RIP George Martin, the True Fifth Beatle

A great patriarch of my own biggest geekdom, Sir George Martin (not the author, no “R”s), died last night, March 8, 2016. This is no tragedy. He was 90 years old. He led a thoroughly fulfilling life.

The tragedy would be to ignore this, to not acknowledge or realize the monumental impact he had on popular music. George Martin helped turn rock music into a relatively respected art form. And “helped” is even too mild a word for it.

Continue reading RIP George Martin, the True Fifth Beatle

How Karaoke Rid Me Of Stage Fright

My name is called and I step on stage. My friends have had their turns, and the mood is festive. I’ve never sung karaoke, and the idea of singing off key and thoroughly humiliating myself in front of people I know is mortifying.

But I get up on stage and belt out my rendition of Duran Duran’s ‘A View To A Kill.’ I let the music draw me in and focus on the lyrics on the screen before me (really?! that’s what the words are?), and I sing.
Continue reading How Karaoke Rid Me Of Stage Fright

Can I Be Him for the Weekend?

Even before I saw the latest Coldplay/Beyoncé video, I had learned of the outcry against their cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of India. So I watched it, ready to roll my eyes at the blatant stereotypes and stew in my outrage.

Here’s what I saw:

  • Indians can dance
  • India has beautiful ordinary people
  • Unlike in Bollywood films, women don’t wander the streets all scantily clad.
  • Beyoncé honestly didn’t impress. She looked out of her element and more awkward in her mediocre attempts at “Indian hands,” and looked like she was trying too hard with the massive cleavage in her clothes.
  • And finally, Beyoncé’s soprano is no match for Lata Mangeshkar’s. No, Bey, you are no Nightingale.

Now before you get all up in arms about how I’m defending this cultural appropriation, might I draw your attention to Bollywood films? Specifically, I’m talking about the portrayal of second-generation Indian immigrants living in the West (both these are in England, but the crap flows to America as well) in the movies Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ, for short) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (KKKG). I know these are older examples, but they are currently available on Netflix, so they continue to perpetuate the stereotypes.
Continue reading Can I Be Him for the Weekend?

I Used To Be A Musical Purist (Mostly) But I’m Not Anymore

As someone who stuck with band through college, and even got a little bit of a scholarship for doing something I loved and would have done anyway, I’ve played all kinds of music. I was in concert band and, since George Washington doesn’t have a football team, also in what we called “pep band.”

I put on my black and whites for stage performances and my rugby to play at every men’s and women’s home basketball game for four years (and even a few away games with a notable trip to Orlando for the first round of the NCAA tournament).

Thing was, even when we did a Pops show in concert band, it was a very different sort of music than we played in pep band. The former is as you would likely suspect. The later was mostly pared down, high-energy arrangements of things like Paul Simon’s Call me Al or Europe’s Final Countdown. Two very, very different worlds. Both monstrously enjoyable, but never did the twain meet. Continue reading I Used To Be A Musical Purist (Mostly) But I’m Not Anymore

Be at Peace Among Your Stars, Ziggy

Death is always sad. Someone has always lost something precious and dear. Even the largest of personalities, the biggest of stars have a mother, a father, siblings, a spouse, friends. People who loved not the personality but the person. Though there are many celebrity passings that have affected me, about which I have felt grief and loss, I have, for the most part, tried to remember that, tried to reserve the deep pain for those who knew the person underneath.

Leonard Nimoy was an exception.

David Bowie is another.

This one hurts. Continue reading Be at Peace Among Your Stars, Ziggy

‘A Christmas Together’ With The Muppets and John Denver: My Annual GeekOut

Every year on my personal blog, I post the lyrics to a song from my favorite childhood Christmas album as my seasonal well-wishes to anyone reading. I’m a Christmas Geek, as I mentioned here a few weeks ago, so I want to make sure my well-wishes express my feelings without alienating anyone who doesn’t share those feelings, and this song manages that perfectly. It’s heartfelt and gentle, it’s inclusive and welcoming of all faiths without shying away from personal spirituality, it’s about love and peace and togetherness. And also, it’s sung by Kermit the Frog.

Continue reading ‘A Christmas Together’ With The Muppets and John Denver: My Annual GeekOut

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #8: Movies, TV, and Music

Holiday break is a popular time to binge watch movies and television shows, and to play music while people are off school or work. What are some of the GeekMoms’ favorite media?

Image: Arista Records
Image: Arista Records

Free to Be… You and Me
Prices vary
If you were a kid in the ’70s, you may have watched or listened to Free to Be… You and Me. It was a fantastic movie, and also a record album. My mom even has the piano music book with original illustrations. The message of the project, spearheaded by Marlo Thomas, is that every child is fine, just the way they are. It’s fine to be different, it’s fine to cry, it’s fine to be a boy who likes dolls. It’s good to be nice to other people, and to be a responsible friend. These are messages that are just as important today as they were in the 1970s. Plenty of other famous people participated in the project. Kris Kristofferson, Michael Jackson, Mel Brooks, Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Roberta Flack, Carol Channing, Shel Silverstein, Tom Smothers, Dionne Warwick, Rosie Grier, and others all lent their skills and/or notoriety to it. Share this movie, CD, or book with your favorite children today, showing them that you love them, just as they are.

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #8: Movies, TV, and Music

Hamilton: The Story of a Musical and My Six-Year-Old

Very little remains to be said about Hamilton: The Musical that Broadway blogs, mainstream media, Twitter, and every other thing haven’t already said.

Except for the story that I am about to tell.

This is the story of how a historical musical based on the founding father, Alexander Hamilton, not only helped me explore history with my six-year-old son but created a gateway into the world that gave me so much growing up.

Growing up, my parents took me to musicals all the time. I saw Cats, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and so many others that I can’t even begin to count them. We live near Hartford, and the Bushnell always has a Broadway musical series. My parents would get subscriptions to the cheap, nosebleed seats. I loved it.

So, having my own child, I wanted to bring musical theater into his life as well. We’ve seen ballets and plays. I took him to a hip-hop Shakespeare (which was excellent!). So when streaming Hamilton on NPR made me think of my son, I, of course, played segments for him after school.

Continue reading Hamilton: The Story of a Musical and My Six-Year-Old

The Rite of Passage of The All Ages Concert

I’ve had some pretty interesting live music experiences in my day.

I witnessed Mick and his boys endure constant drunk-dude outbursts of “Woooo, I love you, Keith Richards!” during what was otherwise a flawless Rolling Stones performance, and laughed as my mom’s asthma mysteriously cleared up from the nasty-smelling cloud of smoke wafting down on us at the Willie Nelson show.

I watched a performance by Pearl Jam with pure disgust, because an Austin afternoon traffic jam caused us to miss my only chance ever to see The Ramones. I yelled myself hoarse at both a Stray Cats reunion show and a Johnny Cash performance, and watched Gordon Gano chew out the audience like a school marm for throwing water bottles at a Violent Femmes show.

I pouted, because I wasn’t “old enough” to see The Clash yet, and thoroughly ticked off when former Sex Pistol John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon had a “throat problem” that caused him to cancel his show.

I’ve prog-rocked along with Carlos Santana, sh*t-kicked with Dwight Yoakum, and “rock concert moved” with the original Blue Man Group before they became an over-hyped brand name.

I’ve attended a chamber music performance at a motorcycle dealership, and seen countless jazz and folk concerts under the West Texas stars, while working summer music festivals.

I love live music, be it classical or heavy metal, pop or punk, blues or bluegrass. Just put me in that atmosphere surrounded by people drinking in the experience of absorbing that pure sound of notes and lyrics flowing from stage to ear; a sound without the sanitized filter of the car radio or Beats ear buds, and I’m where I want to be.

