In the last 10 years or so, I've been blown away by the sophistication, musicality and alternative fun factor of children's music. No longer is the genre populated by staid nursery rhymes and childlike voices. These CDs will liven up and smarten your kids. A few are from tried-and-true classics.
"Born in the Deep Woods" from Red Yarn; $12.99
All you have to do is turn on the car radio to hear the surge in popularity of folk music, which is usually disguised as alternative pop with a down-home flavor (think the Lumineers, Hozier and Mumford & Sons). Kids love folk music; it's easy to sing to and understand, and it feels cozy and simple. Enter Andy Ferguson, aka Red Yarn, Portland's premier family folksinger and puppeteer who's just released his fourth album.
"Born in the Deep Woods" explores the genres that grew out of American folk music, from heartland rock to bluegrass to country. The 12 songs, six original and six traditional, from "Birdies' Ball" to "Crawdad" to "Old Black Dog," also reflect the joys and fears of bringing new life into the world — Ferguson's expectant wife's crisp, clear voice is added.
Refreshing and comforting, "Born in the Deep Woods" makes for some soulful listening for the entire family.
"Keep On" by Little Miss Ann and Amy D; $13.99.
Chicago's Little Miss Ann has enjoyed national acclaim with her upbeat style of folksy tunes. In "Keep On," she collaborates with newcomer Amy D. and Grammy-winning producer Dean Jones for a zesty take on sing-along call-and-response style music. With Filipino backgrounds in common, the pair has lots in common and brings their joyful explosion together. From 1950s doo-wop in "L.O.V.E" to the Johnny Cash-like "Where is Thumbkin?" to Calypso to swing to an ode to Chicago to plenty of unique musical instruments — toy piano, mandolin — "Keep On" is a fun treat.
Little Miss Ann and Amy D. also pay tribute to their Filipino culture by odes to food. "Ube" is about the cherished purple yam, while "The Senses Song" mentions halo-halo and lychee.
"Best of Hullabaloo: Volume Two" from Hullabaloo; $12.
Hullabaloo is one of the most popular children's musical groups of all times. The group's 13th album is here to the delight millions of fans. Kicking off with "Sleep Well Tonight," an updated country bluegrass tune that's also silly and zippy, the album forays into a wide array of appealing tunes from "Dog Song" to "Siren Song" to "I Wear Pink" (about a boy who loves to wear pink) to the get-down and boogie "Raise a Ruckus" and the xylophone-filled "Favorite Day."
Other songs include ukulele and dobro, hand clapping, gospel, an up-tempo ode to a trashed car seat and the simple poetic finale "You Are Loved."
Called "as good as it gets" by People Magazine, Hullabaloo really knows what they're doing!
"Best of Raffi" by Raffi; Rounder Records; $14.
This iconic best-of album from Raffi is a career-spanning collection celebrating his 40 years in the music business. Also a respected children's and environmental advocate, Raffi has worked with Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama and been the focus of a Ted Talk.
This CD is a return to the musical roots that made him Raffi, with famous tunes such as "Apples and Bananas," "Shake My Sillies Out" and "One Light One Sun."
"Best of Raffi" is Raffi's first collection of hits to be released outside of Canada, and it is a must-have CD for any child, even his so-called "Beluga grads" adult fans.
"Jump & Jam Tunes" by dana; $14.95.
Dana's music has earned 17 national awards and acclaim from critics and families. Her latest CD is an action-packed collection meant to get kids off their booties to dance and sing, a lively musical party of various musical styles, including jazz, country, rock, bluegrass and pop. Songs include a Latin music-inspired freeze dance called "Jumping Beans," a rock & roll "Wiggle Workout" and an egg shake called "Shakin' Things Up."
Dana also aims to make kids think. In "Do My Part," she asks them to help make the planet smile; in "I Love Mommy," she asks them to pay homage mothers.
"Jump & Jam Tunes" also encourages counting animals' legs and making music with pots and pans in "Grandma's Kitchen Band." This album is a smart way to get in a little education and exercise at once.
To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.