Thursday, September 30, 2010

Local Hero

The greatest myth in the kids' music world is the worn-out adage... "Finally, a kids' musicians that makes music that parents enjoy too!" This was my mission ten years ago when I started bringing my guitar into my first classroom. I thought I was special, and I thought that what I was creating was rare. A decade later, and two years of reviewing fabulous music in almost every genre imaginable, I realized that the pond I was swimming in may be small, but there are hundreds of little fish just like me making an impact on families with their music.

I guess what fooled me into thinking that I had stumbled upon something unique is the responses from parents I have received from the moment I release my first album in 2002. "I can't tell you how happy I am to have your CD. I am sick of listening to Barney (the Wiggles, Elmo, you name the Disney/PBS sensation)." "I listen to your music in the car when the kids aren't with me!" "My son slept with your CD cover on his pillow last night."

When I started out, I was as ignorant of the many, many people making fabulous kids' music around the country as the families at my school. Over the past decade there have been a great deal of advances in promoting, distributing, and learning about "Kindie" artists. Shows like, Jack's Big Music Show or Yo Gaba Gaba have shed a spotlight on some up and comers. Mainstream artists like Jack Johnson, Bare Naked Ladies, Lisa Leob and They Might Be Giants have made "slumming it" in the kids' scene cool. Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, iTunes and Amazon have helped my music reach the UK, Australia and Japan. Still, each week I will inevitably hear from parents that are shocked to hear a song like "Punk Rock Vowels" and even more shocked when they hear their kids singing every word.

The sad news for the independent kids' musician is that we are competing with the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon. Their model for kids' music skips from toddlers to "High School Musical" with no stops inbetween. Shows like "Fresh Beats" and "The Imagination Movers" that have a bit more substance than "The Wiggles" still present "bands" where instruments are more like props and the sounds that accompany these groups are largely synthesized. Even "Sesame Street" (the originators of kids' music that adults enjoy) is being eclipsed by "Elmo's World" where actual sets are replaced by virtual backgrounds and digital music.

This fall has ushered in a new phase for In The Nick of Time. After a VERY slow summer, I am finding myself booked solid with new calls coming in each week. I am catching glimpses of what a successful career in this industry could look like. Yet, I still get discouraged now and then knowing that great music that I have reviewed here at Singing In The Bathtub is still being outsold a thousandfold by what I consider to be lousy mainstream kids' music. When close friends will spend $15 on a Wiggles DVD when many of the albums or DVD's reviewed here are better and cost less!

Whenever I have those moments of self doubt, I will inevitably have an experience when a parent will stop me in the parking lot of school and say, "My son/daughter comes home every day that she/he has music and talks about Mr. Nick. You are her/his favorite part of school." Would I love to have a TV show? Would I love to see my name in lights? You're darn tootin'! Would I trade that for those one-on-one moments where I inspire and invigorate young children? I'm not sure. For now I'm happy to be the local hero!

Kid Quote of the Day: As we sang the "Rainbow Song," I stopped to ask one young boy which color and object he would like to sing about in our song. "An Orange," he replied. "And what color will your orange be?" I asked. "Green!" I guess every orange starts out green! ~Quinn (age: 4)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Time Out To Rock

Today's album review is for The Not-Its' latest CD Time Out To Rock. This is a group that I have heard of but not heard until today. I am glad that in the kids' music industry physical CD's still sell pretty well. This gives me the chance to enjoy the albums' liner art. I really like the visual style of Time Out To Rock there is a sixties pop art feel that illustrates the various songs held within.

The music as well evokes an earlier time, though not sixties pop, but 70's and 80's punk and what would later be called alternative. There's a stripped-down, bare-bones approach to the mixes with a healthy dose of fuzzy guitars. I hear hints of early Talking Heads, Patty Smith, maybe even a bit of the B-52's and R.E.M. There are a couple of more down tempo numbers on Time Out To To Rock (towards the end), tunes like Only Kids Can See and Hollow tree have some acoustic sweetness. Lead singer Sarah Shannon has a clear unadorned delivery. Bordering on wavery at times, the simple, honest delivery matches the stripped down production. You can listen to this album and imagine exactly what the Not Its sound like live (not that I have had the pleasure... yet).

The Mike Brady Wrap-up:
The Not Its were a new find for me, but the sound is nostalgic for me. It's not surprising to read that the Not Its have roots in Seattle's famous sub-pop label. I think fans of the "Seattle Sound" will feel the same pang for a time when music was simpler, maybe a bit rough around the edges but no auto-tune necessary. The title on this one says it all. If you are looking for a little "Time Out To Rock," look no further!

My Oprah Moment:
I am pleased to announce the winner today of Singing in the Bathtub's first CD giveaway. The lesson I learned was that I made this whole business needlessly complicated. Long story short, I numbered the entries as they came in, and using a random number generator Jenni was chosen! I will contact the winner directly... but wait there is more!

