Thursday, December 11, 2008

Casual Listening Feature -- Best Kids Music 2008

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

December 12, 2008

I save December for special features because new releases trail off (you should still check out the new Common album – it’s good). I promised a feature on Cadillac Records, which appears at I’m turning over the reins this week to Lee Winkelman, who sent me a top 10 list of kids albums from 2008. It rocks. I’ve been jamming to They Might Be Giants number songs all week.

When my son Henry was born in 2004, I vowed that I wasn’t going to play him any music that I wasn’t willing to listen to. Over the years, I have played him lots of music that was created for adults. I think the Beatles are probably that band that is played most often for kids today, followed in popularity by the Ramones. But I also began investigating kids music scene. All the energy that I used to put into finding the best new indie rock or the latest release from a forgotten sixties soul singer or that great singer from Brazil, now I put into finding good children’s music. It turns out we are living in the golden age of children’s music. Ten or twenty years ago, most kids music was made by educators. Now the best kids music is made by real musicians. The artists in indie rock bands like the Del Fuegos, the Bad Examples, Ida, Jason and the Scorchers, and the New Amsterdams didn’t make it big with adults, but they are making a good living by recording and performing good music for children. And big names with thriving adult careers are increasingly making music for children. Do you want a hip-hop kids record? We got it. A country kids record? You have to decide whether you want to hear alt-country, mainstream country or bluegrass kids music (I’ll take all three!). We’ve got jazz, folk, power-pop, punk, funk, and all sorts of other kids records. This is the best of all possible worlds!

Kids top 10:

-Justin Roberts - Pop Fly. He remains the master of kids pop-rock. Tuneful enough for the kids, but rocking enough for the adults. Occasional clever word play, and real kids subjects that never talk down to the kids. Also, great horns. I defy you not to enjoy the title song.

-Scribblemonster & His Pals: Songs No Character. Scribblemonster records are always a bit uneven, but their best songs are great power-pop rockers. Thankfully, they lost the cartoony voices this time (thus the “no character” in the album title). It contains the self-confessed worst dance song ever: “Do the Utility Pole” – a favorite of me and my almost five year old son.

-Randy Kaplan: Loquat Rooftop. A great, prolific singer-songwriter whose past triumphs include a kids version of the racy Hesitation Blues (“Can I get some grape juice now or must I hesitate?) and a folk, quasi-bluegrass version of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.” The new ones has the usual mix of originals and covers, lots of folk and taking blues.

-Medeski, Martin & Wood - Let's Go Everywhere. A fun, Jazzy record, mixing accessible jazz instrumentals.

-They Might Be Giants - Here Come the 123s. More educational, zany fun from the best kids music group in the country. Thanks to TMBG, my son knows what a nonagon is (it’s a nine-side shape).

-The Terrible Twos - Jerzy the Giant. When they are not playing kids music, this band is called The New Amsterdams. If you weren’t listening to the lyrics, you would think you were listening to another good adult record straddling the line between power-pop and Americana.

-Dan Zanes - Nueva York. The godfather of today’s indie kids music. This time, the music is all sung in Spanish and incorporates a wide variety of Latin styles, yet somehow always sounds like Dan Zane. I love his bad Spanish accent.

-Funky Kids - Various Artist (New Orleans musicians). Great musicians stretching out on classic kids songs. I love George Porter Jr.’s funky, jazzy version of “Whole World in His Hands.”

-Kimya Dawson – Alphabutt. Not a radical departure for this artist best known for the Juno soundtrack. Weren’t all of her records kids records?

-The Rock and Roll Coochicoo Revue - Various Artists (Boston indie rock musicians). Catchy indie rock kids songs by Boston’s hippest musicians, including Dan Zane’s brother Warren. Can a Del Fuego reunion be far away?

Runners up:

-The Jimmies - Make Your Own Someday. My son loves this record more than me. It’s catchy music, but it doesn’t hold an adult’s interest as well as the top ten records. They make great videos though.

-Brady Rymer - Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could. Good blue collar, Springsteen-esque kids rock.

-Baby Loves Hip Hop Presents the Dino-5. I love the odd numbered kids hip-hop songs, featuring Dinosaur rappers. I just don’t want to have to listen to the even numbered kids story.

-The Hollow Trees - Welcome to Nelsonville. Folky, bluegrassy fun. You feel like you are sitting and picking with family and friends.

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