My Favorite Kids Music Videos of 2013

It's been a couple years since I last tackled the kids music video world.  After years of organizing KidVid Tournaments, I think I just needed a break.  Plus I was organizing a talk on great kids music videos and my video curation energies went there last spring.

That doesn't mean, however, that I've lost interest in finding great videos to share with your family, friends, and strangers in line at the grocery store.  In fact, I went back and looked -- across the site, I featured nearly 100 new videos.

It's a new year now and with that I have a little extra energy to give you a brand new list -- my favorite kids music videos of 2013 (-ish).  Let's define the video year as I have in the past -- new videos featured on the site between March 1 of the prior year and February 28 of the current year.  (So, March 1, 2013 through February 1, 2014.)  Let's also say only one video per artist (though there were a handful of artists I considered breaking that rule for).  As always, I'm interested in visual creativity, a decent level of post-production values (which doesn't necessarily mean expensive), and a really good song.

PS: Miss the KidVid Tournament?  Then I might just have something up my sleeve for you.  Stay tuned.

Without further ado, then, in alphabetical order by artist, my 25 favorite kids music videos of 2013.  Whether this is the first time you've seen some or all of these, or the tenth, please enjoy.

"Similes and Metaphors" - The Bazillions

"Stump Hotel" - Caspar Babypants

"Thingamajig" - Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

(Oddly enough, removed from YouTube for violating its Terms of Service.  I've had similar problems with YouTube regarding videos I've had specific permission to upload.  I can imagine how frustrating it is for an artist.)

"Bunny in the Moon" - DidiPop

"Palindrome" - Dog on Fleas / Readeez

"Brussels Sprout Shout" - Duke Otherwise

"Midnight Sun" - Elska

"Day You Were Born" - Frances England

"Cakenstein" - Gustafer Yellowgold

"How Big" - Eric Herman

"Dinosaur" - Lori Henriques

"From You" - Charlie Hope

"End of a Summer Storm" - Alison Krauss (via Sandra Boynton)

"Spicy Kid" - Lunch Money

"Cocodrilo" - Mister G

"When I Get Bald" - Alastair Moock

"Snow Day" - Zak Morgan

"Skateboard" - The Not-Its

"Tambourine Submarine" - Recess Monkey

"Recess" - Justin Roberts

"Bigga Bagga" - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

"Turn! Turn! Turn!" - Dan Zanes & Elizabeth Mitchell

Best Kids Music of 2013: Top 25 Albums

If there was a theme to 2013, it was that of collaboration.  Most of the news I was excited about revolved around kindie artists reaching out.  Oh, sure, I've been talking about collaborations for a while now, but it seemed like every week news of a new partnership was announced -- Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell, for example, or Todd McHatton and, well, everybody in the kindie world.  And it wasn't limited to fellow musicians.  Laurie Berkner, Lunch Money, and Melissa Levis (AKA Moey) made musicals; Alison Levy is working on one and Justin Roberts might be.  Recess Monkey finished their second circus show.  And there are plenty of kids musicians who are still seeking that brass ring of TV.

To me, that's a sign of a couple things, one slightly worrisome, one not.  The worrisome thing is the sense that people are worried about making a living just from music.  Not those particular artists necessarily, but if artists in this age of Spotify are worried about making a living from selling their music to just their fans, then one way to respond is to sell their music to (hopefully) a broader audience.  Or to bring their music to different audiences altogether.  Given the risk of not making their money back after investing in an album (why do you think Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites hit a tipping point in the kindie world this year?), artists are looking to diversify and spread that risk around.

The non-worrisome thing is that artists are looking for different challenges to keep themselves interested and their creative juices flowing.  That sort of risk-taking may not (heck, will not) succeed every time artistically and commercially, but for an ecosystem as a whole, that's a good thing.

In the end, though, no matter how many different people musicians reach out to, as a listener I'm still focused on the music itself.  This year's list of top albums was every bit as hard to select as in prior years.  Looking back at calendar year 2013 (which is different from the year that I've defined for this exercise -- Nov. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013, to match Fids & Kamily), I reviewed more than 80 albums and I would guess that that reflects barely a quarter and certainly less than one-third of what I received.  So that means these albums reflect the top 10%, maybe even less, of what I heard this year.

