2010 was a pretty phenomenal year for children’s music. Lots of really fantastic things happened within the genre and A LOT of really great new albums were released, both by established kids’ music artists and by newcomers to family music. I received approximately 80 albums from artists and their representives and considered them all for airplay on my Ages 3 and Up! and Pied Piper Radio projects. Of those, about half were actually played on the programs. Here is a list of 21 albums I loved. (It looks like there are only 18 albums here, but I assure you that there are, indeed, 21. I counted.) I’m afraid I’m not so big on ranking things, so it’s in no particular order. But you really can’t go wrong with any of these titles. So, without further ado:
- Various Artists– Many Hands: Family Music For Haiti Like I wrote above, I’m not so big on ranking things. That said, I’m totally cool with telling you that this was my favorite album of 2010. It’s a fantastic album, filled with stellar music making from many of the artists making waves in the children’s music genre. It was compiled by Dean Jones from Dog on Fleas, and Bill Childs from Spare The Rock, Spoil The Child, and proceeds from the sale of the album benefit the very worthy Haitian People’s Support Project.
- Caspar Babypants– This Is Fun! This album is WAY fun. I LOVE Caspar Babypants (aka Chris Ballew of the rock band, Presidents of the United States of America). Simple, inventive songwriting that appeals to younger kids and parents, alike. Highlights include a cover of Nirvana’s “Sliver,” with Krist Novoselic on bass, duets with Elizabeth Mitchell and Charlie Hope, and fabulous album artwork from his wife, Kate Endle. This is Ballew’s third album playing as Caspar Babypants in the past year and a half, and I really can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.
- Dean Jones feat. The Felice Brothers– Rock Paper Scissors Dean Jones is just pretty darned great- his solo work and what he does with Dog On Fleas. The guy seems to be inspired by a wealth of musical influences, and to be able to play almost every instrument well. SERIOUSLY. This album is a bit more roots rock than his previous work, almost certainly due to The Felice Brothers’ participation. Really just super good.
- Michael Rachap– Songeez: Original Music From Readeez This one technically came out late last year, but it is one of my very favorite kids’ music projects. The songs on this disc are great, but the videos they come from are even greater. Readeez, you see, are a series of educational DVD’s that feature music videos made to encourage reading. This project keeps growing and going in new, even more wonderful directions (Matheez, Songeez, Folderfuls) and I never cease to be impressed.
- Heidi Swedberg and The Sukey Jump Band– PLAY! Another from late last year. I was so impressed with this extremely fun ukulele album for kids and families that I invited Heidi to visit here and play a show put on by WRFL FM, as part of their Boomslang Fest, in cooperation with Rock N Romp Lexington. After hearing the album, it was really no surprise that the show was absolutely FANTASTIC. Heidi and friends play a really nice selection of traditional children’s songs like “Pop Goes The Weasel” and “Froggie Went A Courtin'” in a totally un-traditional way. As a bonus, the album comes with ukulele fingering and chord diagrams, so you and yours can learn to play along.
- Coal Train Railroad– Coal Train Railroad There are not so many jazz albums out there that are made specifically for kids. 2010 was a good year for those. Coal Train Railroad’s debut was one of three noteworthy jazz releases for kids, the others being a compilation put out by the mighty Putumayo Kids label and a kid specific album from Oran Etkin. What differentiates CTRR’s project from the others is that it is specifically made for young children (the age that like to snuggle, enjoy juice and are learning to share). Also of note is the extremely enjoyable Summer Podcast Series they did.
- Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke– Rise And Shine Another lovely album, that comes with a lovely board book, illustrated by Key Wilde himself. Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke are just…swell. They’re not exactly cowpunk for kids, but that’s the best descriptor I can come up with. Rise and Shine features a rock anthem about names that start with the letter “J,” a very nice version of the folk tune, “John The Rabbit,” and a “The Rattling Can,” a song about some pretty high minded scientific principles (quarks are mentioned). Another album highly recommended. You can hear “Big Pet Pig” from this album and a couple of other, newly released tracks here.
- Ratboy Jr.- Smorgasbord This album is the debut from Ratboy Jr. They’ve got a super fun, kind of jam band vibe going on here. Not a shock, as they spent much of this past summer playing festivals in the very fertile Hudson Valley region of New York. (The area is home to Elizabeth Mitchell, Uncle Rock, Dean Jones, and Ralph and Ralph, among others.) The album includes songs about playing in the dirt, a guy whose head turns into a balloon and floats away, and there’s even one that extols the virtues of the garbage man- ’cause that’s an important job!
- Justin Roberts– Jungle Gym This album is nominated for a Grammy, and I hope it gets it. This is Roberts’ 7th album for kids and families. The songs are a really nice balance of high energy pop (“We Go Duck,” “Obsessed By Trucks”), and mid-tempo sentiment (“Sign My Cast,” “Cardboard Box”). Probably best enjoyed by families with grade school aged children and those who enjoy recess.
- The Flannery Brothers– Move Over Lullabies… It’s Time For Wake Up Songs and The New Explorer’s Club The Flannery Brothers released two albums in 2010, their Move Over Lullabies, It’s Time For Wake Up Songs! EP and a full-length album titled The New Explorer’s Club. They’re both well worth mentioning. Move Over Lullabies… is, as the title would imply, all about waking up. Very, very nice songs about getting up, getting out of bed and getting moving, sometimes with an Elvis Costello kinda feel to it. The New Explorer’s Club is all about exploration (not to be confused with adventure). From exploring and enjoying your immediate surroundings like in “Kitchen Floor” to deep sea exploration in “Green Submarine,” The New Explorer’s Club runs the gamut.
