Renee and Jeremy: It's a Big World (2007) -- Finally, this album is the most modern-sounding lullaby album on this list, a combination of Jack Johnson and Elizabeth Mitchell with a series of (mostly) original lullabies. I remember liking the album a lot, then hearing it on a really good pair of headphones while recording an NPR review of the album and being blown away by how spare and intimate the album sounded. Since then, I've also become a much bigger fan of how Renee Stahl and Jeremy Toback meld their voices together. Between the sound, their intertwined voices, and the whimsical cover art, this is the lullaby album most likely to be named "not your parents' lullaby album."
As with any of these "best" or "most essential" lists I'm creating, limiting your choices to these is a little foolish, but people also want them. But if you're looking for a few more suggestions, here are some other categories of lullaby albums you may want to consider:
Artists I've Already Mentioned: Raffi (with his Quiet Time compilation), Laurie Berkner (with Laurie Berkner Lullabies), Caspar Babypants (with Night Night), and Elizabeth Mitchell (with significant chunks of most of her albums) would definitely have been under consideration for this list were it not for the fact that they already appeared on my best kids albums for infants and toddlers list. Somehow it's not surprising that artists who record a lot for the youngest of listeners know their way around a lullaby. As for Justin Roberts, his album Lullaby is excellent, but since he'll be appearing on a future list, I omitted him from consideration for this one.
Putumayo Kids: As I noted in the earlier "new parent" list, Just like its "parent," the themed albums of kids offshoot of the Putumayo label scours are a nice way to dip into the music of a non-American culture (though they offer some nice English-language compilations, too). Their "Dreamland" albums feature lullabies from around the world -- the sounds can sometimes be unfamiliar to the older ears of the parents (and therefore less than fully relaxing), but that shouldn't be a problem for the kids.
The Secret Mountain: This Canadian label has had an excellent run of nearly 15 years of publishing books and accompanying albums (or is it the other way around)? I've found their non-lullaby works to be pitched at a slightly older crowd (meaning, non-infant), but their lullaby albums, just like Putumayo's, span the globe in their coverage. Now if would only start publishing picture or board books that were specifically targeted at kids who might be just year or two old, that would be an awesome combination.