On his third album, Kentucky children's librarian Joel Caithamer sings 12 rock and country songs, some of which fuse the two styles. Several of them tell short stories, accompanied by guitars, keyboard, drums, harmonica, and percussion. In "Chicken Sandwich," a hungry child heads for the henhouse for some chicken. The "Mekong Catfish" is the largest, oldest fish in the river. A young man of eight eschews bathing in "Old Hygiene." Caithamer also performs a wonderful cover of Johnny Cash's hit, "I've Been Everywhere." Among the other songs are "Feeling Science Fiction," "Guitar Car," "Strange Foodstuff," and "Under the Bed." A fun album by a talented performer—Beverly Bixler, San Antonio Public Library, TX
School Library Journal (Jan 18, 2009)
12 Kids' Albums You Can't Live Without
ACTIVATE! was included on the list! Read on.
"Has a parent or teacher asked your advice about the best new CDs for members of the preschool set? Well, you're in luck.
In the last 10 years, the once-comatose children's music scene has been resuscitated, starting with its performers. Many musicians who were rockers in a former lifetime (from Dan Zanes to Elizabeth Mitchell) are now parents, and they're writing some terrific tunes for children. And these folks are just the tip of the iceberg.
Hundreds of lesser-known musicians have also joined the kiddie-music ranks. And thanks to inexpensive eight-track recorders, ubiquitous CD burners, and the Internet, these talented performers no longer have to rely on major record companies to distribute their songs. Now, there are several excellent online kids' music stores—the best being CD Baby—which sell artists' self-produced CDs and pay musicians much better royalties than the old-school record companies would ever dream of paying. And if you're looking for a choice mix of kid-friendly music, head straight to The Pokey Pup, which stocks the most eclectic selection in cyberspace.
Although today's music for tots features an impressive amount of variety, inventiveness, and talent, it should only be the starting point for a child's exploration of the wonderful world of music. Sure, the Jellydots—one of the most exciting groups in kids' music—offer some brilliant power pop, but you'll also want to introduce your little ones to some grown-up tunes from groups like Big Star, the Records, and Teenage Fanclub. Likewise, the Putumayo Kids label provides an outstanding overview of world music, but it's also smart to sprinkle in some grooves by Sun Ra, Bob Marley, and Tinariwen. Trust me: kids will let you know what songs they like to listen to.
Children's music has never sounded better, and I've compiled a list of 12 albums you can't live without—and another dozen that are too good to keep to myself. To hear some of my favorite tunes, visit SLJ's Web site and click on "Podcasts."
"Caithamer's rockabilly songs are covered with blue suede and pompadour gel, but they're not gimmicky twang. His band rocks sincerely and with gusto, churning out a performance that would have made Sun Records' founder Sam Phillips proud.
The fact that this northern Kentucky children's librarian works with kids is definitely a plus—and you can hear it in these tyke-appealing tunes about the not-so-bad Big Bad Wolf, Evel Knievel, the Dewey decimal system, and Lemony Snicket's Count Olaf. This album is an example of a grown-up making rockin' music for children without dumbing it down or compromising his approach. Just check out the raging harmonica solo that kicks off "Bobby's Been Bad but Wanda's Been Worse," the rock 'n' roll beat of "Daredevil of Butte," and the "Taxman"-like "Pancakes All Around." Great stuff from a very busy librarian."
Warren Truitt - School Library Journal (Jul 1, 2007)
Local singer/songwriter Caithamer took his experience with kids - he's been a librarian for close to a decade - and his deft Rockabilly chops to concoct ACTIVATE!, a rollicking, stray-cat-struttin' collection of greasy kid's stuff that could pass as a legit vintage Rock & Roll/Rockabilly album if it weren't for the child-friendly storytelling. Caithamer is joined by some top-notch local players as he rolls through high-energy songs about babysitting nightmares (the Cat in the Hat-worthy "Bobby's Been Bad But Wanda's Been Worse"), Sunday morning breakfast ("Pancakes All Around") and Evel Knievel ("Daredevil of Butte"). If Sun Records had become known for pumping out children's music instead of Rock & Roll, this could have been its flagship release and Caithamer would be its Elvis.
Mike Breen - Cincinnati CityBeat (Nov, 2006)
Why isn't this guy more famous? I mean, he's got the rockabilly sound down pat, he sings about big bad wolves and Evel Knievel, and he's incredibly busy in his own library ... check out Joel Caithamer's ACTIVATE! and get ready to rock the town! The album opens with an upright bass-slappin' song where ol' wolfie admits that, yes, I am a "Big Bad Wolf", but I'm not that bad. Then we find out that "Bobby's Been Bad but Wanda's Been Worse", after an overdriven harmonica solo blasts out of the speakers and a babysitter's worst nighmare is described. Kitty's been out "Cattin' All Night", complete with a film noir soundtrack, including a finger-snapping 5/4 break. A spooky tune describes A Series of Unfortunate Events' "Master of Disguises", the evil Count Olaf ... but then Joel cranks up the volume again with a bio of Evel Knievel, a librarian's musical explanation of the Dewey Decimal System that would make Sun Records proud, and a rock and roll ode to a vine full of briars. The rock continues with a "Taxman"-like tune about Sunday morning pancakes; a jazzy story of the life of a sock monkey, featuring a very singalongable 5/4 chorus; and the album ending, organ-heavy tune dedicated to stubborn eaters. ACTIVATE! goes way beyond gimmicky kitsch: Caithamer's songwriting skills, his band's stellar musicianship, and the wholehearted effort he put into this project show that he's serious about the fun he's having. Get ACTIVATE! and, as Joel himself said, "Play loud!". You'll find out why he should be more famous.
kidsmusicthatrocks.blogspot.com (Jul 21, 2006)
"It was great to see someone with such enthusiasm for his work...he knows the value of comedy in working with kids every day."
Sarah McCarville, Youth Services Coordinator, Grand Rapids Public Library
"Joel Caithamer's performance at the Playhouse enchanted and delighted our young audience. Joel's witty magic and silly sing-a-longs filled the theatre with laughter."
Sarah Bradley, PR / Marketing Assistant, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
"Your performance was the highlight of the summer. You relate so well to the children and convey such enthusiasm and enjoyment that everyone catches the excitement."
Tari S. Tharp, Children's Services Librarian - Lane Public Library, Oxford Branch