Many of the submissions I received asked about MY music and not Brian Vogan who so kindly offered his CD for this contest. So here is my Oprah moment. I am going to give a free copy of People, Places and Things to everyone who entered! "You get a CD, and you get a CD, and you get a CD!" It's not a car, or a ride to Australia on John Travolta's jet, but I hope all my loyal readers enjoy! I'll follow up with all the contestants to find shipping addresses etc. Thanks for entering!

Kid Quote of the Day: "How'd you do that?" Garrett asked as I started putting stamps on my students' hands. "Well, I open my ink pad, I put ink on my stamp, and I stamp it down, voila!" I replied as I put a red apple stamp on his hand. "How'd you do that?" ~Garrett (age: 3)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Going off the List

Today I have an unsolicited review of a book/CD that I stumbled upon while playing for a class of Toddlers at my home base of Plymouth Preschool. It's a common occurrence that I catch the tail end of circle time as I travel from room to room singing for the wee ones. This week, I happened to be visiting a particularly tearful crew of toddlers, but as I entered the room I was amazed to see and hear them completely engaged in listening to a story, and the funky beat coming from the CD player got me bopping into the room.

The Book is called Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. Both the illustrator and the author/singer who created this picture book are new to me. The author/composer is Eric Litwin and the illustrator is James Dean (I'm sure he's heard all kinds of foolish comments about his famous namesake so I'll spare you).

As I mentioned before the music that accompanies this tale of a cat and his shoes is funky and fun. Litwin's voice has a bit of the scratchy, easy delivery of Dan Zanes which was my first guess, but with a decidedly more 70's soul vibe. There is an simple, predictable pattern to the story and a repeating refrain that is easy for even the youngest to grab onto (the toddlers weren't singing along but given a month or too). The story is reminiscent of Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh, but with a bit more whimsy and a cat as the hero not the antagonist. Again, I didn't know of Eric Litwin before hearing this book, but I can only imagine that his other kids' music is great. He has performances around NY (including Lincoln center) and impressive education credentials. This NY Times Best Seller is a feather in his cap to boot.

As for the illustrations, James Dean captures the whimsy and humor of Litwin's music. I have to make comparisons with one of my favorite illustrators, Chris Raschka who also has a thing for cats. There is the same simplicity balanced by expressiveness that I love. I also get hints of George Rodrigue, but that's what happens when you paint an animal blue.

the Mike Brady Wrap-up: I guess this marks Singing in the Bathtub's first official book review. I couldn't have anticipated writing about this book, but I couldn't pass up this opportunity to share this great book with my faithful readers (my stack of CD submissions will have to wait another week).

This book incorporates so many elements that I search for when I am planning curriculum for preschoolers, a strong central concept (colors), an enticing lead character (the sly shoe-wearing cat), rhythmic and predictable language, and great music to boot! If you don't have it in your library, you should.

Kid Quote of the Day: I was in the choir room about to start singing The Dinosaur Song. I had passed out my paper dinosaur puppets, and I had taught the kids when to shout "Oh!" I started the song when I heard this comment from the Peanut Gallery, "That's the song the man sings on my D-D-D (CD)." ~Gabby (age: 4) my only response was... "Yeah, I think I know that guy!"

CD Giveaway Update: Last week I posted a free CD giveaway of Brian Vogan's latest album Sing a Little Song. I spelled out the parameters for entering the contest and waited for the submissions to roll it... Wah, wah, waaaaah. ZERO people entered! Each time I visit my blog I am blown away by reading the traffic feeder I see visitors from across the country and around the globe from Zimbabwe to Australia. I haven't had a harder time giving away free stuff since my last garage sale. If I didn't state it clearly enough before I really love this CD, you will two! I am officially amending my rules for entry into the contest and extending the deadline to enter:

Please send an email with the answer to ONE of the following questions to:

1) From what city does Brian Vogan hail?
2) How many CD's has he recorded and what are they called?
3) What was his most recent Facebook update?

If no one enters before next week, I am giving it to my sister's family nepotism be damned!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sing a Little Song

I was looking through my list of yet-to-be-reviewed CD's which always makes my head spin a bit. I wasn't sure what I'd pick up to pop in and play, but then I remembered that I received not one but two copies of Brian Vogan's latest release Sing a Little Song with a kindly note that read "Free Giveaway CD!! :)" This made me excited since this will be a first for Singing in the Bathtub. Details on the giveaway will be at the end of this post....

I was immediately drawn to this CD's Eric Carle-esqe cut-out style illustrations. Upon listening to it, I was pleased to hear that the music captures a similar cheerful mood. At it's core this album has a solid folk-rock sound. It ranges from more traditional acoustic songs like "How to Fly" to tunes like "Wash Your Hands" with a harder edge, and even some Elvis-inspired, blues ("One Tiny Little Frog") for good measure.

