What’s on Laurie Berkner’s iPod?

What’s on your ipod? Probably lots of songs. Potentially terrible songs. Are you willing to play Russian Roulette with it in a public forum? We ask artists to take that chance with us and explain, cringe, hide and talk about the first five songs that come up when they hit “Shuffle.”

Today, we let Laurie Berkner tell us what’s on her iPod.

LaurieBerknerI was looking forward to writing this piece both because I was really curious about what would come up. As a songwriter I use my mp3 player as a work tool as much as I do for pleasure, so an inordinate amount of the music on there is either written or sung by me – or both. (The ridiculous number of times that I have had to purchase my own songs from itunes just to remember a part or play it for someone else, has taught me that I should always have access to my music). How many of my own songs would come up? And would there be any other little gems thrown in? I pressed play. Not all my songs, but still a healthy dose. And phew, yes, a couple of gems. Hurray!

1) All of Me by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons, performed by Louis Armstrong
What a great start. I just requested this song at get-together a few nights ago, where a friend of mine was playing piano, and I had been enjoying reliving its greatness. This is the version I know best (though he said his favorite was one by Willie Nelson that I’d like to check out). Louis Armstrong is just so fun to listen to and always sounds as though he is having a great time (particularly in this live version). I have two really strong associations with this song, 1)My brother singing it to us at our wedding – very sweet and very moving, and 2)Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin dancing to it at the end of the movie “All of Me” – one of my favorite movie moments. That’s actually how I originally got hooked on the song!

2) Fly Me To The Moon by Bart Howard, performed by Laurie Berkner and James Maddock
Ah perfect! The first track of mine to come up was not one that I wrote or even played guitar on! In 2008 I released an album called Rocketship Run. I covered this amazing tune as the last song. It’s one I’ve always loved (especially when Frank Sinatra sings it) and that I often sang to my daughter, Lucy, so it had a special place in my heart. In fact, I was inspired to record this version of it because I found myself singing it to her all the time at home during the year that I made the album. At first though, I had trouble finding the right feel for the guitar part. Luckily, a great singer/songwriter/guitarist named James Maddock happened to also be working at the same studio I was. He played along to a rough vocal track that I had already laid down, and I loved what he did. I was very fortunate that he agreed to play on the recording, and the song finally came together in a way that I was really happy with.

3) Helplessly Hoping by Stephen Stills, performed by Crosby Stills and Nash.
I was introduced to CSN (and sometimes Y) in college. For years they were some of my favorite musicians and I covered a lot of their songs. At that time I used to perform with other guitar players and singers at local bars, restaurants and coffeehouses, and we’d sing a lot of songs from the 60’s and 70’s. This song was a particular favorite of mine because the close harmonies are really great. They can make it really challenging to do live, but when we would get them right it was so satisfying! Just listening to this song now reminds me of those friends and those early days of going out and performing music.

4) Monster I’ll Miss You from “Wanda’s Monster” by Laurie Berkner, performed by Laura Hankin and James Ortiz

Last year I tried something new. I wrote the music to an off-broadway family musical called Wanda’s Monster (based on a children’s book of the same name by Eileen Spinelli). Barbara Zinn-Kreiger, who founded the organization Making Books Sing, asked me to collaborate with her (she wrote the script) and I was so happy with how it came out! When I was a kid I dreamed of becoming a musical theater star on Broadway – but getting to write my own music for a show turned out to be even better. The biggest surprise for me was finding out that I could even do it! After many years of writing kids songs for just myself to sing, I wasn’t sure I would be able to come up with music that worked. It was a whole different experience to create words and music for other people to sing, and to have the songs I wrote actually help move a plot along. The musical is about a girl named Wanda (Laura Hankin) who has a monster (James Ortiz) in her closet that she is afraid of at first, and ultimately befriends. Toward the end of the story Monster has to find a new closet to live in (those are the “monster rules” that monsters live by) and the song is when they are saying good-bye. (But don’t worry, we soon find out that he only has to move on to her cousin Ruthie’s closet, so they do get to see each other again.) The actors who sang on the track, Laura and James, did an incredible job of bringing this song to life.

5) Fruit Salad Salsa by Laurie Berkner
OK, I admit it. I almost skipped this one. But the next song was another one of mine anyway. For fun I let it go one more just to see what I’d get, and it played The Carpenter’s version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” which I really only downloaded as research for my Christmas album (I love Karen Carpenter’s voice and I loved singing that song as a kid, but I don’t have any real connection to this particular version.) No cheating, here’s a bit about Fruit Salad Salsa: I started writing music for kids because I had a job as a pre-school music specialist. In that role at one of the schools I taught at, I was supposed to (along with the movement teacher, Debra) help the kids put on an end-of-year performance. Each year I would write songs for the kids to perform that incorporated Debra’s movement ideas There was always a theme, like Transportation or The Environment. I wrote this song for the Food theme. I thought that creating a song with a “salsa” beat would be a fun play on words. Then adding the fruit salad element made it easier to come up with lyrics for the 4 and 5 yr-olds who would be singing it. (It was also much easier to imagine a mango dancing than a bowl of salsa busting a move.)

