Moving on then, to the dreamier pair of albums, starting with Mo Phillips’ Spectacular Daydream, which is a strong contender for Most Accurate Album Title of the year, as the Portland musician gives us a dozen songs that seem inspired by, or designed to encourage listeners to, sleep. It’s not that this is a lullaby album, but the dreamy imagery (sample lyrics: “Your ears are made out of French toast”) and lush and often mellow musical arrangements -- and guest artists including fellow Portland musician Red Yarn -- encourage a relaxed listen rather than active engagement. The prominent use of ukulele helps in this regard as well. In fact, thanks to a grant from Portland’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, Phillips has turned the album into a ukulele songbook with elaborate drawings -- it’s definitely the one album I’d encourage tracking down in physical format if you care at all about it. (The younger listeners in the 3-to-7-year-old target audience may want to color the illustrations, too.) Along with Pointed Man Band’s Between the Waves and the Cardoons and Red Yarn’s Born in the Deep Woods, Spectacular Daydream is the third in what has been an impressive 2017 thus far for Portland-based kids music.
'Monster Suit' by Mo Phillips
Published: 03/21/2012 by Michael Berick
The first thing that caught my attention about this CD was that Phillips’ record label is named Hey! Bacon!! Records. Happily there is more to the album than just that mouth-watering name. Phillips fills his CD with a tasty set of music that is distinguished by his delightfully askew sense of humor.
The tune “The Worst Party Ever Thrown” is populated with a colorful selection of animals and kooky situations (like a platypus “putting puzzle pieces in a penguin’s purse/and the hamsters hunkered down in the bathroom working a voodoo curse”). “Droolin’” is a dog-gone good tune from a puppy’s perspective. “Hot Lava” and “Rollerskate Banana Peels” terrifically capture a child’s sense of play.
Although the album is notable for Phillips’ sense of whimsical humor, he also slips some messages into his tunes. “The Princess and the Cowboy” talks about gender roles and acceptance, while “All Okay,” with its message that kisses can make things OK, is just a marvelous song for all ages. The Portland, OR-based musician brings a sweet lo-fi kindie rock vibe that fits the tunes and makes the music a wonderfully charming listen for backseat kids and front seat adults.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever read one of my more favorable children’s CD reviews that I am being constantly wowed by the music coming out of this genre, Mo Phillips’ Monster Suit is no exception. Phillips takes kids music and makes it cool. So cool in fact I spent a little more then I probably should have listening to the album on my own. The musicianship on the album is phenomenal, the songwriting both quirky and powerful, and a blend of pop country and rock that keeps your toe tapping. I could seriously throw this album on a loop and listen to it infinitely without getting bored.
The numerous times that I listened to Monster Suit I knew that I was going to be stuck on it. I hear so many influences in the album that I can associate with and messages that I agree with for my children, when the tunes aren‘t totally silly. At 34+ minutes the album is excellently paced and completely enjoyable. Head on over to the official Mo Phillips website and listen to some of the album and I’m sure you and or your little one will love it just as much. Excellent stuff. Enjoy.
Monster Suit - An Awesome Album by Mo Phillips
Hey folks! I’m continuing on my “Kids Music Weekend” with a super fun CD from Mo Phillips called Monster Suit. I’m seriously digging Mo’s voice and rocking beats, and in fact my hips starting wiggling and my feet started shuffling within the first couple bars of track one… love it!
The title track on Monster Suit has my favourite lyric of the whole album in it… “I can do a funky dance, yeah I can do a funky dance. You give me half a chance, I’ll dance right out of these pants”. And we did my friend… we danced, and danced and danced.
Mo’s style is a mashup of rock n roll, soul, blues and a hint of country. I must say that this time around I found it hard to pick just a couple of favourites as I really enjoyed the whole album. However, if I must, I’d tag songs such as The Worst Party Ever Thrown for its amusing lyrics, Big Red Truck for its twanging guitars, Rollerskate Banana Peel for its energy and All Okay for its cuteness. I also like Bed Head as it’s a very familiar tale in this household!