Now, here’s the overwhelmingly humiliating part. It all started with Lawrence Welk. Continue reading The Rite of Passage of The All Ages Concert

‘Doctor Who’ Comic Variant Covers Rock 2016

The Twelfth Doctor, has already proven his rock sensibilities on Series 9 of BBC’s Doctor Who. Now, Titan Comics is giving The Doctor and his companions a little more music cred with a series of variant covers inspired by classic album art.

Each cover is created by artist Simon Myers (Scarlett Couture, Ghost), starting with a special Forbidden Planet/Jetpack exclusive variant of Doctor Who: Eighth Doctor #1 depicting the Eighth Doctor incarnation (Paul McGann) via the style of Bob Dylan’s “The Freewheelin’.” Continue reading ‘Doctor Who’ Comic Variant Covers Rock 2016

In Search of ‘Ten Pieces II’: My Battle With CBBC Envy

“Classical music is a little bit like having a spaceship. It can take you anywhere you want.”
— Dominic Wood (of CBBC’s Dick and Dom) in Ten Pieces.

We listen to a ton of music of all genres in our home. I’m proud to say my 6-year-old, who enjoys Yo-Yo Ma, can identify Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Cello, BWV 1007, as quickly as she can The Ramone’s “Pet Sematery,” the latter of which she just recently quit referring to as “Don’t Put Me in the Berry.”

Over the past month leading up to Halloween, we had been playing several “dark classics,” including, among other pieces, Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and especially the goose bump-inducing Bach masterpiece Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Therefore, I tapped into the wonders of world-connecting Internet, as well as my insatiable journey for all things educational, and spiraled myself into a corner of frustration, as I tried to access the video content of BBC’s young people’s programming branch, CBBC’s, classical music film and outreach program for secondary schools, Ten Pieces II. Continue reading In Search of ‘Ten Pieces II’: My Battle With CBBC Envy

Classical Geeky

My local orchestra, The Albany Symphony, has a concert series aimed at families with young children. This season they are total geeks. Harry Sonata and The Baton of Power, Star Warriors: The Opera, and The Superhero Show. Here’s a write up for the first one:

“Young Harry Sonata doesn’t want to be an ordinary wizard; he wants to become a musical wizard. But to do that, he’ll have to do battle with the evil Lord Moldywart and learn to wield the “Baton of Power.” He’ll need your help learning all about the art of conducting so he can vanquish the forces of evil and make the orchestra SING! Great music by: Tchaikovsky, Sousa, Strauss, Beethoven, and others.”

Continue reading Classical Geeky

The Bacon Brothers Band: 6 Guys Worth Swooning Over—Not Just the Movie Star

Bacon Brothers Band  Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band. Photo: Judy Berna

In the five years I’ve written for GeekMom, I’ve discovered there are two ways to geek out about something. Most of us have something we do in our free time that makes us happy, the hobby we geek out about. Around here the list is long, ranging from comic books to knitting to attending fun conventions.

Then there are the things we geek out about that we can’t (or don’t) necessarily do ourselves, but we fully appreciate that others have mastered them. A friend once told me, “Some are here to create and some are here to appreciate.” That’s me. I appreciate a lot.

Music falls into this category for me. I adore music. I am fascinated by music. But I don’t play music. The perfect date night for me is to sit in one of our small local bars in my mountain town and listen to someone play live on the tiny stage. Whatever category of music they play, I’m there to appreciate.

Last week I had the ultimate date night. After traveling to Nashville to visit my two oldest kids in their young adult lives, I had tickets to go see The Bacon Brothers Band in concert. It wasn’t my first rendezvous with the band. In fact, I’ve possibly seen them a dozen times in the past 12 years.

Bacon Brothers Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band. Photo: Judy Berna

In the early days after I found their music, and realized how talented they were, I lucked into becoming friends with their bass player, Paul Guzzone (which is a story for another day). Through the years our friendship has survived and thrived, even as I continue to move around the country. When we lived in New York, near many of their concerts, I had the treat of seeing them several times a year.

GeekMom Judy with her son,  and Michael and Kevin Bacon    Photo: Judy Berna
GeekMom Judy with her son, and Michael and Kevin Bacon. Photo: Judy Berna

Then we moved to Colorado. They don’t play many shows out west. I hit a dry spell. Several years went by without a concert, and I was feeling it. Hearing the new stuff on my iPod was great, but I began craving the live show they pull off so beautifully. Finally a trip east coordinated with their tour dates this year and I immediately had tickets in hand.

Let me tell you why I love their music. First, let’s get the elephant in the room addressed. Yes, the band is named after the two guys on the mics at the front of the stage, Michael and Kevin Bacon. Kevin, as in the guy who is home plate for the Six Degrees game. Every show will have a smattering of the squealers and the screamers, who came to increase their Kevin Bacon number. But eventually they die down and the music makes you forget about that thing called celebrity.

Bacon Brothers Band    Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band Photo: Judy Berna

On the stage are six guys who do this brothers band thing on the side. They are all accomplished musicians on their own. They all have day jobs to support this rocking jones. Michael Bacon is an Emmy winning composer who has been immersed in the industry for over 40 years. Kevin, nine years younger than his brother, grew up in a house full of music and never let it stray far from his heart. Even while he spent decades filming blockbuster movies.

One thing I appreciate about their live show is the way they make the crowd forget that there’s a movie star on stage, and they let each musician shine. Each song has places where the bass, or the percussion, or the guitar, or the keyboard has its own time to shine. Every band member plays multiple instruments, and play them all well. No one is left out and the joy of playing live is spread around.

In fact, Ira Seigel, their left-handed guitar guru, plays so well that the band made a hilarious parody video, appropriately called “Lefty,” where the brothers tell Ira he will have to stop playing so well, because it makes them look bad. The guys still smile when I bring up that video, even years later.

Ira Siegel, doing his thing.  Photo: Judy Berna
Ira Siegel, doing his thing. Photo: Judy Berna

It’s not just the style of this music that draws me in. From slow, heartfelt songs (Angelina is a favorite) to down and dirty, rocking out songs (Not Born to Beauty and Get a Little) the lyrics never stop delighting me.

As a writer myself I appreciate good lyrics. It takes time, creativity and expert rhythm to come up with great lyrics. They have to fit the mood and the musical style. They have to speak to their audience. They can’t be lazy.

Here are a few of my all-time favorites, from the huge catalog of music the band has created in the past 20 years.

In the song Angelina, about a spouse, who cares too much about the world and fixing all that she sees (sound familiar?), and trying to make her step away from that stress and disappear into something more peaceful for the night:

The light showed through your dress, like the refrigerator moon. And I dreamed I was your dancer. And I dreamed this was the tune. Tilt your head back Angelina. Close your eyes and drift away. You’ve done everything that you can do, to save the world today. Don’t you tell me where you’re going. I don’t need to know. But as soon as you are ready. Angelina, I’m coming with you when you go.

From my all-time favorite song, Not Born to Beauty, about all of the talented musicians out there, who will never be famous, but were born to make music:

Turn on your MTV. You won’t find them there. You can read that Rolling Stone cover to cover, you won’t find them anywhere. But in basements and garages, hotel lounges, roadside bars, close your eyes and hear the tunes and you’ll be seeing stars. They were born to do it. They were born to play.

The very first Bacon Brothers song I ever heard was Ten Years in Mexico. I was hooked from the first line. A song about a 10th anniversary trip to Mexico:

Last night I dreamed of ice and sleet. I dreamed of sidewalks underneath my feet. Woke to find my suitcase by the door. I asked the mountains and the Cortez Sea, how did she come to love a fool like me? I don’t need the answers anymore.

Three more classic songs to check out are TMI (too much information), Good News, and Guess Again. All three have too many clever (self-deprecating) lyrics to post and will leave you smiling, guaranteed.