In talking with someone the other day, I said that I didn't necessarily think the very top albums -- the top 5 or 10, perhaps -- were significantly better in quality than the same albums 5 or even 10 years ago.  It's the depth the "bench," so to speak -- the 25th best album of the year is better than the 25th best album probably 5 and definitely 10 years ago.

With all that said, it's time to list my 25 favorite kids music albums of the year.  These are listed in preference order, starting with my very favorite, though as you'll see, my interest in making fine distinctions was… diminished from prior years.  Thanks to these artists (and many others) who made music for families worth sharing this past year.  Onward to 2014!


In filling out my Fids and Kamily ballot, I couldn't decide between my two favorite albums of the year. Luckily, that's totally OK, you can have ties on the ballot.  So these albums are tied for #1.

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Justin Roberts

Recess

Review - "Many of Roberts' songwriting hallmarks are on display in Recess, starting with the irresistible title track.  Child narrator with enthusiasm on full display?  Check.  Internal rhymes?  Check.  Spelling?  Check.  (OK, I wouldn't necessarily suggest that spelling is one of Roberts' hallmarks.)  All that wrapped in powerpop that seems that seems like it can't get any more powerpoppy until he finds the amp that goes to 11."

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Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

Pleased To Meet You

Review - "Pleased To Meet You is fabulous, an energetic blend of Americana and punk, of empathy and third-grade snark."

In a fit of indecision, I ranked the other eight albums on my F&K ballot as tied.  Seems like it would be a bit generous to rank them all as tied for third, but we're generous people around here.  So, alphabetically, here is the rest of my Top 10:

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Frances England

Blink of an Eye

Review - "Many of the songs are fleeting glimpses -- memories -- of family life and parenthood.  "Blink of an Eye" is the most obvious, but it's the dreamy "Salt Water Spin" and "Look How the Light Dances with Trees" that feel like England telling herself -- and by extension her family and us, the listeners -- 'Don't. Forget. This.'"

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Billy Kelly

AGAIN!

Review - "AGAIN! is an album that had me smiling throughout much of it, and it's not just because it's funny.  It's because Kelly's joy in his song's characters comes through crystal clear."

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Lesley and the Flying Foxes

A Day in the Life of a Boogaleeboo

Review - "It's like a cabaret show for kids -- seriously, this needs to happen -- and the comparisons to artists like Regina Spektor and Nellie McKay in their wide-ranging musical approach are apropos."

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The Not-Its!

KidQuake!

Review - "There's something to said for the methodic steps the band's taken, because KidQuake is their best album yet, a blast of fresh air, and a ton of fun."

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Recess Monkey

Deep Sea Diver

Review - "All the qualities that have endeared Recess Monkey to thousands of families nationally from their Pacific Northwest perch are in ample display on their brand new album Deep Sea Diver . Humor (the wry look at those scavenging birds in the mellow Beatles-esque "Seagull" or the punny title of "Choral Reef"), kid-focused topics (disco-dancing with "Walkie Talkies" and complaining about being short in "Shrimp"), and, yes, hooks galore."

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Justin Roberts

Lullaby

Review - "For the follow-up to his masterful album Jungle Gym, Roberts didn't choose to write another album of perfect pop and power-pop songs...  Instead, kindie's finest songwriter stretched in a slightly different direction, writing an entire album of, well, if not exactly lullabies, then at least songs for downtime."

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Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell with You Are My Flower

Turn Turn Turn

Review - "There are a handful of dance songs for fans of Zanes' dance parties and some songs that showcase Mitchell's warm yet crystalline voice.  But the album's biggest strength is that this album of two of kindie's biggest stars features those musicians getting together to play songs humbly and joyfully."

The next 5 albums listed alphabetically below are the ones I hated to have to leave off my Fids & Kamily ballot/Top 10 list.  They're the albums that, in a different mood, on a different day, might have appeared on that list.