Vogan's voice is deep and dry and whether harmonizing with himself or with his "Good Buddies" (as he calls his back up band) this CD features some great vocal performances. "Tow Truck" is entirely a cappella but you won't miss the instruments! For my money, "Cross The Street" is the best tune on the album, it has a nice, almost hypnotic, groove and some tasty vintage keyboards and chiming guitars. There are even some street sound effects to get those little imaginations churning.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: Both Tracey and I were trying to figure out how to describe Brian Vogan, or whom his music reminded us of. I hear hints of alt-rock groups like Magnetic Fields or Wilco. Every now and then, his voice reminds me of They Might Be Giants. A lot of care and thought went into the production of this album. Each song has it's own vibe and the arrangements are dense, but not overwhelming. The imagery and lyrics are perfect for the preschool/elementary crowd and leave you with a smile. All around, it's been a nice way to spend an early Friday evening listening to Sing a Little Song!

On to the good stuff...
As I mentioned this is Singing in the Bathtub's inaugural CD giveaway. I have participated in giveaways from the other end, so I will try and learn from other blogs who have raffled off my music. In order to be entered into the drawing please send an email to:

Your email should include your name and address and the answer to the following questions (which can be found on Brian Vogan's website):

1) In what city does Brian Vogan live?
2) How many albums has he released and what are they called?
3) What was written in his latest Facebook
update? (you can "Like" him too)

Again, this is the first time we've done a giveaway so I'll have to see how many entries I receive. I will post the winner and describe the selection process in my next post. Stay tuned!

Kid Quote of the Day: "How come your chin hair is golden Mr. Nick?" ~Brady (age: 4) "I guess that's just how it grows," I replied.

Friday, September 3, 2010

...and we're back!

Well, the leisurely summer evaporated into that busy, new-school-year time. The dust is settling, my various school schedules are falling to place, my fall concert season is filling up, so it's time to get back to some good ole fashioned BLOGGING!

Since my last post Singing in the Bathtub has celebrated it's two year birthday! Looking back on the many exciting stories, album reviews and adventures that these two years have brought, I feel proud of this little blog that could. My shelves are stocked with so much great music, and my view of the world of kids' music has changed forever. Hopefully my readers are enriched with great new music as well, and the artists featured here are reaping the rewards.

One of my first posts was a top ten list of kids' music albums. Much of the music I featured in this list was from my own childhood (a good place to start). Have, since, discovered so many new artists and groups that I think it is time to do an updated top ten:

Singing in the Bathtub Top Ten Kids' Song 2008-2010

10) Where's the Music? ~Medeski, Martin and Wood
this album made it to my last top ten, but this song has become a staple in my classroom.

9) Educated Kid ~The Hipwaders
Seeing Tito and the Hipwaders perform this live at Kindiefest, and hearing the inspiration behind it gave me a new love for this tune.

8) This Is Your Body ~Baze and His Silly Friends
Raunchy blues/rock and sweet harmonies are what put this track on my list.

7) Time Goes ~King Pajama
Certain songs make my arm hair stand up. Jason's sweet piano playing and Nina's soulful voice get me everytime.

6) See You On The Moon ~Great Lake Swimmers
This is a cross-over hit from these Canadian alt-rockers. It was featured in a Honda commercial.

5) Walk Tall ~Ziggy Marley (feat. Paul Simon)
I feel like there's not much more to say than Paul Simon AND Ziggy Marley... c'mon!

4) New Shoes ~Recess Monkey
Anyone who knows me well knows my obsession with shoes. I recall sleeping with my brand new Air Jordans when I was 13. This song hits a sweet spot with yours truly.

3) Cool To Be Uncool ~The Jimmies
Another track from the original top ten. I love this song even if I only get to break out my jackets and sweaters 1-2 weeks out of the year here in SoFLo.

2) Superhero ~Tim and the Space Cadets
This song has a bit of an unfair advantage. The thing that really sold me on this one is the amazing video that Tim and the Space Cadets created on the streets of Brooklyn.

1) Let's Start Dancing ~The Flannery Brothers
This was a tough choice. It was between this one and The Flannery Bro's "The Wake-Up Song." I wasn't able to find a link to the latter so please enjoy!

Well that's the list folks. Please follow the links, sample the tunes and download them liberally. For just about $10 you could have an amazing mix of all these great tunes.

Kid Quote of the Day: "Mr. Nick why aren't you wearing the same clothes you were last time?" Arianna asked as we played with snap blocks in her classroom. "Well, it's a new day and I am wearing new clothes," I replied. "Okay friends, It's time to go to our music class," Mrs. Howell announced. "You better go get on your music clothes Mr. Nick!" ~Arianna (age: 4)