Holiday Kids Music Reviews (2012 Edition)

There were fewer Christmas and holiday CDs released this holiday season, but those that were all will probably appeal to at least a few families.  Yes, it's Christmas Eve, but you can still download those albums in time, right?  (And there's always 2013.)

Renee & Jeremy - Sunny Christmas

If I had to pick just one holiday album for this season, I think this EP from the Los Angeles duo would be it.  Perhaps that's a function of one too many Christmases in a clime that sometimes lets you wear short sleeves while eating your figgy pudding.  As always, the duo are in fine vocal form on the five standards ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is the standout) and one original, the title track.

The Laurie Berkner Band - A Laurie Berkner Christmas

Berkner offers up the most traditional-sounding album, with fine arrangements throughout.  Having said that, given how you may hear many of these tracks multiple times any particular December day, the two best tracks here are the less-familiar "Children Go Where I Send Thee," a duet with Brady Rymer, and "Silent Night," which features Berkner and Elizabeth Mitchell, the two best female voices in kids music.

Mr. Richard & the Pound Hounds - Merry Christmas!

Florida-based Mr. Richard has much to be thankful for this holiday season -- his family's been battling some medical issues this year -- so not surprisingly, his new extended EP is a bouncy one.  A mix of Christmas standards and originals, my favorites are the jangly original "Up In My Christmas Tree" and the album-closing instrumental "Cantique de Noel" (aka "O Holy Night").

The Jimmies - Mama Said Nog You Out

This album's a year old, but it's no longer a Barnes & Noble exclusive.  So that means you can stop by your local, er, Amazon or iTunes and pick up a copy of Ashley's take on the season.  (Hint: there's no rendition of "O Holy Night" on this album -- this album's for the folks who like the mad rush of December.)  I liked the album last year, and I still like it this year.

Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke - Sing Songs of Christmas Cheer

Speaking of 2011 albums, I realized shortly after I published those reviews last year that I'd inadvertently excluded the extended EP from one of my favorite kids' bands (I think the album came out fairly late in the cycle as well).  In any case, the album is as goofy (and hard-rockin') as the rest of the duo's work -- "Angels We Have Heard On High" is epic in every sense of the word.

Dan Zanes - Christmas in Concord

I should also note that Dan Zanes' 2011 holiday EP has been expanded into an extended EP.  He adds a couple songs -- an original ("I'm Counting the Days (Until Christmas)") and a traditional spiritual ("Rise Up Shepherd and Follow" with Suzan-Lori Parks).  Though both are note, if you got the EP last year, neither track is a required addition.  Having said that, it was my favorite holiday album of 2011 (probably tied with the Key Wilde disk, and edging out the Jimmies disk), so if you don't have it already, it's worth picking up.

Big Bang Boom - The Holidays Are Here

I had to ask the title to these 5 songs (hence my original title, "untitled Christmas album"), but it's pretty good nonetheless.  As you would expect from the band and their cheeky attitude (see: "Santa Didn't Come Last Night"), there's no reverent rendition of centuries-old hymns, but it's generally tender and nostalgic.

 

 

SpongeBob Squarepants - It's A SpongeBob Christmas Album

Yes.  SpongeBob Squarepants has a Christmas album.  (Why not?  Everybody else does.)  Here's the thing -- it's actually pretty good.  OK, the opening track sounds tacked on, but once you get past that, it's clear that more thought and care went into the album than was necessary.  Folks with no TVs (or senses of humor) won't appreciate it much, but it's more entertaining than I, not any big SpongeBob fan, expected.

Holiday Kids Music 2012 Roundup

You wouldn't know it by reading this space, but there's been some holiday kids music released this Christmas/Hanukkah/winter-holiday-of-your-choosing season.  Not as much as in years past, but enough stuff worth your time checking out (and my time writing up).

I'll be reviewing some albums in a subsequent post, but here are a few tracks to stuff in your kids' stockings.

Free Downloads

The Not-Its change gears and offer up a tender, acoustic... aw, who am I kidding?  There are loud guitars, natch.  It's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," not "Tip-Toein' Around the Christmas Tree." 

OK, for those of you who really did need a slower, wintry song, try Alex and the Kaleidoscope Band's "Snow Day."

Bari Koral offers up her take on the familiar gingerbread man tale with a zippy "Gingerbread Man."

Brady Rymer is spending his holiday season "Untanglin' the Christmas Lights," though the song seems way too happy for that frustration.  Available here for the price of an e-mail.

