Holidays are especially exciting times for children and, given the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., kids all over will likely be going to be getting a little extra love this season.
Zak Morgan knows kids. The Cincinnati-based singer/songwriter has already had an amazing career in children’s music, with his second self-financed album, When Bullfrogs Croak, earning numerous awards and acclaim, including a 2004 Grammy nomination for Best Musical Album for Children, a remarkable feat for an independent artist.
Morgan’s accomplishments and hard work (he notches over 200 shows a year for kids across the country) paid off with a contract with Universal Music’s kids’ music imprint, myKaZoo Music. His debut for the label, The Barber of the Beasts, came out in late October and would make a fantastic stocking-stuffer for the little ones this Christmas.
Like his previous releases, The Barber of the Beasts features artwork by famed local illustrator C.F. Payne and contains an extensive booklet of lyrics and drawings. The album also features some notable guests, from local musicians like Dan Dorff, Paul Patterson and Josh Seurkamp to nationally acclaimed artists like Robbie Fulks and locals Karin Bergquist (Over the Rhine) and the iconic Bootsy Collins.
But it’s Morgan’s magical stories and songs that are the focal point. There is a perfect formula for children’s music; like with kids’ films these days, many artists try to hard to make their albums “parent friendly” and tend to go overboard, while those who “dumb things down” tend to be the most annoying. Morgan’s gift is finding the perfect balance.
The Barber of the Beasts is for smart and imaginative kids and parents, seeming designed to be enjoyed together. Morgan is great with clever word play and he isn't afraid to drop a few “big words” (or at least unfamiliar words). That’s where the booklet’s excellent vocabulary guide comes in handy. Parents can go over words with their children, who will have not only been entertained by Zak’s fantastical storytelling, but will also learn something in the process.
Many of the tracks on Barber feature gorgeous chamber string arrangements, but there are also tunes like “Snow Day,” on which Morgan channels his inner Tom Waits (vocally), the shuffling, jazzy Pop cut “Swinging On A Star,” the Country-esque “Nancy Jane” and the great Bootsy collaboration, “The Case of the Dry Markers,” a swingin’, “spooky” Jazz struttin’ mystery with a Halloween vibe.
Here is the debut music video from the album for "The Case of the Dry Markers":
The songs and music are elegant and often downright majestic (particularly the ones with the spine-tingling string arrangements), while Morgan’s clever stories are loaded with a silliness that the young listeners will gleefully embrace.
I believe The Barber of the Beasts (which will specifically appeal to kids between around the ages of 1-8, but certainly fits the "fun for kids of all ages" bill) was released in time to make next year’s Grammy nominations. It will be a crime if it doesn’t make the cut. When it comes to children’s music, Zak is like the Bob Dylan of the genre — minus the curmudgeonly grumpiness, of course.
This Saturday at 1 p.m., Morgan and a host
of special guests will present the local release party for the album at
The Monastery recording studio (2601 Stanton Ave., Walnut Hills), the
performance/recording space owned and operated by producer/guitarist Ric
Hordinski (who also performed on, produced and co-wrote material on the album).
Tickets are available through brownpapertickets.com for $10 (or $20 for families of two-five people). Remaining tickets will be available at the door the day of the show for $15 (or $25 per family). Your ticket also includes food and admission to the post-show pizza party.
Contemporary Arts Center has officially announced that Patti Smith will perform The Coral Sea with daughter/pianist Jesse Smith on May 17, in connection with her CAC exhibit, also called The Coral Sea, that opens the next day and features work not previously seen in the U.S.
At the concert, Smith will also play selected material from throughout her career.
The CAC website says that "The Coral Sea performance work found its beginnings from Smith’s 1997 book of the same name, her requiem to her dear friend Robert Mapplethorpe (who took the cover photo of Smith’s debut album, Horses, among his many other accomplishments). With music arranged and performed live by Kevin Shields — of heralded British shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine — two separate performances were held at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in June 2005 and September 2006. In 2008 those performances were released as a live album."
Mapplethorpe's own posthumous photography retrospective at CAC, 1990's The Perfect Moment, became a major controversy when cultural conservatives led by now-retired Sheriff Simon Leis tried to shut it down for obscenity. In a famous trial, a jury sided with the CAC. The concert venue and ticket information will be announced soon at www.contemporaryartscenter.org.
I first wrote about Smith's art show coming to the CAC in CityBeat last year here.
Veteran singer/songwriter Maurice Mattei and his band The Tempers celebrate the release of their new CD, Mauled, this Saturday at The Redmoor in Mount Lookout. The show will feature an opening set by local Surf Rock band, Don’t Fear the Reverb, plus appearances by David Wolfenberger, Mike Helm, Brandon Dawson, Sharon Udoh and more.
Cincinnati music’s most iconic figure, Bootsy Collins, is gearing up to release a new album this spring, the funkmaster’s first new material in five years. The guest list on Tha Funk Capital of the World is stacked with superstars from various fields, not just music. Along with Hip Hop legends Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Chuck D (who all perform with Bootsy on one track, “Hip Hop @ Funk U”), eclectic banjo master Bela Fleck and fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bobby Womack, the 16-track collection also features such non-musical figures as Al Sharpton, Tom Joyner, Dr. Cornel West and actor Samuel Jackson. Funk Capital has an April 26 release date.