Sound Check - Bacon Brother Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Sound Check – Bacon Brother Band. Photo: Judy Berna

I have to take a second to point out the other two guys on stage, Joe Mennonna, who is on keyboard and accordion, and Frank Vilardi, who is the guy hiding behind the drums at the back of the stage. With the talent these guys possess, I could do a post on each of them individually.

I finally got to attend that long awaited concert, with my oldest son as my date. It was amazing, as it always is. No matter the city or venue, there is something about hearing such familiar songs that makes me feel at home.

Bacon Brothers Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band Photo: Judy Berna

I highly recommend seeking out a Bacon Brothers concert. If you’re a music creator yourself, I think you’ll respect the talent you see on stage. If you’re an appreciator, like me, you’ll definitely be in awe at the range of songs. Buy a few albums before you see them live, and get familiar with their sound. Be sure to take the time to really listen to the instrumentals and pay attention to the lyrics.

The band is just finishing up a summer tour but keep an eye on the website here, to find out about their future dates. In the meantime, head over to YouTube and cruise through some entertaining videos. I’ll start you with one of my favorite songs, Go My Way, that shows off all of the band members, including some amazing guitar work and some groovy moves by my friend Paul, on the red bass. Then head over to a clip that only has Kevin, but is from an amazing episode of Live From Daryl’s House. Next we’ll move to a fun clip from a radio appearance, where they covered Giving It Up For Your Love pretty awesomely. I love this one, from the same radio show, where they play another of my favorites, Old Guitars. For a nice acoustical taste, here’s a clip with just Michael and Kevin.

Michael Bacon on the cello.    Photo:  Judy Berna
Michael Bacon on the cello. Photo: Judy Berna

One the newest to the list, a song called 36 Cents. The chorus, listing what most musicians will have in their pockets when they die—“36 cents, a couple of  Fender medium flat picks, a crumbled up piece of paper, with the lyrics to this song.’ This song has amazing guitar sections.

Just do me a favor when you head off to their concert. Leave the crazy paparazzi attitude at home, then sit back and listen. I know you’ll enjoy the show. It’s a stage full of really talented guys. And yeah, they usually end the show with a rousing round of Footloose. Just to please the groupies.

Hey! Ho! Let’s Go… To Riverdale?

Archie:ramones
The Ramones will take over Archie Comics in 2016. Cover art by Gisele, courtesy of Archie Comics.

Punk rock pioneers The Ramones and Riverdale High School student Archie Andrews might not have much in common. However, that won’t stop them from hanging out in 2016, in Archie Meets The Ramones.

This crossover adventure is written by Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg, with art by Gisele. Segura has been very enthusiastic about this meet-up.

“Having the band crossover with Archie seems perfect and completely insane at the same time,” he said in the official announcement for the series. “Fans can expect a fun, rockin’, and heartfelt extra-sized adventure that will stand up there with some of the best Archie crossovers ever. Which is saying a lot!”

This isn’t the first time Archie and his pals have had musical encounters. In 2012, 70s rock icons Kiss helped Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and friends fight zombies—of course. The Riverdale students were also teleported (yes, teleported) to McKinley High School in 2013 for a crossover adventure with a different type of musically-intensive group, the cast of the hit show Glee. The Archies even had their own hit song in 1969, “Sugar Sugar,” thanks to their animated series.

It seems only right that the next step for Archie is a crossover with the foursome behind hits like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

Real-world musical guests have been invading comics for ages. In fact, ever since crooner Perry Como tried to steal Lois Lane from Superman (yes, this really happened), rock-and-roll and comics have had an interesting relationship. The Punisher even accidentally killed off most of rapper Eminem’s crew in a little misunderstanding in 2009.

rockcomics
Both fictional and real-life musical acts have graced the pages of comics for years. Images sources: Archie Comics, Revolutionary Comics, and IDW Publishing.

Here are three rockin’ comic series examples to search for among the long boxes of back issues:

Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics. This series of unlicensed mature-reader biographies from Revolutionary Comics amassed its share of supporters and lawsuits in its run from 1989 to 1994, but it sure covered some ground. Artists featured in the series ranged from Madonna to Mötley Crüe and New Kids On the Block to The Sex Pistols. Despite the litigious-minded world of rock-band merchandising, the series did well on the independent market eventually, with their Metallica biography selling around 75,000 copies.

Kiss Comics. Rock band Kiss has likely made more comic book cameos than any other band, as well as having their own titles from Marvel, Dark Horse, and Image, the latter of which published the long-running Kiss: Psycho Circus created by Todd McFarlane and written by Brian Holguin. This rock super team has fought alongside The X-Men, as well as against Marvel baddies like Doctor Doom. There are still Kiss comics being released today from IDW Publishing. This band has had a pretty good run though, considering their first comic appearance was in a 1977 issue of Howard the Duck.

anniversaries
Archie and Betty debuted in a 1941 issue of Pep Comics, while The Ramones’ debut album arrived on the scene in 1976. Images: Archie Comics and Sire Records.

Josie and the Pussycats. Okay, this group may not have been a “real” rock band before their Archie Comics debut, but they became real enough to their fans over the 40-year course of the comic series created by Dan DeCarlo. This cat-like combo spawned both a Saturday morning cartoon in the 1970s and a live-action film in 2001. Admit it, that theme song is now fully-embedded in the back of your brain.

No release date has been announced, but this latest rock crossover will coincide with anniversary celebrations for both Archie Comics and The Ramones in 2016, although there is quite a significant age gap between the two groups. Archie Comics will celebrate  the 75th anniversary of Archie’s first comic appearance, while the Ramones’ self-titled debut album turns a mere 40.

That’s the beauty of both rock-and-roll and comics… age means nothing when you’re having fun.

“Getting to draw Archie Meets Ramones has me fangirling in excitement,” Gisele said in the comic’s official announcement. “I will draw with the energy and passion of a Ramone to ensure my beloved Riverdale gets a Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.”

Recess Monkey’s Ode to That Ol’ Smoothie Lando Calrissian

Photo by Adam Cohn
Recess Monkey, Photo by Adam Cohn

The kindie rock trio Recess Monkey has been one of our family’s favorite bands for years. This week the Seattle-based band released Hot Air, another fantastic, high energy album that gets kids dancing and laughing.

Hot Air features rockin’ songs with a bit of a Beatles feel, especially “Lighter Than Air,” which pleasantly reminds me of “A Day in the Life.” “Penguinese” has been on repeat on my car stereo by my six-year-old’s request, but there’s a track that I often turn to, even when she’s not in the car: a hilarious, catchy ode to Lando Calrissian.

“Oh, Lando” is a song about that lovable scoundrel from Han Solo’s point of view. Chock full of Star Wars references (and one of my new favorite renditions of “The Imperial March”), “Oh, Lando” is a geeky mom’s dream come true for kids’ music.

Listen to a sample below, and be sure to pick up Hot Air, out now from Recess Monkey!

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

Celtic. Nerd. Music. Colorado’s The Stubby Shillelaghs’ “Critical Fail” Kickstarter

Help fund The Stubby Shillelaghs' Kickstarter campaign to get them into a high-quality recording studio to bring their Celtic geek rock to the masses. Image: The Stubby Shillelaghs, used with permission.
Help fund The Stubby Shillelaghs’ Kickstarter campaign to get them into a high-quality recording studio to bring their Celtic geek rock to the masses. Image: The Stubby Shillelaghs, used with permission.

With Denver Comic Con coming up this Memorial Day weekend, the local scene is pulling out all the stops to bring national attention to the awesome group of people that lives in our great state. Among them is the Celtic-inspired band, The Stubby Shillelaghs, which hails from Greeley, Colorado. Their fun blend of Celtic rock is popular here locally, and they’re excited for the chance to bring their music to the masses of DCC this weekend, with two performances at DCC’s Stage 5280 at 3:00 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

This week, the band also announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to record their next album, titled Critical Fail. The 20-sided die on the proposed album cover will tell you volumes about what to expect. With songs like “I.R.A.” (which stands for “Interstellar Rebel Army”), you can expect some Celtic pop-culture fun. I’m particularly excited that this is a family-friendly album, with no language or topics that might make your kids ask too many questions.

