Let Us Get Together - Fox & Branch and Friends


Artist: Fox & Branch

Album: Let Us Get Together

Age Range: 4 through 9

Description: I will admit to being biased in favor of kids music that has an indie-rock sound, even if that music is hip-hop or folk at its core. Not dramatically biased, but an album of straight-ahead folk music is not what I immediately gravitate to.  Having said that, while the Milwaukee duo's fifth family album is not necessarily my first choice, it is a very solid entry of the folk music tradition carved by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Elizabeth Cotten, and others.

As with their previous albums, Dave Fox and Will Branch mix traditional songs ("Aiken Drum," featuring a sugar-y and non-sugary set of facial parts, "I've Been Working on the Railroad," "Zum Gali Gali"), familiar songs that might be considered more modern folk songs of a sort ("New Orleans Hop Scop Blues," "Accentuate the Positive"), and folk originals (I particularly liked the accordion-flecked "Tucson" and tender album closer "When You Were Born").  The duo's guitars are the base upon which they add banjos, mandolins, accordions, and on songs like "Big Kid" and "Let Us Get Together," a kitchen sink's worth of percussion.

Amidst the pop-rock focus of most modern kids music, I appreciate those artists like Fox & Branch who've maintained their interest in the folk tradition.  They're one of the best practitioners in the field right now and even those families who prefer their music amplified will likely find a lot of these songs delightful mixed in amongst their powerpop.  Recommended.

Appetite for Construction - The Pop Ups


Artist: The Pop Ups

Album: Appetite for Construction

Age Range: 3 through 6

Description: Again, I'll let my NPR review of the album do most of the talking: "Brooklyn duo The Pop-Ups take the listeners back to 1985 on their album... If MTV had a kids music channel in their video heyday, "All These Shapes" would have been in constant rotation... They sing about making puppets, creating photo collages and trying on all sorts of clothes at a costume party."  This is definitely geared at your preschooler or kindergartner, though the sounds and hooks may keep it fresh even for a first or second grader.  Not to mention, well, you.  Highly recommended.

Wired - Recess Monkey


Artist: Recess Monkey

Album: Wired

Age Range: 5 through 9

Description: I'll let my NPR review of the album do most of the talking: "With so many opportunities for kids to stare at screens - big and small - it can be work to get them to use their creativity and make things with their own hands... On their new album, Seattle trio Recess Monkey celebrates makers with songs about school dioramas, duct tape and Legos... The band started out with a heavy Beatles influence. But over the course of 11 albums in just nine years, they've also mixed in a bit of a pop punk sound.  Appropriately for an album about playing off of the grid, the band recorded this new album on tape" with John Vanderslice, a musician with whom the band has long been obsessed.  I think there have been other Recess Monkey albums with catchier songs overall and so it wouldn't be the single album I'd recommend to a newbie (there's a tough decision to make), but it's certainly another solid album from the Seattle band.  Definitely recommended.


Party Animal - Eric Herman


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


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


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


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


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.