10 Children's Music CDs to Enhance Collections

From Eric Herman and the Puppy Dogs's Magic Beans to Steve Elci and Friends's Nutmegger, here are ten children's music CD titles to have on your radar.

For Children of All Ages. Performed by You and Us. CD. $25. 33 min. Emerald Sketch. 2022.
At first, the phrase “trauma response” as the description for an album of children’s music is a little intimidating, but under the creative expertise of clinical art therapist and musician Nicole Porter, the resulting collection of songs is just what little listeners need right now. Covering topics like safety and staying connected with friends and family, the songs and interludes are presented in gentle, non-threatening pop, rock, and country melodies. For example, Porter’s beautiful vocals in “Safety and Security” tell the story of the pandemic but with clams as the main characters and purple algae as the dangerous virus. VERDICT Good for family listening or sharing in groups where children are struggling with the today’s challenges.– Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Life Beyond Sight. Produced by Val Smalkin and the Maryland School for the Blind. CD. $10. 20 min. Small Kin Music Fun. 2022.
A songwriting workshop, led by Smalkin and held at the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB) for teens who were born blind, inspired students to write lyrics for three of the five songs on this EP. The lyrics are set to music composed and performed by professional musicians or organizations. “Not with My Eyes” features chanteuse Jamie Leonhart and reminds listeners that blind people can “see” using other means (including their hearts) and should be valued and treated with respect. “Dance of Freedom,” with music by Dave Kinnoin and Jimmy Hammer, is an upbeat tune sung harmoniously by the West LA Children’s Choir. “Lifeboat to Sanity,” performed by Sahffi Lynne, speaks of the power of music to bring calm to every listener. Two tracks are instrumental pieces. Orlando Enrique Fiol, a professional musician born blind, uses a jazz vibe to flesh out the tune “Not with My Eyes” as a piano solo. A graduate of MSB, ­Alexander Gringalus-Kern also tickles the ivories, playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Invention No. 1 in C Major.” VERDICT A stirring production that will bring awareness to the school and showcases the talent of young musicians from the Maryland School for the Blind. An excellent choice for all libraries.– Stephanie Bange

Magic Beans. Performed by Eric Herman and the Puppy Dogs. CD. $13.99. 42 min. Butter-Dog Records. 2022.
It has been six long years, but Herman’s ninth album was worth the wait. Inspired by the idea that something seemingly small and insignificant can become something unexpected and enormous, the dozen original tunes are fresh and sure to please kids and their parents. Herman is accompanied by “Puppy Dogs” Dave Petty (guitar, bass, percussion) and Ben Macy (piano, keyboard, accordion), who offer banter, silliness, and harmonies in several songs, adding depth, lightness, and wacky humor. A variety of musical styles (including psychedelic pop) and tempos (upbeat and ballads) are found not only among the songs, but also within them. Standout selections include the opener “Googly Eyes” (a humorous number that imagines how things, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Mona Lisa, would be improved by sticking googly eyes on them); “Merry-Go-Round” (the lyrics compare life with riding a merry-go-round); “My Brother” (a fun song about a tricky brother who always causes trouble); and “Remember” (a bittersweet celebration full of memories of Grandpa). VERDICT A surefire crowd ­pleaser to take along on that next family road trip.– Stephanie Bange

Nature Child: A Dreamer’s Journey. Performed by Sylvia. CD. $15.98. 46 min. Red Pony Records. 2022.
The 1980s country music pop singer/songwriter Sylvia Hutton’s latest is a concept album of 12 songs about pursuing your dreams. Intended for children and families, the musical styles include lullabies and ballads (“Nature Child,” “Good Night, Sleep Tight My Little One”), soft rocking country tunes (“Imagination,” “Every Time a Train Goes By”), and a galloping jig (“Dancing Over an Emerald Isle”). Sylvia’s beautiful voice hasn’t lost any of its brilliance or luster, as she sings lead and all harmonies to her lyrics. With music composed by several different people, an impressive lineup of instrumentalists backs Sylvia. As a concept album, several misfires were noted. The program order seems inconsistent, affecting the lineup’s punch (“It’s a New Day” comes near the end of the album just after “Good Night”). ­Gimmicky openings with sound effects contribute to an over-produced sound. Some numbers feel forced and over-rehearsed for today’s families, making listeners wonder about its kid appeal. VERDICT An admirable effort, but this one misses the mark.–Stephanie Bange

