New Music For Kids: Concept Albums

Filed under: Music

The world of children's music is rife with theme albums – CDs about the sea, CDs about dinosaurs, CDs about school, and so on. But these concept discs are not easy to pull off. The gimmick can feel forced by the fifth track, or it may start to sound like the artist was relying on the theme to disguise lackluster songwriting.

But when a theme album is done well, it can be a real joy for kids.


Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights: What a Zoo!
Pure rock-and-roll fun for kids, and a parent-pleaser, too. These sing-along, dance-along tunes are animal-themed without be trite or overly goofy. Zipping from the catchiest song about mosquitoes you'll ever hear to a rockin' tribute to sea cows and an ultra-hip rendition of "Froggie Went A-Courtin'" (featuring a guest rap by kid-pop's preeminent hip-hopper, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo), this disc does not disappoint. The track "If You Go" – about the different kinds of animals you find in different places (zoo, farm, etc.) – is one of the catchiest pieces of music I've heard in a long time. And Leeds, with her pure pop vocals, is just as adept at sweet ballads, as evidenced by the lovely "Hummingbird" and "My Butterfly." This is one of the best albums of the year so far.


Monty Harper: Songs from the Science Frontier
It's no small feat to record a science-themed album that doesn't sound ultra-dorky, but Harper's new CD is a blast. These songs are cleverly written, with masterful instrumentation, and, yes, you can even sing along to a lot of them (if you can pronounce the high-octane vocabulary words in them, that is). The fact that these are great songs feels even more impressive when you consider how wonky they are. Harper doesn't shy away from very specific hard-science details. In "Microbe Hunter," he rhymes "hydrothermal vent" with "superheated effluent." And what the heck is a superheated effluent? With any luck, that's exactly what your kids will ask – and then they'll look it up and learn. But as fascinatingly educational as these songs are, I want to underscore how much fun they also are to listen to. "My Molecular Eye" is not only titled like a Radiohead song, it kinda sorta almost sounds like one. And props to Harper for referring to scientists as "she" in a whole bunch of the lyrics.


Brady Rymer: Love Me for Who I Am
Grammy nominee Rymer has pulled off quite a coup with his latest disc. He's created an album inspired by and written for kids with autism, but also one that has a reach far beyond that target audience. Rymer's work with students at a special-needs school in New Jersey may have given seed to Love Me for Who I Am, but the insightful songs on this CD would be incredibly relatable to just about any child out there. You certainly can't say tunes like "Picky Eater," "I Don't Like Change," and "Who Wants to Wear Shoes?" don't have a universal kid-appeal. These are tunes that kids who are autistic will dearly appreciate, and kids who aren't can gain a new understanding from. Musically, the songs range from acoustic pop (like "Soft Things," featuring Laurie Berkner) to full-on funk (like "Tune Out," which boasts keyboard grooves from Parliament Funkadelic's Bernie Worrell). Five percent of the album's proceeds go to the charity Autism Speaks.

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