The Gift of Sound

Raise your hand if you were Googling “phelps Olympics headphones” when you saw Michael Phelps walk out to the pool before his first race of the London Olympics.

I was certainly intrigued by those funky looking headphones with the interchangeable headbands Phelps was using to get himself pumped up. It only took seconds to learn they were made by Sol Republic.

And it didn’t take much longer for Phelps to get an endorsement deal with the company.

Now, Sol has issued a Phelps-inspired special edition of their popular Tracks headset. Dubbed “Anthem” and decked out with patriotic red, white, and blue colors, these new headphones deliver the same deep bass and high clarity of all the Sol Republic products.

The last time I owned a really good pair of over-the-ear headphones, I was 14, listening to the new ELO album on 8-track tape. So, I was excited to try these out.

In a word, the Tracks HD Anthem headphones are mind-blowing. Maybe that’s two words. Now, keep in mind, for the past 20 years or so, my music has come out of car speakers, cheap computer speakers, or Apple earbuds. Yes, of course, these Tracks headphones are mind-blowing for me. However, I had a few other people try them out, and they assure me that the sound is on par with similar products from the likes of Monster, Bose, and Skullcandy. A little research reveals that the Tracks headphones are a much better price, at $130 to $150, than its counterparts.

The interchangeable headband is a cool idea. The thing is seemingly indestructible, and if you’re not in a patriotic mood you can switch out the red, white, and blue for another of Sol’s long line of styles. It’s also quite comfortable, with solid padding for the top of the head as well as the ears.

But the sound! It certainly opens up a whole new world for my auditory cortex. I will never look at my cheap Apple earbuds the same way again. The Tracks HD Anthem headphones have just become my new best buddy for walking, working out, and watching iPad movies.

And now for the fun part of my review.

The giveaway!

The good folks at Sol Republic have sent me a pair of Tracks HD Anthem headphones to give to a lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what one song you would listen to first on these awesome new headphones.

Soon you could be dancing around the house, pumping yourself up to fold the laundry or run the vacuum like Michael Phelps getting ready to swim the 100m Butterfly.

I’ll pick a winner at the end of next week!

Playing with the ’80s

As if I didn’t have enough to clean up around the house, from cluttered closets to piles of laundry, my computer beeped at me the other day to announce that its hard drive was starting to look like a hoarder’s living room.

So I took an hour to clean out the digital clutter. Most of it went straight into the Recycle Bin, and with one click was trashed forever. Wouldn’t it be nice to do that in real life?

One thing I found was a file that I created several years ago, while learning how to use some long-forgotten free audio software. I took snippets of favorite songs from the 1980s, splicing them together into a patchwork of musical nostalgia.

Take a listen for yourself:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

How many ’80s songs can you identify?

Funnier Little Fellas Review and Giveaway

If Matt Clark wasn’t a musician, he could easily find an outlet for his creativity as a daddy blogger.

His songs are like blog posts set to music.

Listening to his latest CD, Funnier Little Fellas, I’m reminded of some of the better dad bloggers out there who turn to the Internet to share all the funny little moments they experience after becoming new fathers.

But Clark isn’t singing just for the moms and dads. He writes his songs for the kids. Specifically, he writes for, and about, his two young sons.

He’s tracking the milestones and obsessions of those earliest years through humor, instruction, and an easy-going vocal style. Clark sings about the simple stuff: Band-aids, tantrums, tickling, and playing at the playground.

Simple to you and me, maybe, but that’s some serious stuff to the preschool crowd!

I really like the children’s artists who are focused on a specific age group. And Matt Clark knows his audience very well.

Toddlers and preschoolers are going to love this CD. If I’d had this disc when my own kids were younger, it would’ve been on heavy rotation in our van.

So, go get Funnier Little Fellas, available for sale at Clark’s website, or at iTunes. You can hear samples at both places.

I just happen to have two copies of the CD to give away to my readers, thanks to the artist himself. If you’d like to win one, leave a comment on this post simply telling me you want it. I’ll pick a winner next week.

Halloween Music for Kids

It’s that time of the year, when you start hearing Christmas carols in the stores and on the radio, and you think, “What happened to the Halloween music?”

Because when else are you going to enjoy such spooky songs as “Monster Mash,” “Thriller,” and “I Want Candy” while parading around the house in a cape and plastic fangs?

The classic songs of Halloween are well-known, but not always appropriate for the ears of very young kids. That’s where Kidz Bop steps in, transforming popular songs into something a little more palatable for the pre-school and early elementary set.

Their new CD, Halloween Party, is a thrilling dance mix of classic favorites that will be perfect for a kids party, while carving pumpkins this weekend, or just for getting the kids in the trick-or-treating spirit.

Sung by kids, for kids, these songs will be familiar to adults. From “Ghostbusters” to “The Addams Family” to “Werewolves of London,” it’s all good clean holiday fun that parents don’t have to worry about.

Your kids will love this, even if you don’t. Yes, I admit that it’s not something I’d listen to on my own. The sound is completely geared toward young ears, from ages 2 to 8, with kid-friendly instrumentation, crystal clear production, and the appeal of hearing other children singing catchy pop tunes.

I have a copy of this CD to give away! So, if you have a child who embraces the spirit of spooky fun at Halloween, please leave a comment on this post telling me what their costume is going to be this year.

I’ll be picking a winner on Wednesday, so the CD can get to you by the weekend.

Who Needs the Junk?

