11 Family Music Albums to Swing into the New Year

Ring in 2024 with these skillful compositions and top-notch vocal and instrumental performances, perfect for story hours, classrooms, or family time, including an album of songs based on banned books. 

Brand New Toy. Performed by Cowboy Andy and The Salamanders. CD. $12. Digital download. $10. 34 min. Salamanders Music, LLC. 2023.
Montana-based Cowboy Andy and The Salamanders return with their first album in four years. Staying true to their musical form, the group continues to rock out, often featuring driving drum beats and wailing guitars mixed with clever, kid-friendly lyrics. For this outing, they put their own unique spin on topics, such as food (“I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones”), sharing (“Brand New Toy”), and the secret life of grandparents (“I Think My Grandma Is a Spy”). Other subjects include a pirate cowboy and waiting for the change of seasons. Also featured is a cover of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” but here the pronouns are changed—the cowboy is now a cowgirl, and the riders don’t have a gender. VERDICT This album is a welcome addition for families who are looking for an edgier sound, without edgier content.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Brand New World of Pants. Performed by Sing Along Tim and The Pacifiers. Digital download. $8.91. 30 min. Sing Along Tim. 2023.
Sing Along Tim and The Pacifiers live up to their name with catchy and soothing jams the whole family can groove to. This album features songs with silly lyrics as well as heartfelt earworms, backed by solid instrumentation throughout. Inspired by folk music for children from legendary musicians like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, the band strives to make the songs quirky yet relatable for kids. Engaging jangly rock vibes, the opening track, “The Turnaround,” features lots of hand-clapping, feet-tapping, and a jazz and blues lesson informing listeners that turnaround refers to a “chord progression at the end of a section of music/ which leads back to the beginning.” The song “I’m Your Adjacent Cat” is sung from an indoor cat’s POV: “I’m your adjacent cat/ I won’t get much closer than that./ I’m not gonna sit on your lap./ And that is that.” The rest of the album—which includes songs about trees, falling asleep into the magical realm of dreams, the first snowfall, and learning to walk—maintains an upbeat, foot-tapping tempo from beginning to end. VERDICT Humorous, catchy lyrics that kids can relate to make this easy listening for children and their adults alike.–Jane Huh

Buddy’s Magic Toy Box. Performed by Mega Ran. CD. $12.99. Digital download. $11. 36 min. RandomBeats, LLC. 2023.
Hip-hop artist Mega Ran showcases deft lyricism with this 12-song album that touches on pronouncing unfamiliar names, standing up to bullies, and celebrating strong friendships. It delivers the gift of well-produced beats paired with uplifting messages. Kids as young as toddlers can sing along with the opener, “Count Me In,” as children count to 10 in English and Spanish. In “Special to Me,” which is sung from a father’s point of view, he sings “You are… so special to me/ Me and you, I know, were surely meant to be.” “That’s a Bully” is inspired by the rapper’s own experience of getting bullied in middle school. Other highlights include “Friends Winning” featuring Koo Koo, a dance pop duo, and “Loveable and Capable,” which includes an empowering chant kids can recite: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, I’m lovable, and I’m capable.” VERDICT The message of kindness, self-belief, and confronting challenges pairs perfectly with the high-quality hip-hop artistry. This album is one to check out.–Jane Huh

Charlie Faye & The Fanimals. Performed by Charlie Faye & The Fanimals. CD. $13.99. Digital download. $8.99. 22 min. Daydream Believer Records. 2023.
Charlie Faye & The Fanimals deliver sunny 1960s Motown sounds in this album that centers kids and families who have fun while bucking convention. The nine-song album opens with “7 Days of Fun,” a delightfully engaging way for toddlers to learn the days of the week as they boogie down to the Motown sounds. “Snack Time” is a fun one to play in the car or classroom when it’s time to corral the kids for a midday break. “Milo Wears a Tutu” celebrates a kid who wears what he likes and is another ditty you can’t help swaying to. “Me & My Family” carries a catchy tune as Faye gives a nod to the widely diverse world of families that exist. “‘Everyone deserves a song,” she belts, “to feel the love and sing along!” VERDICT Worth checking out for fans of Motown and 1960s pop beats that feature songs with inclusive themes.–Jane Huh