You can find Laurie out touring this summer (we saw her this weekend and she was wonderful) and/or if you haven’t picked up her Lullabies record, I suggest you do. The duets with Brady Rymer are lovely and the remakes of some older tunes are well worth the investment.

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Father’s Day gift ideas

imageYou could give any of these items as gifts and you’d probably have a pretty happy father.

10 hand crafted gifts for under $50.
Or if you’re willing to splurge on dad.
iGrill2 – Bluetooth® Smart grilling thermometer.
If he’s a child of the 80’s he’ll appreciate this: LEGO Ghostbusters Ecto-1 21108.
A book of laughs: This Is Ridiculous This Is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists.
If your dad is a fan of a good fish story: All Fishermen Are Liars.

But want to know the best gift to give your father? It’s time spent with him.

Do something that gives you a chance to talk with him. Go to a vintage baseball game. Go on a bike ride. Walk around the block. Go to a concert. Go to a book store. Go to a record store. Go anywhere that will allow for you to have a conversation with him.

It’s a Father’s Day gift that can’t be returned, misplaced or lost.

Desert Island Discs with Danny Weinkauf

If you had to go away for awhile and you could only take five of your favorite albums with you, which ones would you choose? Yes, we know it isn’t a fair question, but that hasn’t stopped us from asking music fans who happen to be recording artists in their own right. This edition of Desert Island Discs comes courtesy of Danny Weinkauf, who released his frist solo record called No School TodayIn short, the album is awesome. How does one, not love this?

You may not think you’ve heard music from him before, but that’s probably not true. When he’s not playing bass for They Might Be Giants, Mr. Weinkauf has written a boatload of music for too many companies to even list: Just read the bio on his website.

Now we turn it over to Danny…..

???????????????????????????For someone who really loves music, the idea of having only 5 of your favorite albums to choose from seems a bit cruel. My guess is that there are certain albums that are just so beloved by most of us that they would probably show up repeatedly on these types of lists. For that reason I will not include All The Beatles albums, What’s going on?, Innervisions, Kind of Blue, Axis bold as love, Hunky Dory, Quadrophenia, Court and Spark, Nevermind, Blood on the Tracks, A Night at the Opera, Good old Boys, Rain dogs, or Exile on Main Street on my list. See what I mean? That’s about 20 albums right there and you want me to limit it to 5. That doesn’t even include all the alternative stuff I’m not gonna put on my list like Radiohead, David Byrne, David Byrne and St. Vincent, David Byrne and Brian Eno, Sufjan Stevens, Cake, Beck, XTC, The LAs, Fountains of Wayne, Mike Viola, They Might Be Giants, TMBG, and They Might be Giants. Did I mention They Might be Giants? Too good for a list like this! Pheew, man this is tougher than I thought. How about a list of 5 albums that I really love that some people might not know are great? Here goes:

1. RAM – by Paul McCartney – my favorite of his post Beatles albums (I know, I know Band on the Run is pretty great too). From the rockers like “Too many People” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” though the multi-harmony beauty of “Dear Boy” and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”. It’s so melodic and natural sounding and his voice is at its best. As a bass player, Paul has always been one of my biggest influences.

2. Woodface – by Crowded House – I think it’s hands down the best of this band that is incredibly famous in England, Australia, and their home New Zealand. Neil Finn is a fantastic songwriter with an amazing voice and is joined by his brother Tim on this album. The harmonies between two brothers really shine though. Any time my friends and I pull out our acoustic guitars you can be sure that we’ll play “It’s only Natural”, “Fall at Your Feet”, and “Weather with You” — all from this album.

3. Rockin’ the Suburbs – by Ben Folds. A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to significantly improve my piano playing skills. I spent many hours playing songs by The Beatles, Elton John, Randy Newman, and this Ben Folds album. When I first heard this album, I felt like Ben must have listened to a lot of the same music I did growing up. I could hear all kinds of influences that he managed to make his own and the piano playing was great and varied stylistically from track to track. I thought to myself, “If I can learn to play most of the songs on that album, I will be a much better piano player and will have a kind of vocabulary to pull from in my own writing.” When I was writing songs for my album No School Today I started playing a piano part that reminded me of something Ben might play so I developed it and wrote the song “The Ballad of Ben” as a sort of “thank you” to him.

4. Brutal Youth – by Elvis Costello – Elvis is one of my songwriting heroes. He is so prolific, so melodic, and lyrically genius. This is probably not one of his most popular records but it has so many moments of truely great songs that I keep going back to it. “This Is Hell”, “You Tripped at Every Step”, “13 Steps Lead Down”, and “Still Too Soon To Know” are the first that come to mind.

5. Best of the Four Tops – Ok, maybe it’s cheating (ed. – it is, but we’ll let it slide) to choose a best of collection but considering that these guys had their hits more than 50 years ago, when you go through their catalog many of the albums are “best of” collections. Here are the facts on this one: they had one of the greatest rhythm sections ever on their tracks. My favorite bassist James Jamerson and all the other Motown greats were their backing band. Levi Stubbs’ sings so powerfully and soulfully on songs like “Bernadette”, “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Walk Away Renee,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch).” I get excited just thinking about it.

Go find out more of what’s in Danny’s brain, right here: http://www.dannyweinkauf.com/