It’s the Holidays! Performed by Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already reached the time of year when the stores put all of the Thanksgiving items on clearance, the pre-Black Friday sales begin, and local radio stations start playing Christmas music. And all of that before the family has even arrived to enjoy the abundance of deliciousness known as Thanksgiving dinner. So, since all signs point to it being “that time of year,” over the next month I’ll be highlighting several new family albums that celebrate the holidays.

First up is the delightful It’s the Holidays! from Brooklyn-based Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats. This collection of five jazz age inspired originals celebrates the holidays between Halloween and New Year’s. The album kicks things off with the clever “My Mommy is a Mummy” (keep this one in mind for Halloween 2018) and is followed by “Grateful,” a rare song about Thanksgiving. This is a lovely tune about family and food, but also about the importance of putting aside our differences and acknowledging those things in life for which we are grateful. Take a listen.

Just as the seasons transition from fall to winter, so do the songs on this album. “It’s Snowing” gets listeners thinking about how fun it is to get all bundled up to go outside and of all the exciting things children can do in the snow when they get there. This fast-paced song would work great in winter-themed storytimes as kids dance to the various activities described in the song like stomp, jump, run, slide, and climb. “It’s Snowing” also acts as a nice bridge to the final two songs on the album.

The title track, “It’s the Holidays!” is a bouncy celebration of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and a lovely New Year. The refrain, “It’s the holidays in our community/we celebrate all in unity,” encourages listeners to take the time to honor our differences. Finally, the album is capped off with “That’s a Wrap!” a short (1:37 min.) tune that tells listeners “Let’s wrap up this year and say goodbye” and would be a great addition to any New Year’s Eve programs.

While shorter than the average album, Kalantari, backed by a group of amazing musicians, has created an album that families will listen to again and again. It’s the Holidays! is the perfect start to “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Songs from the Monkey House Performed by Jack Forman

Jack Forman, of Recess Monkey fame, strikes out on his own with his debut solo album, Songs From the Monkey House. If you’ve ever listened to Jack’s weekday show “Live From the Monkey House” on Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live you know that his show is high-energy and filled with conversations between Jack and kids from across the country. It is questions from his listeners as well as from Recess Monkey fans and his own family that are the basis for the twelve high octane songs on this album.

 

Each song is filled with clever lyrics that cover a wide array of topics from the variety of cheeses one may encounter in life, including an ode to that stinky ole blue cheese, to a dog’s point of view at the dog park, to the meaning of the phrase, “I lost my lunch.” Many of the songs are multilayered and provide levels of fun for kids and adults alike. Older kids and grown-ups will especially enjoy “Yodeling Yoda” a fantastic love song to Star Wars, “Candy Tour” which retells the tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and “No Name” about a band with plans to make it big until they name themselves Minecraft and receive a cease and desist letter. Jack Forman wrote, provided all the vocals, played all the instruments, and produced and engineered this entire album, proving that he really is a one man powerhouse. Forman’s debut album is a hoot to listen to and one that families with kids of all ages will return to again and again.

Fids and Kamily Awards 2017

It’s that time of year again. Time for the “Best of…” lists to start appearing. First up in the land of children’s music is the 12th annual Fids & Kamily Music Awards. Voted on by a stellar collection of folks familiar with the fantastic offerings from the children’s music industry, this list of the Top 10 albums of 2017 for kids and families is a list of “must haves” for every collection. Don’t forget to take a look at the Honorable mentions, they are great ones to have as well. Keep an eye out next month for the GRAMMY nominations for Best Children’s Album and coming in December, School Library Journal’s 10 Best Children’s Albums of the year for teachers, librarians and families. Are there any albums you wished had made the Fids and Kamily list?

Rise Shine #Woke Performed by Alphabet Rockers

Until now, social justice and children’s music aren’t something that I thought went together. But I was wrong. After listening to Rise Shine #Woke, the newest album from Alphabet Rockers, on repeat for the last two weeks, I am a firm believer that children’s music – children’s hip-hop in particular – is exactly where lessons on social justice belong.