FREADOM: Songs Inspired by Banned Children’s Books. Performed by Joanie Leeds. Digital Download. $8.99. 27 min. Joanie Leeds. 2023.
Grammy-winning Leeds is back with an album about a subject that is of utmost importance in the world of school and public libraries—banned books. As an activist, songwriter, and performer seeing the fight against banning books grow nationwide, Leeds went on a quest to add her voice to the cause. She and her daughter read many picture books that had been banned, chose a few of their favorites, then Leeds wrote songs inspired by those books. The result is the original anthem “Banned” and seven songs performed by Leeds and a host of her celebrated peers. The picture book–based songs kick-off with Leeds and her signature kindie rock sound on “Tango” (Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three), then turn to a more country-tinged “Cholent Time” (Mara Rockliff’s Chik Chak Shabbat). After that, the album embraces Caribbean beats on “Inside Your Heart” (Junot Díaz’s Islandborn), and the a cappella jam “Rainbow Flag,” (Rob Sanders’s Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag). Also included in the collection are “Block Party” (Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House) and “Born That Way” (Marcus Ewert’s 10,000 Dresses). VERDICT This album is an important celebration and call to action that informs and entertains through Leeds’s skillful compositions and top-notch vocal and instrumental performances. A must-have.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Kind People Are My Kind of People. Performed by Reggie Houston & Lori Henriques. Digital Download. $8.99. 27 min. Lori Henriques Pub. 2023.
On her latest outing, veteran children’s music performer Henriques teams up with world-renowned jazz artist Houston to create a collection that makes jazz accessible and engaging to children of all ages. The 10 tracks are a combination of fun originals, including an ode to corn and what it is like to find a flamingo in your backyard, and Henriques and Houston’s spin on jazz standards, such as “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” incorporating new lyrics into the original melodies. The duo’s patter on some of the songs is natural and speaks to their real-life friendship. Backed by a talented group of musicians, including Henriques’s son on trumpet and her daughter on violin, every performer’s voice is given time to shine, leaving listeners feeling as if they are being treated to a live performance. VERDICT A perfect introduction to jazz in the classroom or at home.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Small But Mighty: Hearty Hits for Living Large. Performed by Tiptoe Giants. Digital Download. $9.49. 42 mins. Tiptoe Tunes. 2023.
The Australian trio—Leanne King, Meg Lipworth, Vanessa Couper—known as Tiptoe Giants has created an album of music, mantras, and meditations that will speak to children no matter where they live. The first 10 tracks are filled with upbeat melodies and lyrics that will encourage and empower. The title track and the tune that follows, “Worthy Mantra,” set the tone for the rest of the album before moving to more specific topics, such as road safety, making healthy choices, and needing a squeeze when under pressure. Most songs are under three minutes, making them easy to share in story hour or classroom settings. The final four tracks of the album slow the tempos down, creating a space for calm, quiet contemplation. The closing tune is the soothing, 18-minute “Beach Relaxation Song.” The Tiptoe Giants’s voices blend beautifully and wonderfully match the subject of each song. VERDICT Use these tracks in story hours, classrooms, or at home to give children confidence and support in all their endeavors.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Storytime. Performed by Davey K. Digital Download. $8.41. 29 min. Davey K. 2023.
