Top Kids and Family Podcasts (July 2017)

It's been a month since the last time I looked at ranking podcasts for kids, and the increased visibility of such podcasts, if not increasing, has maintained its momentum.  (For those of you interested, here is June's list of top-ranked kids and family podcasts.)  If you're looking for a podcast for kids, you could of course look at my list of podcasts for kids (now above 100!), but if that's a bit overwhelming, try the podcasts listed below.   Popularity isn't always synonymous with quality, but you could do much worse than dipping into the shows ranked below to start out.

In terms of big developments on the content side, I'm going to go with the debut of In Sight Junior, a kid-friendly spinoff of the popular In Sight podcast.  For those of you wondering when the burgeoning true crime genre would come to kids podcasting, the answer is "July."  (Note: it's not so much true crime as it is mysteries and legends.  Really, I've listened -- totally fine for listeners age 8 or so on up.)

July's list is ever-so-slightly smaller than June's record-busting list -- there are 18 ranked shows below, as opposed to 19 in June.  (That means 18 shows that appeared in the top 100 of both the iTunes and Stitcher "kids and family" charts.)  The total number of podcasts listed below is 35, tied with June.  A total of 3 podcasts below hit the overall iTunes Top 200 (down from 4 in July), while in the Top 200 Kids & Family chart on iTunes, the total there (39) fell short of June by 3 shows.  The Stitcher total of 27 is a new record, however.

As always: this is a blunt instrument, combining pure rankings from two fairly opaque charts, and for a variety of reasons has only marginal value as a measure of quality.  (Results compiled from Top 100 podcasts on United States iTunes and Stitcher "kids and family" charts on Thursday, July 27, 2017.  Podcasts that appear on both charts are listed with numbers; remaining podcasts only appeared on one list.  Of special note: Dream Big appeared on iTunes' overall Top 200, but not at all on Stitcher's family list, so for that podcast at least, this list certainly underplays its popularity.)  Anyway: grain of salt noted.

Two other reminders:

1.  If you're looking for a list that has most (or all) of these podcasts, check out my comprehensive list of podcasts for kids.

2. If you're interested in the future of podcasts for kids, you might be interested in Kids Listen, a grassroots organization of podcasters and folks like me interested in helping high-quality audio for children thrive.  We're looking for other interested folks -- producers or otherwise -- to join in!

With that out of the way, let's get to the chart.

1. Wow in the World

2. Stories Podcast

3.  Brains On!

4. Storynory

5. (tie)  The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

5.  (tie)  The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian

7. Story Pirates

8. Tumble

9. Story Time

10 . Eleanor Amplified

11. Peace Out

12. Ear Snacks

13.  Little Stories for Tiny People

14.  What If World

15.  But Why?

16. Short and Curly

17. Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child

18.  The Cramazingly Incredifun Sugarcrash Kids

Others (listed alphabetically): Activated Stories, Bedtime Stories, Biddy the Duck's Bedtime Stories, Book Club for Kids, Children's Fun Storytime Podcast, Circle Round, Disney Story Central, Dream Big, Family Folk Tales, Goop Tales Stories, In Sight Junior, Official Adventures in Odyssey, Road Trip Radio, The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd, Saturday Morning Theatre, Sparkle Stories, The Story Home

Video: "Hot Nights" - Gustafer Yellowgold

Yay for new Gustafer!  That's right, our favorite animated friend from the sun is back.  September 8 sees the release of Brighter Side, the eighth Gustafer Yellowgold release from Morgan Taylor.  The album promises a look at both Gustafer's childhood on the sun along with more peeks into his current life in Minnesota.

"Hot Nights" is a funny take on really hot evenings featuring a melody and production that would slide right into '70s AM radio.  Speaking as a resident of desert Arizona, I can relate to the subject matter.  Speaking as someone who's listened to a bit of '70s AM radio, I can relate to that as well.

Anyway, enjoy this video, because unlike the other seven Gustafer releases, this new album is a music-only release and so there won't be a video for every song.  (I am very pleased, however, to see that there will be a video for "Baconstein," a sequel to one of the all-time great Gustafer songs "Cakenstein," along with at least one other.)

Welcome back, Gustafer!

Gustafer Yellowgold - "Hot Nights" [YouTube]

Video: "Paletero Man" - Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

Made in L.A. album cover

Made in L.A. album cover

There's nothing not to like about the first single from the brand-new Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band album Made in L.A.  "Paletero Man" is every bit as refreshing as the ice cream popsicles the paletero man sells to "todo los chiquillos."