If you haven’t heard of The Stubby Shillelaghs, here’s a video for you to enjoy. If you buy the track, all proceeds from your purchase of this song go to the Children’s Miracle Network. Trust me, it’ll make you smile.

If you like what you hear, go check out the Kickstarter and help this band out!

Top 10 ‘Uptown Funk’ Parodies

Screenshot from 2015-03-24 11:10:13
Voldemort gets funky in a Harry Potter-themed parody of “Uptown Funk.” Screenshot from music video by KFaceTV.

What is it about Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ groove-tastic “Uptown Funk” that seems to beg for parodies and remixes? The original spent 11 weeks in Billboard‘s #1 spot and broke records for the highest number of streams, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Even Barry Allen digs this tune, playing it while he gets ready for a date in “The Nuclear Man” episode of The Flash.

Whatever it is—perhaps simply the fact that we don’t seem to tire of the promise that uptown funk’s gonna give it to you, it’s hard not to love both the original and these parodies…

Do you miss the musical stylings of Strongbad in Homestar Runner? Fair warning: You may have trouble getting the “Uptown Fhqwhgads” mashup out of your head.

If Harry Potter were a musical, this is how You-Know-Who would get his murderous groove on, with lines like “It’s Saturday night, and we’re taking Hogwarts” and the Harry Potter theme mixed in:

Mark Ronson is a YouTube breakout with his impressions. In this one, he does “Uptown Funk” in cartoon voices, largely from Family Guy:

Cruising the town in a minivan? So do these moms in “Suburban Funk,” clad in yellow dishwashing gloves and yoga pants:

College Humor went… classier (?) with a Downton Abbey edition:

This one’s about donut love. Up, down, dunk your ‘nuts. They’re too hot. Hot jam. (Bonus: It even has a recipe!)

Make a creeper wanna explode, my man. For the Minecraft lovers:

Or if your gaming is more Call of Duty:

Still not your game? How about “Clocktown Funk,” a Zelda parody?

And of course, a parody list isn’t complete until Darth Vader gets in on the action. Jedi training, hallelujah. Star Wars funk gonna give it to ya:

This Is What Geek Karaoke Would Sound Like

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If Yoda did karaoke, he’d pick GNR. Photo CC BY-NC-ND newwavegurly

This week on our Facebook page, we asked you what you’d want to hear at geek karaoke. We liked the result so much, we made it a Spotify playlist for you!

This first GeekMom playlist has the songs you named in that thread. We’d like to keep making more of them for you, though, so if there are songs you’d like to see on future playlists or themes you’d like (zombies! pirates! the best of filk!), leave a comment, and we’ll start making the lists.

Musical Love Chemistry

Zen Valentine copy
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

They say that love is just a drug
An addiction you keep thinking of
But don’t get the wrong impression
We’ll teach you all a science lesson
About the chemistry of love

Ah, those sweaty palms, the obsessive thoughts, the dopamine rush. Yes, geeks fall in love and we like to be specific about it, thankyouverymuch. Infatuation has lots of chemical components, and desire can be broken down into an excellent lesson on biochemical processes. Boring? Not at all! Especially when you learn about it in song.

Here’s a song called “The Chemistry of Love” by The Midnight Society, which should lower your levels of serotonin, just like falling in love. With geeky stylophone! Free listen and download here.

Now, go boost someone’s testosterone tonight!

Virtual Choir for Choral Geeks

Virtual-Choir-4-Fly-to-Paradise-800x449
Image By Eric Whitacre

If you have high school-aged kids, I hope they have had a chance to sing a choral piece by Eric Whitacre, today’s rock star composer for classical music. But not every school has the number of students, the right teacher, or even a music program at all. This is where the internet and Whitacre’s modern view come in: a virtual choir.

Back in 2010, Whitacre put together his first virtual choir with his song, “Lux Aurumque.” 185 singers participated from 12 countries.

In 2013, Virtual Choir 4 debuted with 5,905 singers from 101 countries, and with an animated video accompanying the virtual city of music, this project has become something more than just video chat/sing, it is the perfect example of how the digital revolution can be about beauty and opportunity in a physically disconnected world.

What about Virtual Choir 5? The discussion online is speculative, but nothing is set. There’s still time for you and your young singers to get in on the action!

The Best Kids’ Music of 2014

Image Courtesy © The Okee Dokee Brothers
Image Courtesy © The Okee Dokee Brothers

Looking for kids’ music that won’t make you throw the CD out the window after you listen to it on repeat? We’ve got you covered with some of the best releases in 2014! With albums ranging from kids’ bouncy hip hop to foot-tapping tunes inspired by the Appalachian Trail, there’s something on this list that should perk up the ears of any young listener.

okee-dokee-woodsThe Okee Dokee Brothers: Through the Woods. Even if you’ve never heard music inspired by Applachian culture, the energy and charm of the The Okee Dokee Brothers’ songs will quickly win you and your kids over. Songs are lively, unique, and paint pictures of simple days spent in the sunshine.

 

 

Caspar Babypants: caspar-riseRise and Shine! Chris Ballew continues his streak of amazing kids’ albums with Rise and Shine! After last year’s Beatles tribute album, Caspar Babypants’ latest CD is a return to his fun new takes on old classics and upbeat original songs. Where else can you find an ode to a baby barnacle?

 

 

Recess-WiredRecess Monkey: Wired. Inspired by makers, dreamers, and inventors, there might not be a more perfect CD for a geek kid than Recess Monkey’s Wired. Rachel Cericola reviewed the album earlier this year, saying, “[It] should keep the entire family bopping, bouncing, moving, and grooving for most of the album’s 43-minute runtime.”

 

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The Laurie Berkner Band: The Ultimate Laurie Berkner Band Collection. If a queen of kids’ music was ever to be crowned, it would be Laurie Berkner. The band’s sweet, silly songs are perfect for babies and toddlers, and this latest greatest hits collection gathers some of the best in one place. With 22 songs collected from six of the band’s CDs, this is great starter collection of music for a new baby in your life.

 

perfect-quirkSecret Agent 23 Skidoo: The Perfect Quirk. Skidoo mixes beats and rhymes to bring hop hop songs to kids that will truly get them hopping. The Perfect Quirk celebrates individuality and the fun spirit of childhood, including a one-of-a-kind take on imaginary friends and an ode to epic pillow fights.

 

 

123conandresAndrés: 1 2 3 Con Andrés. With bilingual songs the entire family can enjoy, 1 2 3 Con Andrés is a fantastic introduction to Spanish music and culture. “If I Had A Mariachi” is a delightful song that joyfully teaches kids about the instruments used in mariachi music.

 

 

shy-kid-bluesHullabaloo: Shy Kid Blues. Part story and part catchy folk music, Shy Kid Blues tells a tale that many geeky kids can identify with: A painfully shy kid named Steve works to overcome his timidness with the help of his outgoing best friend. The story is so fun to listen to that you might find yourself listening to the entire album from start to finish each time you press play.

 

bari-koralBari Koral and the Family Band: Apple Tree & The Honey Bee. Up-tempo songs, many with a country feel, covering favorite toddler and preschooler topics from apple trees to big trucks make Apple Tree & The Honey Bee an ideal CD for a long car ride over the holidays.

 

 

raise-your-handThe Not-Its!: Raise Your Hand. Elementary-age kids will dig the songs on the fifth album from The Not-Its!, with topics including cat videos, scabs, bees, and more. The punk-inspired songs feel less like kids’ music and more like a rock album for the entire family to enjoy. (Parents might especially get a kick out of “Hey 80s,” a tribute to the most gnarly decade.)

