Hello, Hello, Hello! - The Itty Biddies

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Artist: The Itty Biddies

Album: Hello, Hello, Hello!

Age Range: 2 to 6

Description: An offshoot of NYC-based pop-cabaret trio The Lascivious Biddies, the Itty Biddies chart a very non-lascivious musical path on their debut EP.  The trio -- Deidre Rodman Struck, Lee Ann Westover, and frequent Dan Zanes collaborator Saskia Lane -- sing sunny songs with bright harmonies.  The songs were originally commissioned by Carnegie Hall's CarnegieKids performing series in New York, and songs like "Safari" and "Jump Around" sound like they were specifically written to encourage interaction.  While those songs are well-done, from a non-interactive distance, my favorite tracks are the 2 bonus tracks, "Texas Girl" and "Neighbor (The Mister Rogers Song)," which are free of any need except to entertain. 

You can listen to the 21-minute album here (it's the only place to get the 2 bonus tracks).  The album is a promising start for this Biddies' side project and if it isn't quite what I'd hoped for given the band's background, maybe that's just me sitting on the other side of the country without a Biddies show to take the kiddo to.

Songs from a Journey with a Parrot - Various Artists (The Secret Mountain)

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Artist: Various Artists (The Secret Mountain)

Album: Songs from a Journey with a Parrot: Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes from Brazil and Portugal

Age Range: 0 through 6

Description: The latest book/CD combo from Canadian publisher The Secret Mountain heads to a couple Portuguese-speaking countries for a selection of lullabies and nursery rhymes.  The selection (originally published in France in 2003) is well-produced and diverse in its musical stylings (the songs were collected by Magdalene Lerasle).  Unlike the Putumayo disks, which are typically compilations of previously-recorded material from a wide range of artists, each Secret Mountain production tends to keep itself to a narrower range of artists.  Here arranger Paul Mindy leads a handful of vocalists.  The adults may want to turn to the detailed liner notes (lyrics, translated lyrics, song backgrounds, credits) in the back while the kids will probably stick with the front half and Aurelia Fronty's vibrant illustrations and brief lyrical snippets.

The 45-minute album is a lot more uptempo than the subtitle "Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes" might suggest, so if you're looking for a lullaby album, look elsewhere.  But for a playful collection of Latin melodies (and non-Spanish-language ones at that), this is an excellent introduction.  Recommended.

Wooden Spoon! - Marc Imboden

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Artist: Marc Imboden

Album: Wooden Spoon!

Age Range: 3 through 8

Description: The first half of this 2011 album features the Indiana-based Imboden leading his band through folk/roots-rock-y renditions of classic kids' songs -- "This Old Man," "Wheels on the Bus," and the like.  They're well-done, but it's not exactly a new approach to the songs.  I was more interested in the second half of the album, which features some originals, like "I Like To Sing This Song" (6 minutes long, but flies by in what seems like half the time) and the title track.  Half of the proceeds of the album (listen to the whole thing here) will be distributed to Reece's Rainbow, which helps orphans with special needs find families. A solid album, even those familiar songs I'm apparently less enthused by, but if Imboden wants to record a whole album of originals, I'd be very eager to hear them.  Recommended.

I Will Go Into the Day - Caroline Herring

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ArtistCaroline Herring

AlbumI Will Go Into the Day

Age Range: 4 through 8

Description: The story of how Herring went from Kickstarting two albums based on children's literature to releasing this album of new material and a couple folk song covers is a long and, for Herring, very frustrating one.  (Short version: children's book authors and publishers can be very possessive of their creations.)

But that doesn't mean the end result is frustrating to listen to.  Songs like "Make It Yourself," with a kids' chorus, and "Today," are exuberant, while some tracks like "Music of the Mountains" are more thoughtful.  (You can listen to the album over at Bandcamp.)  A solid 32-minute album of folk music for families, with a theme of exploring the world near and far gently but firmly threading its way through the entire 11-song set.  Fans of her previous album for families, The Little House Songs, will find her strong voice and warm arrangements in fine form.  Recommended.

