Top 10 Family Music Albums from 2020 and 2021

COVID may have taken a lot away, but it also gave family music a new, louder voice that will continue to evolve and grow. Here are 10 not-to-miss family music albums from 2020 and 2021.


 

Life as we knew it changed forever in March 2020. For family music artists, musicians who create music for children, each library and school closure came with performance cancellations. In a matter of days, schedules that had been filled with bookings were completely empty. Like so many of us, these performers taught themselves new technologies and reimagined how to deliver their craft to eager audiences. In addition to virtual concerts, the pandemic also gave veteran musicians time to explore new ways to reach their fans, including developing virtual enrichment activities and publishing books based on their music. COVID may have taken a lot away, but it also gave family music a new, louder voice that will continue to evolve and grow. Here are our favorites from 2020 and 2021.—Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

All One Tribe. Performed by Various ­Artists. CD. $9.49. 87 min. Aya World Productions. 2021.
Created in response to the overt exclusion of Black family artists in the 2021 Best Children’s Album GRAMMY category and the social unrest of 2020, All One Tribe is the first ever Black collaborative family music album. Featuring 24 Black family music artists from across the country, this collection celebrates a wide array of musical genres from pop to hip hop and everything in between. Topics covered include STEM, family, Black history, and everyday life. Listeners should use this album as a jumping-off point to discovering the vast richness of ­music that these performers have available. VERDICT This tour de force is important (and enjoyable) listening for all families.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

All the Ladies. Performed by Joanie Leeds. CD. $9.49. 35 min. Joanie Leeds. 2020.
Awarded the 2021 Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album, All the Ladies is filled with girl power. All aspects of the music for the 11 songs on this album were done by women—songwriting, performing, engineering, and production. The opening song “If Girls Ruled the World” is a catchy tune that will have listeners clapping hands and snapping fingers with a rap as the bridge that sets the tone for what’s to come. Other standouts include “RBG” (a tribute to the late icon, full of 1950s girl harmonies and a clip of Ginsberg speaking), the title cut “All the Ladies” (an upbeat song featuring Lisa Loeb on vocals), and beautiful ballad “Lioness” (how girls are brave, limber, and agile). “Beautiful” (Lucy Kalantari sparkles here as she tells girls that they are beautiful, accompanied by piano and violin), and “Half of the World” (featuring the voices of a dozen women singing about the roles of women in the world) are also ones to remember. The arrangements and performances of instrumentation and vocals are tight, making listeners focus on the lyrics of the songs. This is one empowering ­album that deserves to be played again and again. ­VERDICT A must-have that encourages girls to “go for it.”– Stephanie Bange

Danilo y Chapis, Vol. 1. CD. $8.99. 18 min. Moon Moosic Records. 2021.
This Spanish-language album created by veterans of children’s entertainment, Cristina and Alexander Abaroa, features the main characters Danilo and Chapis. Over the course of 11 short songs, listeners are treated to tried-and-true themes: Children will learn how to say hello in a variety of languages, visit a farm, talk about their families, and get ready for bed. The Abaroas’ experience working on children’s television shows like Plaza Sésamo (Latin American Sesame Street) is evident in the easy-to-follow lyrics set to upbeat melodies that will keep children engaged and begging for more. VERDICT This is the perfect addition to Spanish-language story times and a great introduction to ­children’s music for Spanish-speaking ­families.– Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Fiesta Global: A Bilingual Children’s Album. ­Performed by Flor Bromley. CD. $9.99. 36 min. Flor Bromley. 2020.
Hailing from Peru, singer/songwriter Bromley offers a mix of 11 songs for children to enjoy at a fiesta. Influences on the album range from Peruvian marinera to Mexican son jarocho to jazz to rock to ­Brazilian batacuda to Colombian cumbia. There is not a minute on this album that is not joyous and uplifting. Bromley gets this party appropriately started with “­Fiesta,” a gathering number that features kids singing the chorus and Bromley ­singing ­bilingual verses, then celebrates with “­Balloon Party,” a rap by Jazzy Ash. A couple of entries speak of the immigration experience: “We Came to America” is a spare ballad sung in ­English that describes diverse groups who have immigrated to America, while “­Venimos a América” is performed in Spanish as an up-tempo celebration of immigration. Other standouts include “Bamba” (Ritchie Valens’s iconic song features Claudio Vega in an arrangement that makes it his own), “ Pañuelo” (a song sung beautifully in Spanish by ­Peruvian folk singer Damaris), and “Salta” (an up-tempo game of music plays/dance and music stops/freeze, with instructions in Spanish and English). Play this album for a ­sure-fire way to keep children up and moving. ­VERDICT An excellent choice to diversify music collections.–Stephanie Bange



 

