Music Review: Small – KiNDERGARTEN

Hi there…

Some bands defy categorization. KiNDERGARTEN falls into that camp for me. The four members’ diverse array of experience and musical talent mixes styles and influences with minimal effort and presents a unique sound that definitely leaves an impression.

My first exposure to the band was through their “The Man on the Stairs” video, which evokes a vibe that’s part “Thriller”, part Thomas Dolby. The creepy dancers in black and the entertaining video cuts and transitions that match perfectly with the bizarre, yet catchy tune. Who knew a song about being freaked out by a “dead man doin’ the moonwalk” upstairs would leave such a lasting impression?

But KiNDERGARTEN doesn’t stop there. “The Man On The Stairs” is joined by eleven other unique tracks on the album Small, which was released in early February 2010. The whole album is awesome, but I have a few favorites…

“Elementally Challenged” reminds me somehow of Rocky Horror Picture Show in the way it grooves along almost conversationally. In it, the band manages to mix rock sensibilities with the seasons. At first, we have a summer hotter than usual, then we have a winter “like a slow death in a meat locker,” which finally signals the end to the battle between the heat and cold in springtime. And like many of us in areas that suffer Mother Nature’s wrath at times in the passing of seasons, the singer is “elementally challenged” from time to time.

Then you have “C15-78Y” which hits me as a hard rock version of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” combining a very disparate, futuristic set of sounds with the story of a man with no name – just a number. He wants a name. He wants to know his family. Serious commentary on the harsh realities of the modern world set to a rockin’ tune. “Take your number, I’m tired of living a lie” he says – “just don’t gimme no number.” A sentiment I think many of us can identify with from time to time in the computerized age of rank and file.

The four members of Kindergarten have some serious music chops to their credit. Lead singer Ariel Levine started his music career in the 5th grade with saxophone and guitar, moved on to voice and theater in high school, and skipped college all together to learn audio engineering. From there, he worked as a professional music producer with such talents as Wynton Marsalis, Carmine Appice, Eric Lewis, and Collective Soul. In 2005, he decided to form his own band and connected with the other three artists.

Sakura Toyama is the group’s keyboardist. She started playing at age 3 and later earned a Bachelors in Musical Arts from the University of Michigan and an Artists Diploma from the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland. In 2001, she moved to New York City and had to give up playing piano for a while when she couldn’t fit one in her apartment. Later she heard Levine was looking for a keyboardist and became part of the band that became KiNDERGARTEN.

A year after Toyama joined the band, Levine needed a new bassist and met Zach Abramson while working on the soundtrack for an indie film called The Changeling. Abramson had just completed his Masters in Composition at the Manhattan School of Music and though he’d grown up playing classical piano, he’d picked up the bass guitar at age 12 because it was “cooler.” He performed in funk, jazz, and rock bands throughout middle and high school and through kismet, KiNDERGARTEN gained a new bassist.

The eldest of the group, Yancy Lambert, grew up playing horns and played in the drum and bugle corps as a teen. But he didn’t pick up the drums until age 20 after watching his older brother play for years. Self-taught on percussion, he sat in on local cover bands in Massachusetts and eventually moved to New York City in the late 1980s in several funk and soul groups. That work eventually led him to a regular spot with the music collective Brooklyn Funk Essentials, who played on several movie and television soundtracks. With his experience and range of influences, he seemed a natural fit for KiNDERGARTEN when Levine heard him working as a drummer in the studio where Levine worked.

KiNDERGARTEN’s first album, River of Slime was recorded, produced, and mixed by Levine in 2007. The band has played throughout NYC, including at CBGB’s, Knitting Factory, Mercury Lounge, and many others. And though Small was evidently more of a collaboration of the foursome, you honestly can’t tell this is a sophomore album. It blows my mind to think of the amount of musical talent and experience in this group. But if you listen to the music of KiNDERGARTEN, you can hear all that experience and all the influences come through in spades. It’s hard to believe they’ve only been together since 2005!

If you’re looking for something new, different, and funky, look no further than KiNDERGARTEN’s album Small. It’ll knock your socks off with intriguing lyrics and awesome rock. Be sure to check out their website at KiNDERGARTENNYC.COM for more details!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up KiNDERGARTEN MP3s at Amazon:

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Music Review: Baby Guitars – Nancy Wilson

Hi all!

Nancy Wilson is one of the two goddesses of the rock group Heart. So why may you ask is she creating an album of tunes specifically meant to help lull babies to sleep? Well, why not? She’s a mom too!

