Tag Archives: Children’s Music

Mister Rogers: Bedtime / You’re Growing / You Are Special / Coming and Going

Reissues of four albums of acceptance and empowerment

In celebration of the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Omnivore released the Mister Rogers best-of compilation It’s Such a Good Feeling, alongside the instrumental collection Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Jazz. They now dig deeper into the catalog with reissues of four original albums, 1992’s Bedtime, You’re Growing, and You Are Special, and 1997’s Coming and Going. Each album is bookended with unique versions of the signature songs “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and “It’s Such a Good Feeling,” collect songs that loosely fit around the album’s title theme, and are backed by Mister Rogers’ longtime jazz trio of Johnny Costa (piano), Carl McViker (bass) and Bobby Rawsthorne (percussion).

Bedtime features songs of comfort and reassurance that will help send a young child’s worried mind into dreaming wonder. Rogers addresses a common childhood concern on “Nighttime Sounds,” turns existential for “When the Day Turns Into Night,” and closes out the theme with “Peace and Quiet.” You’re Growing highlights the momentous physical and emotional growth that comes in a child’s early years – changes that are often confusing or frightening. You Are Special centers on acceptance, self confidence and individual empowerment, and Coming and Going is about new experiences and the comfort of the familiar. The latter visits the Neighborhood of Make Believe for several songs.

Rogers’ empathy for a young child’s concerns is demonstrated through his deeply considered validation of their feelings. His lyrical themes are universal and timeless, and in these performances, his caring has survived his corporeal form. The trio’s light jazz backings are equally empathetic to Rogers’ thoughts. Rogers’ was a unique television star, but more centrally, he was a unique friend and educator of young children, and his song catalog retains the caring that he poured into everything he did. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Fred Rogers: It’s Such a Good Feeling – The Best of Mister Rogers

The timeless understanding and caring of Mister Rogers

Children’s entertainment is often filled with empty merchandising calories, and devoid of the thoughtful content that promotes intellectual and emotional growth. But that is not the case with the music of Fred Rogers, creator and host of the eponymous Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Educated in musical composition, divinity and child development, Rogers turned the meditations of his solitary childhood into a helping hand for preschoolers. While Sesame Street focused on helping young children get ready for the cognitive growth of schooling, Rogers prepared them for the parallel emotional development they would experience in new social situations. Rogers spoke and sang to children with insight and patience that acknowledged feelings and fears that adults had long since forgotten. He offered a helping hand through songs whose fundamental truths connected deeply with his audience.

His television show included many memorable characters and activities, but his music reached deeper. For those who grew up watching the show (or parenting children who did), the songs remain a sense memory that can instantly transport you back to an age of uncertainty and seemingly endless questions. His lyrics encompasses thoughts and lessons in friendship, optimism, attentiveness, confidence, vulnerability, perseverance, empathy, imagination, self-worth, humor, individuality and a myriad of questions, emotions and anxieties that children first encounter in their formative years. Rogers’ songs put a name to these feelings, and let children know that such feelings are both natural and shared.

Rogers recorded with a trio of musical director and pianist Johnny Costa, bassist Carl McVicker, and percussionist Bobby Rawsthorne. Their light, jazzy instrumentals typically stayed in the background, underlying the emotional lessons of the lyrics. Rogers released dozens of singles, EPs and albums, but few remain in print. Omnivore’s 21-track collection cherrypicks from four previous albums (You’re Growing, Coming and Going, Bedtime, and You Are Special), and adds five previously unreleased recordings, including the closing rendition of Rogers’ trademark show closer “Tomorrow.” The eight-page booklet includes an introductory note by film biographer Morgan Neville, and liners by Pittsburgh TV critic Robert Bianco. Rogers’ gentle manner may seem out of place in today’s belligerent times, which makes his lessons in civility all the more relevant. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Chip Taylor & The Grandkids: Golden Kids Rules

Famed songwriter sings with his granddaughters

Chip Taylor’s most widely known for his iconic rock, pop and country compositions, including “I Can’t Let Go,” “Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Country Girl City Man” and “Sweet Dream Woman.” His parallel recording career, including solo albums and a few charting singles in the mid-70s, never gained the renown of his writing, and spent most of the 1980s as a successful professional gambler. He crept back on to the music scene with a few albums in the ‘90s, and in 2002 he kicked off a series of collaborations with Carrie Rodriguez, which in turn led to the past decade’s recording renaissance. His latest, recorded with three granddaughters (Riley, Kate and Samantha), is the product of his long-term practice of writing songs for family events. On the occasion of his son’s marriage, Taylor wrote a trio of songs to sing with his grandkids, and the family’s response prompted this full album.

Taylor’s grizzled voice blends happily with the chirpy pre-teen tones of his granddaughters, and the songs he’s written (with co-writing from Kate on “Magical Horse”) fit their young years. The girls sing sweetly, shining on the humorous stories and confident on the more serious lyrics. The former will catch your kids’ ears for sing-along on first pass, but it’s the weightier lyrics that introduce the deeper pleasures of songs. Taylor’s songs allow his grandkids to be kids, suggesting they “learn stuff about stuff you don’t know,” take time to wander into their imaginations, and ask questions. There are messages for adults as well, reminding parents that kids have ideas and dreams that need to be heard, and that they can be empowered to care for others and for the planet.