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Chris Doud, Willy Tea Taylor, and more

Color This Album

Review - "There's the country bluegrass of "Larry the Frog," the Woody Guthrie absurdity of "Hop in the Car," and the bluesy lament "Lullaby to Stellaouise."  Or perhaps you'd prefer Bob Dylan-in-silly-mode "Crayons," the bluegrass raveup "Thirteen Bears" (it's the number of bears on the shirt, in case you're wondering), and the stone-cold classic of parental frustration/unconditional love 'Take You Into My Arms.'"

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Lori Henriques

The World Is a Curious Place To Live

Review - "Lori Henriques clearly practices what she sings, offering up celebrations of the world outside of ourselves.  Her jazzy-pop-by-way-of-Broadway-and-Carnegie-Hall is still unique in the world of kids music and worth being curious about."

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Alastair Moock

Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World's Bravest Kids

Review - "Singing Our Way Through might not be the first album a family thinks of to purchase for their own family, assuming that their family hasn't been struck with a serious disease.  And the first couple tracks, "I Am the Light" and "When I Get Bald," deal with cancer head-on.  But once you get past that, the songs just deal with tough times and humor in those tough times."

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Shine and the Moonbeams

Shine and the Moonbeams

Review - "While it's the songs that deal with real-life social issues like bullying and self-respect that could give this album a long shelf life with schools and families, I'm also looking forward to sillier, groovier, jazzier songs along the lines of "Do You Ever Stop" and "Shake for Eight."  Lots of fun, lets hope the success of this one makes the follow-up come out faster."

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Heidi Swedberg

My Cup of Tea

Review - "You can appreciate My Cup of Tea  as a straight-up album of music from folk and world traditions played with verve and imaginatively arranged.  But I think you'll get more out of it if you think of it as a variety show without the banter, skits, and sponsor thanks."

The next 5 albums (again, alphabetically by artist and, if you're keeping score at home, albums 16 through 20) are definitely top 20 material.

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Lloyd Miller

S.S. Brooklyn

Review - "Interspersed with [the] familiar songs are some newer songs, more intimate to the neighborhood -- personal history rather than history writ large."

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Cat Doorman (aka Julianna Bright)

Cat Doorman Songbook

Review - "But even more important to the album than a spirit of peace and love is the celebration of do-it-yourself and individual expression.  Songs like "Oh, the Inspiration!" and "Yeah!," as different as they are sonically, speak of the spark that drives people to create and express themselves."

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Underbirds (aka Todd McHatton and Morgan Taylor)

Underbirds

Review - "But few of these pop gems sound like they were crafted with your local 5-year-old front-of-mind.  Rather, they're songs about friendship and daring and love and (especially) nature that happen to be kid-friendly."

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Dean Jones

When the World Was New

Review - "When the World Was New is an intimate album inspired by big questions -- why are we here? what are we doing? where are we going to? -- but never feels like a boring textbook.  Instead, Jones' album is a series of (musical) essays that might prompt a few questions in the listeners' own minds, young and old."

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Paul Spring

Home of Song

Review - "Home of Song is an ode to books and stories, and to the families who nurture them. I don't know if the family who reads and sings together stays together, but albums like this one make a convincing argument."

Finally, as I was trying to narrow down the final 5, I realized I just couldn't, and after all these other times of stopping at an arbitrarily-defined round number, I decided I'd stop at an arbitrarily-defined unround number. Here, then, are the final 7 albums in my Top 25, er, 27 albums of 2013

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Sandra Boynton

Frog Trouble

Review - "On Frog Trouble, Boynton and her musical partner, the arranger Michael Ford, offer up another dozen songs of often surreal and animal-based nature... But a number of the songs, some of them the album's strongest, play it mostly straight -- Alison Krauss' lovely take on "End of Summer Storm" and Ryan Adams performing "When Pigs Fly," which takes that absurd premise and turns it into something beautiful."

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Caspar Babypants

Baby Beatles

Review - "I don't think any Beatles cover album is essential -- just listen to the originals -- but Baby Beatles is just different enough to hold the listeners' attention far more than they would for some random (often Muzak-inspired) cover."

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Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

¡Fantastico!