Baby DJ - Luscious Jackson

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Artist: Luscious Jackson

Album: Baby DJ

Age Range: 2 through 6

Description: In reviewing the album for NPR, I can't discuss this (or any) album in quite as much detail as I might normally.  So here are a couple of additional points to note:

1) The middle of the album is really solid stuff -- "Yeah Yeah No No," "Free," "Hula Hoop," and "Coconut Icee" are fun tracks that would sound just as good on an LJ album for adults as they do here.  The album is pretty much worth picking just for those 4 tracks.

2) Your mileage may vary when it comes to the first 2 tracks, "Freeze Dance" and "Baby DJ," and the last track, "It's All Goo."  They are definitely more jokey, silly, and goofy in nature.  I would not have sequenced the album in that way.  Definitely for the younger kids -- you may tire of them.

But overall it's a fun album, recommended, especially those middle 4 tracks.

The Dirty Socks Come Clean - The Dirty Sock Funtime Band

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Artist: The Dirty Sock Funtime Band

Album: The Dirty Socks Come Clean

Age Range: 4 through 8

Description: New York's DSFB comes back with their third and most insane album yet.  "Insane" is really a positive term here -- the album is nothing if not an audio soundtrack for the TV show the DSFB should really have (and have even produced some episodes for).  Songs like "Robots from the 4th Dimension" and "Monster's Lullaby" have a silly theatricality that works well in audio-only form, but would be even better with visuals to go along with them.  The power-pop is leavened with a great deal of humor, a lot courtesy of "Mr. Clown," whose duet with a very game Laurie Berkner on "We're In Love" is one of the album's highlights.  This is an album where songs like "National Hiccup Day" are the rule and earnest songs like "Mama's Song" are the exception.  You can stream the album here.  The melodies here are nice, but if your family are fans of "Weird Al" Yankovic or other "funny song" artists, this'll be a great kindie transition.  (And if those things make you cringe, well, then, this ain't for you.)  Recommended.

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

If I Were An Otter - Alice DiMicele

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Artist: Alice DiMicele 

Album: If I Were An Otter: Songs for Kids of All Ages

Age Range

Description:  An album for you old-school folk music fans.  DiMicele, who hails from Medford, Oregon (at the state's southern border), has a slightly raspy voice that serves her well when she gets into bluesy/country territory such as on "Honey Bee Blues" and her duet with Vince Herman, "City Mouse/Country Mouse.  DiMicele dips into the folk songbook for well-known tunes as "This Little Light of Mine," "The Garden Song" ("Inch by inch, row by row..."), and "The Monkey and the Engineer."  Her originals are just as positive -- "We Can Be Anything" and "Celebrate the Rain" are as optimistic as their titles.  Amidst all these good vibes, I liked the title track, silly and playful.  The album (funded on Kickstarter, incidentally) will appeal most to kids ages 3 through 7; you can stream the album here.  Families looking for an amped-up 21st century sound, this isn't for you, but if you're looking for an a solid album of Americana-tinged folk music suitable for families of all ages, If I Were An Otter  will probably hit your sweet spot.  Recommended.

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

Love, Cake & Monsters - Princess Katie & Racer Steve

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ArtistPrincess Katie & Racer Steve

AlbumLove, Cake & Monsters

Age Range:  4 to 7

Description:  On their fourth album, the New York duo don't vary much the formula from their first three albums -- shiny pop (/ska/alt-rock) with the occasional boost of self-esteem mixed in with some self-deprecating humor -- but it's a formula that works well for them.  They've got themselves a brand new song about being at a rock show ("Come On Out"), plus songs about hugging ("Hug It Out") and cooling off periods ("Take It On Over (Time Out)").  They also include their fancy (with a string orchestra and everything) not-too-spooky Halloween song, er, "Halloween" and the Beatlesque "Comet Pinky's Love Cake"  The album features 3 skit tracks, and while I am not a big skit fan, in this case the skits are somewhat amusing, don't overwhelm the music (with the last skit at the very end for easy skipping if necessary), and fit in with their overall approach to the music.