Evidently, the idea of composing guitar lullabies didn’t occur to her originally. “It never occurred to me to actually try and put people to sleep with my music,” she says. “But then the idea came up when a friend had a new baby.” She tested these tunes on several unsuspecting “test babies” and many have been lulled to sleep by them. So they must work, right?

Let me put your fears to rest. These are beautiful, acoustic instrumentals, that adults or children might listen to on a lazy Sunday morning or before bed to settle down after a long day. Each of the ten songs on the CD was composed by Wilson and bandmates Craig Bartock and Debbie Shair and played by the trio as well. Wilson and Bartock played guitars and Shair helped on a concert harp. And if the music isn’t enough to get you to buy the CD, the cover and CD art were done by Ms. Wilson’s kids – Curtis and Billy.

Some of these tunes came dangerously close to putting me to sleep – including the repetitive, nearly meditative “Cozy Rain” and the slow glide of “Silky.” “Sun on the Rug” was even heard recently in the soundtrack for the Hilary Swank movie P.S. I Love You.

It’s hard to believe that Heart has been rocking the world with music since the 1970s, but they’re gearing up to mark the 30th anniversary of Dog & Butterfly, a classic multi-platinum album. And if that’s not enough, they’re also going to start work on their 14th studio album soon. With such classic songs as “Crazy On You,” “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” and many, many others, it’s great to know that Nancy, her sister, and the rest of the band are still committed to creating great music for fans big and small.

If you, like me, are a big fan of Heart and have kids or know people with young children, you can’t miss by picking up this great collection of original acoustic guitar songs. Even if you don’t have kids, Baby Guitars might be just the thing for a lazy day. The album is only available on Amazon.com as a CD and digital download, so go order yours today!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great CDs from Heart below!

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Music Review: Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

Hey!

Over the last 20 years, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (CPD) may have been pigeonholed in some fans’ minds as a swing group. Fans of the band know they do so much more than swing and have been involved in the ska scene forever. Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies focuses on the band’s ska hits from the past and a few new tracks for good measure.

Skaboy JFK focuses on the 1960s-era up-tempo form of pre-reggae Jamaican Soul known as ska. What is ska? For me it boils down to mixing Swing with Punk — a horn section, rock guitars, and an attitude. There are many definitions of ska, but they all seem to start in Jamaica and the UK in the 1960s and end when both RBF and No Doubt appeared in or near the mainstream in the 1990s. Personally, I don’t buy that ska is dead.

CPD toured with many of the big ska bands when they were coming up in popularity, including the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Fishbone, Reel Big Fish, The Specials, No Doubt, and Madness. During those days, they were focused on the “Zoot Suit Riot” fans, so they didn’t play a ton of ska in their sets.

Now in 2009 with two albums coming out on the same day, you’d think there would be more repeated tracks. But there’s only one track – “Hi and Lo” – duplicated between Susquehanna and Skaboy JFK, so if you pick up both albums you won’t be disappointed. With 12 amazing tracks on Skaboy JFK and 13 more on Susquehanna you can have a long swing/ska set that lasts a couple of hours!

Skaboy JFK focuses on the different waves of ska music – Traditiona/Bluebeat (“2:29,” “Soul Cadillac”), Two Tone (“Hammerblow,” “Skaboy JFK”), Third Wave (“Hi and Lo,” “Sockable Face Club”) and even a Fishbone-esque hybrid for good measure (“Slapstick”).

On the album, there’s definitely a few favorites of mine… “Sockable Face Club” being at the top of the list. Full of energy at an insane pace, it’s tough to object with lyrics like “You’re in my Sockable Face Club / You gotta punchable face, bub / Grab him, nab him / Everything you do makes me feel like you need to get a blackened eye…” Frenetic energy talking about a fight in the bathroom… And with piano licks that drive the song all the way through, this is one toe-tapping, fist-fighting ska tune.

Then there’s “Cosa Nostra,” which again focuses on a fight – this time it’s a day in the life of a mobster. “It takes some pressure to make a diamond / It takes some losin’ to win a soul / It takes a bleak house to run away from / It takes a warm bed to appreciate the cold world inside of you…” Who would have thought that being a mobster was so lyrical? The music takes a step back, with muted trumpets and a bass line that leads you through the mobster’s life.

I’m not sure what makes me like these songs about fighting, but I have to say that the music and energy in all of the tracks will keep me coming back for years to come.

Be sure to check out Susquehanna and Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies when they are released on September 29, 2009 and check out their website www.daddies.com for upcoming news and tour dates! It’s great that the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies have returned with new music to prove that ska and swing are far from dead.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to check out this and other great Cherry Poppin’ Daddies music at Amazon below!

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