Review - " By marrying his bubbly pop songs to a new language, he's given the songs new life and suggested an alternative route to non-English music for kids."

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Moona Luna

Vamos, Let's Go

Review - "Velasquez also turns lots of... basic preschooler and early-elementary school topics -- writing letters, telling time, the seasons -- into tightly-written songs that mimic the distinctive keyboards, rhythms, and vocal harmonies of post-Bill Haley rock-n-roll."

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Pointed Man Band

Swordfish Tango

Review - "Let's put it this way - it's an album that besides featuring a song about an invisible duck and Western Washington witches, it includes a song about dancing without pants -- in French.  (Plus, of course, the title song, in 3 parts.)"

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The Verve Pipe

Are We There Yet?

Review - "The band fully embraces its role of class clown with songs that will put smiles on the faces of all but the most curmudgeonly of listeners.  Fans of A Family Album  will find this every bit as winning..."

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The Watson Twins

Pioneer Lane

Review - "This new album moves their folk/rock/alt-country sound out of the sanctuary and into a barn somewhere for a late-afternoon picnic that stretches into a moonlight night.  The whole effect is mesmerizing, the sisters' harmonies reverberating on both the slow and uptempo tracks."

Weekly Summary (1/6/14 - 1/12/14)

How I Got Here: Danny Adamson, the Not-Its! (The Cure, Joni Mitchell)

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Danny Adamson, guitarist for the sartorially superior Seattle pop-punkers The Not-Its, sometimes jokes about wanting to rock kids' faces off at upcoming shows.  Thus, it might surprise you to learn that when asked to write about an album that influenced him for our "How I Got Here" series, he picked an album by Joni Mitchell.    And also one by the Cure (who, I will note for the record, played the loudest show I've ever been to, at any rate).

But this isn't some fancy late-minute conversion -- check out his bio, he lists Mitchell and the Cure among his top 5 favorite artists there, too.

So read on for Adamson's stories of how the Cure saved his life (or at least from getting beat up) and singing along with Joni and how those helped him rawk melodically. 


Which band or artist is your favorite of all time?  Growing up, that was always the question asked.  Since people could never choose just one, I started altering the question to “What are your top 5 bands or artists of all time?”  This gained far better results, as people could no longer pull the “I’m so eclectic and well rounded, how can I possibly choose only one when I like soooo many styles of music?” card.  This served me well at parties during my 20’s.  Now I don’t ask, because I am stuck in the 80’s and 90’s and find that I no longer recognize bands that people list.  I am lazy about discovering new music these days and find if you put on a Wilco album in a social setting, 95% of people will be generally pleased.

On to my attempt to sound interesting and eclectic!  I wish I could write about 5 albums that influenced me musically, but nobody wants to read that much from a guy who’s not even the lead singer of The Not-Its!  So I will limit myself to two, one which was huge in my world at the time I first started playing guitar in the 8th grade - The Cure's Head On The Door - and another album that made me realize that it’s actually a good thing to “try” to sing as well as you can (rather than just get by or do the punk rock screamy thing) - Joni Mitchell's Blue.

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The Cure had many albums that were influential to me, and you can definitely make the case that my musical style leans toward their guitar heavy (less synth), earlier stuff, but Head On The Door was their first album that I obtained (would have said “purchased” but I probably stole that cassette as I was a sticky-fingered, hooligan in 8th grade).  I was a skater kid back then, not the “gothed out” type of fan, but The Cure influenced me in many ways….  There may or may not be VHS video footage somewhere out there of me holding a magazine page photo of Robert Smith’s face with the mouth cut out, lip-syncing to the song “The Catch.”  In junior high, just wearing a The Cure shirt once saved me from getting my ass kicked.  I threw something at a car and the hot pursuit ended with the car full of 20 something year olds catching me (don’t ask me how that happened?) and letting me off STRICTLY because of that shirt!

