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."

Dan Zanes Releases, Celebrates Christmas in Concord

DZChristmasinConcordCoverArt.jpgNothing like news of a Dan Zanes Christmas album to make the season bright(er). Word from Brooklyn this week that Zanes will follow up his excellent fall release Little Nut Tree with Christmas in Concord. The 5-song EP will be available on iTunes starting on November 29. [The EP is now available here.]The five tunes (tracklisting below) are traditional Christian Christmas tunes. Zanes notes that those tunes were part of Christmases in his hometown of Concord growing up:
"I moved away from that narrow canon in the years since I left home as a seventeen year old in favor of more varied musical pastures, but this holiday season something pulled me back... I now realize that there were some very moving songs being sung year after year and I’m grateful for the memories of those parties and for the experience of gathering year after year with friends and neighbors to sing, eat, have a few laughs and eat some pickled herring.”
Zanes did indeed travel more broadly, musically (remember his Holiday House Party from 2008?), so this is definitely much more traditional. thumb-Dan_Zanes_Profile_HiRes.jpgIn addition to the EP, Zanes is also putting on a Christmas in Concord concert on Saturday afternoon, December 17 at City Winery in New York City. The concert is intended to be a celebration of the Antonsons' annual Christmas party - a seasonal highlight in Concord, NH from 1968 through 1989; sounds like it'll be much different from the House Parties of '08. Zanes promises "special guests! christmas music! songbooks! holiday spirit!," all of which I'd expect from Zanes (including the lowercase spelling). No word on the pickled herring, though. Sounds like a blast. If we were anywhere near NYC that weekend, we'd be there. EP tracklisting (and possible sneak preview) after the jump.

Review: Little Nut Tree - Dan Zanes and Friends

LittleNutTree_lowres.jpgI've already reviewed Dan Zanes' latest album for NPR. But there's a lot I can't say in a sub-4-minute review with sound clips, so I thought I'd add a few comments on Little Nut Tree, Zanes' sixth "proper" family album. First, it's been a long time since Zanes released a "family" album, more than five years. And while Nueva York!, The Welcome Table, and 76 Trombones weren't bad albums -- even the least-satisfying Zanes album is better than 85-90% of family music released in a given year -- they lacked the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink variety of songs that is an important part of Zanes' appeal. It's not the scattershot approach of many kids' albums -- one reggae tune, one hip-hop, one glossy pop -- but rather songs from many traditions, filtered through Zanes' garage-folk lens, which lends his family albums some continuity but keeps the music fresh.

NPR Reviews Dan Zanes' Little Nut Tree

LittleNutTree_lowres.jpgOK, not, like the entire network of member stations. Pretty much just me. Well -- I had some help. Besides Dan Zanes, the review also features the Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars, Andrew Bird, and Sharon Jones. (That's pretty darn good as help goes.) So check out the review, which will air on All Things Considered at 5:20 / 7:20 / 9:20 PM East Coast time tonight.

New Dan Zanes Album: Contradance (Music from the Pilobolus Dance Performance)

Contradance.jpgI spilled the beans about this last week, but it turns out that the new Dan Zanes album I stumbled onto shouldn't have been on Spotify just yet. It's so easy to flip that digital switch these days. But now it's officially here. It's called Contradance: Music from the Pilobolus Dance Performance, and it's, well, exactly that. Zanes had worked with the dance group Pilobolus to create a new show. It premiered last year. And now you can listen to (and buy) the eight tracks of the EP at Zanes' store. The album leans toward his American Songbag work, but if your family is a fan of Zanes' work in general, Contradance will be right up your alley. (Give extended samples a spin using the player on the right-hand side of the page here. Or use Spotify to listen to the whole darn thing.)

Spotify for Kids

spotify-logo-96x96-no-tagline.pngWhen I first heard about Spotify's launch here in the United States, my initial reaction was pretty much... "so what?" It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the promise of unlimited music for free, it was more that I recognized the potential downside for me -- I'm already swimming in music, new and old, kindie and not, and the promise of unlimited music seemed either like a burden or fairly useless. But, I dragged out my invite, signed up, and I've spent a few days exploring the library. Not so much for personal reasons -- I'm still drowning in music, though I can see how it could be useful for research/writing purposes (I'm already using it for a particular project). No, I've been exploring the collection of kids music on Spotify. The verdict? Pretty good, but not perfect. The upside: The collection really is pretty broad. All of Dan Zanes' family albums, all the Laurie Berkner Band, all of They Might Be Giants' family stuff, all of Justin Roberts' family stuff. Imagination Movers, Elizabeth Mitchell, Recess Monkey, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Caspar Babypants, the list goes on. The Many Hands compilation is there, too. The downside: The collection isn't complete, and it can be hard to find albums at times.