 

It's not quite a Christmas (or Hanukkah or even Halloween or Arbor Day) song, but it feels appropriate for the season.  SteveSongs gifts you "Our World" -- just click on this link to start the download process.

Streams

My favorite kindie Christmas song this year?  Groovy David's "Sorry Santa!" has a funky groove and horns.  Horns, people!  (Hanukkah 2013 is, like, only 11 months away, so save "The Great Dreidel Tournament" 'til then.)

Randy Kaplan delivers a nicely understated version of the classic "Frosty the Snowman."  With the harmonica, it's got a touch of Dylan.  (Again, Hannukah 2013 playlist early addition?  "Oh Hannukah")

Todd McHatton's Christmas Songs started out as a mini-EP, then over the years became a full EP, and now at 11 songs, I think it's graduated to full album status.  McHatton added another song this year, "I Think I'm a Christmas Bunny."  Download the whole thing for just $1.99, and as an extra stocking stuffer download "Ooh Shiny" (appropriate for a season of gifts and ornaments) for free.

Other Stuff

The great Gustafer Yellowgold (opening for The Polyphonic Spree's 10th Anniversary Holiday Extravaganza in six cities this holiday season) has been running videos from his Year in the Day DVD all year -- check out the ever-awesome "Fa and a La":

It's a little brief, but feel to check out the Spotify Holiday Kindie Playlist 2012 (or listen here in Spotify directly)

 

  • The Laurie Berkner Band – Children Go Where I Send Thee
  • Renee & Jeremy – Deck the Halls
  • Mr Richard and the Pound Hounds – Up in My Christmas Tree
  • The Jimmies – Mashamallow World
  • Key Wilde & Mr Clarke – Angels We Have Heard on High

 

Finally, it was a one-time-only download last year, but you can always stream Kris Kindie, a fun collection of holiday music curated by me in a mad rush last December.

Happy holidays, y'all!

55th Children's Music Grammy Nominations. And the Breakfast Club.

Last year, when the 54th Grammy nominations for best children's album were announced, I couldn't help myself and wrote a piece on the results that very night.  Clearly, I was stunned and I needed to write something to get all the thoughts bouncing around my head out of there and onto the page.

This year?  Well, it's been two weeks, and I'm finally finding the time to write about the 55th Grammy nominations for best children's album.  Why the difference?  Well, first let's list out the nominees themselves:

Can You Canoe? - The Okee Dokee Brothers [Okee Dokee Music LLC]

High Dive And Other Things That Could Have Happened... - Bill Harley [Round River Records]

JumpinJazz Kids - A Swinging Jungle Tale - Featuring Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws And Dee Dee Bridgewater - James Murray and Various Artists [JumpinJazzKids]

Little Seed: Songs For Children By Woody Guthrie - Elizabeth Mitchell [Smithsonian Folkways Recordings]

Radio Jungle - The Pop Ups [The Pop Ups]

It's true that I like the list of nominees more than I like last year's list.  (Note: I haven't heard the JumpinJazz disk, so am totally clueless regarding that nomination, though I recognize a few of those artists in the title of the album, which in my less generous moments I feel cranky about.)  But that by itself shouldn't make this list better than last year's.  Just because I like the Pop Ups (fairly new on the scene, this is just their second album) a lot more than Papa Hugs doesn't make the list better or more legitimate.

I think more importantly, for people who follow the kindie scene, four of those five nominees are going to be very familiar.  This in itself is a big change from last year, when a couple of the nominees drew a collective "who in the world is that?"  Is that an improvement?  I would say that it is.  I think in order for the category to have any legitimacy, it's important artists recognized as very longtime participants and artists recognized as among the most popular be represented in the nominee list.  They shouldn't be the only artists represented, but the presence of Bill Harley (a former winner and nominee with more than 30 years of experience in the field) and Elizabeth Mitchell (recording on the venerable Smithsonian Folkways label and a major, popular star) gives credence to the slate.

I'd seen some statistics from last year's nominees that suggested membership and participation in Grammy365, the Grammys' own social networking site for its members, significantly drove the nomination results last year.  Nominees last year had literally hundreds times more members than well-known previous nominees.  I would hesitate to attribute causation, but without a doubt there was correlation.  The Grammys have always been at least in part a personal popularity contest; Grammy365 just made it that more obvious.

So in the wake of the nomination list, I wondered how the kindie community that didn't get nominated would react.  Would they decide to completely abandon the Grammys?  Or would they embrace the social networking that clearly is now required in the niche categories.  It seems like the answer is clear.  Folks looking to grab a nomination next December, your path is now set -- make a really good album and prepare to spend more time at your computer.