The three songs originally recorded for Taylor’s son’s wedding close the collection, including the terrific second-line inflected soul of “The Possum Hunter,” a father’s clever and warm advisory “Happy Wedding,” and the hopeful “Now That Kristian and Anna Have Wed.” The album is charming and, particularly given Taylor’s depth as a songwriter, the quality of his assembled band, and the freshness of his granddaughters’ singing, a welcome respite from the bulk of purpose-built children’s music. The collection’s release on Smithsonian Folkways puts it in remarkable company, alongside classic albums from Pete Seeger, Ella Jenkins, Alan Mills and many others. Take a break from Barney and the Wiggles, and let Chip Taylor and his granddaughters entertain you. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Golden Kids’ Rules
Smithsonian Folkways’ Home Page

Ukulele Jim: Ukulele Jim’s Jumping Flea Circus

Delightful and catchy children’s songs

Albums written and recorded especially for young children are the diciest of propositions for parents. Repeated requests (nay, commands) of “play it again” can soon become torture to older ears. There are precious few records in the world that you can listen to over and over (and over and over), and even fewer that will entertain both toddler and adult. James Andrew “Ukulele Jim” Clark has found a winning formula in combining clever original songs, well-weathered favorites of the playground set, and a few left-field selections that fit nicely in the mix. Central to Clark’s appeal is his inviting singing voice and the ukulele’s unique ability to create a friendly, relaxing mood anywhere, anytime.

The album opens with the title song’s brilliant evocation of a magical jumping flea circus. Instrumentalist Ben Ticehurst adds musical flair with his tuba, organ and celesta, and Clark’s Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks styled flea voices are very cute. But it’s the cleverness of his imagery that will amaze and astound. For one night only, a tiny-top tent houses a ukulele-playing flea standing upon a thimble as he presents his singing and dancing brethren, a high wire centipede act, acrobat grasshoppers jumping through rings of fire, pill bug canon balls, and an all-beetle band. The circus returns later in the album to reprise a lullaby coda of crickets accompanying the circus’ exit and dreams of its return.

Clark provides his young audience many opportunities to stretch their imaginations, wondering what they’ll be when they grow up, picturing dream worlds, selecting super-powers, and providing a happy ending for the anthropomorphic horn of “The Lonely Little Saxophone.” Clark’s rendition of “Wheels on the Bus” manages to swing a bit mid-song, and with “Rock a Bye Baby” he marries the classic lullaby (three distinct verses, plus refrain!) to the bass line and piano vamp of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da.” Ticehurst adds lovely strings and glockenspiel to “Little Star,” and the exotica classic “Yellow Bird” (famously recorded by vibraphone master Arthur Lyman) provides an unexpected treat from the past.

The disc winds down with the restful “Cowboy Song” which might help ease children to bed if not for the litany of excuses cataloged in “The Bedtime Blues.” As a bonus, and just in time for the holiday season, the disc closes with an original Christmas song. The vocal accompaniment of his young twins will remind you of the banter between Alvin and Dave Seville, though here the children scold the parent when his imagination strays. Clark will delight children with his singing and songs, and he thankfully avoids the pitfalls that make such albums a trial for parents. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Ukulele Jim’s Home Page
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Buy Ukulele Jim’s Jumping Flea Circus at Bandcamp

The Rubinoos: Biff-Boff-Boing!

Kid-friendly album from the kings of power-pop harmony

Though it’s been five years since the Rubinoos released their last album of new material, Twist Pop Sin, they’ve been busy boys (and girl). Tours of Japan and Spain were accompanied by odds ‘n’ sods collections (One Two That’s It and HodgePodge) and their seminal Beserkley recordings finally received the attention they deserved with the 3-CD Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Rubinoos. They played a pair of headline gigs at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall in 2007 and 2008 that showed their vocal and instrumental chops were as sharp (if not sharper) than ever. Founding members Jon Rubin and Tommy Dunbar are joined by long-time bassist and vocalist Al Chan, keyboardist/vocalist Suzy Davis and drummer David Rokeach.

The Rubinoos’ latest album, ostensibly a kid-friendly all-ages collection, includes several favorites from their live set, a few novelty covers, and newly penned songs that will enchant both small fry and parent-mocking ‘tweens. Best of all the Rubinoos’ great singing and playing won’t bludgeon parents into a musical coma when commanded to “play it again!” Tracking through the album you’ll realize the group didn’t have to change course to craft an album pleasing to kids – something that’s farily obvious when you go back and listen to their 1977 cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Their bright pop harmonies – enhanced by doo-wop vocal arrangements Rubin and Dunbar bring from their work with the Mighty Echoes – are pleasing to ears both young and old.

The album opens, as has their live set recently, with a cover of Alvin & The Chipmunks’ “Witch Doctor,” and their covers of the Marathons’ “Peanut Butter” and Eternals’ “Rockin’ in the Jungle” (the latter complete with funny animal imitations) honor the originals with their vocal finesse. Jon Rubin’s voice retains the sweetness of his early years, and he slings out these songs with every bit of the enthusiasm of a twenty-year-old who can’t believe he gets to do this for a living. Tommy Dunbar’s songs also retain the charms of youth, with “Dumb it Down” mining the Jackson Five groove heard in several earlier Rubinoos tunes, and a new version of “Mothers Always Know” remembering teenage life under a parent’s roof.

‘Tweens will love the sarcasm of “Have a Cow” and goofy planetism of “Earth Number One,” while parents will enjoy Suzy Davis’ theatrical rendition of the Who’s “Boris the Spider.” The latter plays well on stage, as does the album’s closing cover of the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar.” The Rubinoos once played agent provocateur with “Sugar Sugar” at Bill Graham’s Winterland, and enchanted fans with an extended jam at London’s Hammersmith Odeon; tightened up to three-minutes the song proves itself the enduring national anthem of the bubblegum world. And nearly forty years after their debut (Bay High Hop, December 1970), the Rubinoos endure as power pop champions, ready and able to rock the next generation of music fans. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Dumb it Down (Clip)
MP3 | Peanut Butter (Clip)
MP3 | Mothers Always Know (Clip)
The Rubinoos’ Home Page
The Rubinoos’ MySpace Page