Kids music has its fair share of workhorses -- artists like Recess Monkey and Joanie Leeds and Dean Jones who consistently release albums. And of course there are artists like Raffi and Bill Harley and Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer whose careers have spanned decades and who are still releasing music relevant to an entirely new generation of families.
And then there are the one-hit wonders -- the musicians and bands who released albums for families… and were never heard from ever again.
Well, not in any existential sense, just in the kindie world. The reasons for recording a single album for kids and families, then deciding to abandon that particular creative vein are, no doubt, as complicated -- or simple -- as they are for any choices made by people. Perhaps they hated doing it, it didn't fill them creatively, it didn't make enough money, they didn't have enough time -- these are the complications of life, generally. (As is the work of keeping up a website -- in a few cases, the sites have lapsed, a clear sign that the artists aren't returning to the kindie fold.)
But it doesn't mean that we can't be disappointed that they never came back. So here's a list of my ten favorite single-shot kindie albums. I would love to have to take these off the list for technical reasons, i.e., they come back with a second album.
A couple definitional points:
1. I chose not to include albums from "adult" artists who released one album for families -- think of folks like Harry Nilsson or Carole King or Barenaked Ladies (though I keep hearing rumors that they're working on kindie album #2) as their family recordings were neither their first nor last recordings. This is a loose restriction -- it's painful not being able to put the Barenaked Ladies or Medeski Martin & Wood's albums on this list -- but if I didn't impose it this list would be long and useless. (Perhaps what I really need is another list that reflects those artists.)
2. I gave at least a couple year window -- meaning, if someone's released just one album, but that was within the past couple years, then they were ineligible. Unless you're Recess Monkey, churning out an album every two years is a normal timeframe.
Here, then, in alphabetical order, is my list:
Cat and a Bird - Cat and a Bird (review) -- "Their sound -- mixing elements of folk, rock, electronic beats, and gypsy violin -- sometimes sounds both 100 years old and from 100 years in the future." If I were to place a bet on the first (or only) artist on this list to disqualify themselves from this list for, well, recording a second album, it would be this band.
Erin Flynn - Dreamers of Dreams (review) -- "It’s hard work reinterpreting classic kids’ tunes -- it takes imagination and a little bit of brazenness. Originally released in 2004, Erin Flynn’s debut Dreamers of Dreams has enough of both. Flynn, who now teaches at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago (and appeared on their Wiggleworms Love You album), recorded the album in Philadelphia with a large and talented Co-Op Band, giving her freedom to take musical chances."
Ginger Hendrix - Macaroni Boy Eats at Chez Shooby Doo (review) -- a goofy, Jack Johnson vibe, "good for relaxing around the house in between trips to Target or picking up the older sibling at the bus stop." The album from the California-based Hendrix "strikes just the right balance of insight and immaturity (in the best sense)." Insight and immaturity, folks.
Me 3 - The Thin King (review) -- "What tends to get reviewed is either stuff that's in the traditional folk/pop/rock vein, but very good... not in that folk/pop/rock vein... and stuff that's just so out there that you have to tell someone about it if only to show what risks people are taking these days. (And then you have Dan Zanes, who in the Venn diagram of those 3 categories is the only one who intersects all three.) The Thin King, the debut CD from the San Francisco band Me 3 falls squarely in that 3 category."
Mommie - Mommie's Dearest (review) -- "The band Mommie is brainchild of Doug MacMillan, lead singer for the Southern power-pop group the Connells, a band which was part of an inescapable background soundtrack to my college days... The songs here were all written by MacMilllan and his son Charlie, who was probably 3 or 4 at the time of writing the songs.So essentially this is sort of a Connells album (yay!) with lyrics by a 4-year-old (hmmmm...), a combination which usually works surprisingly well."
Elena Moon Park - Rabbit Days and Dumplings (review) -- "Park, the fiddler and instrumentalist from Dan Zanes' band, has taken music from her own Korean (by way of Tennessee) heritage, mixed it with other Asian family-friendly songs, and given the songs a Zanesian flair. The result is exactly what you'd expect -- songs from a very different culture made accessible to an English-speaking, Western audience and just as importantly, made fun as well."
The Quiet Two - Make Some Noise (review) -- "The power pop of XTC mixed with the absurdity of They Might Be Giants, this duo gets some sort of bonus award for having more band names in their career (their first, The Quiet Ones, was abandoned because another band claimed that name) than albums. But this is so much fun."
The Thinkers - Oh Zoooty! (review) -- "What they've created is one of those utterly imaginative works that ten minutes in, you'll either have turned it off or -- more likely -- be totally smitten. So who they are is this: Bo (Bo Moore) and Moy (Matt Saporito), or as they replied in my e-mail, 'two best buddies in our mid 20s from Boston & New York.'"
John Upchurch and Mark Greenberg - John and Mark's Children's Record (review) -- "It is a bit odd perhaps, but I've figured out over time that what separates the great "odd" albums from the annoying ones is love -- that people love the genre and the kids in their lives and they're making music borne out of their own musical and personal experiences." Six years later, this -- both the notion and the album -- so totally holds up.
Jazz at Lincoln Center - WeBop: A Family Jazz Party (review) --"Unlike a lot of the "introducing jazz to the kids" disks, which take traditional kids' standards (e.g., "Old MacDonald" or "Itsy Bitsy Spider") and put them in a jazz arrangement, many songs on this album take jazz standards and add (or tweak) a few kid-friendly lyrics. Not every standard is modified -- the Duke Ellington classic "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" speaks just fine to kids as-is -- but some of the adaptations are inspired (I particularly loved the re-purposing of Coltrane's "Syeeda's Song Flute" into "Syeeda's ABC," an alphabet song, natch). And kudos for figuring out how to work free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman into a kids' track ("Free Jazz Adventure")."