In the rock-and-roll boys’ club, women are making strides playing for kids.
The world of rock has long been considered a boys’ club. While that’s been changing over the past 20 years or so, it’s still disproportionately male — as of this writing, seven of the top 10 on Billboard’s rock charts are from men or male-led groups. Happily, there are real efforts to do more, from the terrific rock camps for girls to lots of bands made up of kids
As for music for kids, the balance is better and has been for decades, with artists like Ella Jenkins leading the way. Today, we’ve got bands like Candy Band rocking hard, Lunch Money providing incredible indie pop (and oh, how we await a new record from them!), and Frances England recording some of the most creative kids’ music around today. This month, let’s take a look at some recent or upcoming music from three female performers.
Laurie Berkner — Rocketship Run
Laurie Berkner is in the upper echelon of family music today, and with this, her first new record in several years, she isn’t messing with what’s gotten her to where she is: catchy tunes, accessible lyrics, gentle humor, and a sweetly soulful voice. This record has perhaps a bit more complexity than past releases but nothing that’s going to befuddle kids or parents. It’s not Metal Machine Music for kids or anything like that. Kids are going to very quickly sing along with the title track as well as “Mouse in My Toolbox” (with a simple but infectious bass line opening up) and “Mr. Bassman” (a musical tour of the band), and parents will use “Winter Lullaby” and “All Around My Room” for mellowing purposes. She knows more than most people how to write songs that stand up to repeated listens without driving parents completely insane. Doing that is, I sense, like making a perfect omelet for chefs — not complicated but very difficult. TwoTomatoes.com
Cathy Heller — Say Hello to the Sun
No cynics are allowed within 10 feet of this CD. Cathy Heller is absolutely committed to the positive, and her sincerity is even more astonishing given her residence in the capital of cynicism, Los Angeles. And yet somehow it works, even for someone as fundamentally hesitant to buy into the pure, the-world-is-sunny worldview as I am. I honestly went in wanting to grimace and frown at it, given its pitch, but despite all of my expectations, I just couldn’t help but like it. It certainly helps that she can craft a pop song with a lot of skill, and perform it with even more (she’s got good vocal chops and a ton of energy). The record would fit just about perfectly on today’s pop radio (of the more adult Hot A/C variety) — in other words, it’ll get kids dancing while getting the parents to bop their heads as it evokes, oh, the Go-Gos and/or the Bangles. But beyond any of that, her sheer genuineness is utterly winning. CathyBeth.com
Funky Mama — Moo Juice
Krista “Funky Mama” Eyler has been playing kids’ music, largely in the Kansas City area, since 2005, after leaving her career in television reporting. Her prior releases had left me underwhelmed — her voice was undoubtedly great (more on that below) but the CDs ended up seeming a little distant. On Moo Juice, though, the rest of the CD has caught up with Eyler’s rich, soulful voice. Most of the CD stays in territory that matches her vocal style — bluesy rock and the like — and the shifts from that zone (to zydeco with “Potty Train” and a capella on “Down Down Baby”) work well. Lyrically, she’s in familiar territory in the kids’ music world — potty training (“Potty Train” again), the greatness of grandparents and parents (“The Grandparent Song” and “My Dad Rocks,” respectively, with “Multi-Taskin’ Mama” finishing out the trifecta from the titular mother’s perspective). The CD is perhaps a few tracks longer than it has to be, but that’s nitpicking; this is good fun music that doesn’t sound like much else out there. FunkyMamaMusic.com
Bill Childs is a law professor in western Massachusetts. He and his kids produce a kids’ music radio show, “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child,” weekly; check it out at SpareTheRock.com. Contact him at [email protected].