Wow. Trying to narrow down 2009's list of my favorite albums for kids and families was tough. (That's why I'm doing this in 2010, right?)
Seriously, 2009 was a great year for kids music. When the year started, I was unsure whether we'd reach 10 really good albums, but as I put together this list, I realized how there were some really good albums I had to leave off this Top 20 list. I mean, there are albums like Milkshake's Great Day that just missed this list, which I think shows how crowded the field became.
I always base these lists on my lists for Fids and Kamily Awards, so the album year for my purpose is from Nov. 1, 2008 through Oct. 31, 2009. This means that there are some pretty old albums out there, and some good ones from the past couple months (say, that new Dean Jones/Felice Brothers disk) are going to have to wait another 10-12 months before getting their due.
But, before any more time elapses, here's the list...
20. Yo Gabba Gabba - Music Is... Awesome! - Various Artists: I was prepared to not enjoy this disk, and I can people creating different playlists -- one for the YGG stuff, one for the guest artists. But there are enough good songs (especially from the guest artists) that it's worth checking out.
19. Homemade Fun - Keith Munslow: Munslow's broad sense of humor and musicianship has a smaller audience than it deserves. But it's a delight, a celebration of imagination.
18. The Time Machine - The Sippy Cups. The Sippys continue their maturation with this, an album of originals loosely tied around the concept of growing older. Equal parts goofy and heartfelt.
17. Welcome Table - Dan Zanes: This collection sort of slipped under the radar compared to Zanes' live DVD release and his late-2009 release 76 Trombones, but this is a solid collection of previously-released and newly-recorded material. It's a collection of faith-based songs, but in a very Zanes-ian ecumenical, community-oriented style. Lots of Zanes fans, regardless of faith, will find this an appealing collection.
16. Songs With No Character - Scribblemonster: This album was released in early November 2009, and at the time I wondered if it wasn't the last really good album of the 2008 album year. I decided it was the first really good album of the 2009 album year. Kids power pop at its very best.
15. Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Fever - Gustafer Yellowgold: This was the point at which I started to realize just how good the year was for kids music. This was probably the best of the three Gustafer Yellowgold CD/DVD sets, the last one made my Top 10 list, and here this one sits at #15. That's a function of how many great albums are sitting at this part of the list.
14. Worser - Duplex: There are lots of "easy" kids albums on this list (a term not meant to be perjorative) -- this is not one of them. That isn't meant to be perjorative, either. It's just that songs about VIkings, sandwich construction, and same-sex divorce aren't your typical kids fare. Might not be for every family, but for some families, it's pretty great.
13. Pink - Rocknoceros: Most kids albums end up the early elementary school crowd, so I'm always geeked to see bands like Rocknoceros continue to make music for the preschoolers. Oh, sure, the kindergarten crowd will still tune in, but it's the 3-hour-a-day crowd that makes up the core of the Rocknoceros. Well, them and their grateful parents.
11. (tie) Family Time - Ziggy Marley; and A Family Album - The Verve Pipe: These two albums were the last to get cut from my Fids and Kamily ballot. Had I completed my ballot on a different day, it's entirely possible that one of these albums would have made the cut. Both of these albums were made by artists whose day jobs -- making music for adults -- would not have left any indication that they had a great kids album inside them. But both albums celebrated family in their own special way, releasing albums that hold the attention of listeners outside their core audience.
10. More! More! More! - Bunny Clogs: Funky, funny, soulful, joyful -- sometimes within the course of a single song. Certainly in the course of this big, sprawling stew of an album from Honeydogs frontman Adam Levy. More indeed.
8. (tie) Thank You For Joining The Happy Club - Billy Kelly; We Are the Not-Its! - The Not-Its: Let's hear it for a couple newcomers who mix humor and heart in equal measure. Or in mostly equal measure -- Kelly puts his thumb down on the humor side, with the Not-Its voting for a little more heart. Pennsylvania's Kelly lies in the pop camp, Seattle's Not-Its prefer their pop with more rock. But both have melodies and style to spare, Kelly animated, the Not-Its sartorial. It bodes well for both their careers.
6. (tie) Dragonfly - Johnny Bregar; My Trampoline - Peter Himmelman: Both Bregar and Himmelman crank out solid albums like most of us crank out lunches for the kids. Himmelman's the more well-known, of course, but Bregar's no slouch in the songwriting department, either. Bregar's the folksier of the two while Himmelman rocks more. Both are fine, fine albums that are worthy of your time.
5. Here Comes Science - They Might Be Giants: Here's a measure of They Might Be Giants' talent in creating music for kids. This album, their fourth for families, might just be my least favorite. And it came in fifth place. It's for slightly older kids, perhaps, their most explicitly educational, and perhaps I missed the whimsy. But it's like asking a parent which one of their kids they love the most. One might be a little more difficult than the others, but you love 'em all equally.
3. (tie) Here I Am! - Caspar Babypants; Field Trip - Recess Monkey: All hail Seattle! Chris Ballew's kids music side project Caspar Babypants produced the first of many CB albums for kids, while Field Trip showed Recess Monkey producing another great album. There's no other band playing just for kids who's turned out as many great albums as Recess Monkey has over the past few years; Caspar Babypants shows every sign of cranking out just as many great albums in the years to come.
2. John and Mark's Children's Record - John Upchurch and Mark Greenberg: Totally out of nowhere. It was a surprise to me when I stumbled upon this -- a glorious surprise. So many great songs on here, an imaginative box of delights. A little odd, but odd in all the right places and without sacrificing great insight into the life of a child. And you'll be humming the songs for days.
1. Dizzy - Lunch Money: Their first album Silly Reflection created such a powerful attachment amongst its group of devotees (me among them) that Lunch Money ran the risk of disappointing them all no matter what they did. But instead of trying to duplicate that album, Molly and crew turned their viewpoint a little bit outward -- life in libraries, disagreeable and agreeable food, watching the river -- and created a little jewel of a pop album that celebrates childhood with the knowledge of adulthood without watering down either of them. More than any other kids music album released in 2009, this is the one that meant the most to me.
I know one (or many) of these will mean a lot to your family, too. Enjoy.