Fids and Kamily Music Awards 2018

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 13th 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 2018 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 in the next couple of weeks for the first ever Kids Rhythm and Rock best of the year list. Also on the horizon, the GRAMMY nominations for Best Children’s Album in December, followed shortly thereafter by School Library Journal’s “10 Best Children’s Albums” for teachers, librarians and families. Are there any albums you wished had made the Fids and Kamily list?

Video Premiere – “A Fish Named Dog” performed by Michael & the Rockness Monsters

Michael Napolitano, founder of Rockness music, returns with his extremely talented Rockness Monsters on their new album Monster’s Ball, which comes out today. Filled with all original songs written by Napolitano and co-produced by children’s music guru Dean Jones, this is kindie rock at its best. The songs on this album range from the joyful celebration of “S M I L E,” which praises the power of a smile when shared out in the world, to the driving bass line and rock laden instrumentation of the interactive movement song, “Growing Bigger.” Along the way, listeners will enjoy getting on the “Party Train,” learning the styles of dance from over the decades and around the world as they are listed in “People Places Dancing,” and following the instructions on how to move like a robot in “Robot Song.”

Michael & the Rockness Monsters strip things down a bit for the track, “Beautiful Day,” before telling the story of a trip that Michael’s family took in, “Les Lumières de Paris.” Michael’s family’s exploits make another appearance on the album for the tune, “A Fish Named Dog.” Based on the real life experience of his daughter wanting a dog, this song tells the tale of Michael’s daughter being told instead of a dog, she could get a fish, and his daughter in turn naming the fish…dog. To get a small taste of what’s in store when you give Monster’s Ball a listen, check out the video for “A Fish Named Dog” below. If you are looking for fun, interactive music to use with that Kindergarten and up crowd, this album is for you!

¡Alegría! performed by Sonia De Los Santos

In ¡Alegría! the follow-up to her wonderful album, Mi Viaje: De Nuevo León to the New York Island, Sonia De Los Santos explores the theme of joy and happiness. The term ¡Alegría! literally means joy and in the album’s liner notes De Los Santos brings even more depth to the term by explaining, “In some parts of Latin America it is often used to cheer someone up. We say ¡Alegría! to remind each other that there is something to be happy about. I find this so beautiful.” So do I. Throughout the twelve songs on this album, Sonia reminds us to find the happiness in both the exciting times as well as the quiet moments in the day.

Eight of the songs are originals and feature Latin American rhythms like cumbia, curralo and huayno. A whole host of traditional instruments make appearances as well, like the gaita flute from Colombia which features prominently in “Mariposa Montuna,” that celebrates the incredible migration undertaken by monarch butterflies each year and in “Mi Papa Va a Comprar” that mentions the conga, trumpet, accordion, jarana and kalimba.  Complex vocals are woven together with fast moving melodies to create gorgeous musical tapestries in songs like, “Calibri Amarillo” and “Los Pajaritos.” De Los Santos strikes a well-chosen balance between the quick moving songs and quieter moments by including tracks like “Amopolita” and the English lullaby, “Daisy Mae” featuring beautiful harmonies performed with Elizabeth Mitchell.

Additional songs performed in English include the playful tune “Hey Little Bunny!” featuring Caridad De La Luz aka La Bruja and “Songs for the People,” based on a poem written by African American poet Frances Ellen Watkins in the 1800s, with Dan Zanes and Claudia Eliaza taking lead on the vocals. “Donde Tú Estés, Wherever You Go” is the sole bilingual tune on the album. Originally written in English by children’s folk icons Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, De Los Santos has added Spanish translations to the lyrics and the three perform the song together to close out the album.

*A 32-page booklet of liner notes is included with the album. De Los Santos includes an introductory note to each song along with complete lyrics, helping to further enrich the experience of ¡Alegría!.

Experience a taste of the joy from this album with the video for the title track, “¡Alegría!” below.

 

Video Spotlight: “The Grass is Always Greener”

I have been a big fan of Suzi Shelton’s latest album, Hand in Hand, ever since I first heard it way back in June. The lyrics are fun and engaging and the instrumentation uplifting. This combination makes many of the songs stick in your head so that you find yourself randomly singing them in the shower, in the car, or even at work (being a children’s librarian, no one even gives this a second glance). One of my favorite songs, “The Grass is Always Greener,” now has a green screen video that was shot at YouTube Space NYC to go along with it. Featuring Suzi, her bandmates and a delightful assist from Tim Kubart, this is the perfect way to start off the week. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

Premiere – Dan Crow’s “You’re An Engineer”

I spent this morning with a book rep looking through dozens upon dozens of new books from a wide variety of publishers. I couldn’t even begin to keep count of the number of book series that had the word STEM in them. Some of these series were really well done, and others, well, it was clear they were trying to jump on the buzzword bandwagon and stuff STEM terms into books that otherwise wouldn’t fit into that category.