- Lucky Diaz– Luckiest Adventure What a nifty little five song EP! There is just seriously a lot of promise here, including feel good songs about a “Firefighter Girl” a very hungry “Blue Bear,” and an “Explorer.” I cannot wait to hear more from this band, and I won’t have to wait long- word is they’ve got a full length album coming out in spring 2011. If you can’t wait until then, you might also check out their holiday tune.
- Salteens– Kid Songs Another really swell EP, this time from the Salteens, a band that also put out a really great full length adult release this year. Kid Songs includes at least two, and I think more, songs they put together for Yo Gabba Gabba. It’s a pretty great EP. My faves are “All My Friends Are Different,” because they are, and “Have a Nap, Mom” because I could often use one.
- Brian Vogan and His Good Buddies– Sing A Little Song This is Brian Vogan’s second release, and I’ve really been looking forward to it. When his first album, Little Songs, came out, I got a heavy Herman’s Hermits vibe off of it. That’s still there, only now with the help of His Good Buddies, that sound is considerably more fleshed out, much fuller and more sophisticated. I like it A LOT. Highlights include a counting song, “27,” borderline metal on “Wash Your Hands,” and an oddity of sorts, “Last Thanksgiving.” There just aren’t enough songs about Thanksgiving, I say.
- The Pop Ups– Outside Voices When this album came out, there were folks in the kids music world heralding it as the debut of the year. I echo those sentiments. Simply put, there is no other album like this one. Jason and Jacob, the guys behind The Pop Ups, did an excellent job combining elements of 80’s new wave, dance pop, reggae, indie rock, broadway showtunes, and puppetry. (?) THAT’S RIGHT. Puppetry. The entire album is spectacular, but Kid-O insisted we put “Subway Train” on repeat in the car. I never got sick of it.
- PlaySoundz– Electronic Music For Children Speaking of albums of which there is no other like, PlaySoundz put out their first full length album, and it is incredible! I think this album was maybe overlooked by a lot of folks, or maybe they just didn’t know about it. Or maybe it wasn’t their cup of tea… regardless, it totally IS my cup of tea. As the name states, this is an album of Electronic Music For Children. It’s not techno or dance pop, though. It is, instead, heavily influenced by the pioneers of electronic music. There’s a little Kraftwerk in there, but there’s a lot more Raymond Scott and Bruce Haack. Think of all the weird, quirky, fun sounds a computer might make, then make them into a song, and add fun stories to them. That’s PlaySoundz. Definitely give this a try.
- Elizabeth Mitchell– Sunny Day Elizabeth Mitchell is just really, really good at what she does. Everyone I’ve ever spoken with who has interacted with her in anyway, has always said the best things about her. She’s just amazingly talented, and she is one of very few people who has been invited to carry on the Smithsonian Folkways legacy. Sunny Day is her fifth album for children, and her second on the Folkways label. The album has been highly anticipated by many, and does not disappoint. Her music is sweet, clear, folk. It is based very much on American traditions, but honors the traditions of other cultures, as well- on this album that includes those of Japan, Korea and South Africa. She sometimes covers extremely influencial musicans, including Chuck Berry, Augustus Pablo and Moondog. Her family also plays a large role on this release. Her husband, Daniel wrote (in my opinion) one of the best parenting songs ever written, “David’s Mandolin.” And her nine year old daughter Storey wrote and performed two songs on the album, the title track and “Elephants All Over The World.” Pretty darned amazing.
- Todd McHatton– Sundays At The Rocket Park Psychedelic pop/rock for kids. And it’s really good, too! I just LOVE Todd McHatton (I know… by now it probably looks like I just LOVE a lot of stuff, but I got a lot of lovable records this year.). The guy makes music for the love of making music. Up until very recently, he was making it all available for free and even now that he charges, it’s not at all pricey. And he puts such love and care into what he does. Songs about hairy birds with beards that need a cut and a shave, falling in love at a wax museum, and watching his daughter in the garden. Wonderful, wonderful stuff well suited to fans of Gustafer Yellowgold, Harry Nilsson, the Yellow Submarine, and Syd and Marty Krofft.
- Secret Agent 23 Skidoo– Underground Playground Secret Agent 23 Skidoo makes kid-hop. That would be hip-hop for kids, for those unfamiliar. And, he also does what he does REALLY well. Underground Playground is his second album, and it’s just amazing. There are a lot of uplifting confidence builders on this album and just plain fun songs about all the cool things (and some of the not so cool things) there are to being a kid. And the beats, rhymes and rhythms are just as sophisticated as you might find on any adult hip-hop release. Very highly recommended.
So see, what’d I tell you? 21. (18 + Putumayo Kids’ Jazz Playground release + Oran Etkin’s Wake Up Clarinet! + an additional album from the Flannery Brothers =21)
There were approximately 20 other new albums this year that were added to my regular collection, and 10 or 15 older titles that made their way into it, as well. Those were the albums I liked. There were a whole bunch of other albums that I either didn’t receive, or that weren’t my taste or a good fit for my shows. That’s not to say that those albums weren’t good, they just weren’t my thing. Whatever YOUR thing is, I hope you find something here that you enjoy, and that enriches the time you spend with your family. Happy listening folks! And happy holidays and new year, too!!