Review Two-Fer: Mister G's "Los Animales" and Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band's "Adelante"

The first wave of Spanish-language kids music was essentially created by Jose-Luis Orozco and Suni Paz, who've been recording music in Spanish for young children for decades.  (They continue to do, and you'll be hearing more from them in the months to come, but not today.)

The second wave of Spanish-language kids music was in the late 2000s and early aughts when there were a number of Spanish-language albums whose primary purpose was to, well, teach Spanish.  Songs about counting, about animals, about... well, the things a 4-year-old might be learning about.  While some of these results were reasonably sophisticated in their production and songwriting, they often put the learning in the foreground, limiting their appeal if your family wasn't specifically trying to learn Spanish.

The third wave might have started almost concurrently with the second wave, but as opposed to the second wave, which has petered out, has gained strength.  Rather than using music primarily as a tool for learning a language, this third wave uses Spanish-language music and musical styles because... it's fun to sing and write in those genres.  Unsurprisingly, the results, musically, at least, have been better, as illustrated most recently by two releases from this summer.

Mister G "Los Animales" album cover

Mister G "Los Animales" album cover

The first of the two summer releases is from Massachusetts-based Mister G.  For Mister G (aka Ben Gundersheimer), his music has gradually taken on a more bilingual bent, and his latest album, Los Animales, is his third such album (to go along with three other albums which are primarily in English).

As you might guess from the title and cover artwork, this new album takes animals as its focus -- elephants ("Siete Elefantes"), frogs ("La Rana") and dancing ants (the excellent "Baila como las hormigas") all make an appearance along with other members of the animal kingdom.  Almost entirely in Spanish, some of the songs are simple enough lyrically that no translation is needed ("Siete Elefantes" is a counting song), but others need translation if you're not a Spanish speaker, so I hope that the lyrics and translations get posted to the website soon.  (Hint, hint.)

Musically, some of the songs, like the folk-funk of the leadoff title track, or the Americana bent of "Vamanos," have familiar musical textures, but Gundersheiemer and his co-producers Noe Benitez and Emilio D. Miler take full advantage of the trio's many friends in the recording community who make music in the Latin and Hispanic worlds.  Some of highlights are the soulful "La Rana" and "Una Jirafa en Mi Casa" and the salsa-drived "Baila como las hormigas" (roughly, "Dance with the Ants").   (You can stream the 22-minute album, most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7, here.)  Recommended.

Lucky Diaz "Adelante" album cover

Lucky Diaz "Adelante" album cover

As for the Los Angeles-based Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, they, too, have gradually discovered the joy of recording in Spanish.  Adelante is their seventh album, and third primarily in Spanish.  Their first Spanish-language album, ¡Fantastico!, featured re-translated versions of some of their shiny English-language pop hits (and was co-produced by Noe Benitez), while the follow-up Aquí, Allá featured original songs and a somewhat more traditional sound.  (I called the music on Aquí, Allá "indie-jano," or indie + Tejano.)

While I liked those two albums, Adelante, advances what Diaz is doing -- this album merges his unerring pop-hook sensibility with what happens to be Spanish-language lyrics.  "Piñata Attack" is already a big hit, and features a sneaky surf-rock guitar line from Diaz himself, but that's hardly the only earworm on here.  "Cuantos Tacos (The Taco Song)" deftly weaves Diaz's Spanish-language verses (featuring a lot of counting) with Alisha Gaddis' English-language counterpoints -- even if you know very little Spanish, her "That's a lot of tacos for a guy who wanted nachos" hook in the chorus gets the basic point of the song across.  There's some updated '70s electronic funk ("Aquel Caracol"), hip-hop ("Guacamole Boy"), and new wave ("Cantaba La Rana" -- again with the frogs!).

While it's not entirely in Spanish -- there's more mixing of Spanish and English, some songs do need translation if you're not a Spanish speaker, so I hope that the lyrics and translations get posted to the website soon.  (Hint, hint.)  The 34-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9.  Definitely recommended.

The third wave of Spanish-language kids music is really the wave in which an English-language family puts on an album not because they want to learn Spanish, but because it's fun or helps the child grow in a global sense.  Both Los Animales and Adelante succeed on that score.  Los Animales is more for the younger listener, Adelante is more for the pure dance party.  I happen to like Adelante more, but that's mostly just personal musical preference.  I'd be happy to have either of these albums pop up in a record rotation.

Note: I received copies of both albums for possible review.