The song's now got a snappy new lyric video featuring art from longtime Diaz collaborator Micah Player, one more reason for the song to lodge in your brain.

By the way, I know the album is called Made in L.A., but if you happen to find yourself in the Phoenix area, I definitely recommend Paletas Betty for all your paletas needs.

Anyway, enjoy!

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band - "Paletero Man" [YouTube]

Video: "Froggie Went a Courtin'" - Caspar Babypants

It's a little hard to hear because of his history with the pop-punk Presidents of the United States of America, and because his Caspar Babypants project has such a whimsical pop sensibility, but Chris Ballew's work as Caspar Babypants is very, very folk.  His originals generally have a simple core, easily replicable as sung work by the novice.  And he's very committed to reworking folk song classics and giving them new life.

Jump for Joy album cover

Jump for Joy album cover

For "Froggie Went a Courtin'," perhaps the hoariest of folk song chestnuts, Ballew ditches the amphibian's sword and pistol, and replaces them with a ring and bouquet -- because Froggie's asking to get married, duh.  It's not that this new version is any better than the thousands that have come before it (though it's better than a lot of them), but his willingness to make the song his one is folk as anything.

The song is on his forthcoming album Jump for Joy! (out August 18), and as with many of his videos, features Ballew's own drawings.  (Look for Beatle John.)

Caspar Babypants - "Froggie Went a Courtin'" [YouTube]

Video: "Hambone" - Jazzy Ash feat. Uncle Devin (World Premiere!)

Swing Set album cover

Swing Set album cover

I'm excited for Jazzy Ash's newest album Swing Set to reach the public's ears in a couple weeks, but in the meantime you can get a taste of the jazz-inspired set for your favorite preschooler right now in this world premiere video.  It's for the well-known call-and-response song "Hambone" and features Washington, DC kindie artist Uncle Devin.

Jazzy Ash and Uncle Devin at Big Ego.

Jazzy Ash and Uncle Devin at Big Ego.

Now normally I'm not a huge fan of studio-based videos, but I really like how in this one the viewer can see how album tracks are really recorded.  Instead of band members all facing in the same direction, no music stands to be found, this one feels real -- Devin with his lyrics written out on a piece of paper singing out the call while he's hand-clapping, Jazzy Ash (aka Ashli Christoval) closing her eyes trying to focus on her response, and in the back Sarah Reich, who sometimes performs with Postmodern Jukebox, stomping.  (Anthony Shadduck is the bassist, similarly concentrating.)  It's a learning experience, even if the video isn't necessarily meant to be.

Anyway, I really like the song.  (That's always a big one for me.)  And as for the track itself, Christoval notes that,

The “Hambone” rhythm is based on the West African hand-clapping tradition called Juba, which was carried to the U.S. by slaves. The “Hambone” lyrics were added later, as a reflection of the early African-American experience. Because the song is passed on through oral tradition, there are many versions of the lyrics, some more “family friendly” than others. Almost all versions have a similar theme: A man has had a long, hard day. He’s reflecting on things he wish he had. Then, he sits down to a big meal and gobbles it right up!

Swing Set is out July 21.

Jazzy Ash - "Hambone" feat. Uncle Devin [YouTube]

Photo credit: Brock Christoval

Keep Kindie Weird

Music for Parents and Children cover

Music for Parents and Children cover

Just last week the long-running kids radio show Greasy Kid Stuff aired its last show after 22 years on the air.  There are many different shows that have played an important role in giving kids music a broader audience, many with slightly different niches, but I think the niche that hosts Belinda and Hova mined particularly well was that of weird kids music.  I think that more than any other kids radio show, their playlists sometimes featured songs that had a little "WTH" ("H" for "heck," because we're still running a family-friendly website here) to them.  There was slightly more of an element of surprise to the shows and the playlists.

As we reach the 20th anniversary of albums like Laurie Berkner's Whaddaya Think of That? and the huge wave of kindie that eventually followed, there can be little doubt that the amount and overall quality of recorded music released into the world is an improvement to the world into which dinosaur-stomping was introduced.  But even though the quantity and quality and even to some extent the diversity of the music has improved, I am rarely surprised by kids music these days.