Mo Phillips is based in Portland, Oregon but his wife Kate is an Aussie who grew up on the Gold Coast in Queensland. They moved with their 2 y.o. son Henry to Brisbane in 2005 to be close to Kate’s family and had a second son, Owen in September 2006. Mo’s years down under had an important impact on his work.
As he says, “In about May of 2007 I was in the midst of some really fantastic times as a stay-at-home dad when I had a discussion with a mom at a co-op about Fire Guitars. This mom kinda changed my life with one very obvious suggestion: why not make a class based on making a band? I then started to devise how the class would work over the course of 8 to 10 weeks and where it would be offered and then tried to solicit it to local preschools. The name Rock ‘N’ Roll Kindy comes out of these Aussie roots, as ‘Kindy’ is what they call preschool Down Unda. No one picked it up, but I was convinced it would work. And after we moved back to the States in January 2008, it did!”
It can be tricky trying to find a perfect balance in music for mama and music for kiddos. I have a hard time riding in the car not listening to my music, I love singing to all my favorite songs old and new. Unfortunately some of those songs are just not age appropriate for my kiddos and as much as I love them, I just can’t introduce my kiddos to them yet. I have been ecstatic to have found a few children’s CD’s that I think I enjoy just as much as my kids! One of those is Mo Phillips, ‘Monster Suit’. It is full of catchy and fun songs that will make you and your kids laugh and sing along! I have found myself singing and humming many of these songs after we’ve listened in the car. The good music just sticks with you! Mo also addresses a few funny things about childhood through his music, like the song Droolin’, all about teething and Hot Lava, all about the age old game of furniture in the house saving you from the treacherous lava floor! A game that can transport any adult back to their childhood and one that every child loves to play! Another favorite song on the CD is The Princess and the Cowboy. It reminds me so much of my two and holds a beautiful line that I think children and adults need to always be reminded, “It doesn’t matter whatcha do, just how you do it! Make sure it’s full of happiness and heart.” Monster Suit is a must have for all families who love listening to music together!
I'm diggin' the lo-fi movement goin' on in Kids' Music right now: Kimya Dawson's Alphabutt, String Bean Jones' Live from the Bathtub, Mr. David's Jump in the Jumpy House, and now Mo Phillips' Train Beard. Now, lo-fi doesn't mean low quality, as evidenced by the great material and performances on all the above CDs. It just means presenting songs from a different angle, thinking outside the musical box, so to speak. And who better to spring this "experimental" approach on than kids, the most open-minded and receptive audience to all things different, sublime, weird, magical, and ridiculous.
Mo Phillips is a musician based in Portland, OR, who has released a couple of Americana/Neil Young-like albums for grownups (The Boat, 2004; Homemade, 2006), and Train Beard follows his stylistic leanings, except with kid subjects and lyrics this time 'round. Guitars, harmonica, organ, and the occasional bongo provide the majority of the instrumentation on Train Beard, supplemented by Phillips' down-to-earth vocals.
"Supa Dupa Race Car" sounds like Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show singing one of those songs Shel Silverstein used to give them; and "I Ain't Gonna Clean My Room" is exactly the kind of poem Silverstein loved to write, as a kid's excessively messy room starts to rebel against him. The title tune is, or should become, a bona fide folk classic: a train travels from head to foot in this a cappella song, sounding like a long-lost Appalachian field holler. The guitar/organ nonsense song "Cat and Dog" boats lines like "D-O-G dog riding on a bike / B-I-K-E bikin' through the night," while "Change Like a Cloud" uses organ, guitar, and fuzz bass to convey a sense of dreamy imagination. "Leche" is a short nonsense song en Espanol, and "My Ninja Move" battles bedtime fears via a Dave Matthews-like tune. Other standouts include the playful folk song "Best Friends" and the silly beat poem "The Garbage Man." The only tune that features heavy percussion is "Pizza in a Cup," a drum machine-driven song about a very specific way of serving a slice. That tune then fades into a live performance of the same song, which closes out the album. Great kids' debut from a unique talent.
Check out Train Beard and encourage Mo to keep up the good work!