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."
So, yeah, we had fun last weekend with Chuck Cheesman as part of the series at the Children's Museum of Phoenix. Chuck's had years of experience playing younguns at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music and around Arizona, so he's really good at getting the preschoolers and young elementary-aged kids up and moving around. The CMOP was no exception. Here he is playing the title track from his new album Dancing With No Shoes On... Chuck Cheesman - "Dancing With No Shoes On" (Live) [YouTube]
Like all good (or is it bad) scary movies, my original Halloween music post for 2011 spawned not just one sequel, but has, with this post, become a full-on trilogy. Chuck Cheesman has offered up his Halloween song "Halloween Freak Out!" from his latest album Dancing With No Shoes On as a free download for the next few days (and, really, who would want to listen to it on, say, Nov. 2nd?). Note: actual freaking out during the song is minimal. The download is available at the the top of this page. Baze and His Silly Friends are offering up a free download of their 2009 song "Scare Me, Scare You." Number of times "scary" is in the title = 2. Actual level of scariness = 0.1 (but that's OK!) Download the track here or via the widget below.
I don't think that Jeff Krebs and Chuck Cheesman are the same person. Having said that, I've never seen the two bearded guitarists in the same place at the same time, and some of the similarities on their new albums leave the question open in my eyes. The kindie world is very focused on rock and pop and sometimes other genres at the moment, which leaves the folk music that for many years was the backbone of the genre somehat pushed to the background. As a result, these two albums stand out more than they might have ten or twenty years ago. I've long been a fan of Chuck Cheesman, a former Old Town School of Folk Music Wiggleworms teacher who now lives in the pines of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. His first album for families, A Family Handbook, was a solid record of mostly traditional tunes, and his just-released second kids' album Dancing With No Shoes On is just as solid. It's an occasionally goofy, occasionally heartfelt, always warm collection of songs. It's folk music that draws no small amount of inspiration from Woody Guthrie (see "Seafood Song" or "A Big Dog Ate My Homework," perhaps). Given his longtime experience playing for kids, he's got a good sense of what kids will respond to, songs like the banjo-aided "Chocolate-Covered Brussels Sprouts" and the bluesy (natch) "Milkstache Blues." It's a mostly upbeat, sunny approach -- something to play in the summer, or maybe a warm Northern Arizona fall. The 35-minute album (which includes 4 songs heard on his first album) is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7; you can hear song clips here. If Dancing with No Shoes On is a sunny, almost summer-y folk album, Things That Roar, Jeff Krebs' (aka Papa Crow) first album for families is a little more hushed, a Michigan winter to Cheesman's Arizona mountain summer. Nothing is being reinvented here (OK, maybe the beat loops on "High Up on a String" are a little new), but the 14 originals are put together with care. It's not just a guy and a guitar -- it features (among other things) accordion, banjo, sleigh bells, and a couple nice duet turns by Kerry Yost. Krebs has an appealing voice himself and shows off some nifty guitar and ukulele work on songs like "Polar Bear in a Snowstorm" and "Ukulele." And if "Chicken Lips" doesn't become a minor radio hit, I'll be sorely disappointed. Kids ages 2 through 7 will most appreciate the songs here. You can hear some songs from the 32-minute album at the Papa Crow ReverbNation page. When I mentioned this as one of my favorite new albums of the fall, I deliberately included Crow along with Dan Zanes, one of his inspirations. Things That Roar is a gentle breath of fresh air, and maybe my desire for cooler weather caused me to prefer that to Dancing With No Shoes On, but they're both fine albums. Chuck Cheesman is one of those artists who, if they were in a larger market, would be much better known; Dancing With No Shoes On is just an excellent collection of new and folk music. And while Papa Crow's got a ways to go to reach the heights of Zanes or Elizabeth Mitchell or Frances England, artists who've inspired him, but Things That Roar is a small delight and fans of those artists will probably find in Papa Crow someone they want to hear more of as well. Both albums are definitely recommended.
Another fun set of shows at the Children's Museum of Phoenix this past weekend, this time featuring Flagstaff's Chuck Cheesman. The set we saw was a nice mix of originals, familiar tunes (Woody Guthrie, the Beatles, Joel Frankel), and movement stuff appropriate for preschoolers. To avoid copyright concerns, Chuck and I decided not to post covers. Unfortunately, that's usually when I happened to push "record" on my Flip. Little Boy Blue deleted another video, leaving me with this. It's not that I don't like this particular song (the last time we saw Chuck, we said "Ahoooooooy, mateys. Arrrrrgh!" for, like, a month). It's just that it doesn't quite show off his wonderful voice to best effect. Anyway, those of you in preschool (OK, and those that mind them) will appreciate this. For Arizona-area folks, Chuck's playing (as is Laura Freeman) at the Pickin' in the Pines festival up in Flagstaff this weekend. Weather should be awesome. Chuck Cheesman - "The Pirate Song" [YouTube]
I've tended not to talk much about the Phoenix shows I've been putting on, given the more national focus of the site, but a quick heads up for anyone from the Phoenix area who isn't on my e-mail list or didn't hear about this through Facebook and the like. Tomorrow (Sunday) there will be two different shows set up with my assistance. First up, the Children's Museum of Phoenix continues its 2009 series of concerts with a pair of sets from Flagstaff-based artist Chuck Cheesman. Chuck played in the famous Wiggleworms program at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music and I've seen him a number of times here in Arizona. If you've got preschoolers, this'll be a fun show for them. The show is free with museum admission. Shows are at 10:30 and 12:30 and require tickets, which I believe are sold out, but as people move in and out of the shows, you'll probably be able to get in even if you don't have a ticket and are willing to wait just a little bit. Second, Church of the Beatitudes here in Phoenix (which just so happens to be my church) is starting a full season of Not Just For Kids Concerts (we kicked it off last season with Randy Kaplan and Justin Roberts) and the first show will feature Todd Baio playing his ukulele with songs for young and old. The show starts at 2 PM and is free. I will get around to talking about the Not Just For Kids Concerts soon enough 'round here because we're going to have 6 or 7 shows this season and it's going to be pretty darn cool...