I first started writing about the fine artists making music in Cincinnati in the early ’90s, just before The Afghan Whigs released their breakthrough Gentlemen album on Elektra Records. The timing of my unexpected entry into "music journalism" coincided with the unexpected rise of the Cincinnati music scene's national profile. Today, my pal David Pescovitz (who actually made my unintentional career as a writer/editor possible) sent me a YouTube clip that brought back a rush of memories from that time period. Below you can take a look for yourself at the MTV News piece about the Cincinnati scene, a weird and telling moment in contemporary Cincy music history.
Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Brian Olive — who came into the Cincinnati music scene from nearby southwestern Indiana with his former band The Greenhornes in the ’90s — is set to release his second solo effort, Two of Everything, early next month. The album is being issued June 7 by the Alive Naturalsound imprint, which issued Olive’s 2009 debut. Click the arrow above to hear the new LP track “Left Side Rock. Olive’s touring for the album begins next week in the south (Texas, Florida, etc.), leading up to his special appearance at the massive Bonnaroo music fest in Tennessee, where he’ll join the legendary Dr. John as part of an all-star jam session.
Nationally recognized as one of the best record stores in the Midwest, it makes sense that Northside’s Shake It Records would go all out on the forthcoming global Record Store Day (April 16). Besides offering many of the limited-edition RSD exclusives being released by everyone from Blitzen Trapper, Yeasayer and Built to Spill to Television and The Velvet Underground (for the full list of exclusives, click here), the store/label is also issuing its own exclusive release from Shake It recording artists Wussy. And they’ll be hosting an in-store appearance by modern Hip Hop hero Talib Kweli.
Attention ‘80s headbangers—and those misguided younger souls among our readership who are fascinated with ‘80s nostalgia: Thruster, Cincinnati’s “premier” metalhead ensemble from those glory days of perms on men and t-shirts with no sleeves, is getting the fancy reissue treatment for their 1987 record M.I.A.
I attended my first South By Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., over 15 years ago to cover local Funk group SHAG's appearance at the festival for a much younger CityBeat. It seemed exciting back then that one of Cincinnati's biggest bands was invited to showcase at SXSW. This year, the amount of acts from the area performing is unprecedented — never has Cincinnati had such a presence at America’s premier music fan/industry showcase and conference (which starts a week from today).
And it’s not just performers. Representatives from local promo company The Counter Rhythm Group will be on hand in force, venture development group CincyTech is hosting regular chats as well as a Cincinnati hospitality headquarters and party in Austin and the progressive promotional/licensing machine The All Night Party is sponsoring both a tour centered around the Texas festival and its own showcase night at the event, a first for a local organization.
And, as we have most SXSWs over the past 17 years, CityBeat will have a reporter on the scene providing regular updates for this here blog. Be sure to check back often starting next week and see how are hometown heroes are doing.
Here’s an overview of just some of the Cincy-centric happenings related to SXSW 2012:
• The All Night Party presents the Midwest by Southwest tour (also sponsored by this summer’s Bunbury Music Festival and assisted by Counter Rhythm and Reveal Concepts) featuring, as the tagline reads, “Four Midwestern Bands — On A Mission to Rock.” The tour has Cincinnati bands The Sundresses (repeat visitors to SXSW) and Wussy, as well as Cleveland rockers The Whiskey Daredevils and Lexington’s Oh My Me. The jaunt begins Thursday at Mount Lookout’s The Redmoor. (Doors open at 6 p.m., showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $10.) MWXSW will hit several other cities before and after the ANP SXSW showcase Tuesday at the Soho Lounge. The Lions Rampant will appear on the bill in Austin, as well.
If you'd like to help the caravan out, there is a Kickstarter campaign with some cool perks you can check out here. (Quick, only three days left!) Here's the promo vid:
• R. Ring, the acoustic duo featuring local musician/engineer Mike Montgomery (thistle, Ampline) and Dayton, Ohio’s Kelley Deal (Breeders), will perform at a showcase hosted by the Misra label on March 15. Misra is releasing the twosome’s first single in a few months, with a full-length to follow.
• Ohio Knife, a new duo project from The Chocolate Horse’s Jason Snell, Andrew Higley and Joe Suer, is also headed to Austin and the local branch of branding agency Landor is tagging along. The company is hosting a travelogue website here so you can follow along at home. Ohio Knife plays a tour kickoff show Friday at The Comet in Northside. The band will hit other clubs in Tennessee and Texas along its way to SXSW.
• Local Indie Pop faves Pomegranates are now labelmates (on the Modern Outsider imprint) with fellow Cincy band Bad Veins. While the Veins won’t be performing in Texas (they’re preparing their own tour launch March 19 in Colorado), the Poms will play the official Modern Outsider SXSW showcase on March 14 at Trinity Hall.
• Indie/Folk/Electro/Pop powerhouse The Seedy Seeds took part in a SXSW launch party a couple of weeks ago. The band performs at the All Night Party showcase Tuesday.
• Eccentric breakout rockers Foxy Shazam are one of the headliners of a showcase presented by the huge booking company The Agency Group on March 15 at Latitude 30; the day before they’ll play an afternoon party.
• Cincy RCA Records recording artists Walk the Moon aren’t technically “showcasing” for SXSW, but they will be in Austin for the MTVu Woodie Awards ceremony and festival held in during SXSW, where they’ll be performing and hoping to score the Breaking Woodie award they’re competing for against acts like tUnE-YarDs and Lana Del Rey. Vote for the hometown boys here, where you can also watch a live stream from the March 15 festival.