Kids' Music: Fresh & New vs. Tried & True
The children's sections of music stores -- whether online or off -- have never been more crowded.
You've not only got the exciting, parent-friendly new wave of family artists, but you'll always have the still-wonderful, nostalgia-inducing old school as well. And the genre has been changing so rapidly in the past decade or so that the forerunners of the new guard, like Laurie Berkner, are beginning to take on "classic" status themselves. Here are some great new discs (and new old discs) for family listening.
The Not-Its: "Time Out To Rock"
A prime example of what's fresh and new in the world of kids' music, the Not-Its put out enough musical energy to light a small city. Their new release somehow manages to top their phenomenal debut album, with fast-pumping electric guitars and driving drum beats powering their punky-but-friendly new wave rock tunes. The album cover art does a remarkably good job of visually representing the funky fun feel of the Not-Its' music.
Laurie Berkner: "The Best Of The Laurie Berkner Band"
The always-sunny Laurie Berkner deserves a good deal of credit for the children's music renaissance of the late-90s/early-aughts. She took a very traditional approach to kids' songs -- simple catchy guitar riffs, easy sing-along choruses, and silly/sweet lyrics -- and with a touch of magic (how else to explain it?), made them very modern and very cool. Moms and Dads suddenly lost all of the gripes they held against children's music; it wasn't cheesy, saccharine, dumbed-down, cloying, or repetitive. In fact, Berkner concerts probably had just as many parents singing along as kids. But now, some of the preschoolers who once stomped around to "We Are the Dinosaurs" are in middle school (!) This thorough -- and thoroughly fantastic -- "Best Of" CD comes along just in time for a new generation of toddlers to bop out to.
Cathy Heller: "Turn the Sunshine On"
The title says it all. Play this CD on a dark and rainy day and you might actually start believing the sun is shining. Heller's infectiously happy pop tunes are the perfect antidote to the envelope-pushing, angst-ridden radio fare that many tweens are listening to today. This is a great kids-and-parents sharing CD. Listen and feel the joy.
"Sesame Street: Old School, Vol. 1 (1969-1974)"
You don't get more old school than this. The actual CDs in this three-disc set are designed to look like LPs – try explaining that to your kids. But the awesome part is that while these songs should immediately transport today's parents to their youths like the audio version of Proust's madeleine, they should be just as recognizable to today's kids. What you get here are three complete Sesame albums from the show's early years: "The Sesame Street Record," "Big Bird Sings!," and "Bert & Ernie Sing-Along." Many of the show's mega-classics -- "Rubber Duckie," "C is for Cookie," I Love Trash," etc. -- can be found on these discs, along with a ton of dialogue from the original cast. All three albums play like TV episodes, with overarching storylines that connect all the songs. The whole package is a delight.
Recess Monkey: "The Final Funktier"
This astonishingly prolific Seattle trio (quartet if you include Mayor Monkey -- but I don't think he plays any instruments) takes a disco/dance-funk/electronica turn on their sci-fi-themed sixth CD. Fans of the group (and there are many) will find a very new sound waiting for them on this disc -- and amazingly, it's just as wildly awesome as anything Recess Monkey has done before. In fact, The Final Funktier is one of their most fun albums yet. And the genre switcheroo only goes to show that these guys are even more talented than we'd previously imagined. I'm personally excited to see what they give us next. And with the rate at which Recess Monkey churns out CDs, I should only have to wait a few weeks or so.
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