Best Kids Music 2011: Top 25 Albums

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.) SingAlong.jpg1. 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."

Review: "Cat and a Bird" - Cat and a Bird

catandabird.jpgAs someone who listens to a lot of music and reviews it on occasion, there's nothing quite like discovering a new artist with their first CD.Don't get me wrong, it's lots of fun to hear an artist you like a lot clicking on all cylinders, but the pleasure in listening to someone like, say, Justin Roberts, is that of hearing a sound you and your family have sort of come to expect performed wonderfully.Putting a CD into the CD drive and hearing a new, unfamiliar sound and voice -- that can be thrilling when that sound and voice click. Cat and a Bird is fairly new to the scene -- the band's website isn't even set up as of this writing.But their self-titled debut bristles with an energy and self-assurance that pays dividends.Their sound -- mixing elements of folk, rock, electronic beats, and gypsy violin -- sometimes sounds both 100 years old and from 100 years in the future.It is impossible not to smile and bop your head while listening to these songs about the animal kingdom.From the album opener "Bee Jive," featuring some nice steel guitar work, to "Surfer Turtle," all sunny and filled with "la"s, to "Kangaroo," which (appropriately) bounces along carried by Emily Chimiak's vocals -- there's something to discover in each track.Chimiak's musical partner in the band Vasily Taranov ably handles most of the instruments (the violin is Chimiak's), throwing in ukulele and upright bass and more.I actually think many of the best tracks are at the end of the album -- I'm thinking of the dance tracks "Lion and the Challengers" and "Night Owl." I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the lyrics as well.I hear a lot of "educational" music that is easily forgotten, but on songs like "Platypus," with its Tin Pan Alley, it memorably sings about the title character by mentioning what it's not ("He's got a beak, neither a cat nor bird / he's got mystique, although he looks absurd.").Nobody will pass their preschool zoology class as a result to listening to these songs, but the songs give some character and personality to the animals they sing about, and matched with the melodies and rhythms, they'll get enough spins to perhaps remember what they're dancing to. I think kids ages 4 through 9 will most appreciate the animal/lyrical themes here.You can hear samples of the 37-minute album at CD Baby, emusic, and iTunes. I can't take credit for discovering Cat and a Bird (that distinction, I believe, goes to Kathy O'Connell and subsequently Bill Childs).But I get just as big a kick out of hearing a new sound as anyone, especially a sound with as much style as this band's.It's a new sound, and one that clearly will gain a much wider audience than it has right now.Without a doubt, this is one of the year's best debuts, but more than that, it's one of the year's best albums, period.Highly recommended.