Music Makes Me Happy performed by Katie Dywer Music

Music Makes Me Happy may be Katie Dwyer’s first album of children’s music, but I have a feeling that it won’t be her last. Targeting the younger listeners, this collection of 17 original songs skillfully demonstrates Dywer’s knowledge of what works best with this age group. Almost all of the tracks on this album have a run time of 1:30 to 2:30 minutes and the majority of them are up tempo and will get children and their caregivers dancing. Kids are encouraged to waddle like penguins, chomp like crocodiles, make animal sounds, move their bodies all around doing the “Hula Hula La La La,” and zoom around in their pretend cars. Even in the quieter, slower songs like “Dance Like a Snowflake,” Dwyer keeps listeners moving and engaged. Katie’s experience writing and performing her songs for children in her Katie’s Corner music classes is evident in the entertaining lyrics that feature her crystal clear solo voice often only accompanied by her piano, and on occasion, guitar and drums. Each track tells a story and features repeating phrases so that children are given a chance to sing along while the more interactive songs suggest movements that are appropriate for this developmental stage.  Music Makes Me Happy is an excellent album for family listening and is filled with songs that would be right at home in storytimes and early childhood music classes.

Black to the Future performed by Pierce Freelon

In Black to the Future, the follow-up to D.a.D. (2020), his debut album for families, Pierce Freelon introduces listeners to Afrofuturism. Combining imagination, science, and technology Freelon takes a futuristic look at the world through the lens of the Black experience, crafting a collection of music that is at once timely and out-of-this-world. Over the course of 18 tracks, we are treated to conversations with Freelon’s son and daughter as well as one special conversation with Miss Ella Jenkins. The songs on Black to the Future cover topics ranging from the process of a father and daughter working to get her hair braided, to navigating the first day of school, to the pain that hurtful words can cause. Along the way important lessons such as being grateful for the big and the little things in life, it’s ok to say no,  and “Black boys, it’s ok to be vulnerable” are included. And in a tremendous ode to cultural icon Levar Burton listeners are urged to “seek knowledge and understanding.” 

The Afrofuturism influence is felt from the album’s cover art to tracks like “Solar Skate” and title track “Black to the Future.” From beginning to end, Black to the Future is filled with an incredible blend of jazz, R&B, hip hop and electronic pop often set to engaging cosmic beats. A pair of songs bookend the album and serve as perfect examples of the evolution of the music. The album opens with “No One Exactly Like You,” a long lost recording by Freelon’s mother, jazz legend Nnenna Freelon, and closes with a futuristic take on the same song.

The pandemic is also evident on the album in the form of the songs “Cootie Shot” and “ZOMBI.” In “Cootie Shot” listeners are encouraged to not be afraid of needles in order to get those important shots, while Freelon’s daughter Stella shines on her song, “ZOMBI” as she talks about the scary struggle that the past year was for kids having to not only stay home, but physically stay distanced from others. Both songs serve as powerful reminders of the times we are living in.

Black to the Future is a one-of-a-kind album that will have wide appeal and is the perfect set of music for those tweens that are too old for “little kid” music and not quite ready for more adult albums.