It's time once again for me to list my favorite kids and family albums from the past year or so.
As I noted in last year's list, I don't put tremendous stock in individual "best of" lists, because taste is idiosyncratic. (Please note the title here is "favorite," not "best," a deliberate choice of words.) The idiosyncracies of taste are one reason why I came up with the idea for the Fids and Kamily Awards. The fact that I think Recess Monkey's Wonderstuff is one of the year's best CDs might be more easily dismissed if it weren't for the fact that a good number of 19 judges happened to agree with me.
As for my list, the top 10 below reflects my Fids and Kamily ballot. But as with last year, limiting a list of favorites to just 10 albums would leave off a number of very, very good albums. In fact, as a whole, 2007 was even stronger than 2006, making this year's decisions even more difficult. Although I lost count some time ago, I'd guess that I probably heard 250 to 300 new albums this past year -- even at 20 albums, I've left off some great music from this list.
So without further ado...
1)Play - Various Artists: Joyous and raucous, this compilation from DeSoto Records proves what sort of music artists can make when they play with the energy of a kid and the brains of an adult. (Or, sometimes, the brains of a kid and the energy of an adult.) Georgie James' "Grizzly Jive," Soccer Team's "I'll Never Fear Ghosts Again," and Visqueen's cover of "Centerfield" -- all awesome songs, and there are plenty more where those came from. It's my favorite album for kids and families of the year.
2) If You Ever See An Owl - Terrible Twos: Given a proper release earlier this year after being sold only at the shows of the band's adult alter ego, the New Amsterdams, this album is full of fabulous poppy and Americana melodies and lyrics born of the knowledge of being a kid -- and parent. So, so glad it's gotten the wider audience it deserves.
3) My Green Kite - Peter Himmelman: In the category of pure kids' pop, this album wins the title, hands down. Which isn't to say that Himmelman's songwriting doesn't have its small (and big) pleasures for the adult ears, too, just that the album is particularly attuned to the attitudes of kids. And anyone who can make us reconsider feet deserves some sort of award.
4) It's A Big World - Renee and Jeremy
4) Napper's Delight - Dean Jones
Two different lullaby albums, different from each other, and just about anything else that came down the pike this year. Even on first listen, it was clear that Renee and Jeremy's album was destined to become a CD that would be gifted to many a new parent, calming and soothing with new lullabies. Jones' take on the genre was one not so much for sleeping but for relaxing, but even so was more exhilerating than most albums twice as loud and twice as fast.
6) Wonderstuff - Recess Monkey
6) Have You Never Been Yellow? - Gustafer Yellowgold
6) Freedom in a Box - Deedle Deedle Dees
I tend to think of these three albums as signifying just how adventurous artists in the kids and family music genre can be right now. Recess Monkey didn't just put together another album with the creative input of about 100 kids -- it put together a full-fledged pop-rock double-album musical with a bunch of great songs. Gustafer Yellowgold's indie-pop would be pretty adventurous even without its illustrations, but with them the character might just be the standard-bearer for the kids new wave. And the Dees -- their energy, their love of history manifested in glorious musical flower here, and their determination to take their music across the country wherever they can serves as an inspiration to lots of other artists wondering if they can make their own kind of kids music.
9) It's A Bam Bam Diddly! - Father Goose
9) Make Your Own Someday - Jimmies
Sorry -- I can't draw any links between these two albums other than the artists spend most of their time in New York City. But Father Goose serves as the ringleader on an album of Caribbean and dancehall songs that will get the kids' heads (and sometimes their feet) bopping in style, making me think he's got a lot more great albums in him. And the Jimmies' Ashley Albert is a star entertainer in the making, guaranteed to make your seven-year-old laugh silly at least a few times. Wait a minute, maybe there is a link here...
11) Dark Side of the Moon Bounce - Rocknoceros
11) Get Up & Dance! - Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang
Could these two have easily been tied for 9th instead of 11th? Sure, but I had to draw the line at some point. Both these albums were probably the best of the year for preschoolers. Rocknoceros' kid-pop focused a bit on songs about space, but all the songs were solid; Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang have honed their songwriting (and production) to a fine point. Both excellent albums -- maybe next time they'll hit it lucky.
13) Dos Ninos - Sugar Free Allstars
13) Educated Kid - The Hipwaders
Both albums here tickled my pop-rock fancy. SFA's sub-30 minute album was a perfectly brief, keyboard-drug confection, with surprising stylistic breadth and subject depth. The Hipwaders took a major step forward with their latest album, crafting the power-pop album of the year without entirely shedding their occasional educational nugget, lyrically.
15) Mommy Says No! - The Asylum Street Spankers: Not every parent will love this, the first kids' CD from the Asylum Street Spankers. It walks on the edge of what a parent might tolerate in a kids' CD. But there's no denying the huge heart that's worn on the (album) sleeve here. It might cross the line, but you still love the kid.
16) What Did You Do Today, Stephen Scott Lee? - Steve Lee: A day in song and story, melding the ambition of Wonderstuff with just a hint of the Spankers' snarkiness. Lee brought in a whole bunch of Nashville musician friends to record a personal CD with some incredibly strong songs.
17) Class of 3000, Vol. 1 (Soundtrack) - Andre 3000: I'm not sure what's more surprising -- that Andre 3000 released an album for kids or that it didn't attract more attention. I think it's the latter, because it's a fine and often funky CD that deserved a wider audience. Proof that cartoony voices don't make a bad kids' CD if done well and with verve.
18) All Together Singing in the Kitchen - The Nields
18) Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook Vol. 2 & 3 - Various Artists
The Nields put out the best folk album for kids this past year, singing songs their father taught them with their father, and passing them down to a new generation. Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music didn't put out a kids album, but this value-priced 2-CD set has a ton of great renditions of American classics old and, well, less-old, that kids should know....
20) For the Kids Three! - Various Artists: Number 20 on the list, and, yeah, I could probably have put a half-dozen other albums here depending on my mood. But this definitely deserves to be here, too -- a bookend to Play's ranking at the top. The distance between that compilation and this one is pretty small -- there are fine songs here and your family is bound to find a favorite or four.