Zak Morgan
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Chicago Parent

September 2003

MUSIC: A long time coming but this was worth the wait
By Fred Koch
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WHEN BULLFROGS CROAK , by Zak Morgan, $15, ages 7 and up; www.zakmorgan.com.

I enjoyed Zak Morgan's first children's music release, "Bloom," so much that it made my list of "Best of 2001." Here's a quote from my July 2001 Chicago Parent review: "‘Bloom' doesn't sound like a ‘kid's record.' Morgan didn't dumb down the music production to make it simpler or keep the production costs down." Same holds true for "When Bullfrogs Croak." The first thing that grabs your attention is the brilliant illustration that adorns the CD cover. I really liked the cover art depicting Morgan as a strumming pied piper coming up over the hill with a parade of animals behind him. Acclaimed illustrator C.F. Payne created it. Payne's work is found in John Lithgow's picture book and recording, The Remarkable Farkle McBride, as well as in Time, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker magazines, to name a few.

Morgan's trademark wordplay hops right out at you in the title track, a story about a tadpole that transforms into a bullfrog through the miracle of nature. Here's a sample: "If you're an insect who's flyin'/watch out who's spyin'/He's a patient tongue slinger who shoots from the lip."

In addition to the great songs and fully illustrated CD booklet with lyrics, Morgan also includes (as he did with "Bloom") Zakland's Unabridged Dictionary. Here you will find clarity and the origin of phrases such as "tongue slinger" and "shoots from the lip" as well as definitions to other words in his songs. Very nice touch.

The next song, "The Cribling," reminds me of the old Smothers Brothers routine where one brother would always complain that Mom liked the other brother better. In this modern-day version, the situation gets resolved (later in life) with the realization that "you love your little siblings and your parents love you," but not without some humorous lines, such as the opening one: "Before my parents' new invention/Life was as it should be/I got all the attention."

Listeners also will enjoy and appreciate the variety in the music production. Although "When Bullfrogs Croak" is primarily guitar based, the musical styles change from song to song and have a different feel to suit the needs of each song. For instance, "The Pox of Chicken" sounds like one of the old rambling, minor key, cowboy songs. And Morgan's versatile voice makes you wonder if it is the same person singing. He goes down deep in his register and sings "You'll go cuckoo knowing every single tock your clock is tickin'/is bringin' on the nasty pox of chicken."

In addition to his fine original compositions, Morgan picks a couple of great songs. He first pays tribute to the late Shel Silverstein with a slower, Caribbean-like feeling version of "The Unicorn" (which also features Chicago area artist Justin Roberts on background vocals). Then, for the second to last tune, Morgan covers the Cat Stevens' classic "Peace Train"-a perfect choice for a family recording!

Morgan's fine writing and musical sensibilities unite again on "It's a Drag to Be a Dragon," a tale about an aging dragon that does not possess the fierceness he once had. As he readily admits, "But Father Time slithered/and my body withered/and these days I can't even make small children squirm." It is extremely clever to write the song from this point of view because it can be a springboard for children to address and talk about aging.

I don't know why I laughed when I saw the song title, "The King of Fruits," but I do know I will bring this song to school this year. It is a fun song about the American folk hero, Johnny Appleseed and I learned (in the phrases section of Zakland's Unabridged Dictionary) that the apple is known as the king of fruits due to its hardiness and versatility.

Everyone will be buzzin' to "Insect City," another gem with fun language and rhythmic rhyming along with some factual information for good measure. Maybe my favorite, though it is really hard to choose, might be "When Cordelia Played," a heart-rending story of a lonely little girl who was shunned by others until one day when they heard the miraculous and magical music that came from her violin. Again, Morgan brings Cordelia's story back to the listeners' reality by reminding them to "believe in yourself when your strings meet the bow/and be sure to let everyone hear it."

I ended my review of Zak Morgan's first recording, "Bloom," with the hope that another would soon follow. I'm glad that he took his time for the second CD-it was well worth the wait and will be enjoyed for years to come. Now that he has set the bar even higher for himself, will he be ready for the challenge? I'm betting on it!
- Chicago Parent


Discography

Bloom, 1999
When Bullfrogs Croak, 2003, GRAMMY FINALIST
ZakLand, 2008

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Bio

After graduating from Kenyon College in 1994, Zak Morgan began a career in sales for Recorded books, Inc. in New York City. His engaging personality and his self-starting tireless work ethic helped him quickly become one of the company’s top sales representatives, more than doubling sales in his territory in just two years. Within three years, Zak was promoted to Director of Rights Acquisitions.

In 1999, Morgan decided to take a leap of faith and follow his dreams. He applied the same work ethic he exhibited at Recorded Books to his new career as a children’s entertainer and quickly developed a reputation as one of the hardest workers in the business. Within 18 months, he was performing more than 200 shows a year in schools, libraries, and small theatres and continued that at pace for seven straight years, reaching more than 700,000 children. Even more impressive, Morgan booked all of these shows himself. Morgan’s friendly, professional, and humble attitude endears him to presenters as much as children, and many of them bring him back season after season. Morgan also finds time to give back in the form of charity shows in children’s hospitals and for a variety of benefits.

In 2003, Zak Morgan’s second record When Bullfrogs Croak was nominated for a GRAMMY, a rare feat and an incredible achievement for an independent release. His article “How On Earth Was I Nominated for a GRAMMY?” encourages other artists to believe in themselves, follow their dreams, work hard, and steer clear of people who use the word “can’t.” The article spread through the internet and has inspired thousands of performers throughout the country.
http://cdbaby.org/stories/03/12/29/2547596.html

Morgan’s kind heart, work ethic, humility and generous spirit, along with his gifts with language, melody, and children have had a very positive and lasting effect on hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country.