That’s one of the things I appreciate about Dan Crow’s album Concoctions. It is filled with STEM songs, but it never feels like the STEM of the album is anything but meant to be there. Concoctions  is now part of a three disc package known as Kidz STEM Songz. The first CD is Dan’s album, Concoctions. The second CD is chock full of music from a wide variety of children’s performers all singing about STEM related topics. And the third disc in the collection is a DVD featuring five videos from the songs on Concoctions. And here today, is the online premiere for one of those videos – “You’re An Engineer.”

Hosted by Anny Dallshouse, this charming, animated video perfectly captures the infectious fun of the song making it interactive and easily singable. Take a look and see how many different ways you can be an engineer. Enjoy!

Premiere – Sara Lovell’s “Wild is Everywhere”

Sara Lovell’s lastest album, Wild is Everywhere, debuted in April. Filled with 14 original songs written and performed by Lovell, the album perfectly combines a variety of musical genres (pop, funk, jazz, etc.) with Lovell’s clear, beautiful voice and lyrics that range from fun and funny to engaging and heartfelt.

Today marks the debut of the music video for the title track, “Wild is Everywhere.” Images of Sara’s adorable son exploring his surroundings and discovering nature, even in his urban setting, lovingly bring the lyrics to life. Take a few moments, breath deeply and enjoy the peace and quiet charm of “Wild is Everywhere.”

New Books and Music

I love books. I love music. And I really love books and music when they are joined together. Here are a few newer items that will definitely make you smile.

Laurie Berkner’s latest picture book adaptation is for her song, “Monster Boogie.” The song lyrics encouraging children to be the monster and have fun dancing and wiggling are perfectly paired with illustrations by Ben Clanton, who also illustrated Laurie’s last picture book We Are the Dinosaurs. In his lively illustrations, Clanton finds just the right balance between scary and fun that children will enjoy. Monster Boogie is a complete story that can be read all on its own or paired with the song. *A very clever book design allows for the sheet music to be included on the back cover of the book under the book jacket.

 

If you’re not familiar with The Secret Mountain, a publisher based out of Montreal, who specializes in original picture books that are accompanied by full-length music CDs, then you are in for a real treat. A wide variety of authors, illustrators, and musicians from all around the world contribute to this series of books. Their latest offering, The Hummingbird Sings and Dances, which is scheduled to be released next month, is completely comprised of lullabies and nursery rhymes from throughout Latin America. Each of the 19 Spanish language songs is given a two page spread that includes beautiful artwork from illustrator Mariana Ruiz Johnson, a note about which country the song comes from, and the lyrics to one of the song’s stanzas in both Spanish and English. The accompanying CD contains all 19 songs performed by the talented Mexico City-based Grupo Cantaro. The full lyrics for all of the songs, in both Spanish and English, are included at the end of the book. Hummingbird Sings and Dances would easily fit into bilingual storytimes and lessons about other cultures.

 

GRAMMY Award winner Tim Kubart released his first picture book in May. Oopsie-Do! is a delightful story about a young girl who rather than fretting when things go wrong proclaims, “Oopsie-Do!” and with the help of her friends and the grown-ups in her life work to make the things going wrong, go right. Lori Richmond’s charming illustrations include a diverse cast of characters that embody all of the ups and downs that the children go through in a day. This is a great storytime book as well as a good title to share one-on-one. Pair this with Tim’s adorable full-length video for the song version of Oopsie-Do!

While each of these titles is completely different, they would all be right at home in any collection.

All the Sounds Performed by Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats

My introduction to Lucy Kalantari’s special brand of family jazz music was her fall 2017 holiday EP It’s the Holidays! and I’m so glad that she’s back with this full length album.  This jazz age inspired collection of ten original songs is a real delight. Each song has its own unique identity filled with complex melodies and engaging lyrics, yet they all fit together to make a beautiful whole.

Once again Kalantari is backed by the highly talented Jazz Cats who really get to shine on numbers like “Ain’t No Dog Like Mister,” a tribute to Billie Holiday’s dog Mister which allows for some great clarinet solos as well as the tango accented “Howl to the Moon” which opens with a gorgeous cello solo that leads to vocals backed by a swaying bass beat as it tells the story of a werewolf who longs for the evening when he can dance with his friends.

