeners. They sing about the habitat and evolution of “American Crocodile,” “Magic Rabbit” (Ili Pika of China), “Hellbender” (salamander), “Passenger Pigeon,” and “Manatee.” There are also songs about “Habitat,” “Kingdom Phylum,” and the “Endangered Species Act.” In the final “Hellbender” remix, listeners will hear an interview about the salamander’s status with Jeff Briggler of the Missouri Department of Conservation. ­VERDICT This will be an invaluable resource in classes where information about endangered animals is taught.–Beverly Wrigglesworth, San Antonio Public Library

Further Around the Bend. Performed by Bill Harley. CD. 70 min. Round River Music. 2018. $15.
PreS-Gr 4–Two-time Grammy award winner Bill Harley is an author, storyteller, and musician. Fifteen years ago Harley took listeners on a trip to a whimsical place in Town Around the Bend where they were introduced to a cast of characters who did things both silly and wise. In this new album, Harley returns to Town Around the Bend where listeners get acquainted with characters such as Skeezy Boofer, Swing the Gate, and Carmella Cellar Door and hear stories about a pair of ears that have the best hearing ever until they start mishearing things, and a group of youngsters called the Worm Brigade who consider changing their rules when their best worm saver is too old for the club. Harley performs all of the songs and musical interludes on the album as well as all of the storytelling. Each story is so engaging that children will be clamoring to visit the Town Around the Bend. ­VERDICT A great addition to any collection.–Veronica De Fazio, Plainfield Public Library District, IL

Just Dance. Twinkle. CD. 31 min. Twinkle Time Records. 2017. $10.
PreS-Gr 4–The third album by Twinkle (aka Alitzah Weiner-Dallas), is filled with music that has a definite Top 40 sound. Seven of the nine tunes were written by Twinkle’s husband, James L. Dallas. Twinkle revisits the previously released “Kidz Rock” and a remix of the song, with Mista Cookie Jar chiming in on both. Lyrics are generally filled with positive messages (“Life Is Beautiful,” “Better Than You Know,” “We Got Manners”), however a few parents of young children may raise eyebrows on “Just Dance,” when she gets slightly edgy and proclaims in the lyrics that it’s “time to get dirty,” to “lose control,” have “no shame,” and “tear down this whole place,” presumably to appeal to tweens and older listeners. Most of the tunes are upbeat electronic dance music and hip-hop, with Twinkle sounding like Madonna and Janet Jackson. She is a polished performer and arrangements are bedrock. ­VERDICT A solid addition for libraries seeking to push the boundaries of kindie music.–Stephanie Bange, Dayton

redstarLead Belly, Baby! Performed by Dan Zanes. CD. 45 min. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. 2017. $14.98.
Gr 3 Up–The ever-popular Dan Zanes worked with the folks at Smithsonian Folkways and the Lead Belly Estate to bring this collection of 15 folk and blues songs—all classics, all appropriate for children and all made popular by Lead Belly—to fruition. Opening with the joke song “More Yet,” Zanes is joined by a chorus of kids on the refrain. Zanes continues to play guitar and sings on the rest of the album, however, the depth and heart contributed by the 28 guests he selected to perform  shoot this recording to the top. “Cotton Fields” is sung in harmony in Spanish by Sonia de los Santos and Elena Moon Park. Pauline Jean harmonizes beautifully with Zanes in “Boll Weevil” and “Red Bird.” “Skip to My Lou” gets special treatment with rap passages performed by Chuck D. and Memphis Jelks. The song/game “Ha-Ha This Away” sparkles with lead vocals from Tamar Kali. Liner notes are outstanding with background about Lead Belly and his place in American musical history and notes about the importance of each song. ­VERDICT An incredible effort that refreshes and makes relevant Lead Belly’s music for generations to come.–Stephanie Bange, Dayton

Micah and Me Is Here. Performed by Micah and Me. CD. Approx. 40 min. Dance Party Productions. 2017. $12.
PreS-Gr 3–Hailing from Portland, OR, Micah and Me (Aaron Canwell, Ryan Chouinard, and Justin Deckert) perform 12 lively, bouncy songs (8 original, four traditional) on their first album. With folksy vocals, the musicians give excellent performances on guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, drums and percussion in bluegrass, folk, Latin, pop, and rock musical styles. “Dance Dance Dance” gets listeners up and dancing around. “My Creature” is an amalgamation of several animals. The other songs include “Micah and Me Is Here,” “Mosquito Waltz,” “Super Daddy Fun Day,” “Dump Truck,” “All Around the Kitchen,” “Counting With You,” “These Bugs,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Baby Shark,” and “Twinkle Twinkle/ABC’s Medley.” ­VERDICT An album the whole family will enjoy.–Beverly Wrigglesworth, San Antonio Public Library