Written by Alphabet Rockers main duo, Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, the music on this album takes on the big themes of inclusion, racism and lifting one another up and makes them accessible to children and families. Timely lyrics about things such as building walls between one another, as well as Michelle Obama’s important message, “When they go low, we go high,” are combined with tight beats to make each song unforgettable. Several of the songs have almost a 1990’s mainstream hip-hop feel (heartfelt rap lyrics combined with beautiful vocals) which makes them perfect for grade school listeners. The lyrics are powerful but never preachy nor didactic. One of my favorite songs is “What Are You?” which highlights the gorgeous vocal stylings of Kimiko Joy singing the refrain, “When they ask you what you are, you respond I’m a star, They don’t really know what they do, It’s no secret that you are you.”

In addition to Goings, this collection of songs features talented guest stars including Cactus Skidoo, Aaron Nigel Smith, Genevieve Goings, and Juan Amador. It’s not just the adults who are sharing the message though. A group of skilled kids rap on several of the songs making them instantly relatable to listeners. The album opens with the impactful interlude “Don’t Wait” which reminds us that we don’t need to, nor should we, wait until children are teenagers to start teaching them these important lessons. After listening to Rise Shine #Woke during these weeks of great discord in our country, it’s very clear that the time to teach these lessons to children of all ages is now.

 

 

Mundo Verde/Green World performed by Mister G

Mister G won the 2015 Best Children’s Album Latin GRAMMY for Los Animales and his latest album Mundo Verde/Green World should land him on the short list of nominees once again. From the first notes of the title track to the last dulcet tones of this almost 30-minute journey, the over-arching theme of protecting all the wonders of our Earth is lovingly explored.

The first few songs of the album are filled with fast-paced Latin beats that will get listeners up and dancing while also talking about important issues such as the water that our planet is made of, recycling and the wide variety of animals who deserve our protection and concern. The music – featuring such performers as Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco, Peruvian bassist Oscar Stagnaro, Brazilian vocalist Mari Nobre and Cuban vocalist Estrella Acosta – goes full tilt with songs such as “Patas en el Aire/Paws in the Air” and “El Coqui/The Frog,” then strikes a quieter note with songs like “Cuantos Peces/How Many Fish,” the Carlos Santana inspired “Si Se Puede/Yes We Can,” and the lush instrumentation and vocals of “Las Estrellas.”

Mundo Verde/Green World is a bilingual album from start to finish. Mister G and his many guests seamlessly transition between Spanish and English both during the interludes between the songs as well as within the songs themselves. Enough of each language is spoken or sung so that no matter the native tongue of the listeners, they will still get the gist of the lyrics and enjoy each tune. This album could easily be used in the classroom, in storytimes or for family listening. Pure joy from beginning to end!

Take a peek below…

Life on a Trampoline performed by Randy & Dave

I have to admit, I’m really digging the trend of the story song. And singer/songwriters Randy Sharp and Dave Kinnoin are experts at it. On their second album together, Life on a Trampoline, they tell such quirky stories such as ” Enjoy It While You Can” about a family who works in a cannery, “Last Time I Was Here” about a good-natured child who accidentally causes some pretty big mishaps and “A Weird Thing Happened” about the strange experience a child has when his ball goes over the fence.

Many of the songs on the album are silly ones, but others like the fantastic “Squadoosh” and “We Don’t Share” go a little deeper. “Squadoosh” is the perfect song to share with children who are afraid of the dark or convinced that a scary monster is hiding in their closet. In this song, the child’s fears are put to rest when the light is turned on because Squadoosh is an entirely different kind of monster. “Zilch, zip, zero-nada’s all he’s made of. He’s nothin’, and nothin’s nothin’ to be afraid of at all.” In “We Don’t Share” the child tells her sibling/friend about all the wonderful things that might be missed out on in the future because the friend won’t share things like a big piece of pie or the remote with her.

All twelve songs on this album are engaging with songs like “Semolina” being a good jumping off point for discussions about nutrition, foods from around the world or a story starter about inanimate things. Containing a mash-up of musical genres, multi-layered lyrics and sophisticated instrumentation, Life on a Trampoline is a delight that listeners young and old will want to hear again and again.

**Note for all you musicians out there, the liner notes to Life on a Trampoline contain all of the lyrics AND chord charts for each song.

New Albums from Old Friends

Several albums were released over the busy summer months by some of our favorite artists. Here are just a few that everyone should have in their collections.

