57th Annual Grammy Nominations for Best Children's Album

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December rolls around every year -- except for those cultures without 12-month calendars, of course -- and for roughly 57 of those years, Grammy nominations have been announced, highlighting musicians' votes for their favorite and best music of the past year.

Earlier this month, the nominations for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards were announced, including the nominations for Best Children's Album.

This year's list, representing the best in 2014 music (or, technically speaking, the best in children's recordings released between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014) is a good -- and interesting -- batch of albums:

Appetite For ConstructionThe Pop Ups

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education And Changed The World (Malala Yousafzai): Neela Vaswani

Just Say Hi!Brady Rymer And The Little Band That Could

The Perfect QuirkSecret Agent 23 Skidoo

Through The WoodsThe Okee Dokee Brothers

For those of you keeping count, that's one former Grammy winner (the Okee Dokee Brothers), two former Grammy nominees (the Pop Ups and Brady Rymer), one album of kid hip-hop (Secret Agent 23 Skidoo), and one Nobel Prize winner (Malala Yousafzai, natch).

It's that last nominee that makes this category such a wild card.  The four musical nominees were each part of the top 10 family music albums of the year according to Fids and Kamily, including the top two, so, yes, it's a solid list.  But how do judges compare those albums with an audiobook?  Indeed, it's exactly the potential problem I raised 3 years ago when the Grammys switched from 2 separate categories for music and spoken word to one unified category.  Oddly enough, I proved totally wrong about what would happen as the nominations the past two years have been spoken word-free.

We shall see who voters choose to reward this year, but I think that the award is very much up for grabs.

Weekly Summary (11/24/14 - 12/7/14)

I'd intended to post more here over the past couple weeks, but Thanksgiving + flu = not much posting.

And while I don't have something on the site (yet), congratulations to Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could, The Pop Ups, and The Okee Dokee Brothers for their Grammy nominations for Best Children's Album.  They, along with the audiobook recording of "I Am Malala," will be competing for the Grammy on February 8.

Blog: Video: "Hair" - fleaBITE

Videos:  "The Number Song" - Play Date

Listen to Music:  None this week

Free Music:  "Favorite Cousin" - The Pop Ups

Kids Music ReviewsNone this week

iOS Apps:  None this week

Upcoming Releases: Constantly updating...

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Kindie Week in Review:   None this week

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Bake Sale:  None this week

Review: Through the Woods - The Okee Dokee Brothers

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There aren't many blockbuster albums in the world of kindie.  There are lots of albums that sell well, and lots of albums that achieve a level of critical popularity inside and outside the kindie world -- but something that combines parts, that's rare.

The Okee Dokee Brothers' Can You Canoe? was one of those rare albums.  It was critically acclaimed as the best album of 2012, winning the Grammy for best children's album of that year as well as taking the top spot in the Fids and Kamily Awards.  It also continued to be one of the few kindie albums (Non-Laurie Berkner/Elizabeth Mitchell/TMBG Division) to make Top 50 charts at iTunes and Amazon.

All of which is to say, Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander, those boys from Minnesota, had a mighty big task in following up that album. Did they succeed with Through the Woods: An Appalchian Adventure Album?

It's hard to say, precisely because of its predecessor's tremendous success. Are all the elements there? Yes -- a big-hearted spirit, a fancy for metaphor, tenderness leavened with humor, it's all there.  But I would be lying if I said I had the same instantaneous reaction to this new album as I did 2 years ago, and maybe the reason it's taken me 3 months to write this review is that I've been trying to figure out why.

The best answer I can come up with -- and it's not a great one, though it is an honest one -- is that it's mellower, its philosophy perhaps more inwardly focused.  Compared to Canoe, whose can-do attitude and celebration of exploration was front-and-center from the first note (my NPR review of the album is one my favorite pieces there and draws heavily on those themes), this new album, inspired by walks along the Appalchian Trail, generally sings in a more relaxed key.  The title track, featuring a lovely descending bass line, is the spiritual successor to the last album's title track, but most of the songs are more content to celebrate tiny moments -- dancing with neighbors in "Jamboree," the gentle love song "Evergreen," the ode to keeping things loose "Out of Tune."