You can stream the album here.  I don't think the latest album will make any converts if your family has previously not gone for PKRS, but old fans should eat this up, and those families new to kids music looking for some attitude, empowerment, and occasional silliness will find this appealing.  Recommended.

The Return of Phineas McBoof - Doctor Noize

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ArtistDoctor Noize

AlbumThe Return of Phineas McBoof

Age Range: 5 through 9

Description:  As one might surmise from the title, this is the second album from Doctor Noize (AKA Colorado-based Cory Cullinan) featuring the titular music savant who throws it all away at the height of his fame... wait, that's actually kind of the plot of the whole album.  The late 2011 album tells the story of how Doctor Noize joined the International Band of Misunderstood Geniuses through a variety of musical genres (hip-hop, soul, opera).  It's a fun story and there's a lot of thought and care put into the production.  (Also, I kinda want to make "For The Children" required listening for anyone thinking of making music for kids.)  You can stream the 63-minute album here; there's also an accompanying book that tells the story in rhyming form.  Those of you who are familiar with Doctor Noize's work on Grammaropolis or the first Phineas McBoof album know that the albums throw in everything including  the kitchen sink to entertain with the ulterior motive being to educate.  The new album is no different -- an amusing story well-told and -sung.  Recommended.

Jim Gill Sings The Sneezing Song and Other Contagious Tunes (Remastered) - Jim Gill

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ArtistJim Gill

Album:   Jim Gill Sings The Sneezing Song and Other Contagious Tunes (Remastered)

Age Range: 2 through 7

Description: The Illinois-based Gill has been making music for families for more twenty years.  To commemorate the 20th anniversary of his first album, he's digitally remastered it and added a couple new songs.  Gill's called his songs "music play," and it's true that you (regardless of age) are going to get the most out of it if you interact with it -- "Silly Dance Contest" isn't nearly as interesting heard buckled in the car as at home dancing around the family room.  Gill's affinity for wordplay ("Old Sock Stew" and one of the new tracks, "Teapot Variations") and physical play ("I Took a Bath In a Washing Machine," "Spaghetti Legs") will appeal to playful families.  And while Gill is hardly alone in making music that encourages movement, his songs (and musical arrangements) are among the better ones out there.  Stream some samples of the 35-minute recording here.  If your family just wants to veg out and listen to well-crafted pop tunes, this is probably not for you, but for some families, libraries, and early education settings, this 20-year old album sounds just as fresh and inviting today.  For that set of folks, definitely recommended.

Kepi For Kids - Kepi Ghoulie

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ArtistKepi Ghoulie

Album: Kepi For Kids 

Age Range: 2 through 6

Description: Just like his Fun Fun Records bandmates Play Date, the first album from pop-punk rocker Kepi Ghoulie shouldn't scare anybody who thinks that punk rock isn't appropriate for preschoolers.  (That's not necessarily true all the time, but that's a separate discussion.)  There are some similarities with Caspar Babypants, and it's not just the bald head -- Kepi's album is a mostly acoustic poppier and goofier version of Mr. Ballew's preschool-aged tunes.  I prefer the CB stuff, but there are some really good tracks here, most notably the sweet "Moonbeam" and the lovey-dovey country-fried "Days That End In 'Y'," which deserves to be on some dopey romantic comedy (or kid-friendly comedy) soundtrack.  I'm pretty sure it'll give your kids (and you) at least a handful of smiles in its 30-minute run-time.  Recommended.

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

Imagination - Play Date

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Artist: Play Date 

Album: Imagination 

Age Range: 2 through 6

Description: Don't let the punk backgrounds of Greg Attonito (the Bouncing Souls) and Shanti Wintergate fool you -- the tunes here are, for the most part, very poppy.  As I noted in my NPR review of the album, there's a less aggressive sound than on a lot of punk records (and it takes a particularly mellow turn near the end), so if you're looking for a kindie mosh pit and outright rebellion, this might disappoint you.  But songs like "Rad" and "I Can Sing" feature a celebration of self-expression, and that's a pretty punk attitude to try to retain as kids grow up.  You can listen to the 35-minute album hereImagination is pop-punk catnip for the preschool set.  Recommended.