Anyway, that album was something new, that didn’t sound like pop music, or the poorly produced skate rock compilations I had received via my subscription to Thrasher skateboarding magazine.  I just liked how Head On The Door (and most of their other albums) sounded.  I wouldn’t say it is their best album, but definitely my favorite and most influential, as it just got me at the right time.  It was fun to try to figure their songs out on guitar.  Something about bands from across the pond felt cool to my friends and me.  Nobody at our suburban Seattle junior high was listening to The Cure or The Smiths and it felt nice to have something from far away that felt like our own.  Still to this day I put my boys to bed by playing guitar and often songs by The Cure make it into the rotation. 

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I started playing in punk bands in 10th grade in 1991.  I played guitar, my good friend also played guitar and a new buddy played bass.  We eventually found someone who played drums but still nobody could or would sing.  I started singing by default because nobody else was willing.  I was not good and confidence took years to establish.  I had a girlfriend with a hint of granola in her.  She owned some fleece, a pair of Birkenstocks, and pounded me down with the obnoxious crooning of Joni Mitchell.  I fought it hard with Fugazi and Superchunk, (which I believe she still loves today) but both sides triumphed in that battle as Joni Mitchell’s album Blue worked its way into my hard wired system.

That album and girlfriend both went away - the album for a few years and the girl forever - until I picked up Blue (purchased this one) on vinyl in 1997 or so.  I lived with 4 guys in a dude/party house near the University of Washington at the time.  A typical scene for one of my roommates to find when rolling home would be hearing Joni Mitchell blaring from my room with a giant speaker hauled into the bathroom, speaker wire stretched across the hall, and me screeching the high falsetto sounds of JM from the shower.  I was singing along due to its obvious genius as it grew on me, but also because I was actually trying to get better at singing.  Eventually I could sort of keep up with her and learned that breathing correctly and weird stuff like that were important elements to singing well.  With the album Blue, I really think you can feel the energy and emotion she put into the album (which I don’t usually say because how the heck do I know what went down in that studio?), but it’s tough to ignore when it’s just one person and her guitar or piano.  Pretty awesome.

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For me, these two albums simply just sound good to me and hit me at that right time in my life.  As I’m writing this, I’m finding it an interesting case study between albums that sound good and my association with music for children and families.  I know many people relate to albums of their past by what the album said to them and how they emotionally connected with the lyrics.  I’m quite the opposite.  I could hear a song 5 times and still not really tell you what it’s all about.  I just like it if a tune sounds good or has a nice harmony and I will always fall for an amazing little drum fill or hi-hat trick.  So yes, the guy who has never paid attention to the deep meaning of love songs is now writing music for kids.  I know kids are amazing, bright and full of potential, but what they really want is a good hook and a badass guitar riff.

 

Best Kids Music of 2013: Top 25 Songs

It has been too long since I posted a list of my favorite songs of a year.  2011, to be exact.

Oops.

(I already said how embarrassed I was about that.)

Following up on my list of Top 10 kids music debuts in 2013, here's my list of my 25 favorite (or best, depending on your perspective) kids' songs on albums released over the past year ("year" defined as between November 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013, to match the Fids and Kamily Awards this year).  I should note that some of these songs have been floating around for a few years now (the Trout Fishing and Shine and the Moonbeams songs), but have only now found themselves on a proper release.  One could do much worse than to put all 25 on a mix CD or iTunes/Spotify playlist.

Hey, wait, I've done that!  Here's the link (go here if you're in Spotify).  See the end of this post for the embedded stream.  By the way, songs not on Spotify are marked with an *

In any case, picking these 25 songs was tough, tougher than in most previous years, I think.  I had another 15-20 songs I was seriously considering for this list, and on another day, my mood would have struck me differently and at least a couple of those songs would be on here.  But I'm pressing the "publish" button today.

Top 25 Kids Music Songs of 2013 (listed alphabetically by artist)

"Similes and Metaphors" - The Bazillions (Heads or Tales)

"When Pigs Fly" - Sandra Boynton (performed by Ryan Adams) (Frog Trouble)

"Thingamajig" - Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band (Lishy Lou and Lucky Too) -- I know, I know, the album was released on Oct. 1, 2013 and so technically speaking shouldn't be on here.  But come on, this was song was awesome.  And there was a single, so that's what I'm hanging my hat on...