 

rainbow-rocks-soundtrackMy Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks Official Soundtrack. The pop songs sung by the Rainbow Rocks cast are just right for singing along at the top of your lungs. Not that I’ve, er, done that. Daniel Ingram continues the great songwriting work he’s done on the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series with songs worthy of a battle of the bands.

 

 

GeekMom received promotional copies for review purposes. All album covers copyright of their respective holders.

Geek-twisting Holiday Songs

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Image By Rebecca Angel

Oh, who wants the same old boring lyrics to our holiday favorites?  Altering words to existing songs is a playful, challenging, and creative endeavor. It’s the fan-fiction of music. Winter and Christmas tunes are so well-known, it’s a great place to start. Here are some people who have already done so with a geeky twist:

The Twelve Days of Future Christmas created by Bridge 8, goes through a list of current science topics that are on the verge of becoming reality! “12 drones delivering…”

OH NUMBER PI
(TUNE: “Oh Christmas Tree”)
Oh, number Pi. Oh, number Pi. Your digits are nonending,
Oh, number Pi. Oh, number Pi. No pattern are you sending.
Want more math Christmas songs? Go here!

Hee-hee. This is some crazy editing. Star Trek TNG in “Make it So!”

You better watch out; you better not sneeze.
You better not cough, ’cause you’ll spread a disease….Viruses are comin’ to town.
“Catch” all the lyrics here.

This one doesn’t change the lyrics so much as it is performed in a geeky way. All electronic devices band in “Feliz Navidad.”

Pirate Christmas Carols! This is from me. I’ve written a lot of these. Here is one you can listen to with lyrics. No Ale!No Ale! No Ale! No Ale! Six months at sea with no dark, stout or pale.

So what’s does your family geek out about? Make it a family game to rewrite lyrics to a familiar holiday tune. You’ll be singing it every year afterwards!

Here’s one I wrote about my favorite Avenger…

Loki Was A Gentlemen
(To the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)
Loki was a gentleman when he took all the power.
His smile was quite debonair as he told us to cower.
“Sweet lady, kneel before me now, no need to look so sour.
Many thanks, this encounter’s been a joy, been a joy.
Many thanks, this encounter’s been a joy.”

GeekMom’s 2014 Gift Guide of Music and Listening

Music and listening
Collage: Cathe Post.

There are so many audible geeky things! Between geeky music and geeky/techy listening devices, there is no end to the gift possibilities. Read on…

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Image: murielanderson.com.

Nightlight Daylight. Daylight is a 30-song double CD set for children and others by master guitarist Muriel Anderson, featuring some of the world’s best musicians. The Nightlight CD offers soothing restful music, the Daylight CD is packed with lively tunes. A fiber-optic cover lights up with stars and fireflies when the moon is pressed. It’s a great gift for parents as well as little ones. $29.99

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Image: Rockabye Baby.

Rockabye Baby. Have someone on your list with a little one? Help nurture those budding musical tastes, with the sweet sounds of a Rockabye Baby CD. The popular music label has made it a mission to make “rock music baby-friendly and kids’ music adult-friendly.” Each full-length CD takes popular artists and turns their hits into lullabies to help baby literally rock themselves to sleep. There are CDs with jams from The Beatles, The Clash, Pearl Jam, Pink, Rush, The Police, Led Zeppelin, Dave Matthews, and too many others to list here. $14.99 each

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Image: The String Arcade.

The String Arcade. Give the gift of a little earworm. What started as a Kickstarter project is now a full-length CD, filled with all sorts of classic video game tunes. However, the hook here is that everything on this album is played by a string quartet. It features a total of 15 original arrangements, as well as two bonus CD tracks. That lineup includes “hits” from Galaga, Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Minecraft, and more. $16.91 

Pimsleur

Pimsleur Foreign Language Instruction. Learning a new language is a great way to expand your mind and set an important example for your kids. Better yet, learn a new language with your kids. Have German heritage? Planning a trip to Japan? Found a new friend who speaks little English? Pimsleur has more language instruction programs than I’ve heard of languages.  Price Varies

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Image: The Doubleclicks.

Dimetrodon by The Doubleclicks. The geeky-sister-music-duo had a very successful Kickstarter this year and were able to release Dimetrodon. If you are not familiar with their music, check out their site. Find them on YouTube. They. Are. Awesome. $16.95

My ukulele. Photo by Ariane Coffin.
Image: Ariane Coffin.

Ukulele. Musical instruments tend to be expensive. Very expensive. Ukuleles are fun. Very fun. Also, they’re totally not expensive for a musical instrument! Get yourself or your loved one a tiny ukulele, load up a bunch of YouTube instructional videos, and learn a new skill with very little start-up cost! Warning: Ukes are totally addictive. $30 and up

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Image: Casio.

Casio CTK-2400 Keyboard. Piano is both simple and quite complicated. Simple to make a note or two or even a basic song, but complicated to master. This keyboard has instruction built in, along with plenty of fun sampling to keep you and/or your kids jamming to existing or brand-new songs. $124.66 for the set with stand, etc.; $99.99 for just the keyboard

Image: JBL.com
Image: JBL.com.

JBL Synchros S700. The Synchros S700 luxury over-the-ear headphones sets itself apart from the other Synchros models in that it’s rechargeable. The headphones have a built-in Li-ion battery that will provide the LiveStage signal processing for up to 28 hours of continuous listening. $299.99

SynchrosReflect
Image: JBL.com.

JBL Reflect. The Reflect headphones were designed with the headphones-wearing athlete in mind. One of the GeekMoms took these headphones out for several runs this past month and was absolutely enamored with their comfort and sound quality. $99.95

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Image: Amazon.

 

JBL Synchros E10. The Synchros E10 headphones are a basic model of in-ear headphones, particularly well-suited for listening to your favorite tunes while on your commute or while flying. They are super-lightweight and will coil up nice and compact for easy travel. $39.95

The JBL Synchros over-ear Bluetooth headphones are super-comfy for all-day-at-your-desk wear. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Image: Patricia Vollmer.

JBL Synchros E40BT. The JBL Synchros E40BTs are over-ear wireless Bluetooth headphones, available in a variety of colors. One of the GeekMoms thoroughly enjoyed these headphones in an office or commuter environment; she wore them for several four-hour periods listening to audio books and online job training with virtually no discomfort. They are highly recommended for those who don’t want the constraint of a cord. $149.95

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Image: id America

id America TouchTone Bluetooth Speaker. The id America TouchTone Bluetooth wireless speaker is a great value for the price. With an MSRP of only $79.99, it provides capable sound anywhere you want, without draining your bank account. Unlike the other Bluetooth speakers we’ve seen, the TouchTone talks to you! It can be used with your smart devices not only as a standard speaker, but also as a telephone speaker. $79.99

VMODA
Image: Amazon

V-MODA M-100 and VMODA XS. V-MODA has a great line of headphones for the headphone junkie. One of the GeekMoms loves her comfortable Crossfade M-100 headphones because they cover her ears nicely, while Dakster’s 9-year-old son loves the XS model because they fit his ears just right. Both models come with a sturdy case and have noise isolating features. $296 for the M-100 and $200 for the XS

Phiaton Headphones
Image: Amazon

Phiaton BT 220 NC. The active noise canceling on the Phiaton BT 220 NC earphones will block out 95 percent of surrounding noise. They are easy to pair with Apple devices and the battery lasts for at least 9 hours and then some. $159

Photo: Boom Urchin
Photo: Boom Urchin

Boom Urchin Portable Speakers. This handy little splashproof, wireless, hardy speaker will get lots of use in your household. Take your music (or wireless call) in the bathroom while you bathe the toddlers, hang it from a campsite tree with its handy hook, or just move it around the house as you go about the day. It comes in fun colors and is priced to be one of the most inexpensive exciting tech gifts under the tree. $42 and up

