Did you know that the Grammy Awards has a category called “Best Children’s Album”? And that not one of the five albums nominated this year has anything to do with wheels on busses or Old MacDonald‘s Farm? These nominees’ work is a testament to the fact that there’s a huge body of award-worthy music out there that parents and kids can enjoy together–without parents fretting about their kids’ desires to “get lucky” or experience “blurred lines.”
Elizabeth Mitchell, whose “extended family band” includes her 12-year-old daughter, Storey, and her husband Daniel Littleton, is arguably the most influential woman in contemporary children’s music–especially in the genre of acoustic, folk-inspired music that is gentle on the ears and soothing to the soul. Mitchell was the first new children’s music artist signed to the legendary Smithsonian Folkways label in the 21st century, and her original songs, as wells covers of classic tunes, bring to life a world that is beautiful, gentle, and magical–as a child might see it.
Blue Clouds is the bands sixth release, and it’s earned Mitchelll a second consecutive year on the Grammy nominee list (last year, her album covering Woody Guthrie‘s children’s songs, “Little Seed,” was nominated). Blue Clouds includes sweetly sunny versions of the classic folk songs “Froggie Went a-Courtin’” and “Hop Up My Ladies,” a cover of David Bowie‘s 1971 song “Kooks,” which Mitchell calls “funny and tender,” a 13th century medieval round called “Summer is Icumen In,” and a heart-warming musical version of the 1969 Remy Charlip book Arm in Arm, in which an octopus couple gets married and live a happy life of connection and embraces.
Beth Nielsen Chapman has written songs for Elton John, Bette Midler, and Willie Nelson, and was nominated for a Grammy in 1999 as co-writer of Faith Hill‘s hit song “The Kiss.” A breast cancer survivor and environmental activist, Nashville-based Chapman’s latest project had her casting her eyes skyward, and the result–the Grammy-nominated The Mighty Sky–is a magical yet scientifically accurate collection of songs that will have listeners gazing at the stars with renewed wonder.
Many of the lush, satisfying multi-dimensional lyrics for the album were written by Rocky Alvey, director of the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory in Nashville, and the album features uplifting spoken-word segments from Dr. C. R. O’Dell, the founding scientist of the Hubble Space Telescope, and Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the radio and electromagnetic wave-emitting celestial bodies called pulsars. The album’s scientific bone fides–plus a playfully official homage to the scientific method, “Test Re-Test and Verify”–will appeal to those who are already interested in astronomy, while the musical fun of songs like “Zodiacal Zydeco” and “Bing Bang Boom” will have kids grooving as they learn. And the lovely “There is No Darkness” could as easily connect with stargazers peering through a telescope as with anyone looking for some comfort and companionship in the universe.
Chicago-based Justin Roberts, a onetime Montessori preschool teacher, is a superstar among young school-aged listeners and their parents, who are drawn to his upbeat, pop sound that is at times reminiscent of pop/rock bands like They Might Be Giants. Roberts and his band (called the Not Ready for Naptime Players) have recorded nine CDs since 1997, and their album Jungle Gym was nominated for a Grammy in 2010. The New York Times has called Roberts “the Judy Blume of kiddie rock” for his ability to see the world through a child’s eyes and inspire kids and parents alike through his smart, funny lyrics.
The title track on Recess is an electric rock number that perfectly captures the leg-bouncing anticipation kids feel before break time. The other tunes on the album are also originals by Roberts, including “Every Little Step,” a perky love song sung to a child by his beloved dog, and “I’ll Be an Alien,” about how the imagination doesn’t take a break just because it’s dinnertime or time to clean up toys. “Being a kid’s not easy,” sings Roberts, echoing a refrain his audience likely knows very well, “so I’ll be an alien.”
In 2012, Boston-based Alastair Moock’s career as a folk-and roots-based children’s musician was taking off when the unthinkable happened to his family–one of his 5-year-old twin daughters, Clio, was diagnosed with leukemia.
Almost immediately, Moock turned to music to help his family cope with the road that lay ahead. Today, Clio‘s treatment is nearly complete–and, so far, successful–and the album the journey inspired has earned Moock his first Grammy nomination. Proceeds from album sales have enabled Moock to donate more than 2,000 copies to childhood cancer patients and their families at more than 30 hospitals and clinics nationwide. Singing Our Way Through is a roadmap for any family who is walking a difficult road, though it does feature some songs, like the humorous and empowering “When I Get Bald,” that takes on cancer directly.
A veritable constellation of children’s music stars join Moock on the album, including fellow Grammy nominee Elizabeth Mitchell and last year’s Grammy winners, the Minnesota-based duo The Okee Dokee Brothers, who appear in a rollicking cover of Woody Guthrie‘s famous song, “Hard Travelin’.” Much of the album is upbeat, like the song “B-R-A-V-E,” which Moock refers to as “medical hip-hop,” but it also has gorgeously tender tracks, like the achingly beautiful “Home When I Hold You,” a duet with fellow Boston folk/bluegrass artist Aoife O’Donovan.
Montreal-based singer-songwriter Jennifer Gasoi loves music–all kinds of music. Classically trained in piano and an accomplished jazz singer, Gasoi pours her life-loving energy into her children’s music. Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well, Gasoi’s second album, is a delightfully eclectic mix of original songs from genres including pop, swing, folk, doo wop, bluegrass, gospel, calypso, and one Cuban-flavored song, “Purple Man,” that Gascoi describes simply as “a madcap whirl.”
Gasoi’s rich, engaging voice gives life to the lessons embedded in her songs, which include living in the present moment (“I’m a Bubble,” “The Little Things”), embracing curiosity and imagination (“Red Balloon,” “How Does Pink Lemonade Get Pink?) and cultivating how our actions affect the word around us (“Buttercup,” “Hey There Joe“).
By the end of the month, we’ll know which of these albums takes home the prize!
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