Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best Children's Music of 2008

2008 was an amazing year for children's music, as new bands and established artists continued to push creative boundaries. Here are my top choices for best children's music of 2008:

1. Frances England - Family Tree

The perfect combination of style, subject, and performance. Frances knows exactly how to write songs to kids, almost like she's channeling the thoughts that go through the heads of our little ones.

2. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - Easy
Finally, a well-produced, well-performed hip hop album for kids that actually sounds like hip hop, is kid-centered, and isn't dumbed down.

3. Gunnar Madsen - I'm Growing
If I were looking for a songwriter to compose tunes for a Broadway musical for kids, this is the guy I'd pick. An amazing array of music and lyrics.

4. Randy Kaplan - Loquat Rooftop
Storytelling via song, par excellence. Kaplan's unique cover song choices and intimate delivery make his second kids' album a truly rewarding listening experience for the whole family.

5. The Terrible Twos - Jerzy the Giant
The New Amsterdams record their second kids' album under their children's music moniker The Terrible Twos, and, to the advantage of kids and their families, seem to be saving their best songs for their youngest fans.

6. Recess Monkey - Tabby Road
The fourth kids' album from these Beatle-worshiping educators from Seattle. And the thing is, they just keep getting better!

7. Sunflow - Under the Stars
Best "Naptime" album of the year. If Harry Nilsson wrote the music to the daydreams in your head, this is what it would sound like.

8. Barenaked Ladies - Snack Time!
BNL's first foray into the kids' music world features their trademark humor and between-the-lines wit. Plus lots of radio-friendly pop music!

9. Brian Vogan - Little Songs
Warm, friendly, and funny rock and folk songs from Seattleite Brian Vogan. One of the best rookie kids' albums in a while.

10. Little Miss Ann - Clap for Love
A combination of subtle socially conscious messages and rousing covers and originals lets kids know that they can have fun and get involved at the same time. A great sophomore album from Chicago's Ann Torralba.

Instead of ranking any more albums, I've simply listed below some of my favorite children's CDs of 2008, all of which deserve a spin on any family's record player. Enjoy!

Astrograss - Let Me Stay Up All Night
Baby Loves Hip Hop - Dino 5
Board of Education - Board of Education
Joel Caithamer - The Biggest Everything in the World
Matt Clark - Funny Little Fella
Daddy A Go Go - Rock of All Ages
Kimya Dawson - Alphabutt
Harmonica Pocket - Ladybug One
The Jellydots - Changing Skies
Lisa Loeb - Camp Lisa
me3 - "The Thin King"
Medeski Martin & Wood - Let's Go Everywhere
Mr. Leebot - Activate!
Putumayo Kids - African Dreamland
Justin Roberts - Pop Fly
Peter Rundquist - Bug Feathers
Danielle Sansone - Two Flowers
ScribbleMonster - Songs with No Character
Spanglish Wrangler - Spanglish Sing-Along!
They Might Be Giants - Here Come the 123s
Various Artists - Funky Kidz
Dan Zanes - Nueva York!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dream Away with Sunflow

Holiday season got ya stressed? Sit back and dig Sunflow's "Goodnight," from their album Under the Stars. Lovely.

Sunflow - "Goodnight"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

***Mariana Iranzi***

Sounding like a mix of Os Mutantes, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Wailers, and Astrud Gilberto, Argentinian musician Mariana Iranzi's first album for kids is an amazing amalgamation of influences that translates beautifully into the playful, lively Aventura Collage.

Iranzi has travelled an interesting musical path, from Buenos Aires to the Berklee College of Music, studying along the way with an array of musicians. She performs regularly in the northeast club circuit as an expert bassist, teaches music at Baby Wiggle in Boston, and performs with coworker Sarah Wheeler in the toddler band Little Groove.

The lyrics of Aventura Collage are for the most part in Spanish, but any family will still dig sing-along tunes like "Pajaro Carpintero," "Contamos Hasta 10?" and "Fieston;" folk songs like "Caballito," "A San Nicolas," and "El Patito Feo;" and the album-ending lullabies "Buenas Noches" and "Sueno de una Noche de Verano."

Check out the horn-fueled reggae of "Todos los Ninos del Mundo," the Toddler Time free-for-all instrumental "Bluseando," and the Tom Ze-inspired madness of "Vieja Cachivache." Then Samba along to "Cuidemos al Planeta," and Tango as you listen to "Milonga Temprana," which features the traditional Argentinian dance and musical style known as the Milonga, the precursor to the Tango. And you can't miss the spoken word tale "La Jirafa Bacana" and the hip hop tune "Abra Cadabra."