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Image: Amazon

Crosley Cruiser Portable Turntable. The Crosley Cruiser portable turntable is a fun and vintage addition to any music library. Thanks to it, one of the GeekMoms has been exploring the wonderful world of records with her son. There’s a fun selection of records on eBay and more current hits, like My Little Pony, at HotTopic for all to enjoy. It’s very easy to set up for record novices, too. $79.95

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Image: Amazon

TMNT Ukulele by Peavey Electronics. One of the GeekMoms says that her son loves his TMNT ukulele and enjoys making up his own tunes. It measures in at 20 inches and is made of real wood. $28

JBL_Charge2
Image: JBL

JBL Charge 2 Bluetooth Speaker. The JBL Charge 2 follows up on their 2013 popular Bluetooth model in offering compact, yet powerful, wireless sound. Expect the Charge 2 to be a bit larger and heavier, in part because of the larger bass ports that will actually vibrate when the bass is powerful enough. Like the original Charge model, expect up to 12 hours of playtime, speakerphone capability, and the ability to charge other devices via USB. Another feature that makes the Charge 2 a great gift is the ability to connect up to three Bluetooth users at once to a single speaker, allowing multiple playlists to become available at once. $149.99

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Image: Amazon

Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini Bluetooth Speaker. We have one word for this portable Bluetooth speaker: “sexy.” That sounds strange, but the trim size, sophisticated design, and powerful sound turn the Harman Esquire Mini into a holiday must-have. The size of a Samsung 5 or iPhone 6 Plus, this speaker easily fits into your pocket, ready to grace audiences with its elegance. Not only does this speaker work to provide sound for your favorite music or video, but you can also use the Esquire Mini’s speakerphone capabilities as a classy-looking office conferencing system. In addition, you can charge your devices with a USB connection. The kickstand easily folds into the unit when not in use, and the Esquire includes a real leather strap for easy carrying. $149.99

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Image: JBL

JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth Speaker. JBL’s Flip 2 is an upgraded version of their popular, affordable entry-level 2012 portable Bluetooth speaker. About the size of a soda can, this speaker will provide about 5 hours of playtime and can be quickly recharged with the included micro-USB cable. The sound is powerful coming from such a small size, and the Flip 2 can also be used as a speakerphone. The Flip 2 comes with a lightweight hardshell carrying case, which is an improvement over the neoprene case that was included with the original version two years ago. The variety of colors makes this a fun gift for all ages. $79.95

Your Thanksgiving Playlist

THANKSGIVING
Watching the parade in the Pinault house—another fine tradition. Image: Sarah Pinault.

I’m a big fan of Christmas music and my husband is a big fan of Thanksgiving. Over the years, this combined set of interests has led to an annual search for Thanksgiving music to play over dinner. We’ve come a long way since that first hobbled-together CD, which consisted mostly of “Alice’s Restaurant” and Adam Sandler. This year, we both agree, we have hit upon a playlist to be most thankful for. We have family favorites that have survived each year’s culling, we have old classics that were wrongly assigned to Christmas, and this year, we have discovered new-to-us gems. This list is too good not to share and there is still plenty of time for you to get your playlist in order, so here is the 2014 Pinault Thanksgiving playlist.

“Thanksgiving Day” by Ray Davies. Traditionally the second track on our CD, Ray was promoted above Bing this year. This song has a great beat, great lyrics, and a great artist: Ray Davies, lead singer and  songwriter for The Kinks. The linked video is from his performance on Conan back in 2005.

Thanksgiving2
Image: Amazon.com.

“I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For” by Bing Crosby. Taken from the movie Holiday Inn, this is Bing holiday gold. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, Bing plays a disillusioned performer who decides to open Holiday Inn, a quaint retreat in Connecticut that only opens on holidays. The movie is full of original songs for each holiday featured, and the Thanksgiving section is a family favorite.

“Prayer of Thanksgiving” by Johnny Cash. Lifted straight from the classic television series, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, the man in black offers a poetic addition to our Thanksgiving playlist. It has taken years to find a decent recording of this, as most are from people who have filmed the episode running on their TV.

“The Food on Our plates” by Ciara Thorton.  This has a nice piano base and beautiful vocals. This song is new to us this year (thank you Spotify), but I have a feeling it will survive to next year’s CD. This is from a 2004 compilation album called Thanksgiving, but is the only one that made our cut. It can be obtained on Google Play.

“T-day” by Jo D. Jonz. Get your turkey on big-band style. This song injects a little Frank Sinatra into the day. It’s pretty tongue-in-cheek and my five-year-old adores dancing away to this.

“Make Up a Thanksgiving Song” by Billy Harvey. If you skip his opening monologue about what it is he is attempting to do and go straight for the music, this makes for a nice backdrop. “Let’s try giving a little more than we did before.”

“We’re Thankful” by Moose A. Moose. This is a song from in between shows on the Nick Jr. of years gone by. It’s also one of several kid-specific tracks on the disc. This one survives each year because it amuses me so, but it was on my husband’s cut list this year. It’s got more saccharine in it than the rest of our songs, and a whole lot of bounce.

“The Turkey Song” by William P. Hitri. A Thanksgiving earworm if ever there was one. This is the perfect song to teach your kids to sing on the way to grandma’s house; the little voice rendition of the tongue-twisty chorus will bring a smile to anyone’s face. There are some great lyrics in here. “Roll, roll, roll to Plymouth Rock” and “The bird beast they call Turkey” are among my favorites.

“Thanksgiving Day” by Marcella Detroit. Another new addition this year, thanks to a needle-in-a-haystack search on SoundCloud. The opening has a touch of Iz’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to it. This was released last year, and we just found out that another version was released this year. Last year’s is much better; it has more bounce to it.

“Pumpkin Pie” by Tory H. This is the ultimate Thanksgiving song. This has survived since year one, and is our two-year-old’s favorite YouTube video. We play this song year round. Though you can still view the video on YouTube, I recommend paying the dollar on iTunes, as artistry of this brilliance should always be supported. It’s also really easy to play on the ukulele and kids will love singing along. My second son’s first words may even have been, “Next year, I’m not coming if you don’t have pumpkin pie.”

“Thanksgiving Song” by David Campbell. This was one of the first Thanksgiving songs we found, and has a touch of Bing Crosby/David Bowie’s “Little Drummer Boy” about it.

“Count Your Blessings” by Bing Crosby. This song is taken from the movie White Christmas, which was made to follow up on the success of the song “White Christmas” in Holiday Inn. It is traditionally used on Christmas albums, but really it’s a Thanksgiving song, so we stake our claim to it for our collection.

Thanksgiving
Image: Amazon.com.

“Thanksgiving Theme” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas get all of the attention at this time of year, but A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving should not be overlooked. True, the movie is sub par, compared to the others. However, Vince Guaraldi still brings his A game and the “Thanksgiving Theme” is just as good as “Linus and Lucy,” just not as familiar.

“Thanksgiving Song” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. A classic Thanksgiving song if ever there was one, from this country-turned-folk singer. Originally on her 2008 Christmas album, Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the more well known”Passionate Kisses.”

“Thanksgiving” by The Whale & the Warbler. It’s contagious; more and more people are getting on our Thanksgiving song bandwagon. Recorded in a NY church in early 2013 and released last fall as part of their Thanksgiving EP, you can download the whole album on their website and name your own price.

“The Thanksgiving Song” by The Ridler Brothers. Another one to survive over the years, it has the feel of Robert Keen’s “Merry Christmas From the Family,” but with less redneck and a slower pace. It’s a really beautiful song.