Kids’ band The Sippy Cups has written a new song to support the “Boycott the Baggie” campaign by One Small Step, a company that provides parents with environmentally friendly, safe, stylish options for waste-free lunches.

The video takes us on a journey through a day in the life of your garbage. It all starts out so innocently: a brown bag here, a juice box there. But all those brown bags, juice boxes, and plastic baggies add up — and what they add up to is a huge mess.

Learn more at Boycott the Baggie.

Lemonade School

I wrote about David Tobocman’s debut CD two years ago.

It was good. Really good. And it had one song, “Home,” that approached greatness.

That’s a tough act to follow, but Tobocman doesn’t miss a beat on Lemonade School, his second album of kids’ music.

It’s a completely engaging collection of songs played in a variety of styles, from Count Basie-style swing to Beatles-inspired pop. In fact, Tobocman starts off the album with a spirited bluegrass rendition of The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye,” a daunting task that he pulls off with style.

From there, Tobocman shows off his strength as a master storyteller with clever songs like “Ice Cream on a Hot Dog,” “Mom is a Rock Star,” and “The Neighborhood.”

The showpiece here is the title track, an instant classic about a boy named Horatio, who works hard to develop the perfect lemonade recipe. It’s a fun message about persevering and achieving your dreams that any child can learn from.

Tobocman’s easy-going vocal stylings, coupled with the charming lyrics and pristine production, will appeal to all ages, from toddlers right up through the jaded middle school set.

My family highly recommends Lemonade School. It’s easily one of the best kids’ albums of the year.

You can hear samples, and buy the album, at Tobocman’s website.

Heidi Swedberg’s Play!

I was a fan of Heidi Swedberg long before she sent me her CD to review.

She reeled me in back in the 90’s with her effortless performance in the role of Susan Ross, the sophisticated and ever-patient girlfriend of George Costanza, on the TV show Seinfeld. Since her infamous departure from that show (death by envelope glue!), Swedberg became one of those actors I would always enjoy spotting in various TV and movie roles, from ER to Bones to Galaxy Quest.

So, I was happy to hear that she had recently turned her talents to teaching music to kids.

And that she wanted me to review her debut CD, Play!

I was even happier to find the CD to be just as effortless as her acting. The disc is filled with classic kids’ songs, set to the amiable voices and playful ukulele strumming of Heidi and her band, The Sukey Jump Band.

Songs like “Froggie Went a Courtin’,” “Pop Goes the Weasel,” and “Muffin Man” are given a complete ukulele makeover, with quirky arrangements and foot-tapping beats. Not to mention plenty of glockenspiel, saw, and slide whistle. Heidi also tackles ballads like “Down in the Valley,” and “Dream a Little Dream” with a simple sweetness that will have your young ones smiling the whole way through.

But Heidi encourages kids to do more than just listen. Hence, the title of the disc.

Yes, you might just have to buy your kids a ukulele so they can play along. Chords and lyrics are even provided with the CD.

She also sells a very reasonably priced ukulele on her website.

Whether they just listen or learn to play, your children will love these songs. They’re perfect for the younger crowd, from toddlers up through the elementary school years.

Of course, you’re never too old to pick up a musical instrument. Why not join your kids and form a ukulele orchestra for your next family sing-along?

To help one of you out, I have a copy of Play! to give away. Just leave a comment on this post telling me you’re a ukulele kind of person.

I’ll pick a winner next week!

In the meantime, visit CDBaby to hear samples of Heidi’s songs.

America’s Our Country

David Tobocman hit one out of the park on his debut CD, Very Helpful Songs, which I reviewed back in 2008.

His beautiful and touching song, “Home,” is one of my all-time favorite children’s tunes. Ever.

So, I’m excited that his follow-up disc, Lemonade School, will be hitting stores in August.

Ahead of that release date, Tobocman is releasing a free single for the 4th of July holiday. It’s a patriotic tune called “America’s Our Country.”

You can receive an MP3 download of the track (I repeat, FOR FREE), by sending an email request to: veryhelpful@earthlink.net

And, of course, there is a video. Enjoy:

Brainy Day

Three years ago we were pleasantly surprised by a very happy kids’ album from Roger Day. Read my positive review of that CD, Dream Big, here.

Roger’s back with a new album, but it’s not so happy this time.

Now he’s gone all brainy on us.

Why Does Gray Matter? is a fun collection of “brainy songs for kids” from one of the smartest kids’ singers around.

Yes, every single song on this CD is about being smart and making the most of your brain. Tracks like “Use Your Noodle,” “It’s a No Brainer,” and “Inside My Cranium,” are funny, silly, and educational all at the same time. What more do you want in a children’s album?

I’m always telling my kids to use their brain to its full potential. Along comes Roger Day to back me up with lyrics like: “There’s not a single answer anywhere you can’t find, When you flex the muscles in your mind,” and “Get your brain in gear, There’s no time for wasting here.”

Day also sings about good “brain foods” to eat, such as blueberries, whole wheat bread, spinach, salmon, and green tea.

Like I said, it’s a very smart album. As Day himself said, “I’m pretty sure it’s the first recording session in Nashville to research WebMD for fact checks.”

And it’s all wrapped up in an exquisite pop/rock sheen that calls to mind the best Schoolhouse Rock tunes.

Why Does Gray Matter? gets the highest recommendation from my family! You can listen to it at Roger Day’s website. It’s also available for download on iTunes.