My Favorite Kids and Family Albums of 2006

I think it's time I revealed my own ballot for the Fids and Kamily awards.

I should begin by noting that one of the main goals I had in coming up with the idea of F&K was to democratize the album reviewing process for this niche. I tend to find individual Top 10 lists of music, movies, etc, somewhat pointless in helping me find new music because taste is idiosyncratic, of course, and what one person finds stirring I might find overwrought. It might be entertaining reading, but usually not too enlightening.

But collect a whole bunch of opinions, and all of a sudden, I think it becomes something useful -- hey, not only did Stefan like that Family Hootenanny CD, other people did, too. Maybe I should check it out. (And, yes, you should.)

So I offer this list by no means intending it to be the last word, but only to be able to express my appreciation for some albums that provided me and my family with enjoyment over the past year.

And there's no way I can limit this list to just 10 albums. I probably heard more than 100 kids and family albums released in the past year, so 20 seems like a reasonable number. I'm still gonna feel bad about excluding #21, whichever that one is (and there are, like, 4 of 'em), but I gotta put a limit somewhere...

Oh, and I'm not great at deciding between things, which will become apparent as you read on. Good thing I'm not this way with cereal otherwise it would take me forever at the grocery store.

Oh, and I'm not a big fan of putting greatest hits CDs on these lists; hence, no Welcome to Ralph's World.

Oh, just get on with it anyway.

1) Meltdown! - Justin Roberts
1) You Are My Little Bird - Elizabeth Mitchell
1) Catch That Train! - Dan Zanes
All 3 albums perfect in their own way. Meltdown! is one of those great pop albums with, like, 8 singles, You Are My Little Bird further refines Mitchell's kid-folk sensibilities with wondrous covers, and Catch That Train! is Zanes' best work, which is saying something.

4) The Family Hootenanny - Various Artists: There is no reason that this album, made up of so many diverse musical styles, should work anywhere near as well as it does. Best compilation of the year.

5) The Great Adventures of Mr. David - Mr. David
5) Fascinating Creatures - Frances England
5) When I Get Little - Dog on Fleas
The Mr. David and Frances England albums were unlike anything else I'd heard this year, and stood out as much for their unique style (Mr. David's soundscapes and England's lo-fi rock stories) as for their enjoyment. Dog on Fleas, on the other hand, took a whole bunch of styles and mixed them together to create something new.

8) Hoodwinked Original Soundtrack - Todd Edwards (Various Artists): Why Ryko let this amazing soundtrack go out of print still mystifies me. Our daughter loves to sing along on "Great Big World," so that didn't hurt its chances.

9) Hey You Kids! - The Jellydots
9) Stomp Yer Feet! - Johnny Bregar
Two albums doing entirely different things -- The Jellydots crafting power-pop gems with kid-friendly topics, Johnny Bregar reinterpreting preschool classics (mostly) with a bit of funk and style -- but both providing lots of enjoyment to listeners of all ages.

11) Every Day Is A Birthday - Brady Rymer
11) Animal Crackers - Wee Hairy Beasties
11) Electric Storyland - The Sippy Cups
Y'know, the difference between these albums and the two at #9 is pretty darn small. All three albums appeared in the top ten at some point, and their presence just outside the top 10 could be as much a result of changes in barometric pressure as anything else. But Rymer's roots-rockin' slices of family life, the Beasties' energetic and fun Americana songs, and the Sippy Cups' set of originals inspired by '60s and '70s rock were outstanding in their own right.

14) We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - Bruce Springsteen
14) Singalongs and Lullabies from Curious George - Jack Johnson and Friends
Neither one of these albums can be found in the children's music charts at Billboard. No matter -- Springsteen's vibrant hootenanny (I always said it was Bruce Springsteen's children's album) and Johnson's laid-back and alternately playful and wistful songs had virtually no distinctions between songs appropriate for adults or those 30 years younger.

16) Rock Your Socks Off - Charity and the JAMband
16) LMNO Music: Pink - Enzo Garcia
These two albums by San Francisco musicians couldn't sound much different. But more than any other album on this list, the JAMband's funky grooves and Garcia's homemade music-making encourage listener participation, either by dancing or singing. Though they're entertaining if you just listen to them, they're that much better if you join in.

18) Different - Elizabeth Street
18) Macaroni Boy Eats At Chez Shooby Doo - Ginger Hendrix
From opposite ends of the country, a band and a solo artist sing songs about the day-to-day life of kids and families. One's a little bit country (Ginger Hendrix), one's a little bit rock'n'roll (Elizabeth Street). Elizabeth Street is like the eldest sibling, giving sage advice; Hendrix is the family clown, who tells it like it is.

20) Here Comes the Band - Stephen Cohen: Somebody had to be #20, and it might as well be this one, the most conceptual album on the list -- they wait for the band, the band arrives, the band leaves. My wife couldn't stand it, but I think it's pretty darn good -- not only is it the most conceptual, it has the most consistent atmosphere.

Wow, you're still reading? Thanks... Like I said, there are many others I wish could squeeze on here, but rather than go on for fear of leaving someone out, I'll just stop. (Plus, I think the pit orchestra is starting to play music to rush me off the stage.)