Tag Archives: Laurie Berkner

A Conversation with Brady Rymer

My friend Jeff Bogle, of Out With the Kids, calls Brady Rymer‘s Love Me for Who I Am the album he was destined to make, and I couldn’t put it any better. Full of hooks and effervescently charming musical turns, it has something for family members of all ages — and music fans of (almost) all persuasions — but that isn’t even all of what makes it so special. There’s also a really wonderful story behind the music, which, among other things, Brady shared with me during a recent interview. Here’s a transcript of our discussion, and a widget that will let you stream the whole album while you read. Enjoy.

Your new album, Love Me for Who I Am, was a collaboration of sorts with a school called Celebrate the Children, whose mission is giving support and respect to children with sensory processing difficulties — conditions such as autism. How did you get involved with them?

Well, I was with this other band — I still am, actually — called From Good Homes. And by the late ’90s, that band was dissolving around me, and it just happened to coincide, for me, with starting a family and having kids. And my friend Monica, who founded the school, knew I was looking to do something, and she said, “Come on out and play your guitar at our summer camp — the kids would love to hear your music.” And that’s how my relationship with them started. That was about ten years ago, and they just kept playing my CDs when I’d release them. Eventually, Monica ended up marrying Dan Myers, who produces my music, and that strengthened our connection to the school. I’ve kept going back to play those shows, and it’s just been an incredibly great gig — always a lot of fun to do.

And then a couple of years ago, after a really, really nice show in the summertime, I said to Monica and Dan, “These guys need some songs. We really need to write some songs for them.” They thought it was a great idea, and since they worked with the kids so much, I asked them to send me some ideas — so they sent me a couple of pages of phrases which either came from the kids, or came from thinking about their challenges. And then we just started banging out the songs from those phrases, and keeping that spirit, the spirit of the kids, close. Continue reading

CD Review: Ziggy Marley, “Family Time”

Ziggy Marley – Family Time (2009, Tuff Gong)
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I didn’t have much use for Ziggy Marley when he was riding high (ahem) on the charts 20 years ago, with the hacky sack anthem “Tomorrow People,” and nothing I’ve heard from him since then has changed my mind — until now, that is: for his new children’s album, Family Time, Marley has pulled out all the stops, assembling an Ocean’s Eleven-style dream team including some major names both within kids’ entertainment (Elizabeth Mitchell, Jamie Lee Curtis, the dreaded Laurie Berkner) and without (Jack Johnson, Toots Hibbert, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon). The result is a wonderfully easy listen that’s a lot more cohesive than you might think, given the succession of cameos — and if you, like me, have never given Marley much thought, it proves unexpectedly entertaining as well.

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The record strikes a sunny, bucolic vibe right off the bat — the title track, which opens the album, begins with the words “Lift up your hearts with a smile / Life up your feet with a dance / Lift up your spirits with a song” — and holds it steady throughout the first 11 songs. (The last two tracks, brief spoken word snippets narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, aren’t awful, but neither do they seem terribly necessary.

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) Taken together, the songs form something like a set of training wheels for young would-be reggae fans — not only simply by virtue of Marley’s presence (and those of family members Judah, Rita, and Cedella), but through some savvy choices of material to cover (“Hold ‘Em Low,” “This Train”) or reinterpret (“Wings of an Eagle” spins “If I Had the Wings of a Dove”; “ABC” does the same for “Bend Down Low”), mixed in with some thoroughly enjoyable originals. The guests generally tend to fade sensibly into the framework of whichever songs they appear on, too, with the possible exception of Willie Nelson, who sounds like he thought his bus pass was taking him to a different studio. (Best guest appearance: Paul Simon proving he hasn’t lost his affinity for reggae phrasing on “Walk Tall,” where he trades lines seamlessly with Marley.

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Ultimately, the album is a rather slight affair, but then, you get the feeling that’s exactly what Marley was aiming for — an amiable, uncomplicated good time for children of all ages. Call it an unqualified success, then, and prepare for Family Time to last a good, long while in your household.

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CD Review: The Laurie Berkner Band, “Rocketship Run”

The Laurie Berkner Band – Rocketship Run (2008, Two Tomatoes)
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A year or two ago, Jack’s Big Music Show was my daughter’s favorite thing to watch on TV. It was one of the first shows she really got into, actually, and I liked it too — it offers plenty of bright colors, with nifty-looking puppets designed by Sesame Street vets, positive messages, and a parade of cool guest stars (my personal favorite: Andrew Bird as the dulcimer-fixing Dr. Stringz). Due in part to the typically transitive tastes of children, and in part to the show’s abnormally long, Sopranos-style hiatuses, Sophie moved on from Jack’s fairly quickly; ordinarily, I might have encouraged her to keep on watching it, not least because I’d already invested in at least one Jack’s DVD — but in this case, I was actually sort of happy to watch her enthusiasm fade. Why? Because each episode features a pair of music videos, and many of them feature Laurie “Oh God, Not Her Again” Berkner.

Berkner is an extremely popular kids’ musician who has been selling oodles of albums for over a decade — at this point, she’s pretty much her own media empire; sort of the Oprah of kids’ music, with albums, DVDs, and even a book under her belt. Personally, I find her unsettling — I don’t trust anyone whose facial muscles are strong enough to support all that smiling, and she has the shake-you-by-the-lapels singing style of a Junior Miss pageant contestant — but kids and parents loooooooooooooove Laurie Berkner, to the extent that Rocketship Run, her first album in six years, is a very big deal. It’s also pretty good, actually, which, perversely, only makes me hate her more.

Rocketship Run represented a first for me: Instead of ripping it to my hard drive and listening to it with my daughter, I waited until she and my wife were going on a car ride together, and handed it off for them to share on their trip. This accomplished two things: First, it saved me from at least one round of listening to the album, and second, it would give me an objective pair of opinions I could trust before I filtered Rocketship through my grumpy dad’s-ear perspective. It was a big hit, of course — my wife actually said the words “I love it,” and my daughter immediately insisted on having the album on her iPod. All 24 freakin’ tracks of it. Continue reading