Music Is Everywhere - Mista Cookie Jar

Music Is Everywhere cover

Music Is Everywhere cover

Artist: Mista Cookie Jar

AlbumMusic Is Everywhere

Age Range:  5 to 9

Description:  C.J. Pizarro does not discriminate one bit when it comes to musical genre, and his latest Mista Cookie Jar album shows once more why he's as good as anyone in turning a broad-based musical taste into a set of positive vibes.  From the sugary hype of "Jelly Beans" to the doo wop of "Be a Little Angel" to the hip hop of the title track, MCJ runs gleefully through most of the genres in your family's iTunes playlist and then some.  And while sometimes those albums that feature a variety of styles sound a bit... constructed (as if someone just decides, "on track 6, let's play a reggae song"), the stew all fits together as a whole here.  (Listen for yourself here.)  And any album that includes a track called "Gratitude" and manages to make the sentiment honest without unearned sentimentality -- like this one -- earns respect from this end.  Can't say I liked every single track ("Jelly Beans" is tooo hyped up for my taste), but way more "Yay!" than "meh."  Recommended.

Note: I was given a copy of this album for possible review.

Could Come True - Timmy Abell

Could Come True cover

Could Come True cover

Artist: Timmy Abell

Album: Could Come True

Age Range:  5 to 10

Description:  It is neither praise nor criticism to suggest that this album could have been released thirty years ago.  It was more than a decade between the release of this album and its predecessor, 2005’s Little Red Wagon, (which I think is wonderful), and the touches that made that album distinctive -- the nifty instrumental work by Abell and his accompanying musicians, the gentleness -- are here as well.  (You can stream the album here.)  The North Carolina-based Abell embraces the folk sound that has taken a bit of a back seat in a new kindie world (though in its guitar work “Long Dark Shadow” sounds like Abell pilfered a Dire Straits song for his purposes).  This is an album that celebrates dreams literal (“Daydreams,” “The Garderner’s Dream,” “Nighttime Train”) and metaphorical (“Fellini”), and its sound will be a tonic for families looking for a respite from a busy world.  Recommended.

Note: I was given a copy of this album for possible review.

Lemonade - Justin Roberts

Lemonade album cover

Lemonade album cover

ArtistJustin Roberts

AlbumLemonade

Age Range: 5 to 9

Description: It wasn’t Justin Roberts’ fault that Beyoncé dropped an album titled Lemonade while he was prepping his own similarly-titled album.  If her album was audacious and explosive, this album is reserved and mellow, as Roberts turned to the ukulele in writing and performing the songs on his album.  I will admit to preferring Roberts in full revved-up power-pop mode, but his songwriting chops aren’t diminished at all here.  In theme, the album is reminiscent a bit of John McCutcheon’s SummerSongs album from more than 20 years ago, albeit with a poppier, more stripped-down approach.  Only “Dodgeball” and “Valentine (I don’t wanna be yours)” don’t fit a lazy, late summer afternoon chronologically.  (Though, to be fair, “Eight-Legged Octopus” is timely any month of the year.)  As always, Roberts does a good job to mix together songs revealing the frustration and silliness of a kid’s day alongside tender, heartfelt tracks like “How Lucky We Are” and “This Is How We Bring In the Sun.”  The production, though stripped down, is excellent (I'd expect nothing less from Roberts).  The 37-minute album flies by like an August day spent at the park -- nothing profound but you’ll probably still think of it fondly years later.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I was given a copy of this album for possible review.

Sugar Free Allstars - Sugar Free Allstars

Sugar Free Allstars album cover

Sugar Free Allstars album cover

Artist: Sugar Free Allstars

Album: Sugar Free Allstars

Age Range: 4 to 8

Description: Though self-titling an album is often a move artists make on their debut, this is actually Oklahoma-based SFA's fourth album for kids.  It's also their funkiest and most fun.  Metaphorically plundering a whole bunch of '70s and '80s funk, rock, pop sounds among others (barbershop quartet? sure, on "My Dog Is Pete"), keyboardist Chris Wiser and drummer Rob Martin offer up their most sonically varied and full-sounded album yet, thanks in part to a whole host of guest stars including Genevieve Goings (aka Choo Choo Soul).  I think some of the humor may go over the heads of the younger listener (your five-year-old may be more puzzled than amused by "Breakdancin'," though that ratio will likely be reversed for the parents in the crowd), but even in those cases, the enthusiasm of the band will win most of them over.  Standout tracks on the 36-minute album (stream here) include the operatic "Monster Truck," funk-and-a-half of "Grumpopotamus (and the Crankosaurus Rex)," and the electronic "Bunnybot."  And just when you think SFA is nothing but the crackups at the back of the classroom let loose with a Hammond B-3 and a Roland TR-808, they produce one of the sweetest songs you'll hear all year, "If I Didn't Have You."  This is just a fun album from start to finish.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I was provided a copy of the album for possible review.

