You don't need to have been locked up in a fast-food restaurant's storage closet for the past few years to know that eating food produced locally has become a Big Thing. Playing around in the dirt and growing fruits and vegetables with bright colors? No wonder that last year's Maria Sangiolo and Friends' album Planting Seeds was just the tip of the iceberg (not the lettuce) when it comes to the mico-genre of "Farmers Market Kindie." I'm not a huge fan of "lesson" music, but it's possible to strike a good balance between entertainment and education. Here are four recommended kids music albums whose musical benefits are as good as the lessons inside. (Note: several food metaphors follow. Tread cautiously.)
The first (and most diverse sonically) album is from Bay Area trio Orange Sherbet, who will release their first album in five years, Delicious, on May 15. The collection of mostly original tunes was inspired by band member Tamsen Fynn's experiences with the Local Foods Wheel, a tool for discovering local, seasonal food in the San Francisco Bay Area. The result of the album Fynn's made with bandmates Jill and Steve Pierce is a sound that's part playground chant, part lounge-jazz, and and a few other genres thrown in, too. (Yes, that is a Santana reference in the Latin guitar rock of "Rice & Beans.) And while sometimes albums that feature lots of different musical genres sound awkward in totality, the result here is much, much closer to the successful, eclectic mix of a Dan Zanes or Dog on Fleas album. The album's most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9; you can listen to 3 of the tracks here. (Sound intriguing? Check out the band's final Kickstarter campaign.) With Delicious it's likely you'll want seconds.
Next on the grocery list is Groovin' in the Garden, from New York musician and storyteller Laurie McIntosh, aka Story Laurie. It's focuses much more on playing in the garden. So there are a fair number of traditional or well-known songs ("Shoofly Pie", "Five Little Monkeys", "Hokey Pokey") mixed into the originals from McIntosh. Her partner in crime for the album is New York state producer and musician Dean Jones from the aforementioned Dog on Fleas, who plays nineteen instruments, sings, and probably catered the recording sessions for all I know. It's a little more narrowly folk-focused than Delicious (and geared toward kids slightly younger, 3 through 7), but still features variety in its menu selections.
Andrew Queen represents Canada in this quartet of food-based albums with his latest album Grow. While the fine liner notes feature recipes and some songs -- "Macaroni and Cheese," the traditional "Fried Ham" -- fit very clearly into the food theme, others such as "The Witch's Brew" and "Worms" (no, it's not a paean to composting), seem to, er, strain the theme. It shares the folk tradition with the other albums here, and musically, the use of instruments like fiddle, banjo, and a well-deployed tuba is reminiscent here. (There's also a very communal sound to the vocals.) Queen is more interested in telling stories in song than even Laurie, so if you're looking for something in that vein for kids ages 5 through 9 (and don't need a whole album of songs praising CSAs), this will fit the bill nicely.
And for dessert, we have Shannon Wurst's Green & Growing. I've already praised the album packaging, but the songs inside are nice, too. They are definitely on the preachier side of the food issue (with detours into energy-saving and recycling) -- so if you don't lessons mixed with your music, you're probably better off with the other albums (particularly the first two). The object lessons aren't always dry, though -- the brief "Label Able Mable" is a tongue-twisting finger-picking ode while "Criss Cross Applesauce" is a soulful activity song. (Plus, you have a dinosaur on "Recyclasaurus Rex Visit"). The album's best for kids ages 4 through 8, and you can listen to a few tracks here. For a country-folk take on ecologically sound eating and living, Green & Growing will hit the sweet spot.