Party Animal - Eric Herman

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ArtistEric Herman

AlbumParty Animal

Age Range: 5 through 10

Description:  Inside Eric Herman is a comedian desperate to get out.  He's always had a bit of a funny streak, but on his latest album, he pretty much gives himself over entirely to his inner "Weird" Al Yankovic.

I suppose with a title like Party Animal (and that exuberant album cover), that's to be expected.  The best tracks channel some of Al's manic energy ("November First") or his spot-on musical homages (the country stylings of "Can We Buy a New Car (So I Can Have a Balloon)," my favorite track on the album).  Let's face it, any song called "Be a Mime" is a song inspired by your inner goofy-8-year-old.  (And, in the case of this particular song, also by that 8-year-old's mom.)

The 30-minute album moves quickly, so if a track doesn't amuse your kid, they can just fast-forward to the next one.  I'm looking forward to Herman's next album, a full-on comedy album, but there are a handful of tracks here he can use as the musical mixtape before he takes his standup on the road.  Recommended for the young comedians (or wannabe young comedians) in your life.

Once I Lived Upon the Sea - Steve Weeks

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ArtistSteve Weeks

AlbumOnce I Lived Upon the Sea

Age Range: 3 through 9

Description:  The Colorado-based musician Weeks is the first to admit that these songs are not quite lullabies (he says so in the liner notes), and indeed the distinction between these acoustic guitar-based songs and some of those on his previous albums such as Dandelion is not always clear.  These are cool-down songs, some appropriate for bedtime ("Close Your Eyes Willy Boy," the instrumentals "Rain," "Creek," and "Ocean"), some more appropriate for that twilight hour before bedtime reading a favorite book.  Weeks' gentle guitar work and reassuring voice fit like a snug blanket on a fall night.  Recommended.

Buy One Get One Flea - Dog on Fleas

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ArtistDog on Fleas

AlbumBuy One Get One Flea

Age Range: 4 through 9

Description:  Saying that "band X sounds like band Y" is easy shorthand for music reviewers, but there is no easy shorthand for New York's Dog on Fleas.  Their sound is sui generis, a mixture of jazz, vaudeville, and breezy pop that has no analog on the kids music scene.  (It doesn't have many analogues in music, period.)  On their eighth album, the band emphasizes the jazzier elements of their nature in songs like album opener "Hinterlands" and "It's a Ruse" and "Pardon My Pajamas" (side note: how has that song title not been turned into a kids song before now?).  The band is sometimes too weird for its own good -- while I dug the brief kazoo-accented takes on a couple orchestral classics by the "Backyard Dorkestra," songs like "Dry Beans" and the jokey "High School Reunion" were almost too weird (and that's saying something for a Fleas album).  I mean, when Dean Jones can toss off beautiful and uplifting pop songs like "Thinking Good Thoughts" and merge the sweet and silly on "If I Were You I'd Give Me a Kiss," it spoils the listener for anything else.

You can stream several songs from the 33-minute album here.  I'm not sure if this is the quintessential Fleas album (I still have a great deal of fondness for When I Get Little, and their "hits" collection The Bestest of the Best is a fine introduction to their wild and eclectic career), but Buy One Get One Flea will still make your family smile and dance, which is reason enough.  Recommended.

Follow Me - Little Miss Ann

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ArtistLittle Miss Ann

AlbumFollow Me

Age Range: 3 through 7

Description:  For her fourth kids' music album, Chicago-based Ann Torralba casts an even wider net for guest artists -- lots of musicians make appearances here, most notably Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton on the stark-yet-tender "I Got a Light."  The entire album is filled with a quiet confidence, and a unique sound I've been searching for the right words to describe.  Part of what's thrown me is that the covers of familiar kid-folk standards -- "I Love the Mountains" and "Bushel and a Peck" -- are energetic, full-on folk-rockers, while many of the original tunes like "I Got a Light" and "Jolly Ole Soul" have a far less modern sound.  I don't think Torralba is doing anything weird, but the cumulative effect of the songs is to make one of the more distinctive-sounding albums of the year -- a little timeless, a little timely, and a little out of time altogether.

You can stream the 29-minute album hereFollow Me furthers Little Miss Ann's evolution as a songwriter and performer for kids.  It's an album that fans of folk and slightly ethereal music such as those performed by Elizabeth Mitchell would probably find a lot to enjoy.  Recommended.