My Purple Fox. Performed by Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies. CD. Approx. 22 min. Josh Morgan Music. 2017. $9.99.
PreS-Gr 3–From the Silicon Valley comes Purple Fox and the Heebie Jeebies, founded by Josh Friedman. The album features mostly a funk musical style, with one classic rock/pop piece. The musicians perform adeptly on guitars, keyboards, and drums. Children speak and sing along on several songs. In “Red Hot Lava,” a child is moving through lava and other obstacles. “My Purple Fox” stands up for truth. If people “Live Like a Champion,” then they never quit. In “I Got Mad Style” fashionistas strut their individual styles. “123 to Infinity” is a participatory dance song. After listing all kinds of sweets in “Sugar,” listeners are reminded to not eat too many sweets and to brush their teeth. “Chocolate Cake” and “The Question” are riddles spoken by children. The other tracks include “Red Hot Hot Rod,” “Funky Fox” (instrumental), “The Flute Song,” and “I Love You, Infinity.” ­VERDICT A hip, toe-tapping, foot-stomping album.–Beverly Wrigglesworth, San Antonio Public Library

One Little Song Can Change the World. Performed by Kid Pan Alley. CD. Approx. 35 min. Kid Pan Alley. 2017 $12.97.
K-Gr 5–For nearly 20 years, Kid Pan Alley, led by founder and artistic director Paul Reisler, has been working with children across the country to write songs about the things that most affect them. On their latest album, Kid Pan Alley worked with students at ten different schools to write songs about respect for each other and the earth. The ten songs collected here feature gorgeous lead vocals by performers such as Jevon McGlory, Lea Morris and Ysaye Barnwell that are often backed by a talented children’s chorus. Lush instrumentation accompanies the lyrics about bullying, friendship, loving yourself, and supporting others. ­VERDICT Important messages to be shared with children of all ages.–Veronica De Fazio, Plainfield Public Library District, IL

Peter Neptune’s Mermaid Tales. Performed by John Gallagher. CD. Approx. 37 min. Stepping into Books Productions. 2017. $16.
PreS-Gr 3–The second recording from Stepping into Books Productions, this disc is a themed collection of 18 original songs and stories about merfolk and other magical sea creatures. All songs were composed and arranged by J.D. Gallagher, with additional lyrics and the story “The Tail of the Mercat” by Lynne Olivier. The disc opens with a “calling” by a mermaid (Kate Brubeck) and goes right into a magic spell read charmingly by Irishman Shay Black. Music includes an introduction to the Merman King “Peter Neptune,” a tune about a magical horse of the sea, a legend of the pink dolphin, the delightfully rollicking “The Jellyfish Polka,” and tales of mermaids—including “A Mermaid’s Reverie” sung by Lalin St. Juste. The production closes with a finale, “Ancient Timepiece of the Sky”. The music and stories are performed by the four core performers: Gallagher, Brubeck, Black, and St. Juste. Each delivers a fine performance, accompanied on adequate, but very skeletal accompaniment. Sure to appeal to and inspire fans of merfolk, thoughthere may be limited practical use in school and public libraries. ­VERDICT Intriguing, but not essential.–Stephanie Bange, Dayton

redstarSongs of Peace & Love for Kids & Parents Around the World. Performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. CD. 47 min. Ladysmith Black Mambazo/CDBaby. 2017. $14.
PreS-Gr 2–Founded in South Africa in the early 1960’, Ladysmith Black Mambazo continues to make inspiring, beautiful music under the leadership of the three sons of their founder, Joseph Shabalala. This album was a 2018 Best Children’s Album Grammy nominee. One only needs to sit and listen for a few minutes in order to fall under the spell of this entrancing a cappella music sung in Zulu. For listeners who don’t know the language, the album has a brief introduction to the group, as well as an explanation of each of the ten songs, in English. All are full of messages of love, hope, and people helping each other. Standouts include “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” sung in Zulu,a tribute to Nelson Mandela (“Long Walk to Freedom”), the importance of showing kindness and love (“Love Your Neighbor”), the importance of all women in our lives (“All Women Are Beautiful”) and the problem of people without homes (“Homeless”). The group continues to borrow heavily from a traditional music style called isicathamiya, music sung by mine workers to entertain themselves when not working. ­VERDICT A must for those seeking to add international music to their collections.–Stephanie Bange, Dayton