“Everyday Should be Thanksgiving Day” by A. Kendall Kraus. There’s some nice guitar work on this song and great earthy vocals. Another Spotify find this year, he says this of the song: “I guess the point that I’m trying to make is… even if you are having a tough time, look around and you will find something that you can be thankful for. Peace out.”

“Stuffy Turkey” by Thelonious Monk. Three original songs appeared on Monk’s sixth album, It’s Monk’s Time, and this is one of three original compositions on it. It has been around since 1964, but not being big jazz fans ourselves, we just discovered it this year.

With the exception of “Thanksgiving Day” by Marcella Detroit, which she is giving away for free on SoundCloud, you can get all of these tracks on iTunes. I hope you have time to get this together for your listening pleasure; it really is a delightful addition to the day. If you have any songs that you listen to on T-day, please do send them my way.

Music For the Whole Family: Nightlight Daylight

Muriel Anderson, kid music for adults,
Music to steal from your kids. (image: murielanderson.com)

Nightlight Daylight is a 30-song double CD set for children from infancy on up. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is exclusively for the smaller set. It’s a masterful production by brilliant guitarist Muriel Anderson featuring complex but quietly soothing music on the Nightlight CD that flows seamlessly into lively sophisticated tunes on the Daylight CD.

Anderson collaborates with some of the world’s best musicians including Earl Klugh, Mark Kibble (Take 6), Phil Keaggy, Stanley Jordan, Roy (Futureman) Wooten, Danny Gottlieb, Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs (Tierra Negra), members of the Nashville Symphony, and many more. Acoustic guitar weaves in and out through cello, African drum, piano, mandolin, electric guitar, and vocals to create music that’s not only great for kids but also perfect for everything from meditation to dancing.

Listeners won’t even notice how the music makes use of the golden mean, ancient A432 tuning, or complex meters that evoke calm and joy. As Anderson says, “Good music with the intention of of love, joy, healing, and wellness embedded in its DNA is increasingly important in our world, for kids as well as adults.”

The set has already won numerous awards. Take a listen.

But there’s more. It’s packaged with a lovely fiber optic illuminated cover. Push the moon to see stars and fireflies light up. Enticed by the twinkling stars, kids will ask to play it. Once they do, the music will entice the whole family.

 

A Downton Abbey Christmas Wish List

DowntonTom
Image: PBS.org – preview. The perfect album cover; just look at that holiday dress.

By now, most of you would probably be severely irritated by me; most of my coworkers are. I began listening to Christmas music on September 30, which is about three weeks after I usually begin. Nothing can dampen my affection for holiday music, even in the absence of the holiday. One must begin this early after all, if one is to listen to all existing recordings of “White Christmas” in time.

If I wasn’t already in the mood for some sleigh bells, the news that there is to potentially be a Downton Abbey Christmas album would be enough to get me going. Now this announcement comes via The Sun, one of the UK’s most inflammatory publications, so it may all come to naught. But now that the idea has been planted in my mind, there is nothing to deter me. Tie in the fact that Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is in a band called Sadie and the Hotheads, and I’ve just pre-ordered something that doesn’t exist.

So, powers that be, here is what I would like to see from a Downton Abbey Christmas album:

1. “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but not with regular 12 accumulations. I want something more like “The Twelve Days of Downton.” This would include “three female heirs, two eligible bachelors, and Edith in a pear tree.” Poor Edith. It would be sung by the whole cast, of course.

2. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” sung by Carson and Mrs Hughes.

3. “White Christmas” sung by the Dowager Countess.

4. “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” sung by the Dowager Countess and Mrs Crawley.

5. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” sung by Lady Edith .

6.  “There’s No Place Like Home (for the holidays)” sung by Matthew Crawley—come on Dan Stevens, just one song?

7. “Blue Christmas” sung by Tom Branson. There has to be a weepy one.

8. “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” sung by Mrs Patmore and Daisy.

9.  “Last Christmas” sung by Lord Gillingham.

10. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sung by the whole cast.

11. “When a Child is Born” sung by Lord Grantham.

12. “All I Want for Christmas is You” sung by Daisy.

13. “Ho Ho Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?)” sung by Thomas.

14. “Fairytale of New York” sung by Lady and Lord Grantham.

Last, but certainly not least…

15. “Santa Baby” sung by Lady Mary.

I am far too excited by this prospect. What would be on your Downton Christmas wish list?

Peavey Announces Guardians of the Galaxy Guitars and Ukes

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Peavey’s Guardians of the Galaxy Rockmaster Guitar. Image: Peavey Electronics.

Just when Guardians of the Galaxy couldn’t get any more popular, Peavey Electronics has recently added a line of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy instruments and accessories to their line of Marvel products.

The line includes a Guardians of the Galaxy version of Peavey’s popular Rockmaster Guitar, as well as a three-quarter student-size model. A half-size acoustic version is also offered.

Peavey General Manager Tony Moscal said they try to keep their graphics based upon the age of the intended user.

Spider-Man continues to be Peavey's most popular Marvel line. Pictured is the Spider-man ukulele. Image: Peavey Electronics.
Spider-Man continues to be Peavey’s most popular Marvel line. Pictured is the Spider-man ukulele. Image: Peavey Electronics.

“For example our half and three-quarter size student instruments feature images that are more youth based comic oriented graphic,” Moscal said. “As the instruments increase in size, price, and sophistication, the graphics are more mature.”

Other licensed lines appealing to younger players include DC Comics, Major League Baseball, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This line for older teens and adults include The Walking Dead and House of Blues. Next up for the company is a line of products featuring The Simpsons.

Moscal said the biggest seller in the Marvel line continues to be Spider-Man, although there are always spikes in sales whenever a new movie is released. This is certainly the case with skyrocketing popularity of Guardians of the Galaxy.

In addition to the guitars, the Guardians of the Galaxy line includes straps and picks, as well as an instrument that is getting more and more attention, ukuleles.

Moscal said ukuleles have always sold well, especially with younger and beginning players.

“Ukulele sales continue to be strong as it is and easier instrument to start learning with, especially in Europe where most kids start playing ukes in school,” he said.

One of the byproducts of the Peavey’s Marvel, as well as other licensed design tie-ins, has been helping to spark an interest in music and learning an instrument with more young players.

“We have seen excitement regarding beginners getting involved in music because of their favorite characters,” Moscal said. “It also creates bragging rights to show their friends.”

As Rocket Raccoon would say: “Oh, yeah!”

Peavey’s entire Guardians of the Galaxy and Marvel line is available on their website at peavey.com.

Pop-Punk Legends Shonen Knife Announce their 1,000th Show

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All-girl punk band Shonen Knife plans their 1,000th performance in September as part of their 2014 North American Tour. Image courtesy Earshot Media.

Awesome girl teams seem come in trios.

The Cartoon Network’s Power Puff Girls, Gotham City’s Birds of Prey, and Osaka, Japan’s Shonen Knife.

Next month, the legendary pop and punk band will celebrate more than 30 years performing, with a landmark 1,000th show, as part of their 2014 North American Tour.

The tour, supporting their latest album, Overdrive, kicks off September 11 in Philadelphia, with the 1,000th performance to be held September 16, at The Turf Club in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Image courtesy Earshot Media

The group plans to make this commemorative performance special and is taking requests for this show via their Facebook and Twitter pages. Original Shonen Knife member, Atsuko, sister to current lead singer and the only performing original member Naoko, will also make an appearance.

The Overdrive tour has already been a success in Europe and Japan, but the band’s Anime-inspired look, catchy pop punk beats, and decidedly un-punk lyrics (including songs about outer space, sweets, and even cats), has made them a cult favorite with North American audiences. Their fan base has included alternative rock bands such as Sonic Youth and Nirvana.

The band’s official 30th Anniversary celebration was in 2011, and marked by the release of their Osaka Ramones: Tribute to The Ramones album.

North American dates include the Music is Art Festival in Buffalo, New York, and Anime Weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. Check out their full tour schedule on their official tour blog.

