There's so much holiday music in the kids music genre that just listening to it all this year was a daunting task. I've got eight albums that grabbed my attention in one way or another; one of them is bound to please your family (unless you're looking for a solstice, Kwanzaa, or Festivus album).
Let's start out with my 3 favorite albums of this particular season...
The most ambitious kids music holiday album of the year comes courtesy of The Hipwaders, whose A Kindie Christmas isn't so much an album of Christmas music as much as it is a Christmas concept album, covering the emotions and anticipation of the season. It's a collection of all-original tunes, done in the Hipwaders power-pop/rock style. "It's Wintertime" is a great dance tune, and "Santa's Train" sounds like an outtake to a Johnny Cash Christmas album, but my favorite track here, maybe of the season, is "There's Too Much Good," a very affirming sentiment at this time of year.
To say that the collaboration of Danny Adlerman, Kevin Kameraad, and Yosi finally bridges the divide between Christian and Jewish holiday traditions makes ...And a Happy New Year sound a lot duller than it really is. In reality, the three kids rockers mostly take turns in providing songs, alternately deeply sincere ("Starlight" and "Two Sets of Footprints") and goofy (the "12 Days of Christmas" reworking "A Pickle for my Christmas Tree" and a cover of Tom Lehrer's "I'm Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica"). Featuring the season's hardest-rocking tune, the trio's cover of "Frosty the Snowman," it's an interfaith collection worth exploring regardless of whether you light menorah or advent candles.
Robert Burke Warren, AKA Uncle Rock, spent time in London's West End performing a Broadway show but also rocked in far earthier terms. On Express Your Elf, Warren taps into both of those performing personalities. On the one hand, he offers a crooning take on "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and a peaceful "My Favorite Things" (a perfect holiday song, when you think about it). Those tracks share space with the rootsy
original long-lost nugget "Santa's Coming in a Whirlybird" and a cover of "Feliz Navidad" that neatly weaves "La Bamba" into the mix. It's a tough (and close) call, but it's my favorite kids music holiday disk of the year.
There are others for your listening pleasure. Read on for more...
As opposed to the more "out there" aspects of the albums above, Putumayo's latest holiday album, A Family Christmas, sounds like it's been plucked from a random hour on your local "All Christmas All The Time" radio station. Except it's actually a good Christmas radio station. Johnny Bregar's take on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" is excellent, and I have a particular affinity for Brave Combo's polka of "Jolly Old St. Nick." The rest is an appealing collection of secular Christmas tunes done in diverse styles which will help lots of folks settle in comfortably while drinking their hot chocolate and marshmallows.
You can play the Putumayo disk and never let anyone know it's a "family" disk, because it blends in perfectly. These next two disks, on the other hand, are definitely "kids music" disks.
Jeff DeSmedt, AKA Big Jeff, takes the all-original approach on his Warm For The Winter disk, with the exception of "Pachelbel's Jammin' in D," which you don't have to appreciate the title pun to appreciate (it's not quite a holiday tune, but Big Jeff's version does indeed jam, relatively speaking). It may be a bit heavy on the schmaltz, and there's no need, really for what feels like the token Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs, but the middle of the disk, with "Small Flying Reindeer in the Sky," "Blue Sculpture of a Cow," and the aforementioned Pachelbel cut, is really quite good.
As with Big Jeff's disk, Jim Cosgrove's 2006 album Mr. Stinky Feet's Christmas is definitely geared toward the kids. More so than any other album in this list, it recognizes the religious nature of Christmas, with songs like "Prepare the Way," "Mary's Little Boy," and "Away in a Manger." Of course, it also includes "Hark! It's Harold the Angel!" and an interlude from Phlegmwick the Elf, so it's not an entirely somber and reflective affair. The production is a bit too children's Christmas pageant for my general taste, but appearances by the Kansas City Children's Chorus give some of the songs a distinctive sound. Fans of Cosgrove's genial good humor will enjoy the album, and other families looking for a mix of the serious and silly of the season could do much worse than exploring this.
Finally, I've already mentioned Hullabaloo's Holiday Hullabaloo album here and Todd McHatton's Christmas Songs EP here. I view these two albums as being on opposite ends of a musical spectrum, from Hullabaloo's folk-y covers of Christmas (and Hanukkah) classics to McHatton's psychedelic rock originals. I figure big fans of one won't appreciate the other, but they're both free and worth checking out for that reason alone, but they're also worthwhile beyond that.