For a guy who developed his kiddie repertoire inside a nursery school and honed it, reluctantly, at kid’s birthday parties, Randy Kaplan sure has come a long way in a short time.
I consider Kaplan a singularly unique voice in the kindie music community. The uniqueness comes not only from his layered, slightly complex tales that tend to work on multiple levels at the same time (a bathtub shark who barks “Shampoo Me”, an insect who doesn’t want to be a “Ladybug Without Spots”, buying lunch for a nickel in “The Donut Song”), but also from his decision making when selecting songs to cover and/or adapt for the toddler set (“Tomorrow”, “Grape Juice Hesitation Blues”) . A strong background and interest in stage musicals and opera is abundantly clear when listening to a Randy Kaplan disc.
I recently chatted with Kaplan as he was busy prepping his 3rd family album “The Kids Are All Id” (due mid-May). We talked about the new batch of songs, his philosophy on writing and performing for younger audiences and his East Coast appearances next month.
Kaplan describes “The Kids Are All Id” as a little edgier than “5-Cent Piece” and “Loquat Rooftop”, with “a couple more songs for the parents than the kids”. He seems fully aware that to capture and keep an audience in the all-ages space, it helps to make the moms and dads smile a little bit along the way. He does not, however, pander to the grown ups at the expense of younger ears, which is why he is proving to be one of the truly great songwriters in the children’s music community. He acknowledges that “parents appreciate that the records and the shows are also for them, not just wishing that it was over.”
One of the ways Kaplan engages parents is by selecting eclectic covers for his albums. The songs that Kaplan turns into kiddie fodder may crumble in the hands of others, but on “The Kids Are All Id” alone he manages to pull off Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”, “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin'” from Porgy & Bess and a youthful adaptation of a centuries-old drinking song “The Derby Ram”. Kaplan is once again giving the grown ups some meat with their mashed potatoes.
For the kids, Kaplan is probably best appreciated for injecting hilarious voices into his story songs. On “The Kids Are All Id”, he works in a British Queen bee and a Hebrew speaking bear, along with a monkey named Kqxhc (a returning character, from Loquat Rooftop’s “No Nothin”). While the adults are nodding with significant approval, the kiddos will be chuckling mightily.
If you shake a Randy Kaplan kid’s album, you’ll likely hear a decent amount of jingling inside. That’ll be all the 10-cent words seamlessly integrated, words not usually spotted in kiddie liner notes: begrudgingly, predicament, treacherously, lithograph, metamorphosis, to list just some. I asked Kaplan how he came to the decision to write songs for kids without singing down to them (as far too many children’s artists do). He says that “from working in that nursery school I saw that you can treat kids with such respect and without condescension and they get it”. It’s why his songs work on so many levels. For example, in any given 4 minute stretch the Bear can be enthralled with a song’s story arc and humor, while the Mouse might just laugh at the silly voices, and the Mrs and I can appreciate the witty wordplay, the guitar arrangements and the melody. Randy Kaplan offers something for everyone on every song.
Randy remarked that he has noticed, dating as far back as those nursery school days, that many youngsters reach for and hold on to the humorous characters and voices within his songs. I asked him if he is actively working to include those elements in his new music, now that he’s made a pair of family albums and has witnessed children’s propensity for fondly recalling such nuances. “I wasn’t really at all until this record when I had all the songs and my friend & right hand man Scott listened to all the demos and said there aren’t enough characters in the songs. It just came naturally before, this was 1st time I was consciously aware of it and did something to change it.”
Kaplan says that we can thank his buddy Scott for the riotous Hebrew speaking bear who’s voice wasn’t in the original track at all, and the bee who had her parts expanded so much so that “Little Bee” has become a duet between Kaplan and the black and yellow British Queen.
“The Kids Are All Id” tracklist:
1. My Little Laugh (3:58)
2. The Hebrew-Speaking Bear (Heave Ho!) (3:20)
3. Little Bee (3:29)
4. The Kid Is All Id (3:44)
5. The Money Song (3:06)
6. I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ (4:09)
7. The Derby Ram (3:35)
8. This Guy (:46)
9. Don’t You Leave Me Here (5:18)
10. Is She a Girl or Is She a Monkey (1:58)
11. Whistle For Willie (4:00) *
12. Dream Hat (4:16) *
13. I Like Cacti (3:35) *
14. Papa Ling’s Tune (:13)
15. Joe and Finn (3:34)
16. Dreamin’ (2:09)
17. Forever Young (3:08)
* based on or inspired by books by Ezra Jack Keats.
“The Kids Are All Id” is due in mid-May.
Be sure to catch Randy Kaplan live next month as he unveils his new songs in front of East Coast crowds for the 1st time. He’ll be at the Kennett Flash as part of my kids concert series on Saturday, May 15th 2010 @ 3pm. Tickets on sale now.
Kaplan will also be performing at the Cup & Top in Florence, MA on 5/11 and The Living Room in NYC on 5/16. More about those gigs (and other all-ages shows out West) here.