"Lonely Girl" - Cat Doorman (The Cat Doorman Songbook)

"It's Not Fair To Me" - Bill Harley & Keith Munslow (It's Not Fair To Me)

"Dinosaur" - Lori Henriques (The World Is a Curious Place To Live) *

"Wag More" - Boxtop Jenkins (You're Happier When You're Happy)

"Take You Into My Arms" - Joey No Knows (Color This Album)

"Nine O' Clock Behind the Jack Rabbit" - Josh & Gab (I'm Not a Bully!)

"You Made Me a Sock Monkey" - Billy Kelly (AGAIN!) *

"Have You Ever Been Jealous?" - Alastair Moock with Rani Arbo (Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World's Bravest Kids) *

"Let's Skateboard" - The Not-Its! (KidQuake!)

"High 5 Your Shadow" - Ratboy Jr. (Champions of the Universe)

"The Deep End" - Recess Monkey (Deep Sea Diver)

"Recess" - Justin Roberts (Recess)

"Bully Bully" - Shine and the Moonbeams (Shine and the Moonbeams)

"Home of Song" - Paul Spring (Home of Song)

"Song Without a Rhyme" - SteveSongs (Orangutan Van)

"Duermete" - Heidi Swedberg and Friends (My Cup of Tea)

"The Late, Great Nate McTate" - Trout Fishing in America (Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers)

"Here Comes My Friend" - Underbirds (Underbirds)

"Scavenger Hunt" - The Verve Pipe (Are We There Yet?)

"Stay True" - The Watson Twins (Pioneer Lane)

"Bigga Bagga" - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke (Please To Meet You)

"Honeybee" - Dan Zanes & Elizabeth Mitchell with You Are My Flower (Turn! Turn! Turn!)

Fids and Kamily 2013 Music Awards Announced!

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When I started this website more than nine years ago, I held in my mind two slightly contradictory notions about music reviews: 

1) There was not enough distinction between music reviews, especially for kids -- music was uniformly good in many reviews -- and therefore finer distinctions needed to be made to assist parents in allocating finite resources (monetary and time). 

2) Cultural reviews are inherently biased and basing one's own opinion of a cultural product on that of just one other person could be deficient.

In other words, individual reviews are both important and insufficient.

I've tried to write at this site in a way that honors both notions.  While I do tend to cover only music worth the time of at least some portion of my audience, there is some gradation in my reviews.  And I've always tried to convey the idea that these are just my opinions. Really well-informed opinions based on thousands of hours of listening to thousands of albums, but opinions nonetheless.

All of which is to say that I consider the founding of the Fids and Kamily Music Awards one of the best things I've done for kids music.  Since 2006, I, along with Bill Childs (Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child) and Gwyneth Butera (Gooney Bird Kids) (who took over for Amy Davis) have coordinated the awards, soliciting Top 10 lists from the people who spend more time listening to kids music than anybody in the country.  There's lots of great kids music out there, but Fids and Kamily highlights the best of the best.

This year's list of 2013's best albums features some familiar faces along with a few newcomers to the list.  It's 2013, so how about the Top 13 albums of the past year, led by Justin Roberts, returning to the top of the Fids and Kamily pile:

1. Justin Roberts - Recess
2. Frances England - Blink of an Eye
3. Alastair Moock - Singing Our Way Through-Songs for the World's Bravest Kids
4. Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell - Turn Turn Turn
5. Shine and the Moonbeams - Shine and the Moonbeams
6. Recess Monkey - Deep Sea Diver
7. The Not-Its! - Kidquake
8. Dean Jones - When the World Was New
9. Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke - Pleased to Meet You
10. Justin Roberts - Lullaby
11. Lori Henriques - The World Is A Curious Place to Live
12. Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band - Fantastico!
13. Lloyd H. Miller - S.S. Brooklyn  

More details on the year's results, including 10 more honorable mention albums and the year's top 6 debut albums can be found on the 2013 results page.

Thanks to all the judges for participating, Bill and Gwyneth for coordinating (especially this year) , Jeff Bogle from Out With the Kids for logo design, and most importantly to all the kids music artists who continue to make such quality music for families to enjoy.

(Oh, and look for my personal lists in the near future.)