Don't get me wrong, I still think what is being released is fun and is definitely worth sharing with families.  And I fully realize that listening to, what, 3,000? 4,000? albums over the past 15 or so years gives me a perspective that is, for better or worse, far more exhaustive (or exhausting) than that of the typical parent, which means that I may crave novelty more than most.  But I've been struck recently at how predictable -- often in good ways, but not all the time -- kids music is.

Which may explain my affinity for two of the -- let's just say it -- weirder kids music albums I've heard in some time, Froggins & Big's Dessert Island and Kleve & Davis' Music for Parents and Children.  These are two weird and often unpredictable sets of songs.

Dessert Island album cover

Dessert Island album cover

Let's start with Froggins & Bug.  The band is another spinoff from Dean Jones’ Dog on Fleas, which is slowly moving towards establishing a DOFMU (Dog on Fleas Musical Universe) of different bands.  This band features Dean Jones and saxophonist Shane Kirsch riffing on a whole bunch of silly topics with some backup musical help from occasional Fleas Ken McGloin, Dean Sharp, and Jim Curtin.  And with Dessert Island it’s odd to think of a jazz-inflected Dog on Fleas-related band that traffics heavily in spoken-word comedic riffs as being the less weird of two albums in a comparison, but here we are.

Jones tends to play the straight man to Kirsch, who’s most often the confused character.  “Sports,” in which Kirsch makes up a bunch of sports that sound awfully familiar, and “Dessert Island,” which takes its inspiration from the extra “s” in the title, are perhaps the silliest, but hardly the only such goofs.  (There’s also “Red Red Red Red Red,” which features Jones’ classic line, “That’s a whole lot of adjective, and not a lot of noun,” uttered after Kirsch sings the title repeatedly.)

But there’s plenty of silliness for the two of them to share, as in “Literal Red Riding Hood,” in which the two of them trade stories of the difficulties encountered by the metaphorically-challenged Red, and “Puppets Are Controlled by People,” which takes about a minute to outline the song title’s thesis.  And even the occasional moment of beauty, as on “I’d Like to Live in Your Hat,” and “I Wish I Could Eat Pinecones.”

But, really, it’s 35 minutes of jazz improv that’s pitched just young enough to that kids may get hep to it.  It’s odd, and miles away from generic songs about brushing teeth or pets.  There are many songs about pets, but we could use a handful of songs about jokey failures to understand metaphor to even out the balance.

Music for Parents & Children, on the other hand, is a little bonkers.  It’s by the Philly-area duo Klebe and Davis (who in reality are brothers Dave and Matt Amadio).  This isn’t their first album, though it is their first for kids.  They cite Warren Zevon, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits and Ween as inspirations, and there’s an anarchy that you just don’t hear in kids music much at all these days.

When I was listening to the album for the first time, there were parts where I honestly didn’t know where the song was heading to next.  On “And Then Pretend,” they leap from one improbable imaginative situation to the next.  The dreamy “Fire Drill” features a surreal day where a class of schoolkids are sent outside for the fire drill, and then nobody comes to collect them at the end of the drill -- by the end of the day they haven’t reached a “Lord of the Flies” situation, but some of them are in fact eating grass.  And the stomping rocker “Piece of Fuzz” makes a simple piece of fuzz positively ominous (with a kicker of a joke at the end).

Mix in 3 different fake ads (45 seconds long, enough to develop the joke, not enough to get bored with it) and other silliness and this is oddity on the level of John and Mark’s Children’s Album or Billy Kelly’s Is This Some Sort of Joke?.  (One final joke worth mentioning -- “Worst Day” features the line “this is the worst day of my life so far”… sung from the viewpoint of a kid who’s just been born.)   It’s a half-hour of music that captures childhood in its exhilaration and uncertainty and sounds unlike anything you’ve heard this year, I can pretty much guarantee.

Obviously albums that are a little further “out there” in terms of their musical, lyrical, and thematic approaches generally self-limit their audiences.  (By being a little brainier than most, they already probably limit their target audience to kids ages 6 and up.)  And listening to nothing but these two albums would deny your family the pleasures of a 3-minute pop or R&B song, a folk music standard, or a classical piece centuries old.  But I’d suggest that the weirdness heard within is just as important to a well-rounded musical and cultural life as hearing those different musical genres.  In a time when breaking through your own personal bubbles is important to understand the world around our families, giving albums like these two a louder voice has merit, too.