redstarTime Machine Guitar. Performed by Ralph’s World. CD. 34 min. Waterdog Records. 2017. $15.
PreS-Gr 4–Using his Time Machine Guitar, children’s music mainstay Ralph Covert takes listeners on a raucous musical adventure to meet a varied crew of historical figures. Each song tells the story of a famous person from a unique perspective and in a musical style that fits the person and the time period. During the journey, children meet historical figures such as Ben Franklin, King Tut, Beethoven, Tito Puente, Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Ka’iulani, Amelia Earhart, and Josephine Baker. Rich liner notes include additional biographical information on each of the subjects as well as information about the musical influences behind each of the songs. ­VERDICT Backed by a fantastic group of musicians and filled with lyrics that are educational yet entertaining, this album is a must for school and public library settings.–Veronica De Fazio, Plainfield Public Library District, IL

Walking Around with Giants. Performed by The Dilly Dallies. CD. 44 min. Schoolofdrums. 2017. $12.98.
PreS-Gr 2–On their second outing for families, duo Steve Slater and Jenn Ekman return with an all-new collection of 13 songs written by Slater. Ukuleles play a big role in many of the tracks and are joined by instruments as varied as the marimba, glockenspiel and vibraslap. The child’s perspective is given on many of the songs making them easily relatable to both children and adults. The title track, “Walking Around with Giants” gives a kids’-eye view of adults, while “I Get Up” tells adults how frustrating it is to be a kid and have to go to sleep while their parents stay up having fun. “Closet Monster” is a great antidote to the scary monsters that keep kids awake at night by explaining that the noises a child hears are the monsters having a dance party. ­VERDICT A solid addition to family music collections.–Veronica De Fazio, Plainfield Public Library District, IL

Young Folk. Performed by Josh Lovelace and Friends. CD. Approx. 35 min. Josh Lovelace Music. 2017. $9.99.
PreS-Gr 2–Josh Lovelace performs 15 original songs in folk, pop, rock and bluegrass musical styles. The vocals feature beautiful harmonies. The band makes beautiful music on guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, ukulele, cello, organ, piano, saxophone, trumpet, whistles, accordion, synth, marimba, harmonica, celeste, washboard, mellotron, drums, and percussion. Children join along on several of the songs, either as backup or as a solo. “Daddy’s Beard” itches my face and Mama’s hair tickles my neck. “A Bear in the Woods” ate my underwear. “It’s Okay Margo,” stop crying and smile. All I want is to spend “More Time With You.” I’m “Going to Knoxville” to see my lady there. I have a dream for us to be free, so let’s go “Climb a Tree.” The other songs include “Good Morning,” “You’re My Very Best Friend,” “Messy Bessy,” “Road Trip,” “Eat Your Vegetables,” “Sing a Song for Me,” “Henry My Son,” “Blanket,” and “Your Love Is on My Heart.” ­VERDICT Perfect for listening to as a family.–Beverly Wrigglesworth, San Antonio Public Library

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  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m currently working on the f# minor nocturne! they’re beautiful pieces. Afte completion of this, I would go for guitar lessons.
    Don’t get me wrong, you have to be strong and confident to be successful in just about anything you do – but with music, there’s a deeper emotional component to your failures and successes. If you fail a chemistry test, it’s because you either didn’t study enough, or just aren’t that good at chemistry (the latter of which is totally understandable). But if you fail at music, it can say something about your character. It could be because you didn’t practice enough – but, more terrifyingly, it could be because you aren’t resilient enough. Mastering chemistry requires diligence and smarts, but mastering a piano piece requires diligence and smarts, plus creativity, plus the immense capacity to both overcome emotional hurdles, and, simultaneously, to use that emotional component to bring the music alive.
    Before I started taking piano, I had always imagined the Conservatory students to have it so good – I mean, for their homework, they get to play guitar, or jam on their saxophone, or sing songs! What fun! Compared to sitting in lab for four hours studying the optical properties of minerals, or discussing Lucretian theories of democracy and politics, I would play piano any day.

    But after almost three years of piano at Orpheus Academy, I understand just how naïve this is. Playing music for credit is not “easy” or “fun” or “magical” or “lucky.” Mostly, it’s really freakin’ hard. It requires you to pick apart your piece, play every little segment over and over, dissect it, tinker with it, cry over it, feel completely lame about it, then get over yourself and start practicing again. You have to be precise and diligent, creative and robotic. And then – after all of this – you have to re-discover the emotional beauty in the piece, and use it in your performance.

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