***

OK, enough faux-serious consideration of the Grammy nomination process.  What you really wanted to know is why I threw a Breakfast Club reference in the title of this post.  Well, as I was thinking about the "gang of disparate outsiders" that a nominee list in niche genres like this one can sometimes feel like, my thoughts turned fairly quickly to the John Hughes teen classic about 5 (ding! blog post!) kids from very different cliques brought together in detention one Saturday.  So, without further ado: How the 55th Children's Music Grammy Nominations Are Like Characters from the Movie The Breakfast Club.

Okee Dokee Brothers: If you canoe halfway down the Mississippi River, then you clearly have some sort of athletic ability, much like Emilio Estevez's wrestling character Andrew Clark.  Joe and Justin are rebels against the idea of kids spending their time indoors, but they are, without a doubt, the nicest rebels you will ever care to meet.  (Also: not that Charlie Sheen is in the movie, but I find it amusing that you'd never really know that Sheen and Estevez -- two guys with different last names -- are, in fact, brothers while you could totally believe that the brothers-in-band-name-only Joe and Justin are also brothers in real life.)

Bill Harley: The veteran (in the kids' music field), Harley is clearly the John Bender of the group, the slightly older kid (let's face it, Judd Nelson didn't look like a kid at all), delivering sage advice.  And just like Bender and the school library, this is likely not his last trip to the Grammy breakfast club.

JumpinJazz: I haven't heard a peep out of this album, the folks behind this album, or, well, anything.  I didn't know this album existed until it was nominated.  They're even more unknown than Ally Sheedy's basket case Allison Reynolds.  I am, however, looking forward to whatever musical collaboration the Okee Dokee Brothers and Jarreau and Bridgewater and the rest provide us when they hook up at the end of the Grammys.

Elizabeth Mitchell: Elizabeth Mitchell is as close to kids music royalty this field gets (I tend to think of Harley more as the long-serving court jester), so I've assigned her Molly Ringwald's character, the "princess" Claire Standish.   She comes from the privileged background of being a Smithsonian Folkways artist and so has the fine lineage.  Yet this is her first time in the Grammy kids music breakfast club.

Pop Ups: Which brings us to the last nominee, the Brooklyn duo the Pop Ups, and the last kid in detention, Anthony Michael Hall's Brian Johnson, the nerd of the group.  I'll admit it, I'm pressed to find a logical connection here (not that the connections above aren't tenuous at best), but I think it's fair to say that if you're willing to go all in and not just record kids music but create a whole puppet musical multiple times over, then you have a bit of nerd in you as well.

Radio Playlist: New Music December 2012

Time to post another Spotify update for new music (see November's playlist here).  As always, it's limited in that if an artist hasn't chosen to post a song on Spotify, I can't put it on the list, nor can I feature songs from as-yet-unreleased albums.  But, hey, there's always next month.

Check out the list here or go right here if you're in Spotify.

**** New Music December 2012 (December Kindie Playlist) ****

Alex & The Kaleidoscope Band – Water Lily
The Ukulady – Camera Heart
Justin Roberts – Nothing On You
Helen Austin – Quiet Star
The Little Rockers Band – Playing in the Band
The Tumble Down Library – Elaine
Shiprock and Anchordog – Light Around the Bend
Nickella Dee – Me Like Me
The Bazillions – Similes and Metaphors
Jeremy Plays Guitar – TGIF
Boogers – It's a Sunny Day
The Alana Banana Band – All I Really Need

Kids Music. Punk Music. NPR. (And Me.)

To those of you finding your way to this website courtesy of my NPR review of punk music for kids, welcome.  I cover a wide range of music here -- from punk to classical to indie-pop -- (almost) all of which is appropriate for kids and families.  There's plenty of coverage of The Boogers here (just search on that name here); less so of Play Date -- they're much newer -- but there's always this interview with Greg and Shanti.

In any case, thanks for stopping by.  You're welcome to also join me on Facebook, Twitter, and via mailing list, among many other options.

Video: "Sleep Eye" - Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower

I'll have more to say on Elizabeth Mitchell's Grammy nomination for Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie anon, but in the meantime, Mitchell is celebrating with the release of her latest video from the album, for "Sleep Eye."

The track is one of Guthrie's lesser-known tracks, but it's a sweet lullaby, and the gorgeously-filmed video features lots and lots of babies.  It's a pleasant little visual break.

Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower - "Sleep Eye" [YouTube]