Davey K, a.k.a. Dave Klodowski, returns with his second album for children. The musical stylings he showcased in his debut continue to be reflected in this latest offering. Employing his musical theater experience, Klodowski’s compositions are filled with strong instrumentals that allow the vocals to soar. The tracks are original with many featuring his solo voice; he is joined on others by his equally talented partner Peter Yang. While each track tells its own story, the overall production is enjoyably cohesive. The album opens with the tale of a boy and his friend Frank, who turns out to be a lactose intolerant dinosaur. The lyrics treat the topic with care and sensitivity. Songs such as “Fruits and Veggies,” “What’s in the Fridge?,” and “Bird Song” could easily be incorporated into story time activities. Listeners are treated to the sounds of a revival with the toe-tapping romp, “Dust Bunny,” while “I’m a Bean” is filled with puns and the message that you can dream and do big things. The showstoppers—“The Desert and Me,” about a cactus finding joy in the desert, and “Captain Kate,” which features vocals by Broadway veteran Kathryn Allison and tells the tale of the first female cruise ship captain in America—are not to be missed. VERDICT This album is sure to delight children and adults alike.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Swing Kiddos Hot Klub de France, Vol. 6. Performed by The Vignatis. Digital download. $8.91. 25 min. The Vignatis. 2023.
Franco-American duo Fabrice and Tracy Vignati introduce listeners to a whole new genre with their first album for families. Gypsybilly, a genre created by The Vignatis, is a combination of French gypsy jazz, rockabilly, jazz, and country, presented in an engaging gypsy jazz acoustic swing style that will delight children and adults. The album’s nine original songs combine English and French lyrics on tracks, such as the rousing “Allez, Let’s Go,” “Un, Deux, Trois,” and “Mister Baguette,” while “Hola, Bonjour, Hello” celebrates that “no matter where you go/ every country has a word like hello.” Additional songs introduce colorful characters such as “Gaston the Frenchie” and “Pierre the Frog.” Tracy’s beautiful soprano shines throughout, while Fabrice’s raspier lower register vocals make it a little difficult on occasion to discern all of the lyrics. Together though, their voices blend perfectly, and backed by expert instrumentation, create a delightful listening experience. VERDICT Families will embrace this charming introduction to the uniquely entertaining Gypsybilly genre.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Taste the Sky. Performed by Uncle Jumbo. Digital download. $9.49. 41 min. Jumbo Life. 2023.
Positivity and joy reign supreme in this 14-song album jam-packed with pop/hip-hop songs about paying attention to all the wonders of living in the present. Houston-based musician Uncle Jumbo kicks off the album with “Be You You You,” a self-affirming bop, followed by the dazzling “Hit ’em with the Joy”’ featuring Mista Cookie Jar, an LA-based urban folk and rock performer. The slower, jazzy elements in “Mama Is So Beautiful” segue beautifully to the more upbeat “Wild Kingdom Tea Party,’’ which features vocals from America’s Got Talent semifinalist Christina Wells. Uncle Jumbo refers to his music as “T-shirt” music, explaining that it’s “something to grow into, to live in, and something to remind you of all the memories we create.” VERDICT A bouncy pick-me-up; music to dance to with the whole family or classroom. Loose and fun experimental vibes make it an easy go-to for youth groups –Jan Huh

What Does Love Look Like? Performed by Strawbitty Yops and Friends. Digital download. $9.49. 50 min. Righteous Tidings Records. 2023.
Clocking in at nearly an hour, this warm, folksy album attempts to present many different concepts and interactive opportunities for children to engage with, including how we express love for others, collaboration, doing one’s best, and being thankful. Fans of acoustic guitars, ukuleles, and vocalizing harmonies will appreciate this one. Short dialogue clips are interspersed and add more of an educational value to this children’s music project, which features guests including Uncle Jumbo and 123 Andrés. Highlights include “Good Things Take Time,” set to a slow, relaxing rhythm that reminds the anxious child in all of us to not always be in a rush, while “Rainbow Superpowers” is about embracing one’s uniqueness. VERDICT The mellow tunes and dialogue interludes can be useful for small play dates or as part of story hour transitions segues.–Jane Huh

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