“Big Giant Me,” Joss Whedon’s Kid-Friendly Folk Song

Big Giant Me
“Big Giant Me” cover art by Emma Klingbeil © Shawnee Kilgore.

Longtime fans of Joss Whedon are well-acquainted with his songwriting prowess. From the theme song of Firefly to the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More With Feeling,” fans know that Whedon is a remarkable songwriter with a talent for telling a story. And we know that Whedon often finds smaller, quieter projects while working on his blockbusters. (See: Much Ado About Nothing.)

So while it really shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that Whedon teamed up with an Austin musician to write a folk song while he was working on The Avengers: Age of Ultron, well, it’s still a surprise. A sweet surprise of a song that tells a tale that kids will love.

“Big Giant Me” wasn’t intended to be a children’s song, but kids can easily identify with its lyrics and story. (There is a lyric about things needing to grow or they will die, so use your own discretion on the appropriateness for your own kids.) Whedon describes the song as “about the idea of change, and how much someone will accept you for yourself and what you are and what you’re going to become.”

Shawnee Kilgore sings with a voice so sweet and clear that makes it a perfect song for quiet time at the end of the day. And through it all, Whedon fans will smile, knowing one of their favorite creative talents is behind the words.

You can buy “Big Giant Me” by Shawnee Kilgore now on iTunes and CD Baby. A full album from the pair is coming soon.

Over-60 Women Guitarists Who Rock

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I’ve realized I have several years until I’m as awesome as some of the women guitarists who inspired me. Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

This summer, I will begin contemplating the possibilities of re-learning the guitar.

I was never a “performance-worthy” player, but I wasn’t too bad. More importantly, when I was playing as a teenager, I felt like I was a full-fledged rock star. Even though I was an awkward, socially inept teenager, when I sat on the step outside my bedroom cranking out the easy version of Stray Cats or Social Distortion hits, I was a tall, slender femme fatale, who could rock as good as any mullet-wearing boys in an 80s hair band or early 90s grunge group.

I knew that if and when I became a mother, I would spend at least an hour each day teaching my children rockin’ chords and passing my love of this instrument to them via the magic of the family jam session.

This hasn’t happened.

It isn’t that I have been completely negligent in this area. I have instilled in my girls a love for all types of music. Of course, I always emphasize there are really only two types of music: “good” and “bad,” regardless of actual genre. My oldest joined the guitar club in fifth grade, and we do “rock out” occasionally with the help of a PS3 and an old version of Rock Band.

Note: My definition of “good” and “bad” is one I picked up from a quote taped to the our college radio station’s door when I was a disc jockey. I can’t remember the name of whatever clever curmudgeon coined it, but I think it holds true to everyone, whether they admit it or not: “‘Good music’ is music I like. ‘Bad music’ is music I don’t like.”

Despite all this, actually breaking out the old electric I’ve had since I was sixteen and wailing away on it with my girls has become a forgotten priority, until recently.

I explored the back of my closet as if it were a passage to Narnia and dug out my guitar. It still looked polished and primed for the spotlight, but when I looked in the mirror after pulling the strap over my head, I realized I did not. My 45-year-old frame didn’t look anywhere like that of a headliner, or even the local opening act.

Who was I kidding? Was I simply too old to take up the “axe” again?

I was on my way to settling into some self-pity of being past my “cool” years, when I remembered a beer commercial in the 1990s featuring one of the musicians, who inspired me to begin playing in the first place, Brian Setzer.

In this ad, Setzer shared the stage with a retro-looking grandma matching his style, note for note. I realized there were—and are—plenty of women age fortysomething and older who are still considered masters in their field. As a matter of fact, there are sixty-, seventy-, and eightysomethings out there, as well.

Here are four women in over 60—plus one “youngster” in her 50s—who have remained celebrated guitar forces in everything from classical to punk:

Cordell Jackson, Rockabilly:
The aforementioned “old lady” in the Brian Setzer video, Jackson was in her 70s when she filmed this commercial. She was discovered by a whole new generation of rockabilly fans, for the high-speed riffs and sassy attitude. She had already broken ground for women in the music industry long before that, however, as she was the first woman recording engineer in America. She also founded her own Memphis-based record label, Moon Record, which she ran until her death in 2004.

It wasn’t until 1989 that she released her first music video, leading to all types of appearances from MTV to Late Night With David Letterman. She even landed a bit part in the 1992 comedy, The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag.

raitt cramps
Psychobilly founders The Cramps and blues and rock legend Bonnie Raitt have nothing in common except proof women of all ages are guitar forces to be reckoned with, as seen in these posters from the author’s personal collection.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Blues/Gospel:
Tharpe has made several critics’ lists of best women guitarists of all time, as well as best guitarists—men or women. Born in 1915, she picked up the guitar at age six, and dabbled in everything from blues to jazz, to swing, soul, gospel, and early rock and roll. Her club and theater shows helped spearhead the pop-influenced gospel music genre.

During World War II, she and her band were the only American gospel act to record V-Discs (morale-boosting “Victory” records) for American troops stationed abroad. Her performing career was cut short by her mid-50s when a stroke prevented her from performing in 1970. She died just three years later, but continues to influence guitarists today.

Charo, Flamenco:
Yes, it is possible to “rock” in flamenco. When she isn’t playing guitar, Charo can come across as simply the cheesy 1970s version of Sofia Vergara, or lounge-act fodder for the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Guitar aficionados need to patiently look past this “cuchi-cuchi” front, as Charo has been named “Best Flamenco Guitarist” in Guitar Player Magazine readers’ polls twice. Growing up in the Murcia Region of Spain, she was a serious guitar student at age nine, and was as pupil of flamenco great Andrés Segovia. At age 69, she still continues to tour and perform throughout the world.

Bonnie Raitt, Blues and Rock:

Raitt released several albums in the 1970s, but her biggest commercial success finally came in the 1990s with her album Nick of Time. Raitt’s guitar and vocal talents have gained her at least ten Grammy Awards, and she was listed by Rolling Stone Magazine in the Greatest Guitarists of All Time, as well as in the Greatest Singers of All Time. She is also known as a vocal activist for environmentalism, social justice, and other issues. She released her latest album two years ago at age 62, and is still a concert favorite at age 64.

jackson, tharpe, charo
Sister Rosetta Sharpe, left, performed live, while Cordell Jackson recorded her first music video when she was in her 70s. Charo, 69, still maintains a steady concert schedule. Images via Flickr and Wikicommons.

Poison Ivy Rorschach (Kristy Wallace), Punk and Psychobilly:

I’ll admit I was hesitant to include Cramps guitarist Poison Ivy in this list, as her extreme punk lifestyle and wardrobe, not to mention some just south of X-rated lyrics, is something I do not want my daughters to emulate in any way.

Her “day job” as a dominatrix even helped the band fund their first recording at Sun Records. But, man, could she ever play guitar. Her eccentric performances with punk band The Cramps in the 1980s were proof that women know their way around a hollow-body Gretsch guitar as well as any boy.

The Cramps, who coined the phrase “psychobilly” in 1976, performed live worldwide until 2009, when lead singer Lux Interior passed away. Poison Ivy is also a prolific songwriter, who not only co-wrote most of the music for The Cramps, but wrote songs have been recorded by bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Queens of the Stone Age. At age 61, she still maintains a huge cult following.

I decided that, before dusting off the guitar strings, I intend to share with my own daughters a reminder that it is never too old to be awesome, as well as to remind myself I still have at least 15 to 20 years before I’m cool enough to rock like them.

Author’s Note: For the sake of space and sanity, I limited this list to five names, but I realize there are many other women guitarists of all ages who deserve a mention (sorry Joan Jett, you were just a little too young). Readers are invited to chime in with their own additions to this list.