Camp Songs performed by Ella Jenkins & Friends (released June 23)
It’s hard to believe, but Ella Jenkins, the grande dame of children’s music, has been recording music with Smithsonian Folkways for 60 years. Recording camp songs is something that she had wanted to do for over a decade so when her voice wasn’t strong enough to take the lead on the 25 songs chosen for this album, she enlisted the help of the children and parents from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music along with Kate and Tony Seeger to bring each song to fruition. The result is a rich compilation of folk songs, sing-alongs, nonsense songs and rounds capturing America’s diversity.

 

Time Machine Guitar performed by Ralph’s World (released August 4)

Ralph Covert’s latest Ralph’s World album is a raucous voyage through time that provides fun history lessons about such subjects as Ben Franklin, King Tut and Christopher Columbus. A 1960s/1970s rock treatment is given to many of the songs while others get a jazz or Latin music flair.

 

 

Lead Belly, Baby! performed by Dan Zanes and Friends (released August 25) 

This introduction to the music of the incomparable Lead Belly is presented by Zanes and a whole host of guests including Father Goose, Sonia De Los Santos, Elena Moon Park, Aloe Blacc and Chuck D. The fifteen folk songs are given a modern twist making them easily accessible to today’s audiences.

 

 

Laurie Berkner: The Dance Remixes performed by Laurie Berkner (release September 22)

This collection presents 14 of Berkner’s classic songs such as “We Are the Dinosaurs,” “Bumblebee,” and “Telephone” in a way that listeners have never heard them before. Each of the songs is given an EDM makeover that will really appeal to older children who want to listen to “grown-up” music but aren’t quite ready for grown-up lyrics.

Rock-n-Roll Yearbook Performed by The Bazillions

With school having already started (or starting very soon) all across the country, this is the perfect time to shine a light on Rock-n-Roll Yearbook, the latest album from The Bazillions. This, the fourth album of kid-friendly rock-n-roll from the Minnesota based band is filled with everything that we’ve come to expect from the group – fun, smart lyrics set to jaunty melodies. The opening track, “Back at School” perfectly encapsulates what the first day of school is like and encourages lots of interaction from listeners (clapping, jumping, listening to teacher) while “New Pair of Shoes” captures the joy of getting a “so fast, jump high, supercharged new pair of shoes.”

One of my favorite things about The Bazillions is the skillful way they teach grammar and writing on their albums. This outing, it’s the “Wide Open World of Adjectives” and the writing rules of “Who What Where When Why.” The latter could easily be incorporated into language arts lessons on how to write a paragraph or as a story starter. The empowering messages of “You Could Be the One” (you can grow up to be anything you want), “That’s My Style” (you do your thing and I’ll do mine, and that’s cool) and “More To Be Done” (I’m learning and growing and together we can make change happen) are so important in today’s world of social media bullying and would work well as conversation starters both in the classroom and at home.

This delightful album will be a great addition to classroom lessons as well as family rockin’ out times.

 

If you’re not familiar with The Bazillions, check-out this video for their song, “Personification.”

 

Trippin’ Round the Mitten by Randy Kaplan

I have to admit, as a Michigander born and raised, Randy Kaplan had me at the title to his newest album, Trippin’ Round the Mitten. This, Kaplan’s sixth not-JUST-for-kids album, is filled with zany fun for the whole family. Clever, sophisticated lyrics lead listeners through the twists and turns of the 18 songs on this hour long album that features a smorgasbord of musical genres. Kaplan kicks things off with the rap heavy “Honk Honk” where you are directed not to squeeze his nose before veering off into a combination of original tunes as well as covers like the The Dead Milkmen’s punk-tinged “Beach Song,” and Maroon 5’s “Sugar,” which now has lyrics that describe the power of a child’s favorite “food group.”

 

Many of the songs written by Kaplan have subjects that will be familiar to parents and older siblings including a little boy who likes to run around without any clothes on in “Supernude,” the jazzy/funk/rap “Cat & Mice” about the escapades of a Dad and his son when mom is out of town on business, and the fantastic “On the Phone on the Toilet” which first leads listeners to believe this is the tale of a mom who is more interested in her phone than her son, but has a great twist at the end. The title track “Trippin’ Round the Mitten” is the only Michigan-centric song and will delight those who are familiar with the state as Kaplan lists off towns and roads from throughout the entire mitten. Randy’s wife, Julie May, shines on two of the songs, a cover of Pete Townsend’s “Sleeping Dog” and the lovely “Bye Bye Baby.”

No matter where you live, the combination of fun, yet informed lyrics with the wide variety of musical genres makes this an album that families will return to again and again.

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