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A Great Year for Family Music

by Kathy O’Connell

This has been the best year for family music in my memory, including excellent book/CD and CD/DVD packages for the holiday giving season.

The cream that floats to the top this year comes from artists and songwriters whose influence extends to new folks entering the family music field. Luckily, these old favorites have discovered new ways to share their gifts.

New Gold from Old Favorites
Best of the best accolades belong to They Might Be Giants. Their Here Comes Science CD opens with the premise that “Science Is Real” and bounces into a brilliant mix of electronic music, catchy rhythms and teaching tools. This will be the CD to beat at Grammy time.

My Name Is Chicken Joe, a book & CD release from Trout Fishing in America, introduces Trout favorites to the young children of the band’s first-generation fans. The book includes imaginative illustrations of well-known Trout tunes.

Grammy winner Dan Zanes recreates the party flavor of his live concerts with his new DVD & CD set The Fine Friends Are Here.

Arlo Guthrie’s daughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie, brilliantly re-imagines music for kids by her grandfather, Woody Guthrie. Her CD Go Waggaloo matches new melodies to Woody’s silly, simple lyrics for kids, creating a new synthesis that spans generations. The younger Guthrie demonstrates her own songwriting talent with original tunes as well.

Best of the Rest
Many of this year’s best artists offer samples of their music on their websites. You can dabble in their sounds and bring home the ones that are right for you.

For Younger Kids (ages 3-8)
Captain Bogg & Salty, Emphatical Piratical. Another thematic album with great humor devoted to the band’s pirate gimmick.

Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer with Cristylez Bacon, Banjo to Beat Box. The Grammy winners honor traditional folk music by infusing it with a hip-hop flavor.

The Hipwaders, Goodie Bag. A delightful mix of simple melodies (“Birthday Ruckus”) and high-tech rock (about a “Field Trip” on a rocket ship). Lyrics about “boo boos” and naptime brand this for little ones.

Lunch Money, Dizzy. This low-key South Carolina-based band is one of the brightest new lights in family music. Their deceptively simple CD mixes rock, jazz and folk while maintaining an intimate style.

Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine. Electronic silliness works especially well for younger kids on this self-titled CD, created by the alter ego of Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider.

Ziggy Marley, Family Time. Ziggy plugs into kids’ natural affinity for reggae with classic and original tunes. Jack Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis and Paul Simon are among the friends lending their voices to this family endeavor.

For Older Kids (8+)
Bob Marley, B is for Bob. Ziggy Marley produced this collection of his father’s old recordings, which honors the elder’s music by reimagining his songs for 21st century kids.

Yosi & the Superdads, Super Kids Rock! A brilliant rock collection, including an inspiring song about President Obama (“Yes We Can!”) and a funny take on the life of a kids’ entertainer (“So You Want To be a Kids’ Rock Star”).

Familiar Artists
Peter Himmelman, My Trampoline. This brilliant collection of old themes for young minds (e.g., “Are There Any Kids Named Steve Anymore”) illustrates Himmelman’s approach to kids’ music, bringing the same wit he attaches to his music for adults.

Billy Jonas, Happy Accidents. Inventive music from the man whose contagious belief that “everyone is in the band” encourages kids to make music with the objects around them.

Milkshake, Great Day! TV favorites Mikel and Lisa reach an older audience than their previous CDs, with emphasis on rock.

Recess Monkey, Field Trip. Another brilliantly complex CD about simple themes from the Beatles-influenced band that consistently delivers great sounds.

Bands Worth Discovering
Hullabaloo, High Roller. The duo that creates self-proclaimed “organic kid-folk” hit the mark with a bluegrassy homage to Johnny Cash. Lovers of traditional folk music will appreciate Hullabaloo’s affection for roots music.

King Pajama, Something Sweet. Intimate jazzy sounds that sparkle with intricate guitar work, even as they bemoan the lot in life of a “Doormat” (“go ahead and walk all over me”).

Rocknoceros, Pink. A little rock with a lot of rhythm by an inventive trio who hit gold with their third CD. “Train Song” captures the feel of a train ride with rhythm and flair.

Kathy O’Connell is a contributing writer to MetroKids and host of the Peabody-award-winning Kids Corner, weekdays 7-8pm on WXPN 88.5 FM.