Funny Faces - Michael and the Rockness Monsters

Funny Faces album cover

Funny Faces album cover

Artist: Michael and the Rockness Monsters

AlbumFunny Faces

Age Range: 4 through 8

Description: For his second Rockness Monsters album, New York musician Michael Napolitano turns up the funny a little bit more.  The standout tracks include the '70s groove leadoff track "Cardboard Cutout Man" and the epic "Squirrel Fight."  (It's like the Thrilla in Manila, except it's about squirrels.)  And while normally I'm not a big skit fan, the concept of "Elevator Song" -- the band's found a great, free rehearsal space, the only bad news is that it's an elevator -- is amusing, and the execution comedically solid.  I admire the commitment to silliness on many of the tracks here, but note that that the approach probably overshadows the less silly tracks like "Together Forever" (featuring Sonia de los Santos) and "Who I Am."  (Napolitano and co-producer Dean Jones play all the instruments, so musically the entire album is tight.)  Fans of the pop-rock goofiness and sweetness Recess Monkey brings will find a lot to enjoy here.  Recommended.

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

The Rocket Went Up! (Sing-A-Long History Vol. 2) - The Deedle Deedle Dees

The Rocket Went Up! cover

The Rocket Went Up! cover

Artist: The Deedle Deedle Dees

AlbumThe Rocket Went Up! (Sing-A-Long History Vol. 2)

Age Range:  5 through 10

Description: Lloyd Miller and the Deedle Deedle Dees have always worn their curiosity on their sleeves.  On their latest album they continue to explore the world around them by singing about the people who explored the world around them.  Astronauts, Nobel Prize winners and Darwin get their day, but so do Henry Houdini, Typhoid Mary, and Diana Nyad.  As a songwriter, Miller sometimes runs toward the Craig Finn school of lyrics, words spilling out in torrents.  That can be great, like on his rap battle with Secret Agent 23 Skidoo on “Tesla v. Edison,” but, keeping in mind the album’s title, doesn’t always make for the best singalongs.  There are a number of songs here, however, that strike me as perfect for that singalong environment, such as “Every Time I Stand Up” (there’s definitely a physical component here as well) and “The Rocket Went Up!,” a call-and-response that would make Ella Jenkins proud.

The album is all over the map subject-wise and musically, but that’s always been a feature, not a bug, in the Dees’ world.  Curious kids and their curious parents will enjoy these diversions into the nooks and crannies of historical narratives.  Recommended.

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

Let All the Children Boogie: A Tribute To David Bowie - Various Artists

Let All the Children Boogie cover

Let All the Children Boogie cover

Artists: Various Artists

AlbumLet All the Children Boogie: A Tribute to David Bowie

Age Range: 4 to 9

Description:  There’s nothing about this album that is particularly kids music, but it’s a stellar example of how recontextualizing music can help hear it with new ears.  The album, a benefit for the It Gets Better Foundation, and released by friend-of-the-site Spare The Rock Records, collects twenty of David Bowie’s songs.  The big hits are here of course -- I particularly liked Gustafer Yellowgold and the Pop Ups’ spacy take on Major Tom’s predicament in “Space Oddity” and Elizabeth Mitchell and friends’ take on “Changes” -- but at twenty tracks, some will likely be unfamiliar.  All are kid-friendly, of course, though you and your kids may have different favorite tracks.  (Ted Leo’s “Heroes” and Rhett Miller’s “Ziggy Stardust” will be big hits with the adults, while I think Red Yarn’s “Magic Dance” and Justin Roberts’ “Kooks” will probably have more kid appeal.)  All in all, it’s an album that succeeds musically, lets us all hear anew the childlike play in Bowie’s lyrics, and directs proceeds to a worthy cause.  Recommended.

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

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.