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."

Video: "That's What Friends Are For" - Frances England

The idea of fan videos are nothing new, obviously. I don't want to think how many hundreds of thousands of them are floating around YouTube. Fan videos for kids music are somewhat rarer -- Mindy over at Kids Place Live is starting to encourage them, and Caspar Babypants has 4 or 5 of them. But now Frances England can join the crowd. She's got a fan all the way in Norway who's made a minimal but very cute claymation (mostly) video for England's contribution to the Many Hands compilation. This might just be the first fan-made video that makes it to the KidVid Tournament...

That's What Friends Are For from Nora May on Vimeo.

The Ketchup Report, Vol. 8

Time once again for all the news that didn't fit into a separate post due to time, interest, contractual, or legal obligations -- it's your favorite pun-titled file folder of a blog post, the Ketchup Report! Yaaay! (Cue Kermit the Frog wild arm-flailing here...) WorldOfHappiness.jpgThe World of Happiness single, the "We Are the World" of the kids' biz, "A World of Happiness," is here. Except your kids might actually want to listen to this new song when they become parents themselves. Sales of the single, produced by Tor Hyams and Joanie Leeds, benefit Autism Speaks. The single includes a whole host of folks besides Leeds and Hyams -- Molly Ledford (who gets the honor of leading off the track), Frances England, Ralph Covert... it just goes on and on. A bunch of the participants will be recording a concert later this month for broadcast on Sirius/XM Radio later on. Anyway, it's $1.29 well-spent right here. I could probably start a whole separate post listing all the recent crowdfunding projects in the kids music world. Heck, it's almost getting to the point where I could start a blog listing all the recent crowdfunding projects in the kids music world. I've been partial to Kickstarter, of course. The two most recent projects have been a Professor Banjo and his successful second-album project and Ryan SanAngelo and his not-one-but-two-Kickstarter-projects. But other sites do the same basic thing. Van Oodles didn't quite succeed in making a video for a song of his, but LA indie-rockers Ellen and Matt and Chicago's Laura Doherty are both looking for funds for their next disks. Should you feel so inclined, help out Ellen and Matt here and Laura for her new album Shining Like a Star in the widget there to the side. -- For a limited time, Doctor Noize's "Bananas" iWhatever app is free. Download the ever-so-slightly-educational app here. (Note: may no longer be free.) -- Finally, with Earth Day coming up, a it's time for Earth Day-related tunes. Dan Zanes has a new, original tune, "Hail the Creatures" written by Zanes for a new exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo. You don't need to be near Philly to enjoy the track, just near an iTunes-enabled gadget that can download this, with proceeds benefiting the Zoo. (More details on the tune and the Zoo's new exhibit here.)... Bill Harley is offering a free download of "Keep It Green" from his 1996 album Big Big World -- you can get it here... And finally, DARIA is offering a mini-CD of 6 "earth friendly" songs, free just for the price of an e-mail address (and an earth-friendly suggestion).

Itty-Bitty Review: Acoustic Dreamland (Putumayo) - Various Artists

AcousticDreamland.jpgThe sight of Nicola Heindl's illustration immediately brands it as a Putumayo disk. But take off the animated cover of Acoustic Dreamland, the latest collection from Putumayo Kids, replace it with some tastefully sepia-tinged photograph of, I don't know, a moon rising over a barn, and you could totally sell this collection at Pottery Barn, perhaps. Which is to say that this isn't so much a kids music album as it is just a kid-friendly album. But oh what a nicely curated album it is. I never would have pegged Wilco as a source for lullabies, but Mark Erelli's version of "My Darling" outshines the original, methinks. Ditto for Elizabeth Mitchell's cover of the Allman Brothers' "Blue Sky." Kids musicians aren't totally shut out here -- Frances England records a new song, "Here With Me," for the collection, and Kesang Marstrand lends a song from her excellent lullaby collection as well. As with many Putumayo disks, however, the value in the collection isn't so much the individual songs as much as it is the fact that someone has spent the time finding the tracks and saving the listener the effort. The album is appropriate for all ages, though the lullaby nature of means that you're more likely to spin it with kids ages 5 and less. You can sample some of the tracks here. I can totally see Acoustic Dreamland being used at nap time or quiet time or during a nighttime feeding. And, buried on a hard drive and stripped of its album art, long past your kids nap, eat at night, or are ever quiet, listened by you and you alone. Recommended.

