Category Archives: Music

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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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/

What’s on Joanie Leeds’ 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”
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Joanie Leeds is a month away from releasing her 6th(!) kids record. Good Egg will be released on June 24th and this time around, she funded the record via KickStarter. She brings along Mista Cookie Jar (on the insanely funky ‘Drummer Dan’) and Jacob Stein from The Pop Ups (on the back and forth wordplay on “The World Is Your Oyster”) to help out. Of course, the production from Dean Jones shines through on Good Egg.

The new record is all over the map on genres, but never does it feel contrived. She effortlessly jumps from rocking out to a breezy ukulele tune. Easily the highlight on the record, is the singing on ‘Hipster In The Making.” Joanie brings some clever lyrics to the table, but the harmonies from her band, the Nightlights bring to this track just shine.

But now, we find out what’s on her iPod…..

Joanie Leeds iPod: 1583 albums, 117 genres, 848 artists

Track 1: I Thank You. Artist: Sam & Dave. Album: The Stax Story, Disk 2- Kinda Blue

Initial reaction: After a big smile and a little head bop, I noted this was the perfect song to queue up first. What a classic!

Why did you add it? I was given the 4 disk Stax Collection as a gift back in the early 2000′s. What an amazing collection with artists such as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding (my favorite!), Booker T, Mavis Staples… Sam and Dave aren’t my favorites from the collection but they have some solid tunes.

What do you like about? While my favorite Stax artist is Otis Redding (My husband and I danced to ‘I’ve been Loving you too Long’ at our wedding for our first dance), Sam and Dave had some pretty catchy hits as well. When I was growing up, my mom listened to a lot of 102.7 Classic FM in Miami, Florida. Back in the day the station was full of Sam & Dave hits like ‘Soul Man’, ‘Hold on, I’m Comin’ and this one. The soulful sound that you hear in each of the instruments as they make their appearance is stellar. It’s gritty and perfect.

Track 2: Campin’ Tent Artist: Okee Dokee Brothers Album: Can You Canoe?

Initial reaction: Hahaha, my buddies! Justin and Joe will laugh when they hear that they came up random on my shuffle. I LOVE this album. I was actually listening to their song ‘Thousand Star Hotel’ from the same album last night. So freakin’ clever, as is all of their music.

Why did you add it? We always exchange CDs and when an ODBros CD arrives in the mail, I am always happy to listen as add to my permanent collection. Since my library is pretty vast, I tend to keep my kids music separate and may not download to iTunes after an initial listen. This album however is added without hesitation. (GRAMMY WINNING, I might add) They are great songwriters and I’ve had the honor of collaborating with Justin on my last CD, Bandwagon, title track. They just sent me their new CD, ‘Through the Woods’ – it’s very good.

Do you want to skip it? No!

What do you like about? This song, along with the entire album is a perfect collection of canoe/camping songs. I love camping and the outdoors so while I value clever lyrics as a songwriter, I can also get behind the concept as a whole. This is kids music at it’s very best. “I love my campin’ tent. It’s my transportable, affordable apartment” – genius!

Track 3: Winter. Artist: K’s Choice. Album: Almost Happy

Initial reaction: Wow, I haven’t listened to this album in at least a decade. After hearing The Okee Dokee Brothers, this song is such a downer!

Why did you add it? I first saw K’s Choice and became a fan instantly when they threw their pick into the audience at Lilith Fair and I caught it! I bought their CD that night. I mean, I had the pick so I felt obligated. I have 3 of their albums and I much prefer the tunes from their earlier album ‘Cocoon Crash’.

Do you want to skip it? Yes, a little, because I wasn’t in the mood for a slow ballad but since I hadn’t listened to this band in forever, I stuck with it. The lead singer’s (Sarah Betten) voice is haunting and the guitar playing is pure and simple. Plus it’s a live recording and you can always tell what a band really sounds like when you hear em live!

What do you like about? I love many genres- early 90′s chick-rock included. Bands like K’s choice, Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Tori Amos and Paula Cole got me into writing my own depressing music back in college. Glad I got all of that out of my system in my teens and early 20′s! Ha. No wonder I enjoy writing for children, this sad stuff can get heavy. At the same time, once a year, every girl is obliged sit in a dark room, listen to one of these bands and cry, right? Right?!

Track 4: Hath thou Considered the Tetrapod. Artist: Mountain Goats. Album: Live at Music Hall at Williamsburg

Initial reaction: YES!!! This must be one of the best song titles of all time.

Why did you add it? I found a live recording of this show on the internet… or maybe my brother did, I can’t remember. I was AT THIS SHOW back in 2008 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn!

Do you want to skip it? Hell NO. It’s a beautiful tune.

What do you like about? My brother is 6 years younger than me but when it comes to Indie Rock, he is the Godfather. You know those people who know every band before they get anyone else has heard of them? Like they scour and study Pitchfork with a fine tooth comb? This is my brother. He introduced me to The Mountain Goats (and about 1000 other Indie Rock Bands) in maybe 1999? I resisted because of John Darnielle’s nasal tone and the fact that most of the recordings were low quality from a boom box but his lyrics are to die for and I learned to accept the low quality sound and love this band. I’ve seen them about 5 times and his fans are nuts. They know EVERY word and these are not your typical lyrics. They are very poetic and complicated. In this live version, you can hear everyone singing along. I met the lead singer, John, at his concerts twice. First time, I took a picture of him and my brother outside of this tiny Williamsburg bar a LONG time ago. Second time, he was standing next to me during his opener and I offered him a drink.

Track 5: Ghost. Artist: Phish. Album: The Story of the Ghost

Initial reaction: Laughed. I thought the boys might possibly make an appearance on this list. I have more Phish in iTunes than any other band. One may conclude I’m a Phan.

Why did you add it? I have pretty much every studio album they have released and tons (and I mean TONS) of their live shows. I have 7 different versions of ‘Ghost’ in iTunes. This tune is very different from the rest of their music but my favorite thing about it is Mike’s bass line and the pick scrape toward the end. It’s the first song on the album, short sweet and it’s pretty darn funky.

Do you want to skip it? Nah. It’s a solid tune.

What do you like about? etc, etc… When I was at summer camp around 11 or 12 years old, I heard my first Phish album. I was hooked at Fee. Years later when I was a freshman in college, I saw my first show in upstate NY and since then, I have seen them 24 times. 25 shows total. Every Phan knows the number of shows they’ve seen. But 25 is nothing compared to some people I’ve met. It’s common to meet people at shows that have been to 90, 100, 200 shows. These crazy fans put The Mountain Goat fans in the rookie column.

You can find out more from her and her new album Good Egg at JoanieLeeds.com