The high point in my list of the best kids music of 2011 is this, my list of my favorite kids music albums of the year. By "year," again, I mean albums with Nov. 1, 2010 through Oct. 31, 2011 release dates available to the general public. That means albums like Laura Veirs' Tumble Bee, with a Nov. 8, 2011 release date, have to wait another 12 months before appearing in this list. (I would be shocked -- albeit incredibly delighted -- if there were 25 albums better than that particular one in the next year.) I do use the word "favorite" advisedly. I receive something approaching 300 family music albums every year. I review maybe 20% of those. Last year I picked out 20 albums, and cutting off this list this year at 20 just seemed cruel. But, as it turns out, increasing the number on the list to 25 didn't make things any easier. Albums from folks like Laura Doherty, Chip Taylor, Todd McHatton, and ScribbleMonster -- albums I genuinely liked -- didn't make the list. That's what happens when albums in the top 10% of everything I heard this year can't fit into the number of slots available; I had probably about 40 albums I was seriously considering for this list. So the difference between what goes in this list and what stays off is as much about personal preferences as it is about "objective" quality. (That's why I came up with the idea for Fids and Kamily, thinking that the personal preferences of many folks would be a much better approximation of "best.") In any case, here are those 25 albums, ranked from most favorite to a little less most favorite, that I (and we) most appreciated this year. (As always, the top 10 reflects my Fids and Kamily ballot.) 1. Caspar Babypants Sing Along! [Review] "I really, really like Sing Along! -- the Caspar Babypants disks have been favorites at our house for a long time, and I see no reason why this new album won't join its predecessors in heavy rotation. If he can keep it up, Chris Ballew might just create a body of work for preschoolers to rival Raffi's."
Today -- June 14 -- is Flag Day, a holiday which, though minor in the greeting card scheme of things, looms large in the imaginations of kids music artists. (Why doesn't Thanksgiving get the same respect?) Here are three Flag Day videos to get you in a patriotic summertime mood. First up, it's Billy Kelly, with a new video for "That Old American Flag," off his most recent album The Family Garden. It's a straight-up, un-ironic tribute to the flag and his dad. Added bonus of the video -- revealing one of Billy's secret talents. It's, er, singular in nature (watch 'til the end). Bill Kelly - "That Old American Flag" [YouTube]
Be it SXSW or Kindiefest, there are different reasons to see an artists' showcase at a music conference. You can see your favorite bands, or perhaps bands you're familiar with but are curious to see and hear them live. And sometimes you stumble upon a new favorite. The Kindiefest 2011 artists' showcase on Saturday night was for me a combination of all three, which suggests how well the lineup was put together. Now, I should note that though the lineup featured several artists I'd consider my favorites, I'd never actually seen any of them perform live. (That would have to wait for Sunday's public performance, for whom I'd seen half the lineup live.) But as someone who puts together shows here in the Phoenix area, that live aspect is important to me. This summary is long, but I encourage you to skim the entire thing, you never know when you'll find your new favorite artist. The lineup kicked off with Billy Kelly and the Blah Blah Blahs, faced with the unenviable task of starting the show while everybody filed back from dinner or a run to their hotel rooms. That and selecting from a bunch of great songs. They went meta ("This Is The First Song" -- they should close with that one day), sweet ("Family Garden"), doubly sweet ("Pen Pal," duetting with Lunch Money's Molly Ledford), and classic ("The Legend of Johnny Box"). The last song featured none other than Johnny Box himself, played by... well, let's just say by someone very familiar to Zooglobble readers. Good stuff. From there it was on to The Pop Ups, whose set was basically a very abbreviated version of their PASTA! musical. Were there puppets? Yes! Were there apes in capes? Yes! Was there lots of hand-clapping? Yes! Was there lots of pasta? Well, you'll just have to see the musical for yourself to see the answer. But it's hard not to see how the musical would be very popular with the 5-year-old set. The Pop Ups - "Pasta" [YouTube] But we were just getting started, with six more artists to go...
Just in time for Earth Day, Billy Kelly releases The Family Garden, an album of gardening-related songs designed to help kids better understand the impact they have on their planet... Just kidding. I mean, about part of it. It's the other part that, uh, isn't quite so true. But Kelly, whose line in song between truth and un-truth has never been very clear, probably wouldn't want me to tell you which is which. On this, his third album, Kelly eschews some of the production wizardry and elaborate wordplay of his first two disks for a rootsier sound. It's a deliberate choice sonically -- Kelly specifically mentions recording the songs live with his band, the Blahblahblahs. On songs like the title track, or "That Old American Flag," or his cover of "Coney Island Washboard," the roots/country sound matches up well with the songs' earnest nature. Those songs (as well as "We Could Be Pen Pals," his duet with Lunch Money's Molly Ledford) are songs you might find in a gigantic American songbook. Kelly's always had an earnest streak in his songwriting, but he hasn't forgotten the more surreal components, either. "It's Close Enough" continues Kelly's streak of writing songs about the songs he's writing about. "I'm Thinking of an Animal" is as close as he'll get to writing a standard "name the animal" song (which is to say, only about 80% of the way there). "The Invention of the Straw" doesn't reach the heights of "The Legend of Johnny Box" from Is This Some Kind of Joke?, but "Why Is the Moon Following Me?" is way better than Harold and the Purple Crayon. The album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 8. You can listen to clips from the 37-minute album here. If I had to recommend just one Billy Kelly album for someone's collection, I'd probably start with Is This Some Kind of Joke? -- I think his intricate wordplay and savviness fills an underserved niche for older-kids' kids music. But The Family Garden is a neat expansion of his sound. To some extent, this is a kindler, gentler Kelly. Whether or not we wanted a kindler, gentler Kelly you'll have to decide, but he's not bad to have around. That's all true, I promise. Definitely recommended.
Yes, that's right. Head on over today to Out With the Kids for your chance to vote on the first two matchups in KidVid Tournament 2011, featuring the Woody Guthrie Region: -- The Bazillions, "Preposition" (1) vs. Coal Train Railroad (and Readeez), "Just the Juice, Jack" (4) -- watch and vote here. -- Debbie and Friends, "Cinderella" (2) vs. Billy Kelly, "The Sky Floats (and So Do Boats)" (3) -- watch and vote here. And, if you want a second opinion on the videos, Jeff Giles, the fine writer and mastermind behind Dadnabbit, has graciously agreed to provide his thoughts on the whole bracket. Read his take on the day's competition here.
Billy Kelly is a busy man. No sooner does he release the excellent Is This Some Kind of Joke? last summer than he preps The Family Garden, due out this April. No wonder he's illustrating the video for a song off Joke, "The Sky Floats (And So Do Boats)," so quickly. He doesn't have much time, people! As for the video itself, on one hand, it makes the lyrics crystal clear. On the other... it doesn't help at all. Billy Kelly - "The Sky Floats (And So Do Boats)" [YouTube]