The Ketchup Report, Vol. 5

Back with another list of random notes from around the kids music world... -- I'm a fan of Symphony Space's Just Kidding series, even 3,000 miles away, but I don't typically talk about single shows in that or any series. Having said that, I have it on good authority that Elizabeth Mitchell is planning on attending the Lunch Money Just Kidding concert on Saturday, January 29 (at 11 AM) and make a "guest appearance" for some songs. NYC fans, I expect you to be there -- not to be missed, I'm telling you. -- Continuing in the category of single shows meriting mention, if you're not tired out after the Lunch Money show (or if you're busy that morning), there's another show in NYC that afternoon. It's an event called "KIDS ROCK!" -- it's a big 'ol benefit concert for KIDS NEED A MELODY, which provides developmental music classes to young children living in the shelter system. It's also Saturday the 29th (from 1 to 4 PM) at Crash Mansion in the Bowery in NYC. It's hosted by Bob McGrath and will feature performances by Rebecca Frezza and Big Truck, Suzi Shelton with guitarist Steve Elliot, Jeremy Plays Guitar, The Fuzzy Lemons, Joanie Leeds, and Baze and His Silly Friends. Not bad, eh? -- Moving out of the city (sort of), word from Florida's Mr. Richard that he's leading David Weinstone's Music For Aardvarks classes in Orlando. Mr. Richard isn't the first kindie musicians with his own career to participate in these types of classes. Audra Tsanos has done MFA classes in NYC for years, Rebecca Frezza got her start doing Music Together, and Enzo Garcia is another. But Mr. Richard, who's definitely on the shortlist for the title of hardest-working guy in kids music, may be the first to join those types of classes after starting his own, independent kindie career. -- I noted this on Facebook yesterday, but the first video from Moona Luna is up. You can watch the currently exclusive video here (or just go straight to YouTube here). -- Frances England has a whole bunch of creative resolutions (designed very, er, creatively of course) and not only that she's pulled in a bunch of creative resolutions from folks like Caspar Babypants, Drew from Recess Monkey, Joe from the Okee Dokee Brothers and lots, lots more. Worth a perusal. -- Finally, in the category of self-promotion, Australian newspaper The Age dips its toes into the world of Australian kindie music and picks out the two best, Holly Throbsy and The Mudcakes. (It also cites this site, but not in a policeman-sort-of-way. The good way.)

The Ketchup Report, Vol. 3

Another Ketchup Report, slathering kids music news all across the internet with all-natural ingredients. -- Bill Harley channels a little Dylan and Guthrie on his song "Enough Is a Feast," which he's now offering as a free download here through Thanksgiving. (If you want to contribute to or volunteer at a food bank at this time of year when food is maybe even more important than it usually is, Harley suggests finding one here.) -- I'm a longtime fan of the Tricycle Music Fest, even after its cross-country move to San Francisco. Check out the videos from last month's edition here, including "Tricycle," of course, from Frances England and other videos from Charity Kahn and the Time Outs. -- Twin Cities folks, heads up, Clementown, the Okee Dokee Brothers, and Adam Levy are playing a benefit show on Saturday, December 4 for friends of Clementown's, Krista and Terry, who've both been diagnosed with cancer. Great lineup, good cause. More details here. -- I'm also a fan of the "Listen To Your Buds" campaign encouraging kids not to turn up their speakers (or headphones) to 11. This fall's performers? Oran Etkin, who's performing in Philadelphia public schools this week and Brady Rymer. -- Gustafer Yellowgold, back on (off-)Broadway! Gustafer Yellowgold’s Infinity Sock will have a run of Saturday performances (11 AM and 1 PM) at the DR2 Theatre, 103 E. 15th St. New York City, from February 26 through April 2. It apparently will include the song "Wisconsin Poncho," which is "set in an all-cheese clothing store." This, friends, is why I love kids music. -- The Kindiependent concert at the Seattle Public Library some of you may have heard about? 1,500 people, folks. Strength in numbers, that's what it's about. The group's got a couple new concert series coming up in the Seattle area starting this fall, too...