Songwriting really takes the spotlight when Kalantari skillfully weaves other musical genres into her tunes. The quick paced “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” features an original rap by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo wrapped in a jazz number that emphasizes the importance of understanding your fears and asking listeners “Can you turn that bad into something good?” Another fun blend of musical genres occurs in “Bunny Hop” where the main character in the song gets to know Mr. Opera Man (real life opera singer Adelmo Guidarelli), the next door neighbor, who operatically proclaims, “I love bunnies!” Listeners will quickly  find themselves hopping and thumping along to this tune.

While all of these songs are great for family listening, there are also several that would be nice additions to a storytime, program, or classroom lesson. “I Know a Little Fellow” could work to introduce children to musical terms as Kalantari’s talented 5 1/2-year-old son demonstrates on the cello the terms she sings about such as pluck, bow, pizzicato, pianissimo, and fortissimo. “La Cosecha” is a fun bilingual song that would fit nicely into a storytime about gardening or community that introduces listeners to a wide variety of vegetables in both English and Spanish. Finally, “The Peace Song” is a lovely call and response song with a special message.

All the Sounds is a joy from beginning to end. Families will find themselves listening to it again and again.

 

Premier – Frances England’s “Not Just My Sister”

Frances England is back! It’s been two years since England released her GRAMMY nominated album Explorer of the World and clearly that two years was time well spent. With her new album, Blue Skies and Sunny Days, England presents a collection of songs that are breezy and light while conveying a message of positivity and love.

This collection includes seven original songs with themes ranging from road tripping to that feeling you get when you know it’s going to be a good day. The album also includes a cover of the Cat Stevens classic “If You Want to Sing Out.” Several of the songs will really strike a chord with parents such as “Mama Said” about the encouraging words that Mama shares with her child and “Watching You Grow.”

Me and my little sister

While all of the songs on Blue Skies and Sunny Days are lovely to listen to, it was “Not Just My Sister” that truly touched my heart. England is a talented songwriter who has the ability to set impactful lyrics to a gentle, upbeat melody that really draws listeners in, and that is exactly what she has done here. My little sister has always meant the world to me, and listening to this song as we get ready for her September wedding just brings out all the best kind of emotions.  There is so much that I relate to in “Not Just My Sister,” but when it comes to the place my sister holds in my heart, the chorus really says it all, “She’s not just my sister, she’s my best friend, she’s my mirror, she’s the one who knows me inside and out.”

Listen to “Not Just My Sister” in its entirety below. Blue Skies and Sunny Days will be out on August 14.

New Raffi! – Dog on the Floor

It’s hard to believe that with the July 27th debut of Dog on the Floor, Raffi released his 25th album, but at 70 years young, that is exactly what he did. Listening to a Raffi album makes you feel like you are wrapped up in a blanket warm from the dryer on a cold, rainy day and this album is no exception. From beginning to end it is filled with love. Love for nature, love for each other and love for oneself.

Several of the songs on the album are an ode to Luna, Raffi’s two-year-old border collie/poodle puppy. One of those tracks is “Luna’s Song” which paints a vivid picture of Luna with lyrics like “black and gray with tufts of gold,” “four little paws, soft and white,” and “big brown eyes look my way and Luna is her name.” Another song that aptly captures the relationship between a human and his dog in the jazzy “Walkin’ My Dog” in which Raffi sings “I wake up in the morning and think about walkin’ my dog” and of the dog, “She wakes up in the morning, thinks about walkin’ her dad.”

Other songs in this 15-track collection include “Market Day” and “Play Play Play” which are filled with lots of repetition to encourage listeners to sing along, a gorgeous version of the Beatles tune “Here Comes the Sun” which will enthrall children and adults alike, the fantastic stringed instrument jam, “Fiddle Dance” and the lovely “Rainbow” which starts with the soft, smooth singing of the line “I’ve been working on the railroad” that moves on to ask, when will my rainbow find me.

Raffi wraps up the album with two songs that directly address the needs of our children. The first is “Take a Breath” an important song reminding children (and the grown ups around them) that when we’re not doing fine and we want to be well, take a breath or two, be still, sing a song or two, and soon you will feel better. The bonus track uses the phrase “It takes a village” for it’s title and refrain and is a beautiful, gentle reminder that we are all (parents, teachers, librarians, neighbors) responsible for fostering future generations who will love and care for the earth and others.

It’s amazing that four decades into a career a musician is able to still produce songs that are entertaining, impactful and sure to be pleasing audiences for generations to come, but Raffi is doing just that. Another beautiful album for all to enjoy!

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