My first entry in my list of the best kids music of 2010 is something I've pondered for awhile, and that's album packaging. I know that Jeff over at Out With the Kids has already posted a similar list, but his is as much about album cover art as the whole packaging. I love that Pop Ups cover art, but there's not much to the packaging beyond that. (Except, of course, for the music itself, which is awesome.)
While I wouldn't call my entry into the digital world as "being dragged kicking and screaming," any long-term reader here would recognize I still have a 20th-century predilection for the physical object. And my kids still listen to musical using CDs, not iPods. So consider these ten albums as examples why your iPhone and iPod and iPad can't replace your CD collection just yet. And if you're looking for something more than a download code to put into someone's stocking or birthday pile, these will do nicely.
Randy Kaplan - The Kids Are All Id: I tend to prefer lyrics in my liner notes, but with notes as offbeat (yet illuminating) as Kaplan's, I'm willing to make an exception. Plus, the packaging is gorgeous, with some silly illustrations to keep the kids amused.
Billy Kelly -Is This Some Kind of Joke?: Sometimes being elegant or competently put together isn't enough. Sometimes you also need to package your album with a gigantic maze, an erasable marker, and autograph the thing. Well, "sometimes" is a bit strong, perhaps, but it seems to have worked for Billy Kelly. And, yes, the whole idea is totally Kelly.
Elizabeth Mitchell - Sunny Day: A typical Smithsonian Folkways release, with meticulous attention to detail, married to generous liner notes from Mitchell herself and beautiful illustrations from Ida Pearle. It's clear that Mitchell and a lot of other people thought a lot about how to present her music through words and pictures, and it puts an excellent album in an even better light.
Princess Katie & Racer Steve - Tiny Cool: There's nothing particularly unique in the album packaging, nothing that you couldn't find elsewhere, but the design is very well done and so perfectly matches the PKRS demographic, down to the PKRS poster on the back side of the lyrics. It's a great example of an artist clearly understanding who they are and conveying that through their physical product.
Recess Monkey -The Final Funktier / Justin Roberts - Jungle Gym: OK, I admit it, I couldn't choose between the two. These two artists consistently release high-quality physical products marked by some consistent design themes. In the case of Roberts, it's artwork by Sarajo Frieden; for Recess Monkey, it's the Recess Monkey logo, solid-colored disks, and probably the best photography in the kids music business.
Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band - Play!: The packaging isn't quite as elaborate as some of the other albums here, but it emphatically conveys "fun!" without overdoing it. More importantly for an album of play-along songs for the ukulele, it comes with lyrics, chords, and even fingerings for the chords. It's an album designed to be pulled out and used.
Various Artists (The Secret Mountain) - Swing Cafe: The Secret Mountain puts out gorgeously illustrated books accompanied by music on CDs. This particular release contains some classic jazz recordings (Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, etc.) accompanying a story of a cricket named Zaz who dreams of singing in New York. Every time I see an artist releasing a book whose production values make me cringe slightly, I think of folks like The Secret Mountain who the same thing and do it well.
Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke - Rise and Shine: It's probably not entirely fair to other artists competing in this category when Wilde is, you know, and illustrator. But Wilde's drawings tell little stories complementing each of the songs, drawings that are just as winning as the songs. And Little Monster Records, as much as they are pointing toward the future of digital music, still put out awesome physical products.
Dan Zanes - 76 Trombones: Another artist with a long history of producing album packaging that's every bit as fun to read through as listen. Just as Zanes' music on the album gave a modern twist on some classic Broadway tunes, so does the album packaging make it seem like Broadway is the central gathering point for the modern American melting pot. Not to mention a dance party.