I Am Kind: Songs for Unique Kids. Performed by Lindsay Munroe. CD. $10.98. 30 min. Craft Recordings. 2020.
Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Munroe had her dream come true when she was signed by Raffi (Cavoukian) to his record label Troubadour Records. Munroe’s delicate soprano voice is just right for these 16 songs, some original and others covers from Raffi’s catalog. Instrumentation is spare—a mix of ukulele, mandolin, electric piano, guitar, and glockenspiel/xylophone depending on the tune—and arranged carefully, so as not to overpower the other songs. Opening title cut “I Am Kind” (the lyrics are empowering and could be a great mantra for children) is sung as a duet, with Munroe singing the melody while playing ukulele and Raffi harmonizing and playing electric piano. Other original songs include “I Can Try New Things” (another empowering song), “Something Good” (a celebration of the good things around us), “Waiting Nicely,” “Ask for Help,” “OK to Make Mistakes,” and “Problem Solvers.” Raffi song covers/duets include “The More We Get Together,” “This Little Light,” “De colores,” and “Frere Jacques.” She closes with the calming, centering lullaby “I Can Dream.” Munroe is a promising talent. ­ VERDICT These will be perfect to listen to during a resting period for young children.–Stephanie Bange

Music Makes Me Happy. Performed by Katie Dwyer. CD. $8.99. 37 min. Katie Dwyer Music. 2021.
The 17 songs on Dwyer’s debut album hit all the right notes for the preschool target audience. Dwyer’s experience working with children as an early childhood music educator is evident in the subjects she chooses to write about and the way she pairs simple, engaging melodies to support her lyrics. Most of the tunes in this collection are upbeat and encourage listeners to move around, make sounds, and sing along. Children and their caregivers will have the opportunity to waddle like penguins, go on safari, dance like a snowflake, and do the “Hula Hula La La La.” VERDICT Grab this album for family listening or pair it with story times.—Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

¡Muévete!: Songs for a Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body. Performed by José-Luis ­Orozco. CD. $16.98. 65 min. ­Smithsonian Folkways. 2020.
In his latest recording of children’s music, Orozco collects nine of his signature songs and performs each twice on the recording—the first time in Spanish and later in English. There is a joy in his music that transcends language barriers. Each of these tunes will have young children up and moving around. Highlights include “Clap, tap, tralalá”/“Clap, Stomp, Tralala” (sung a capella with children singing along, the action song gets faster each time the song is sung), “Los pollitos”/“Baby Chicks” (this begins with guitar strumming and humming, then dives into the fingerplay), “Arriba, abajo”/“Up High, Down Low” (a game of up and down), “Palomitas de maíz”/“Popcorn” (kids can jump up and down with each “pah!” sung), and “El baile de los colores”/“The Dance of All the Colors” (accompanied by guitar-picking, bongos, and güiro). This album would not be complete without the traditional Mexican folk dance “La raspa”/“La Raspa.” ­Orozco is a treasure whom every child should know. VERDICT This will get kids “up and at ‘em.”–Stephanie Bange

Ready Set Go! Performed by Divinity Roxx. CD. $7.92. 21 min. IROXX Entertainment. 2021.
Roxx, the world-renowned bassist and songwriter, brings her talent to children’s music with this debut family album. Geared toward children eight and under, this collection of songs empowers listeners to be themselves, and to take pride in who they are and what they can do. Rich instrumentation supports the rhythm-driven melodies, while the original lyrics fill each song with messages of positive energy and love. Assists from Alphabet Rockers, Fyütch, and 123 Andrés enhance the strength of this impressive debut. VERDICT Families will enjoy jamming along to this enjoyable, empowering collection.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Seconds. Performed by Ben Tatar & the Tatar Tots. CD. $9.49. 32 min. Ben ­Tatar Music. 2021.
Chicago-based Ben and the Tatar Tots follow up their debut family music album Food! (2014) with the aptly titled Seconds. This time around, Tatar focuses his attention on a wide range of delectable delights, from jambalaya and peanut butter to pizza and sweet nectarines. Also included on the 10-tune menu are a song about broccoli, one about greens, and another featuring cookies. All of the songs have a jazz/swing band base, but each is given its own musical flair. From the down-tempo soft sounds of “The Breakfast Song (Start It Right)” to the funky “Back to the Buffet,” families will enjoy moving and grooving to this delightful treat. VERDICT The subject of food is always a crowd-pleaser, making this album a surefire hit.–Veronica Schwartz De Fazio

Songs for Singin’. Performed by The Okee Dokee Brothers. CD. $17.99. 70 min. Okee Dokee Music. 2020.
This two-disc set from Grammy-winning Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing of The Okee Dokee Brothers is packed with 27 original songs divided between Day on disc one and Night on disc two. Most of the tunes are up-tempo, with a strong beat and country sound. Listeners will ­escape to a laid-back idyllic day filled with a “Hope Machine” (this toe-tapping and ­banjo-slapping opener urges all to keep up hope), “Early Bird” (a morning time wake-up song), “Neighborhood Band” (rounding up everybody to bring whatever talents they possess to contribute to the band), “One Little Heart” (features clapping and snapping with a zippy refrain), and “Sally-O” (this sailor’s delight features a squeeze box). The second disc settles into the night: ­Encouraging everyone to have fun (“Raise a Ruckus”), realize when it’s time to go home (“Campin’”), join into a call-response song (“Let’s Throw a Party”), and enjoy a swinging Cajun/zydeco tune (“Jumbo Gumbo”). The disc closes with a sweet train ride lullaby (“Hushabye”). Guitar and banjo rule in these songs, but are enhanced with the addition of an occasional jaw harp, accordion/concertina, trombone, spoons, and tin whistle. As always, the Okee Dokee train takes off and leads listeners down home. VERDICT Perfect for family listening in the car.–Stephanie Bange

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