From Hip-Hop to Zydeco: A World of Difference in Kid's Music

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children's music picture

Whatever genre you want, you can find it in children's music. Illustration: Christopher Healy

Once upon a time, children's music was nothing but folk. Or at least it seemed that way. From the '60s, right on through the end of the last century, the most common perception of kids' music was sweet and mellow tunes plucked from an acoustic guitar by a warbly-voiced troubadour. Nowadays, it's hard to find a genre that the family music scene hasn't touched upon. Your child's musical education can be as widely varied as you like. And, of course, the folk is still out there -- alive and well.

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: "Underground Playground"
One of the best children's CDs of recent years came from a North Carolina rapper who goes by the name of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. His stunningly deft lyrics were bright and positive while still feeling as hip and real as anything coming out of the grownup hip-hop scene. 23 Skidoo's second album manages to top the first, with even more stellar rhymes about young friendships, road trips, discovering nature, and the like. There's a jazzier feel to the new album, and the overall sound of the CD only benefits from the appearance of strong-voiced female vocalists on several tracks. Funky, cool, and joyous, "Underground Playground" is a definite contender for family album of the year.

Brian Vogan and His Good Buddies: "Sing a Little Song"
If you had to classify Brian Vogan, you'd probably slot him into Alternative Rock, but the wonderful tunes on his sophomore disc touch on so many different bases that to do so feels like a disservice. The riff-heavy "Space" definitely fits that alt-rock label; the fast-and-deep "Wash Your Hands" has a little punk thing going on; the title track could be a '60s British Invasion leftover; "Tow Truck" actually has a little doo-wop to it; and "Dinosaurs" dips into that old folk feel. But in the end, genre is unimportant: These songs are all amazing.

Buckwheat Zydeco: "Bayou Boogie"
If you can name a single zydeco artist -- a big "if" for most people -- I would bet money that it's Buckwheat Zydeco. The Grammy-winning Creole artist teams up here with such big-name kid musicians as Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner to serve up a raucous party CD filled with accordion, organs, and even some old-fashioned washboard. The Cajun sound is layered over classic kid tunes ("Hokey Pokey"), '60s hits ("Twist and Shout") and original songs. It's fun and, for most kids, definitely different.

Elizabeth Mitchell: "Sunny Day"
Now, all of this is not to say that folk is dead. Far from it. And of all the artists keeping folk music alive for kids, Elizabeth Mitchell is the reigning queen. As with her previous children's CDs, there's a beautiful simplicity to "Sunny Day." And Mitchell's lilting vocals feel as age-old and classic as the songs she sings. On this album, traditional tunes like "This Little Light of Mine" and "Keep On the Sunny Side" get mixed in with some smiley originals and even a few Japanese numbers. Mitchell's husband and daughter appear on several tracks, but it never feels cloying. Instead, it actually manages to add to the classic "this is how it used to be" feel of the whole disc.


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