Bunny in the Moon - DidiPop

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Artist: DidiPop

Album: Bunny in the Moon 

Age Range: 2 through 6

Description: For her latest album, Los Angeles-based Deborah Poppink AKA DidiPop structured tracks into two parts: 1) calm down!, 2) go to sleeeeeep.  The "calm down!" part didn't interest me given its more "do this" bent, but the last track of the four, the samba-inflected "I Love You Mommy" and a lot of the lullabies on tracks 5 through 14 work quite well.  The title track and "Snuggles and Books" (featuring a lot of shout-outs to famous bedtime stories) are the standouts.  The 37-minute album (listen to it here) has a very personal feel and takes awhile to fully slow down, so it's not perfect for everyone.  (I personally like my lullaby albums hushed and rustic.)  But it's well-produced and not too goopy.  Recommended.

Hola Hello - Mariana Iranzi

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Artist: Mariana Iranzi

Album: Hola Hello 

Age Range: 2 through 6

Description: Argentina-born and Boston-educated, bassist Iranzi's 2013 album continues her Latin kindie rock career with Hola Hello.  The song topics -- the colors of the rainbow, modes of transportation, monkeys unable to stay upon their beds despite repeated warnings from their mother -- stay clearly in the preschool camp.  The songs themselves, however, with their mostly (not exclusively) Spanish lyrics and usually laid-back eclectic musical vibe, may also work for a slightly older crowd.  (I particularly liked the Bebel Gilberto groove of "Barquito de Papel" and I thought "Arco Iris" was a very good bilingual introduction to colors.  Listen to samples here.  The kids music market is now swarming with Spanish-language disks.  This is one of the better ones, particularly for a more modern, but not still Latin, sound.  Recommended.

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

Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World's Bravest Kids - Alastair Moock

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Artist: Alastair Moock

Album: Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World's Bravest Kids

Age Range: 2 through 10

Description: Whew. An album that grew out of the Boston-based singer-songwriter's experience with the leukemia diagnosis of one of his twin 5-year-old daughters, Singing Our Way Through might not be the first album a family thinks of to purchase for their own family, assuming that their family hasn't been struck with a serious disease.  And the first couple tracks, "I Am the Light" and "When I Get Bald," deal with cancer head-on.  But once you get past that, the songs just deal with tough times and humor in those tough times.  (I particularly liked "Have You Ever Been Jealous?," Moock's duet with Rani Arbo, in terms of a clear-eyed perspective from the sibling not  given the cancer diagnosis.)  Everything else I might say about the album I already said in my NPR review.  Stream the album here.  Highly recommended for families struggling with a serious disease, and definitely recommended for lots of other families, too.

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

Martykins & Friends - Martykins and Friends

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Artist: Martykins and Friends

AlbumMartykins & Friends

Age Range: 4 through 8

Description:  I suppose any album gutsy enough to feature a song called "The Funky Lumberjack" had better be willing to follow through and, you know, be kinda funky.  Surprisingly enough, that song, off the debut album from bassist Martin McSweeney is, well, kinda funky.

It's also about a lumberjack (presumably that's him doing the bump with Grandma from "Grandma's Pantry" on the album cover), which gives you a sense of the free-for-all approach on the album. The bluegrass track "Magic Pick" features some nifty mandolin work from Shawn Cunnane; that track segues into the full-on Hammond B-3-assisted rock track "Ice Cream."

The 29-minute album moves by quickly, nothing earth-shattering, but at points, it's like a somewhat more cartoon-y Okee Dokee Brothers.  That's not a half-bad place to be.  Recommended.

Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music - Ana Gerhard

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Artist/Author: Ana Gerhard (music selection) / Cecilia Varela (illustrator)

Book/Album: Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music 

Age Range: 4 through 11

Description: Another book/CD collection from The Secret Mountain , this one uses bird-themed excerpts from classical music to introduce readers to some famous classical melodies and classical terminology.  Older readers will get a fair amount out of Gerhard's text (which also includes biographical info); readers of all ages will probably enjoy the charming illustrations of Varela.  I was impressed that the music Gerhard selected spans literally 500 years.  Be forewarned that the 20 selections from artists such as the London Symphony Orchestra are in many cases just excerpts.  So you might have to explore further, which wouldn't be the worst thing, right?  Recommended.

Various Artists (Minimusica) - Vol. 3 Els Animals

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Artist:  Various (Minimusica)

AlbumVol. 3, Els Animals

Age Range: 3 through 7

Description: There have been a lot of Spanish-language albums for kids released over the past few years.  Most of them have a relatively plain and/or traditional sound.  Even my favorite of these, Moona Luna’s fine album Piñata Party, is mostly a mix of pop and more traditional Mexican instrumentation (e.g., accordion) and melodies.

Minimusica's third album of indie rock for kids has a sound distinct from all these other Spanish-language albums.  For one thing, it does have an eclectic indie-rock sound very familiar to fans of groups like Lunch Money, The Board of Education, and the The Pop Ups.  (Heck, insert 3 indie-rock bands from the past 20 years, and that sentence might still work.)  Another distinction is that it's not just a Spanish-language album, it's actually a Spanish album.  Because there is little need to teach 6-year-old kids from Spain how to speak Spanish, this frees up the artists to sing about more the topic -- here, animals -- with a little more subtlety.  I particularly liked the 2 tracks from Candela y los Supremos, but Dobie Pletina's "En la ciudad" is also lots of fun.  Listen to the 25-minute album on YouTube here.   Vol. 3 Els Animals isn't necessarily easy for the native-English speaker to understand, but it's still fun for the native-English speaker to bop to.  Recommended.

Note: I received a digital copy of the album for possible review. 

You Are an Astronaut - Human-Tim + Robot-Tim

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Artist: Human-Tim + Robot-Tim

Album: You Are an Astronaut

Age Range: 3 through 7

Description: With a name like Human-Tim + Robot-Tim, you would probably forgiven if you were expecting this album to be all techno, a Daft Punk for kids.  Instead, this album, the second from the alter ego of Chicago-area musician Tim Knuth, might appeal more to fans of the rootsy Chicagoland label Bloodshot Records.  (Should the label ever wish to release a sequel to their classic The Bottle Let Me Down compilation, "Little Bob's Big Day" is a must.)  The title track is a nifty little metaphor in song, while "Hey Little Doggie" features some Southern rock riffs and a kid-centric song about pets.  With its songs about space, animals, and sharing (and, hilariously and educationally, the "Salivary Gland"), the 46-minute album is targeted right at kindergarteners and kids just on either side of that milestone.  Robots might like it, but your 5-year-old will like it more.  Recommended.

 

Sunglasses - The Que Pastas

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Artist: The Que Pastas 

Album: Sunglasses 

Age Range: 3 through 8

Description: The second album from the Que Pastas (and first full-length) tackles a fairly standard set of kid-appropriate topics -- the freedom of summer ("First Day of Summer"), summoning courage ("Gene the Brave"), and pirates ("Pirate from the Past").  Sometimes Gene Davis' vocals can be pretty talky (see "Sunglasses"), but some of the songs from Davis and band partner Simon Flory can legitimately be described as beautiful -- "Love" is a dorky and giddy celebration of the title emotion while album-closer "Hooray for Fall" features a chorus of kids and the most fleshed-out production on the album.  (Davis' relocation to Austin from Denver helped no doubt in getting Salim Nourallah and Jim Vollentine (Spoon) to produce and engineer the album, which sounds good, but is mostly lo-fi in approach.)  Listen to some tracks from the 27-minute here.  Nothing revolutionary, but it's a decent set of songs, with a handful of very good ones making it worth the time to check out.  Recommended.