The mainstream press may tell you that kid’s music doesn’t have a place in your iTunes library, but they couldn’t be more wrong. So as we wrap up another brilliant year for modern kid’s music, we are taking a look at the ten best CDs for ears of all-ages. From Americana to Hip-Hop, experimental art-pop to danceable puppet-rock, the kindie music scene once again provided dozens upon dozens of quality CDs that stand as a clear alternative to those of banal TV cartoon bands and racy pop stars. Start here, with our top 10 CDs, and you’ll quickly discover that we are alive in the Golden Age of Family Music.
1. Okee Dokee Brothers Can You Canoe?
It’s almost to quaint to be true in the 21st century: Best friends spend a summer month paddling down the Mississippi River, from Minneapolis to St. Louis, writing songs and experiencing the natural world a la Mark Twain, in the hopes of writing their next album. But that’s precisely what Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander, best buds since age 3, did in June 2011. The resulting CD, Can You Canoe?, was released a year later and is the finest ever made for families. The duo’s rich Americana album transcends the childhood experience by touching on love, life, and, of course, friendship. This is an all-ages masterpiece if ever there was one, and is now a Grammy nominated album too!
Artist Website: okeedokee.org
2. Recess Monkey In Tents
On their loosely conceived concept album about traveling circus life, the Seattle pop-rock trio dial down their trademark sheen and in the process end up with their most charming batch of songs to date. In Tents is filled with goofy characters (“Odditorium”), tender reflections (“Crystal Ball”), a “Dancing Bear”, and, mercifully, absolutely no bearded ladies or creepy clowns.
Artist Website: recessmonkeytown.com
3. Justin Roberts Lullaby
Arriving too late to receive Grammy consideration this year, Roberts’, already a Best Children’s Album nominee (for 2010’s Jungle Gym,) proves that whether the tempo is fast or slow, he remains the unquestioned master of crafting gorgeous pop melodies for kids and their nostalgic grown-ups. One listen to “Easier To Do” and “Wild One”, both of which could easily pass for mid-70’s AM radio hits, and you’ll be hooked on Lullaby as a bedtime or anytime CD.
Artist Website: justinroberts.org
4. Lunch Money Spicy Kid
Arguably more parent music than children’s music, the charming South Carolina quartet fronted by America’s sweetheart Molly Ledford, wears its heart on its collective sleeve on their 4th album, Spicy Kid. You’ll be hard-pressed to keep a dry eye listening to extremely personal songs about the new parent experience in the hospital (“You Were A Basket Of Flowers”) and at home for that joyous yet terrifying first night (“Awake.”)
Artist Website: lunchmoneymusic.com
5. Todd McHatton Marvy Monstone’s Mysterious Funtime Dream Band
If you grew up with the songs and characters of Sesame Street and The Muppets, Marvy Monstone’s Mysterious Funtime Dream Band will take you back to the future of your childhood music obsession. Marvy and his puppet pals Finch and Larry take center stage on the full-length CD follow-up to McHatton’s Sirius XM radio sensation “I Think I’m A Bunny.”
Artist Website: mchatton.com
6. The Pop Ups Radio Jungle
As the leaders of the modern puppet rock movement, these dashing young Brooklyn lads created quite a stir with, and have garnered a Grammy nomination for, their sophomore album chock full of sweet dance beats (“Box Of Crayons”, “Connect the Stars”) and clever takes on city life (“Pop Up City.”)
Artist Website: http://www.thepopups.com/
7. Elska Middle of Nowhere
A transcendent album of electronic art-pop for toddlers, Middle of Nowhere could very well redefine and raise the bar for preschool music. Set on a fictional island off the coast of Iceland, the vibraphone and field noise soundscapes, and Elska’s striking visual imagery are akin to a dreamy modern art exhibit. The sonic beauty and accompanying Claymation video for the CD’s standout track, “Arctic Fox,” will charm your socks off.
Artist Website: islandofelska.com
8. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo Make Believers
The undisputed king of kid hop delivers a complex 3rd album of killer beats, positive messages (“Gotta Be Me”), insanely addictive R&B hooks (“Nightmares Disappear”), and the best first day of school jam ever (“When I Get Back Home.”)
Artist Website: secretagent23skidoo.com
9. Mista Cookie Jar Ultramagnetic Universal Love Revolution
Maybe you could already tell by its title, but the SoCal hipcat known as Mista Cookie Jar, along with his ultrarad step-kids Lucas and Eva Flava, made what might be the coolest albums for families in 2012. The soulful gem “UR The Music” explores the mutual reliance of the parent/child relationship, and is one of the best kindie tracks of the year, while the outlandish “Lucas!” will have your kids demanding a danceable theme song of their very own.
Artist Website: mistacookiejar.com
10. Gustafer Yellowgold Year In The Day
If you’ve ever wondered how a guy from the sun might celebrate holidays like National Pancake Day and the Summer Solstice here on Earth, Gustafer Yellowgold’s latest is the album for you. There is considerable backstory to this long-running soft-rock series of DVDs & CDs, but the genius of creator Morgan Taylor is that whether you’re a newb or a longtime fan, you can jump in anywhere and bask in the warmth and hilarity of Gustafer and his pals.
Artist Website: gustaferyellowgold.com
If you had to pick one kids album for the ‘Best of 2012’ title, what would it be? Let us know below!
Written by: Jeff Bogle