New Kids' Music: The Indie Scene Goes Preschool

With every passing day, the line between the kids' music scene and the indie music scene blurs a bit more. If you don't have indie artists recording their own CDs for kids, you'll see them making guest appearances on other people's family-music albums. It's all testament to just how hip kids' music has gotten. But how successful are these two-world-straddling CDs? Let's take a look at some new releases.


Frances England: "Mind of My Own"
Frances England has a lot going for her. The almost supernaturally likable singer-songwriter's third album holds its own with her first two outstandingly good CDs. While she's never been anything but a children's performer, she's got the most indie of histories: Her first album was a self-recorded labor of love meant to be nothing more than a fundraiser item for her son's preschool. Except people started listening to it and realizing how amazing it was. Now on "Mind of My Own," England is being produced by kids' music impresario, Tor Hyams (who also plays organ on the record). She's being more (successfully) adventurous in her songwriting. And she's got a bona fide indie guest appearance, with harmonies by the duo Mates of State on her song, "Place in My Heart." As this already astonishingly talented artist (she does the art on her CD covers herself, too) continues to excel, I'd expect more adult artists to pop in for guest spots.


Caspar Babypants: "This is Fun!"
Caspar Babypants is the kid-friendly alter ego of Chris Ballew, better known to '90s alt-rock fans as the lead singer of The Presidents of the United State of America ("She's Lump, she's Lump, she's Lump/She's in my head"). Considering that trio's aura of goofy fun, Ballew isn't the most surprising artist to make the move from adult music to kid-pop. He does excel at it, though. The songs on "This is Fun!" spin out enough of a high-energy carnival atmosphere to keep the CD's title from overselling. With a good dose of old POTUS-style thumping beats, Caspar Babypants can rock young and old alike. He's even got a Nirvana cover on here, Sliver, with that quintessential grunge band's bassist, Krist Novoselic, playing bass. My personal favorite track is "Googly Eyes," a catchy tribute to those little plastic peepers that you stick on arts-and-crafts projects.


Keller Williams: "Kids"
Those familiar with Keller Williams may know him as the frontman of indie-bluegrass trio, Keller & the Keels. They may also know him from his eclectic solo albums or his notably diverse live shows. But until now, they didn't know him as a children's musician. And on his appropriately titled "Kids," he delivers the same kind of masterful guitar work and witty lyrics that he does in his "grownup" music. He also gets enjoyably wacky with synthesizers on songs like, "Keep it on the Paper." And while he has actual children supplying guest vocals on several tracks -- often a kiss of death for family CDs -- those young voices don't sound cloying, annoying, or overly precocious. That's a remarkable trick.


Doc Dauer: "The Body Rocks"
In a dual career that you certainly don't hear about every day, Marc Dauer is a physician-musician. Yes, the man is a genuine doctor. So it makes sense that his children's CD is an anatomy-themed album. There's real science behind these sing-along-able alt-pop tunes -- and plethora of names to fill the "featuring" parentheses the appear after most of the titles. You've got Liz Phair, Pete Yorn, Guster, and (most surprisingly) Minnie Driver, who provides backup on "Smell is Invisible." The songs are almost universally solid, though I'd be happy to skip the acted intros. And, while it may contain a legitimate biology lesson, you'll still probably hope that your kids don't love "Pee Keeps Our Insides Clean" enough to start singing it in mixed company.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.