As you would probably expect, I get many more disks than I could possibly have time to review (unless somebody decides that they want to nominate me for a MacArthur Fellowship). Given my time constraints, there are many reasons why I don't review an album, including it stinks or I can't figure out what to say about it. But there are a number of decent albums with a particular point of view that don't get reviewed in a timely manner just because life goes on. Here, then, are four albums, each with a different approach to the genre -- your family is likely to dig at least one of them.
San Diego-area musician Steve Denyes is a prolific songwriter (see here for a side project of mine he originated), cranking out a Hullabaloo album at least once a year. His latest record Road Trip tackles the theme of, well, car travel (natch), with thirteen tracks covering the experience (truckers' horns, traffic jams, the unfortunate demise of bugs on the windshield). The opening title track is a fun country-rocker, while the rest of songs take a slightly mellower, folkier, Johnny Cash-ier approach. (You can stream the album here.) The album is most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 7. In one sitting, the songs begin to run together, but there are a lot of songs here that would work well in a mixtape for your next trip. Recommended for: your next trip to Grandma's house, your afternoon errand-run.
Moving up the coast to Portland we find The Alphabeticians, a duo consisting of Eric Levine and Jeff Inlay, AKA Mr. E. and Mr. Hoo, which gives you a little sense of the goofiness that this duo trades in on their formal debut Rock. A little bit of the Pixies and R.E.M. (literally, in the case of the song "Eric Saw Peter Buck's Girlfriend and Then He Saw Peter Buck"), with a healthy dose of They Might Be Giants, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Schoolhouse Rock mixed in. It could use a little more polish production-wise in spots, but there are some great songs in there (I recommend giving "Metaphor" and "Monkey on my Shirt" a spin at the album's streaming page.) The album's most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 8. Recommended for: the sassy younger kids on TV sitcoms, families who have at least one TMBG album (kids' or adult's) around the house, kids who want lots of alphabet practice.
Rather than the more narrow stylistic approaches of Hullabaloo and the Alphabeticians, on his second album Bugs, Massachusetts-based Mister G (AKA Ben Gundersheimer) tackles a broader range of styles, including not a few tunes with some "world music" influence (e.g., "Grilled Cheese" is an ode to the sandwich set to a ska beat). It's a slick set of tracks that, save for the topics and lyrics (very much for the second grader in your life), in many cases (e.g., "Friends" or "Snow Day") would sound appropriate on your local AAA station. You can listen to the album here. The album's most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. Recommended for: the minivan carpool, families looking to bridge the gap between kindie rock and Putumayo Kids, kids tired of listening to their parents' favorite AAA station.
The final album in our quartet of reviews is Songs From the Science Frontier from Oklahoma's Monty Harper. If They Might Be Giants' Here Comes Science was the elementary school introduction to science, Science Frontier is the junior high science club follow-up, not only raising the question, for example, of "What is the Shape of the Molecule?" but also attempting to answer it (or, at least, explaining how a scientist might answer it). In fact, the majority of songs don't address scientific facts as much as they address scientists and the scientific process. Lest this sound dull, Harper knows his way around a melody and (his often necessarily wordy) lyrics much better than others who trawl educational waters (check out the sing-along chorus on "Microbe Hunter" or the neatly constructed syncopation on "Bat Man"). Chris Wiser (who produced the album) and Rob Martin from Sugar Free Allstars add some musical punch. You, or your kids primarily aged 7 through middle school can listen to the album here. I wouldn't expect too many people to listen to the album straight through if they don't have some current science relationship, but unlike many "educational" albums, you'd actually make it all the way through even if you don't. Recommended for: science teachers and classes, kids who play with their Legos or spend twenty minutes following bugs around, your local Beatles-loving scientist.