The Brothers do a good job of reworking some well-known folk tunes like "Big Rock Candy Mountain" (featuring Hubby Jenkins from the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and "Hillbilly Willy," their version of "Old Dan Tucker."  Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer each make a separate appearance, with Marxer's banjo playing on "Fiddlestick Joe" of particular note. Dean Jones co-produces with Lansing and Mailander, and Jed Anderson with his usual light (and spot-on) touch.

The album will be most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9.  The album packaging, featuring art from Brandon Reese, is lovely -- it's the sort of thing that warms this physical product fan's heart.  (There is also a DVD with music videos and footage from the trip.)

So, in sum, Through the Woods is an excellent album, one that should provide your family with hours of very pleasurable listening.  If you came to love the band because of Can You Canoe? then you will continue to love them no less after this new album.  And if you, like me, love this album a little bit less, it's OK, too -- it's still pretty great.  Highly recommended.

Weekly Summary (12/2/13 - 12/8/13)

56th Grammy Nominations for Best Children's Album

It's a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans.

- Lt. Frank Drebin, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad

Well, here they are, the kids music nominees for the 56th Grammys:

Blue Clouds - Elizabeth Mitchell & You Are My Flower (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) (review)

The Mighty Sky - Beth Nielsen Chapman (BNC Records)

Recess - Justin Roberts (Carpet Square Records) (review)

Singing Our Way Through: Songs For The World's Bravest Kids - Alastair Moock & Friends (Moockshake Music) (review)

Throw A Penny In The Wishing Well - Jennifer Gasoi (Sparkling Productions) (review)

Yes, it's (almost) time once again for the Grammys, the annual hill of beans recognizing the music industry's best and favorite albums of the year.  The list of the five kids' music albums is a solid, solid list.  Some quick thoughts:

  • I'd sort of forgotten about Blue Clouds, thinking that Mitchell's collaboration with Dan Zanes (Turn Turn Turn) might have more oomph.  (Edit: Turn Turn Turn was actually placed by NARAS on the folk music slate, from which it didn't get nominated.)  But the Folkways connection of the album could not have hurt, promotionally, either.  (That, and it's a great album.)

  • I can't say I'm as big a fan of The Mighty Sky as of the other nominees, but it's decent and certainly not a "where in the world did that come from?" choice.

  • I should probably actually publish my year-end "best of" lists (it's coming, I promise!) before saying this, but Recess was one of my two favorite albums of the past (Grammy) year.

  • In addition to having a great story, Singing Our Way Through is also a reeeeeallly good album.

  • While probably the least familiar name to American audiences, Jennifer Gasoi has been nominated for this award before.  Or, at least, the Canadian equivalent.  Most recently for this very album.  (And, yes, Throw A Penny in the Wishing Well is really good, too.)

Picking a winner -- and who you want to win -- will be especially tough this year.  But any of those nominees would make a fine winner.

The Pause and What Follows

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In many sports -- or at least those featuring a ball -- there's a gap between the initiation of action and the result.  The ball leaves the attacker's foot, and it takes a second for the ball to reach the goal.  The quarterback heaves the ball to the wide receiver streaking down the sideline, and 4 or 5 seconds later, we find out if it's caught, dropped, or intercepted.  Or think of basketballs in their arc-ed path to the basketball.  The crowd may be cheering wildly, but there is usually a bit of a pause, a collective intake of breath, as they wait for the result.

I'm thinking of this today as I continue to process the meaning of The Okee Dokee Brothers' win in the Best Children's Music Album category at the 2013 (55th) GRAMMY Awards Sunday.  It was for their album Can You Canoe?, an album that inspired, and was inspired by, a trip the duo made by canoe halfway down the Mississippi River.

There's the announcement of the nominees, and then the pause while the presenter takes a moment to open the envelope.  Unlike many of those sporting gaps, the result is set -- there's nothing that could have happened between the announcement of names and the uttering of "The Okee Dokee Brothers" that could have changed the fact that Joe and Justin would be walking onstage -- but there's the same intake of breath for a certain percentage of the audience.


At this point, dear reader, I'm sure you're wondering exactly what the Okee Dokee Brothers have to do with sports?  Is their next album going to be sports-themed?  (Answer: unless their trek along the Appalachian Trail is part of some timed event, then, no.)

The answer lies within the result.

In 2001, I had the good fortune to be an Arizona Diamondbacks fan.  And I had the great fortune to be at the ballpark for Game Seven of the World Series against the New York Yankees.  I know what the gap is.

