New and Old Favorites in Family Music

Eliza Clark
January 8, 2010

The very idea of "family music" (music that young kids and parents love) may be a rather recent invention, but it has certainly proved a fertile one. For every new baby born, it seems, there's a groovy new album of folk/rap/reggae/international/techno/rock music for kids and their captive families. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. What we're really saying is, there's no way we can wrap our heads and ears around all of the great albums for the young ones that have come out in the past decade. But at the start of a new year, in the depths of darkest winter, we're determined to open up our families' ears to some new tunes as well as unearth some neglected old favorites that we haven't played in a while. Join us for the dance!

Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child by Woody Guthrie. Everyone know that Woody Guthrie is the father of folk music, but may we also consider him the father of family music? Since we are absolutely smitten with the Smithsonian Folkways compilation of his recordings for small children, we're going to go ahead and say yes. (Or perhaps we should call him the grandfather, as his granddaughter Sarah Lee Guthrie has turned out to be an accomplished practitioner of the form.) This CD is astonishingly beautiful, in an understated, quirky, tender, silly and completely original way. Even with all that has come and gone since Woody Guthrie wrote and sang these tunes, nothing else sounds remotely like them (and that's not just because of the slight scratchiness of these ancient recordings). Do not miss the joy of rocking your baby or playing around with your preschooler while the granddaddy of it all croons in the background.

You Are My Little Bird by Elizabeth Mitchell. Elizabeth Mitchell is among the very best of Woody Guthrie's acknowledged heirs in the tradition of folksinging for children and families. Once a nursery school teacher and now a mother, Mitchell cites Guthrie's "Songs for To Grow On for Mother and Child" as inspiration for her three gorgeous albums, of which "You Are My Little Bird" is the latest. Tunes old and new, a home-spun sound, and Mitchell's warm, angelic voice give this music its unique appeal. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.

Family Time by Ziggy Marley. Reggae and small kids. You may not have put them together before, but thanks to Ziggy Marley's wonderful new album you'll soon see why these two belong together. For it turns out that few things are more infectiously fun for kids than a reggae beat from someone who learned at the knee of the great Bob Marley. (Inspiring us to pull out a few of those old albums -- the kids love them too). For Ziggy, music really is "Family Time" and his fabulous songs will make it so for your family too. With the voices of Paul Simon, Jamie Lee Curtis and Rita Marley mixed in, who can resist?

Dizzy by Lunch Money. This South Carolina-based band has made a big splash in the family music scene with their second album, and you know there's nothing preschoolers like better than than a big, wet, preferably muddy splash. Dubbing themselves "thoughtful indie rock for the younger set," Lunch Money offers an "energetic salute to the stuff of childhood" - balloons, giant cookies, roller coasters and more. Vocalist and songwriter Molly Ledford brings an intimate, light-hearted sound to these tunes that will get your family twirling till you're -- yes -- dizzy!

Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants. Is it possible not to love an album that includes a legitimately rockin', catchy song about "The Elements"? Not the weather kind of elements, mind you, but the periodic table type. (The song's video is even better, a small preview of the full-length dvd also released with the album.) These guys are pros at serving up educational, funny, and simply excellent music - They Might Be Giants won a 2009 Grammy for Best Children's Music for "Here Come the 123s." This new album is a must for all budding paleontologists, chemists, ecologists, and hipsters at your house!

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