Nursery Rhymes for Kinder Times. Performed by Raffi and Lindsay Monroe. CD. $11.99. 26 min. Craft Recordings. 2022.
When Pam Gittleman, a preschool music teacher, reimagined beloved yet outdated nursery rhymes with lyrics that nurtured a sense of caring and compassion as well as promoted social and emotional intelligence she had the ideal partner in mind—Raffi. In 1997, Raffi developed “Child Honouring,” a holistic philosophy with a “Covenant Honouring Children” that is a promise to love, respect, and be kind to children, making him the perfect performer to join forces with Gittleman in this endeavor. Raffi took on the roles of the album’s composer, producer, and vocalist and brought aboard Lindsay Monroe, his frequent musical collaborator. The result is new lyrical versions of 15 old rhymes including “Three Kind Mice,” “London Rain is Falling Down,” and “Ring Around Sweet Roses.” Raffi and Monroe’s sweet, soothing vocals perfectly pair with songs that, rather than containing tales of injury, poverty, and strife, are now filled with love, compassion, and kindness. VERDICT An excellent alternative to many original nursery rhymes.– Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Nutmegger. Performed by Steve Elci and Friends. CD. 23 min. Steve Elci and Friends. 2022.
Veteran musical artist Steve Elci’s latest album features nine new tracks that will get listeners moving and grooving. Children might think that the album’s title is a made-up word like the fun terms that are encouraged in the country ode to “Silly Words,” but in fact nutmegger (which surprisingly is not a track on the album) is the nickname for people like Elci, who are from Connecticut. Each of the songs in this collection has its own sound, with themes of hope and empowerment tying them all together. Elci’s distinctive voice, which often calls to mind Tom Petty, is perfectly backed by top-notch instrumentation to bring the lyrics to life. “Only One You” has a groovy beat and rap that reminds children that there are millions of stars, but only one “you”; “Crayons in the Sun” encourages listeners to rise up and make the world a better place because this is a “Time of hope./ Time of joy;” and “I Won’t Say Goodbye” is an upbeat tribute to endangered animals that pledges to protect the animals that are featured because, “I can’t imagine a world without you.” VERDICT This energy-filled collection with an important message will keep entire families entertained and singing along.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Robots Don’t Tell Jokes. Performed by Kelli Welli. CD. $14.98. 37 min. 8 Pound ­Gorilla Records. 2022.
Kelli Caldwell, or Kelli Welli as she is known to her young fans, returns with her third album for families. This outing’s eclectic combination of musical genres includes pop, zydeco, country, and much more. Caldwell adeptly combines themes and music in delightfully inventive ways. In the title track, a very logical mechanical being demonstrates that robots do indeed tell jokes when he brings some happiness to a crying child, proving that laughter is magic that fills ears and touches hearts. Among the 15 songs on this album are silly selections, such as “Dognado” and “Stinky Shoe,” the caregiver anthem “All Ways Together Always,” the lullaby for moms “I Will Miss You,” and a lovely take on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” that includes a verse in Japanese. VERDICT Each song is presented in an entirely ­original way, making this album a must-have.– Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Smith & Yarn. Performed by Aaron Nigel Smith and Red Yarn. CD. 26 min. Tuff Gong International. 2022.
When it comes to musical genre mash-ups, reggae and country don’t immediately come to mind. However, in the incredibly talented hands of longtime friends Smith and Red Yarn, aka Andy Ferguson, it is the collaboration you never knew you needed. Sharing a common desire to create art based on themes of unity, activism, and friendship, they worked together for a year and a half on the music that would eventually become the nine tracks on this album. Combining their unique sounds resulted in an optimistic collection of songs that soothes and delights. The album opens with “Brothers and Sisters,” an upbeat tune about lifting one another up, a theme that continues in the beautiful track, “Never Be Alone.” The collaborators know when to solo and when to combine their voices to great effect. Guest performers from children’s music join them throughout the album and bring an added layer of fun to songs such as “Truth,” a banjo-filled jamboree, and “Make Some Change,” a folksy tune that includes a reggae-flavored rap from Father Goose. VERDICT While the music has a message, it is never didactic. Listeners will have this one on repeat. A purchase for all collections.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Welcome Spring. Performed by Little Miss Ann. CD. $9.98. 18 min. 8 Pound Gorilla Records. 2022.
The latest effort from Little Miss Ann (Ann Torralba) is an EP of six upbeat songs that are catchy and have great kid appeal. Opening with “Welcome Spring” (a tune that celebrates things to see and hear in spring), Little Miss Ann’s warm, low, almost vibrating voice joyfully harmonizes with special guest Suzi Shelton. Other guest singers on the recording include Uncle Jumbo (“So Many Ways,” affirming that there are many ways to find your way in life), Flor Bromley (“I Like Rice,” a fun singing game to rhyme names with foods and includes one verse in Spanish), and Torralba’s daughter and Shelton (in the chorus on “Parts Are Greater Than the Whole,” a tongue-twister number about viewing the smaller details of life to find joy). Torralba sings solo in a song about self-confidence (“Koo Roo Koo Roo Koo Koo”) and a rhyming singing game performed in staccato (“Itty Bitty Ditty”). Produced by Dean Jones, the album features musical accompaniments of Torralba’s guitar and an occasional ­trumpet, drums, flute, or harmonica popping in to add zest and variety. Very fun! VERDICT A collection of empowering songs to build self-esteem in young children. A general purchase.–Stephanie Bange

You Are Magic. Performed by Triple Rainbow. CD. $13.99. 47 min. Brave New People. 2022.
During the pandemic, Jared Mees recorded the music his family had been making for years, calling their band Triple Rainbow. This is their debut album. Fifteen songs cowritten by Mees and his daughter July show the funny, silly, light side of life from a kid’s point of view. They enlisted the help of friends/musicians Andrew Yeghazarian, Jake Hershman, and Matthew Sweeney to help flesh out the instrumentation. Mees and July share and shift lead vocal responsibility, with harmonies added liberally to fill out the sound. Highlights include the title cut “You Are Magic” (about the power of imagination to transport you to be anything you want—an astronaut, kitty, race car, or dinosaur), “Exactly Perfect” (a song of affirmation that you are perfect as you are), and “The Lake” (a story song about a family’s trip to the lake and the fun they had by all). Most tunes are upbeat and filled with wonder, mixing folk music and a driving pop-rock vibe. There is one ballad included: the standout “Beautiful All” (a lullaby about the beauty of all ages and stages of life.) VERDICT A successful family effort to make music-making fun for all—performers and audience alike.–Stephanie Bange

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