Whoopty Whoop - Koo Koo Kanga Roo

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Artist:  Koo Koo Kanga Roo

Album:  Whoopty Whoop

Age Range: 3 through 8

Description:  There's not many bands that can say they've toured with both Yo Gabba Gabba and Frank Turner, but the Twin Cities duo count themselves in that exclusive club.  On their new album Whoopty Whoop, Koo Koo Kanga Roo offer up high-energy, super-positive dance tracks about pizza, cake, and unibrows.  (Yeah, that's right - unibrows.)  They're jokey, but groovy, and in their best songs, like "Fanny Pack" and "I Like Cake," they somehow manage to make kids and adults smile while getting them both to move their booty from left to right (and if you don't think that kids should be shaking their booty from left to right, then I suggest that you don't listen to "Left 2 Right").  I wanted to like the album more than I did -- some of the songs overstay their welcome by about a minute -- but I can see how they'd form the basis for an awesome live show (which is how they've toured with YGG and Turner).

Even at 28 minutes in length, the shiny quirkiness may be too much for you, dear supervisor of kids, to take in one sitting.  (Stream it here for yourself.)  With an iDevice on shuffle or in a mix CD for your kids, it'll fit in nicely.  Recommended for the silliest kid in your life -- especially when they need to burn off some extra energy.

Acopladitos y la máquina de melodías (The Melody Machine) - Acopladitos

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ArtistAcopladitos

AlbumAcopladitos y la máquina de melodías (The Melody Machine)

Age Range: 2 through 6

Description:  Amidst the interest in Spanish-language kindie music over the past 2-3 years there's been a greater level of diversity in such music.  From the Spanish indie-pop of minimusica, to the retro-pop of Moona Luna, to Lucky Diaz's melding of indie-rock and Tejano on his Spanish language disks, there's a variety of sounds that go way beyond the more traditional sounds.  The New York based classes from Acopladitos (Angélica Negrón, Noraliz Ruiz and Tatiana Arocha) are part of that trend.  Their first disk included songs with simple lyrics about letters and counting and the like, attached to bleeps and bloops and nifty electronic melodies.  Their latest album is, well, an instrumental album.  So that part about "Spanish language" doesn't apply here, and, really, this sounds as much like Elska or Skyjafletta, as it does those modern Spanish popsters listed above, and certainly more than Jose-Luis Orozco, for example.  The melodies are still fun (I particularly like "La banda en marcha," suitable for marches around the living room), and no Spanish is necessary.

The 24-minute album will appeal most to kids ages 2 through 7.  You can stream the entire album here.  These tracks will fit great slotted into your afternoon preschool dance parties.  It might not be Spanish kindie, but it is fun.  Recommended.

We're All Young Together - Walter Martin

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Artist: Walter Martin

Album: We're All Young Together

Age Range: 4 through 10

Description: I said almost everything I'd care to say about the debut solo album from The Walkmen's Walter Martin in my NPR review of the album.  It's nearly a 180 from his work with the Walkmen in that it's goofy, heartfelt, and sometimes swoony.  There's such a sweetness to this album, it's hard not to smile at some point while listening.  Highly recommended.

An Adventurous Day - Lolly & YoYo

Artist:  Lolly and YoYo

Album:  An Adventurous Day

Age Range: 3 through 7

Description:  Unlike America, whose kindie streams tend to have strong rock or folk influences, sounding a lot like music made for adults, but with kid-friendly subject matter, kids music in modern-day Canada has a much larger Raffi strain.  By that I mean many albums are sealed away in a gentle pop/folk world that does not recognize the influence of gaming consoles, distortion pedals, and irony.

For some readers, that's going to sound perfect for their families, while others will find it perfectly annoying.  This 43-minute album from the Pennsylvania duo could totally have been recorded in Canada, it could have been recorded 35 years ago (albeit sounding a little more sonically punched-up).  Don't be misled by the emphasis on fitness and health on the website or the album packaging -- while the songs definitely encourage that, your kids will be just fine playing LEGOs while listening.  And songs like the fiddle-based "Row Down the River," the samba "Snowflakes," and "Honey Bee" wouldn't sound out of place on those Elizabeth Mitchell albums on your shelf.

As I've suggested above, some readers will find this album not the right fit for their families (though I think those songs I've listed above would appeal to just about everyone).  But if your family loves the comfort from those albums in the Raffi family tree, you will find An Adventurous Day an excellent example of the form.  Recommended.