I have a friend's home video from that game -- and that clip doesn't do the gap justice, nor does it fully capture the bedlam after the bloop just outside the infield and over the heads of the Yankees' drawn-in infield.  But you get the idea -- a huge celebration.  Didn't matter where you were -- I was sitting about as far from home plate as you can get in that park -- there was a full-throated roar and wailing.  The walk back to the car in the parking garage was as good-natured a crowd as I have ever been in -- random high-fives with strangers, "Woo hoos!" everywhere, and slight disbelief that this 4-year-old team had somehow managed to beat baseball's most historically accomplished team, the New York Yankees.  Not only had they beat the Yankees, they beat them in playoffs coming less than a couple months after the September 11th attacks made most of the rest of the country Yankees fans for a time.

Of course, it was a fairly even matchup, and with two of baseball's best pitchers at the time, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, pitching for the Diamondbacks, Arizona's eventual victory wasn't considered an upset.  There was no reason to think that the Diamondbacks wouldn't be competing for the World Series trophy in 2002 as well.


A little more than a year ago, I wrote a post expressing some disbelief at the entire slate of the 54th Grammy Award nominees for Best Children's Album.  When this year's slate of nominees was announced in December 2012, I outlined why I thought it was a better slate, completely setting aside whether I liked the slate as a whole better than last year's.  But I also made the erroneous assumption that the nomination process was unchanged from the year before, when participation in Grammy365, the Recording Academy's social networking site for members, appeared from the outside to be a major determinant of who was nominated.

I heard shortly after that piece that no, in fact, the nominating process for kids' music had changed for the 55th Grammys.  Nobody seemed to want to discuss it very much, and I can't say that I blame them -- a select group of Academy members going through the first round of voting and selecting nominees from among them?  That would raise questions in the minds of a lot of folks (including me) -- who were on the nominating committee?  What albums did they choose from?

I chose not to write about the process at the time because I didn't think I'd be able to get much information.  But NPR last weekend aired a story on an issue I'd heard about before -- how an dance music artist with little popular notoriety snagged a Grammy nod amidst some much larger names.  And in that piece, a Grammy official noted that other genres -- including kids music -- used an intermediator, the nominating committee.

When I wrote my piece on the nominations 14 months ago, there was dissatisfaction on my part, but undergirding my words were the feelings of lots of other members who felt that something was amiss with the process.  And clearly those feelings translated into a changed nomination process -- if everyone had been totally satisfied, then nothing would have changed.  And the result?  The Okee Dokee Brothers won -- for an album that also happened to win the 2012 Fids and Kamily Awards.  And a couple other albums in the top 15 for F&K, The Pop Ups' Radio Jungle and Elizabeth Mitchell's Little Seed, appeared on the nomination list as well.  Previous Grammy winner and longtime kids musician and storyteller Bill Harley joined the group.  And while none of those artists approach Taylor Swift-ian sales level, they are, within the genre, popular artists.  Can You Canoe? sold about 10,000 albums, and Elizabeth Mitchell consistently ranks amongst the KidzBop-ers and Spongebobs on kids music album charts -- she is a superstar of kindie.


What followed for the Diamondbacks?  A decade-plus of middling success.  Sure they got back to the playoffs, but they've never made it back to the World Series and have had some poor seasons as well.  In part, they've been a victim of their own success, with a not -insubstatial portion of their payroll going to pay deferred salaries from that 2001 squad.  Would I trade that 2001 season for more consistent success subsequently?  Nah.  But it did prove to me that success in these sorts of fields are, if not totally random, at least fleeting.

The question for this site is what follows for kids music.  This year's slate of nominees was picked -- in part -- by a small group of people in a secret process.  I understand why it's secret, but I am sure some musicians don't like the change.  In the end, the final answer will be provided by the Academy members themselves.  If a sizable number feel bamboozled by the change, then they will pressure their representatives, and the process could go back to the old way.  (This would not be the first time we've switched between methodologies -- the nominating committee was used for awhile in the '90s, too.)  If, however, the majority likes this year's results, then the new process will stay.  It may mean that bigger stars like Elizabeth Mitchell (for Blue Clouds) and Justin Roberts (for Lullaby and possibly Recess) show up on next year's nominated albums list, and more consistently on future nominee slates.  Kids musicians who are members of the Academy will be the final arbiter of whether that's a good thing, not me.