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An antidote to the commercialized, cheesy kids music out there

Oh the wonderful things that our fellow urbanMamas share with us.  And of course, this comes from Shayne Berry.  She writes:

We went the first few years of my daughter's life before stumbling upon this genre of talented, intelligent folks making great music for families.  I feel like it's my motherly duty to share our finds with my fellow UrbanMamas.
Our most recent find is Frances England.  She created her album, Fascinating Creatures, as a fundraiser for her son's co-op preschool in San Fransisco.  It spread like wildfire on the Internet and is now available on Amazon.  Her engaging subjects (tricycles, trains, planting a garden, jazz musicians) blend nicely with her mellow voice and simple instrumentation.  Her melodies are catchy and singable- we adore this record.
Elizabeth Mitchell is another great find.  She was a preschool teacher/indie rock star before making kids' records.  Her most recent, You Are My Little Bird, was put out by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and follows two other fabulous records by her.  Her husband and daughter accompany her on many songs and her records feel as though the listener has been invited into the living room of this cute, musical family.  She has a knack for choosing great old folk songs to cover with her soothing voice and upbeat, simple music. Many a car ride has been calmed with her albums.
Lastly, Dan Zanes has been called the godfather of kids music-with good reason. His hip, lively take on Folk, Americana and World music is so infectious that I find myself even playing these records when my kids aren't around.  Dan and his band are extremely talented and provide family with a stark contrast to all the kids music on the market that has been created with synthesizers and drum machines. He also has a concert DVD that gives even more insight into how much he loves and connects with these songs.  If I had to choose one record to start with, Rocket Ship beach is fabulous but all his albums are must-haves.  They have all inspired countless sing-alongs and impromptu dance parties.  Even my husband gets these songs stuck in his head. 
I think that much of kids' music today has been created to follow a trend or make a buck. The thing that sets these three musicians apart from most is the sense that they started playing these songs for themselves, for their families and friends and it just so happened that other people started listening.
You can hear samples at Amazon.com
There are other artists who follow these same ideas, many were mentioned in a 2006 Family Music Poll:  http://fidsandkamily.blogspot.com/

By the way, Dan Zanes is coming to the Aladdin Theater on April 15th!


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We also have most or all of Dan Zanes' CDs and are looking forward to his April visit. In addition to what Shayne said, Dan is very inclusive and does a lot of sharing of the musical spotlight w/ friends such as Rankin' Don a/k/a Father Goose, a (I believe) Haitian-American rapper/comic. Lots of fun.

If I might add a plug for Portland's adopted wild child Kristen Hersh (she of Throwing Muses and 50 Ft. Wave glory), a few years ago she released a wonderful CD comprised of traditional lullabye-type songs, just her, her acoustic guitar and on a track or two some of her kids. This rockin' mama is also capable of real tenderness. Anyway, I think it's called "Murder Mayhem and Goodnite" (an acknowledgement that a lot of lullabyes' lyrics are actually kinda macabre if you think about it) and while Kristen self-released the CD, I suspect you can order it thru her website. Support yer local musicians!

I just ordered the Frances England cd from the fabulously local cdbaby.com - thanks for the tip! I'll be anxiously waiting by the mailbox for this one.

Another cd we've been enjoying around here is The Terrible Twos, which is Matt Pryor from the Get Up Kids/New Amsterdams making music for kids. Very catchy, and also available from cdbaby.com

I just read that they'll be playing at the Children's Museum on March 8.

Hooray! The Frances England cd is on itunes. Can anyone recommend favorite tracks?

Hooray! The Frances England cd is on itunes. Can anyone recommend favorite tracks?

We love the kids stuff put out by They Might Be Giants. The lyrics are intelligent and funny and the tunes are quite catchy. Maybe too catchy...I definitely have found myself singing some of the songs from "Here Come the ABCs" with nary a tot in sight...

Thanks for the post! Hunting down quality music for children is a minor obsession of mine. We love many of the artists mentioned; (especially Elizabeth Mitchell and Kristen Hersh.) Here's a few more...

