OK, the next part of my review of the best kids music of 2010 focuses on debuts. I can't even say that I'd thought about this seriously until Warren Truitt put together his list of top debuts of 2008. But I don't think he did it last year, so since I abhor vacuuming (or a vacuum), I'm going to appropriate the idea. While there are a couple of exceptions, for the most part we didn't know about these bands twelve months ago. And there was a fair amount of competition for these slots -- I could've expanded this to a Top 15 list fairly easily. In addition to quality of music, I'm also thinking about intangibles -- does their entire approach suggest that they could have a large fanbase and a Top 10 overall album 5 years from now as well? (Some of them do right now.) It wouldn't surprise me if that were the case with any of these artists.
I should note that by using the word "debut," I'm assuming that this isn't the last family music album from each of these artists. Albums from Haley Bonar, Keller Williams, and Essie Jain, for example, would've been considered for this list, but I made the assumption that their family albums would be their sole foray into the genre. I would be happy to be proven wrong.
Anyway, here's ten debut albums (listed alphabetically by artist) worth celebrating.
Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem - Ranky Tanky: Why Rani Arbo and not Keller Williams? Do I have any inside information that would suggest that this fine album, a worthy companion to many of Dan Zanes' albums drawing deep from many musical wells, is just the beginning? No, not really. So consider this a hopeful wink and nudge to the fine quartet from New England. We'd like more of this, please.
The Bazillions - Rock-N-Roll Recess: Hailing from Minnesota, this was the best pure power pop debut of the year. Not only do they have some finely crafted tunes, they've put together some fabulous videos that suggest this isn't just a lark for them. Another important part of the increasingly strong Minnesota family music scene.
Coal Train Railroad - Coal Train Railroad: Straight-ahead classic vocal jazz from Nashville. Coal Train Railroad have the musical chops to make this a long-term gig. They're also trying lots of different ways to get their music out there, from podcasts to Kickstarter campaigns. We need lots of different musical genres to succeed in order to make the idea of family music not odd. Especially jazz.
Lucky Diaz - Luckiest Adventure: Fifteen minutes of sweet indie/folk/pop from the LA singer-songwriter. With a holiday song in addition to this 5-song EP, Diaz has just six songs on his family music resume, but at this point, his full-length follow-up due out in March is without a doubt one of my most eagerly-anticipated disks of 2011.
Oran Etkin - Wake Up, Clarinet!: Not one but two jazz albums in this list, which is a Good Thing. New York-based jazz musician Etkin covers a slightly broader range, stylistically, on his debut. He's got music classes for toddler and youngsters in New York, and while I'd prefer he'd play more stuff that isn't so directly "class"-like, it's still plenty good.
Moona Luna - Piñata Party: The first really good kids-rock-en-Español album comes from the new daytime alter egos of the band Pistolera. There have been many bilingual albums, but most focus on trying to teach Spanish. This album doesn't worry excessively about that, which means you're more likely to listen repeatedly. Which means you'll probably learn more. And have fun.
The Pop Ups - Outside Voices: I don't think there was anything approaching the collective pitter-pat of the hearts of kindie bloggers when they started hearing the disk from the New York duo. Review after review seemed to be written in which folks knew before the album was done, heck, before the first song was done, that this was something special. All this, and they have a puppet show, too.
Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band - Play!: Who would've expected an album of play-along ukulele music to be so much fun? Well, maybe the ukulele fans amongst us, but this isn't just for the obsessives. There's a playful spirit here that keeps these traditional tunes fresh. And if it encourages all of us to pick up a ukulele and strum a few chords, so much the better.
Tim and the Space Cadets - The Greatest Party Ever: So, former bandmates from the delightful New York-based Jimmies leave that band to write their own songs? Trying to match the awesomeness of the Jimmies is a tough task, but Tim Kubart seemed up to the challenge on this, the first EP. Poppy goodness with a visual (and video) sensibility to match.
Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke - Rise and Shine: Can I really list this as a debut if I first starting writing about the songs that found their way onto this album in April of 2007? Well, yeah. It took a long time for this album to see the light of day, but it was totally worth it. There's a lot of music there -- hopefully it won't take another 3 years for the next album to be released.