Inventive and entertaining, Aventura Collage is a welcome addition to the kids' music world. Let's hope Iranzi has more musical adventures in store for children and their families.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What? More Christmas Music for Kids?!?

That's right, more Xmas tunes, Beatles-style! The Butties formed at Syracuse back in the early eighties, but you may know them as The Blanks, the a cappella band that pops up on Scrubs every once in a while. The Butties' 2005 Fab Four-influenced Christmas album, 12 Greatest Carols, sticks closely to the trademark Beatles sound and harmonies, and covers their entire career chronologically, from "Joy to the World"/"Please Please Me" to "Let It Snow"/"Let It Be." Dig especially their version of "A Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" melded to "A Day in the Life."

Rubber Band are a Beatles tribute band from Denmark that have been performing for almost 20 years. Their 1994 album Xmas! The Beatmas sounds more like any typical Mersey Beat band than vintage John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but it's rockin' holiday fun, nonetheless. Standout tracks include their version of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" done up like "Taxman," and a cover of Wham!'s "Last Christmas."

Friday, December 19, 2008

***The Boogers***

The first true Ramones-inspired album to hit the kids' music shelves! Sure, there have been one-off songs on various children's CDs that were little tributes to the Ramones' sound, but this one ... from the copy of the Ramones' Road to Ruin album cover and title, to the signature Ramones logo on the inlay card, to the image of a vinyl record on the CD itself (on the "Spire" label, no less), The Boogers' Road to Rock is fun for punks young and old.

Former punk rocker and current developmental psychologist Paul Crowe put both careers to work on Road to Rock, applying a healthy dose of hey ho let's go to simple originals and tried-and-true Toddler Time tunes. Crowe's self-penned songs are worth the price of the CD alone: album-opener "This Song is About Transportation!" the no-holds-barred "Peanut Butter & Jelly," and the soon-to-be sing-along classic "I Don't Need to Be Worried" give you a great idea of The Boogers' sound.

Road to Rock features a cover of Country Joe McDonald and Blair Hardman's I'm So Glad (I've Got Skin), also covered by The Persuasions on their 1999 kids' album On the Good Ship Lollipop. The Boogers rework the song twice as "I'm So Glad (I Got Teeth)" and, later on the album, as "I'm So Glad (I Got Feet)." The band also set comix legend Jay Lynch's "Um Tut Sut" to music (who, by the way, contributed the awesome cover art); and rewrite The Ramones' "This Ain't Havana" as "I Like Bananas," and "Judy is a Punk" as "Fish Will Fly".

Lots of short, fun, loud songs ... perfect for your budding rocker!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More Christmas Music for Kids!

Lookin' for holiday tunes, but ready for something different? Give these two kindie rock bands a listen: Ernie & Neal's Christmas Rocks! and Trout Fishing In America's Merry Fishes to All are both full of original Chrismas songs that the whole family will dig. E & N bring their classic rock and roll style to the table for their third album for children, and the Trouts stick to their rootsy, folksy sound on their seventh kids' album. I've included longer reviews over at

You can check out samples for both Christmas Rocks! and Merry Fishes to All at the CD Baby website. Have a rockin' Xmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hanukkah Music for Kids

The Eight Nights of Light are approaching, so I've compiled a list of great Hanukkah music for kids over at to help celebrate the season. Let us know if any other children's artists have released a Hanukkah CD and we'll add it to the list!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Punk Rock PB and J

Here's a video from another new kids' group I love, The Boogers. Paul Crowe and band take their Ramones worship to the nth degree by making a whole album of punk rock-inspired songs for children (more on Road to Rock later), including their tribute to everyone's favorite sandwich:

The Boogers - "Peanut Butter and Jelly"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

***The Board of Education***

Short review: If Klaatu made a kids' album, this is what it would sound like.

Long review: Seattle powerpop band Central Services combine their love of melody and hooks with classroom subjects that might otherwise be yawned at by Fourth Graders, to create the ridiculously catchy, funny, and intelligent CD Central Services Presents: The Board of Education! If you dig Recess Monkey, then you'll like Central Services' alter ego kids' group, The Board of Education. Here's a funny thing about those two bands: BOE are rockers who write songs that teach, and RM are teachers who like to rock. And both bands are from Seattle ... cool!