The Playground Zone - Alphabet Rockers

The Playground Zone album cover

The Playground Zone album cover

Artist: Alphabet Rockers

Album: The Playground Zone

Age Range: 3 to 7

Description: On this brief (17-minute) EP, the Bay Area hip hop musicians Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd wear the educational mission they have lightly.  Yes, they sing songs about encouraging fair play on the playground ("Players' Life") and skin color ("Gimme Some Skin"), but it sounds way better than most kids' songs that tackle similar topics.  Since first joining the kindie scene more than 5 years ago, the Rockers have gradually broadened their musical sound -- it's still hip hop, to be sure, but the musical bed (and beats) on which the rhymes lie is fuller and richer.  (Fans of old school hip hop are definitely welcome.)  And while I respect their educational mission, it's tracks like the dance-encouraging "Wiggle Jiggle" that make me hope Kaitlin and Tommy will throw in the occasional goofy track or plain story just for kicks.  (You can listen to the album here.)  Recommended.

Note: I was provided a copy of this album for possible review.

Turkey Andersen 2 - Turkey Andersen

Turkey Andersen 2 album cover

Turkey Andersen 2 album cover

Artist: Turkey Andersen

Album: Turkey Andersen 2

Age Range:

Description: The follow up "full-length" (at 18 minutes, it's barely 2 minutes longer than the debut EP) from the mysterious Turkey Andersen (could he be related to Northampton, Massachusetts musician Henning Ohlenbusch?) is every bit as whimsical as its predecessor.  I gravitate toward the sillier tracks, like the irrepressible "I'm Not Scared," whose narrator isn't scared of anything (e.g., ghosts)... especially in unrelated situations (e.g., in the supermarket juggling fruit).  But the dreamier tracks, like "Rhonda Bubbles" (which sounds like an ode to a toddler with a typically toddler-y mind of her own) and "What An Animal'll Do", have their own allure.

You can stream (and purchase) the 18-minute album here.  The mix of silly and sweet and pop-rock happiness is a very appealing concoction, perfect for the ride to and back from school.  Definitely recommended. 

Note: I was provided a copy of this album for possible review.

Storytime Singalong Vol. 1 - Emily Arrow

Storytime Singalong Vol. 1 cover

Storytime Singalong Vol. 1 cover

Artist: Emily Arrow

AlbumStorytime Singalong Vol. 1

Age Range: 4 through 8

Description: While she isn't the first artist to make an kids' album based on children's literature -- and not even the hundredth to make a kids' album about reading -- the Los Angeles-based Arrow might be the first to blend the two relatively seamlessly.  Most of the first half of the album are based on individual books, such as The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.  The songs generally work even if you've never read the book.  In fact, the songs based on the books above are, respectively, inspirational and gorgeous in a way that might remind the parental listeners of someone like Vanessa Carlton.

The second half of the album, while not entirely book-less, deals less with stories and more with the structures of stories.  "One Day, The End Song," based on a book, talks about filling in the gap, story-wise, between "One day" and "The End."  "Poem In Your Pocket Song" is a groovy song with lots of fill-in-the-blank singalong rhymes -- it's not the first time I've heard such a song structure, but it's probably the most ear-wormy one.  Even "Peanut to My Butter," in its simple citing of common colloquial phrases, requires a certain bit of reading comprehension.

The 29-minute album floats by quickly and pleasantly even without a book in a kid's hands.  (If you want listen to some of the songs and hear more book-based songs, check out Arrow's music page.)  Just as simply playing Mozart for your baby won't make your child smarter, merely playing Storytime Singalong Vol. 1 won't make your child a reader.  But as part of a broader culture that celebrates literacy -- in school, in the library, or at home -- the album will fit in quite nicely.  Recommended. 

Note: I was provided a copy of the album for possible review.

Are You Listening? - The Not-Its

Are You Listening? cover

Are You Listening? cover

Artist: The Not-Its!

Album: Are You LIstening?

Age Range: 5-9

Review: The Seattle quintet has proven to be a consistently entertaining band over their past five albums.  Their sixth album is another solid effort, a half-hour's worth of pop-rock Pop Rocks, fizzy and playful.  The band is still willing to take a silly, cartoonish route on songs like "Granddad Is a Spy" and "Done With the Science Fair," and parents are more likely than the kids to appreciate the metal thrash of "Don't Fear the Dentist."  But they know their way around (slightly) more mature subject matters -- "Washington, DC" deftly slides from travelogue to encouragement of political engagement, "Bird on a Wire" features an ode to a bird and some killer harmonies, and leadoff track "Dance With Me" includes the best guitar solo you'll ever hear on a basic movement song.  (Stream the album here to listen to these and more.)

With Sarah Shannon's voice as powerful and the band as tight as ever, the band's kinetic energy and occasionally-acerbic-but-never-cynical lyrics continue to keep them in the forefront of modern kindie pop.  It's ear candy for your favorite first-grader.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I was provided a copy of this album for possible review.