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."
We've had an exciting weekend of KidVid Tournament 2011 action, but we're not done yet with the first round. Today's action moves down south as Gwyneth over at Gooney Bird Kids is hosting two matchups for the Leadbelly Regional: -- Caspar Babypants, "$9.99" (1) vs. The Verve Pipe, "When One Became Two" (4) -- Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke, "Big Pet Pig" (2) vs. Holly Throsby, "Fish & Mice" (3) Don't forget -- if you're looking for commentary before or after you vote (today only!) Jeff Giles over at Dadnabbit is providing commentary on the whole bracket. Read his take on today's matchups here.
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.)
This video, the first from Holly Throsby's excellent album See!, is pretty much what I'd expect a live-action video from the album to look like -- cute normal-looking kids, rough around edges, but with stellar production values. And the crafty fishes (it is for "Fish and Mice" after all) look like something that every preschool should be attempting. Holly Throsby - "Fish and Mice" [YouTube]
OK, "smile" might be overstating it a bit, but this video, for "Here Is My Co-Pilot" by Holly Throsby has a hypnotic allure due in no small part to the nifty song itself, which is off Throsby's forthcoming album Team. It's the choreography-in-a-racquetball-court, though, that leads me to post this here. Not at all kid-related, but safe for all. (Oh, and have you checked out the review of Holly Throsby's See!? You really should -- that one is kid-related, and also safe for all.) Holly Throsby - "Here Is My Co-Pilot" [YouTube]
One thing that's been striking to me is the relative absence of an independent Australian family music scene, at least viewed from the American vantage point. One might think that the tremendous success of four nice blokes in bright t-shirts might have spurred a lot of imitators and counter-revolutionaries, but that doesn't seem to have been the case. In fact, you can argue that the Wiggles have had a lot more influence on the American kids music scene, either through imitators (the Fresh Beat Band), people headed in the opposite direction (many of the artists on this site), and folks with their feet firmly planted in both camps (Yo Gabba Gabba!). So I'm glad to see that Australian indie-folk musician Holly Throsby has peeked her head into the relatively small Australian scene and offered up See!, which is one of most captivating family music albums I've heard this year. Recorded at an old church south of Sydney, the album kicks off with the sound of a horn heard off the coast as the intro to "Putt Putt," a gentle tune about going out into the ocean with a small motor boat. From there, the album moves to "Fish and Mice," which starts out with what sounds like a Casio drum keyboard and eventually leads to an infectious sing-along chorus with a bunch of kids singing interjections ("Fish!"... "Bike!"). This looseness in musical production is carried on throughout the album. It's all very impressionistic -- moods and feelings and lyrics that aren't totally straightforward narratively, as on the winning Americana-by-way-of-New-South-Wales "Diamonds Are So Shiny" ("I have a deck of cards / And I'm in love with the two of hearts / I dug a hole with the ace of spades / I found a bone and some clay / And an old golf ball / That I hit around with my four of clubs.") She even includes an 11-second "Drum Lesson" that simply introduces a handful of drum sounds. (Also, I'm happy that on "What Turns?," Throsby finally writes a second song for a kookaburra, who, frankly, was probably getting tired of sitting that that old gum tree.) The 28-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 8. Right now it's only available as an import or from here -- either way, it'll cost ya about $30 Stateside, so I'd definitely recommend checking out 3 of the tracks here, as well as "The Seasons" here. But See! might very well be worth the $30. It's a combination of Frances England's dreamy songwriting and Elizabeth Mitchell's appropriation of sounds and melodies from everyday life (with a little bit of Stephen Cohen's Here Comes the Band atmospheric tone thrown in). It is described as "experimental," though to American kindie ears it won't sound experimental at all. It is merely delightful in big ways and small. Definitely recommended. Disclosure: I received a copy of this album for possible review.