"Rise and Shine" kicks off the album with "Rock and Roll All Nite"-meets-Elephant 6 pop explosion, then "Beverly the Village Misfit" reels off mind-blowing scientific facts to the tune of Ben Folds Five glam rock. The band gets close to They Might Be Giants territory with "8 is a Number," a big band jumpin' jive tune that observes "when eight takes a nap, that's infinity."

"The Lonely Tomato" wistfully ponders his place in the fruit/vegetable picture, then majestically celebrates his many uses, while "Know Your Inventors" honors patent holders generally and William W. Averill specifically (asphalt pavement) with piano pop. The love-song-in-disguise "Lunchtime (Tin Foil Robots)" uses Free Design-like harmonies to relate a school crush with lines like "Tin foil, it won't protect you from love."

Memphis R&B helps describe the good points of "Your Sensitive Elbow," and the tongue-in-cheek "Ice Ages are Fun!" warns about the results of global warming via crunchy pop music. And the chunky rock and roll of "The Many Uses, and Dangers, of Commas" accompanies a humorous grammar lesson.

The 8mm school film sound effects and wordy lyrics of "Volcanoes and You," combined with its greasy lounge pop groove, make this tune worthy of a classic Ween album, and "Heading Home" brings the album full-circle as the school day ends. The CD closes (kinda) with the astonishingly beautiful "August Lullaby," which completely catches you by surprise based on the rest of the rockin' album. In fact, Pixar would kill for a ballad this good on any of their soundtracks nowadays. Oh, and there's the hidden track "Hiccy Uppy" (I think), a very short Vaudeville song about, um, hiccups!

The Board of Education is an awesome headphone album for upper elementary kids, full of witty wordplay, great production, and reeealy catchy tunes. Parents will definitely like it as much as their kids do, maybe more!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Man, I'm so taken with Michael Rachap's Readeez project, I just gotta show you a video before I post a full review of the DVD. I wrote a short blurb about Readeez Volume One over at, but I'll have a more detailed description soon. Until then, enjoy the poptacular "Circle and Square," a clip worthy of classic Sesame Street.

Michael Rachap's Readeez Volume One - "Circle and Square"

Friday, December 05, 2008

A View From The Inside: Kids' Musicians Who Blog

I've always loved reading about the day-to-day lives of rockers, not necessarily how many tv sets they've thrown out various hotel windows, but normal stuff like working in the studio or playing in front of a rabid crowd.

The kids' music world is building up a pretty good list of musicians who blog about their experiences, from Yosi Levin's interview-rich Indie Kids Rock, to Monty Harper's neverending pro-library tour at Monty's Children's Music Blog, from Johnette Downing's look at the business side of kids' music on her self-titled Johnette Downing blog, to Steve Dreher's musings on music and parenthood at Rockin' the Kids' Music World, to Eric Herman's reviews and interviews on Cool Tunes for Kids and his tour diary at Travelblogue.

The newest blog in town belongs to The Hipwaders' Tito Uquillas, whose Christmas-specific blog Kindie Christmas discusses holiday music and writing songs for kids, as well as providing some nifty samples of Tito's favorite Christmas songs. Drop by, check it out, and let Tito know what you think. AND, if you know of any other kindierock bloggers, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

***The Fab Four***

OK, I'm gonna sneak this one onto KidsMusicThatRocks because it's just too much fun to pass up. The Fab Four, a Beatles tribute band from Southern California, released A Fab Four Christmas in 2002, their first holiday CD done up a la JohnPaulGeorge&Ringo. You could even consider it a mashup album, as the band mix spot-on renditions of early-era tunes like "And I Love Her," "Help!" and "Baby's In Black" with classic Christmas songs. And you just gotta hear "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to the tune of "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Joy to the World" done in the style of "Please Please Me."

What makes it extra fun for Beatledorks like me is that fact that the band went to the trouble of using relatively obscure tunes like "Mr. Moonlight" and "Tell Me What You See" to spice up oldies like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Good King Wenceslas." Merry Christmas, and crank it up!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Christmas Music for Kids

Christmas is only about three weeks away (what!?!), so, just in time for that holiday party or for a nice musical gift, here's a list of great Christmas music for kids over at the site.

For this list I was leaning towards more traditional, back-to-the-basics holiday tunes, so before your young'uns start digging Patsy and Elmo's "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," or "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses, they can learn the golden oldies from Mitch Miller and Bing Crosby, newer versions by Susie Tallman and Raffi, or just get in the Christmas spirit with soundtracks from A Charlie Brown Christmas and John Denver and the The Muppets.

Let it snow!