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."
This review sort of felt like a Krzysztof Kieślowski movie in miniature, with randomness and chance affecting my life (albeit in a small way). I recently received a CD from Portland-based artist Lori Henriques which, while the packaging looked lovely on the outside, had a 2008 copyright date on it. Given my stack of CDs, a 3-year-old CD would not normally be placed at the front of the line. But in a random e-mail, I happened to mention that fact to Henriques, who pointed out that the copyright just applied to the songs themselves, not to the recording, which was, in fact, new. So: yay for chance! Because it meant I listened to this a lot sooner than I would have otherwise, which means I can tell you about it much sooner than I would have otherwise. Outside My Door: Songs for Children of All Ages is unlike any kids' CD I've heard in a long time. It's a throwback to 1970s piano jazz, nothing but Henriques' voice and nimble piano work. It's inspired by Sesame Street, though the lyrics especially are a bit advanced for the preschoolers who are that show's target audience. (Henriques also cites Dave Frishberg as an influence -- he wrote some songs for Schoolhouse Rock!.) It's a Broadway (or perhaps off-Broadway) musical waiting to be made, or perhaps the subject of the first kids' music-themed episode of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, or a Randy Newman album consisting of pleasant narrators. On a slightly more kid-music-related tip, the songs are a little reminiscent of David Tobocman and lyrically it reminds me a bit of Molly Ledford's lyrics for Lunch Money, with words like "ennui" (in "Something You Learn"), "plapable" ("It's Hard To Wait for Your Birthday"), and "Odysseus" ("Mean People"). Heck, it features the phrase "T.O.," which Henriques helpfully provides a Wikipedia reference for. All this eruditeness -- the fact that I'm using "eruditeness" in a review of the disk -- might make it seem very hoity-toity, but it's not. (And not just because she rhymes "goat turd" with "awkward.") The 29 minute album isn't going to cause a lot of dancing; in fact, it's got more melancholy in it than at least 95% of all kids' albums. But kids, if they sit down and really listen, will hear words that do indeed speak to them -- the difficulty of waiting for your birthday ("It's Hard To Wait for Your Birthday") or a secret desire to be a twin ("If I Had a Twin"). The 29-minute album is appropriate for kids ages 4 through 10. You can hear the whole thing here. Also of note: gorgeous packaging courtesy of Henriques' brother Joel Henriques, proprietor of my new favorite website Made By Joel. Another chance discovery. So there you have it -- an album that I said was unlike any kids' CD I'd heard for a long time is compared to maybe a half-dozen other artists. But Outside My Door is something quite remarkable -- an album of "piano jazz for kids" that isn't limited by any of the words in that phrase. A refreshing sound, and an absolute pleasure to listen to. Highly recommended.