Pete Seeger, all, but especially "Abiyoyo" and "Folk Songs for the Very Young"
Woodie Guthrie "Nursery Days" and "Songs to Grow On"
Peter Paul and Mary's "Peter Paul and Mommy"
Ella Jenkins, all, but especially "You'll Sing a Song"
and last and greatest, anything in the Smithsonian collection, but especially "The Smithsonian Folkways Children's Collection"

Note: Kristen Hersh's "Murder, Misery, and then Goodnight" is a beautiful, haunting collection of Appalachian folk tunes, and is not really for children (unless they are too young to understand the words!)

"The Smithsonian Collection" also contains some grave (ha ha) subject matter, but it is really just about the lives of children throughout the ages, which was sometimes rough. Along with some silly songs just for fun. This is my all time favorite record for children.


We listen to Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals ALL.THE.TIME. I think it's a series of cds from music classes in NYC.

Catchy music with a variety of instruments.

I totally second They Might be Giants!!!

Thank you so much for sharing these golden nuggets!!! I'm always on the lookout for music that doesn't drive me crazy after listening to it for the millionth time, so this is wonderful.
Other songs my son enjoys:
strangely, Devo...don't ask...
Nellie the Elephant by Toy Dolls (album: Dig that Groove Baby)
Album: For the Kids Too - Various Artists
Anything Dan Zanes
Beatles: Octopus' Garden and Yellow Submarine
Jerry Garcia/Grisman tunes that they did for kids.
Tippy Tap Toe by Jimmie Dale Gilmore (Woody Guthrie tune)
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah by Louis Armstrong

forgot to add these albums:

Jazz for Kids - Sing, Clap, Wiggle and Shake
Willie Nelson - Rainbow Connection
Brown Girl in The Ring - A World Music Collection

Here's an enthusiastic third for They Might Be Giants. :) Beyond that, our household's latest family-friendly obsession is Bollywood soundtracks. The music gets my toddlers up and dancing in no time, and (given that none of us actually speak the language) they do very cute things with the Hindi lyrics.

If I may be so bold... Hova and I do Greasy Kid Stuff, a show for kids on 94.7 fm, Saturday mornings at 8am. We did the show on fabulous, freeform WFMU back east for 11 years, and there are years of archives you can download there ( http://wfmu.org/playlists/GK ). We play loads of music for alternakids and their parents - most of it not originally intended for kids, and none of it commercialized or cheezy! We also put out two comps, Songs From Inside the Radio, and More Songs From Inside the Radio, chock full of great songs for kids. They sell them at Reading Frenzy, Kids at Heart and Music Millennium, as well as CD Baby and Amazon. Just thought I'd let you know!

Hello Belinda, FMU is the greatest.

Does anyone else find the big-hearted blues singer Taj Mahal to be extremely family-friendly? Everytime we hear "Queen Bee" I feel like he's singing it to my daughter, and "Fishin' Blues" is a favorite song while driving in the car.

LeeAnn, I love Taj! Have a lot of his songs on different mixes I make for my kiddo.
Gotta check out the Greasy Kid Stuff show this weekend! I mean, we're definitely awake and ready to dance by 8 am on Saturdays (with or without my coffee!). Thanks!

I forgot to add that one of Kate's fav albums is Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose, especially "Have Mercy" which she asks for by "mercy baby." We started listening to this together when we lived in Nashville, so it's fitting that we moved to Portland and the second song on the album is "Portland Oregon." Good thing Kate doesn't know what a sloe gin fizz is.

Fair warning to Dan Zanes fans on a fixed budget: Tix are 18$ per person (that includes the little ones).

Van Lear Rose is an awesome record...

We love Justin Roberts ( www.justinroberts.org ), and are excited he's finally coming to the NW this fall!! The Seattle show is listed on his website, and I emailed him yesterday and he said they are working on a Portland show too.

We've enjoyed Rockabye Baby! lullaby renditions of songs by artists we enjoy. We have the Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica and Tool versions. Some of the other bands in the collection include Coldplay, U2, The Beatles and No Doubt. www.babyrockrecords.com

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