Instead of selecting a "Best of 2006" list for this year's wrap-up of music, I thought I would share a short list spotlighting a few of what I consider to be outstanding CDs. Some are new, some are old but all deserve to be in your family's CD library.
You may have noticed in my columns that many of the artists and CDs I tend to spotlight come from independent, often smaller, companies. I just believe that many indie artists who are producing music for our kids are doing so because they have a passion for honest and meaningful music experiences for children. I'm just putting out a reminder to parents that children's music does not need to be tied to a television character or movie theme to be music our children will enjoy.
Seek out these CDs. I promise you will not be disappointed. I even have a hunch that you will enjoy them as much as your kids!
JIM GILL SINGS MOVING RHYMES FOR MODERN TIMES, by Jim Gill, Jim Gill Music, $15, www.jimgill.com; ages 3-7.
In my review of Jim Gill's latest CD, I raved about it as "one of the best records I have heard for the 3- to 6-year-old crowd." What makes Gill's music so unique? It all starts with the songwriting. Jim has such a clever, often zany, approach that his songs reach children because of the childlike and playful nature of his writing. Then he goes into the recording studio and collaborates with producer Steve Rashid. The result is not bound by any preconceived ideas about what children's music should be and soars to great and fanciful places.
Don't just take my word for it. Stop by Gill's Web site and click on the "Hear Jim's Music" where you can listen to full versions of his songs.
LULLABIES WITH MANDOLINS, by Simon Mayor and Hilary James, Acoustics Records, www.acousticsrecords.co.uk; infants and toddlers.
This CD was on my "Best of 2005" list and remains a staple in our house. This English duo is well known in the United Kingdom and their fabulous music is also available in the United States. This bedtime collection of traditional songs and classical tunes, skillfully played on an assortment of acoustic instruments, is the perfect remedy for bedtime restlessness. Whether it is a Vivaldi concerto or a beautiful rendition of a classic such as 'Lavender's Blue,' each song is exquisitely performed.
SNOOZE MUSIC, by Rick Scott, Jester Records, $15, www.rickscott.ca; ages 9 and under.
Rick Scott is another in a line of outstanding children's music artists that hail from Canada and each and every album of his astounds me.
Here is an excerpt from my review from the August 2006 issue of Chicago Parent: "I am not exaggerating when I say this music is exquisite. Scott's main instrument is the dulcimer and it weaves in and out of lush, beautiful arrangements featuring other acoustic-only instruments including small string sections, fanciful recorder ensembles, and even gentle, low-end brass instruments. Everything-the song selection, song placement, songwriting (five with vocals and six instrumentals), musicianship and artwork-is striking.
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, by Tom Chapin, Razor & Tie, www.tomchapin.com; ages 8-10.
Back on the soapbox … I get kind of agitated when I hear parents lament that there is not a lot of quality music for older kids-what I call the 7- to 10-year-old set. I don't think they are looking very hard or else they have just given in to letting their children feed on whatever the mass marketers are throwing their way.
Anyway, many of you know that I spend my days as a K-4 music educator. I rely on the music of Tom Chapin to help me reach these older kids who are not impressed with the standard fare provided by educational publishers. Tom Chapin's music is incredibly well produced, his musical palette is worldly and draws in the kids, but it is the depth and scope of his songs that invoke meaningful and thoughtful conversations in our classroom.
Here are a few more outstanding releases well worth finding:
Fascinating Creatures by Frances England. Go to www.cdbaby.com and type "Frances England" in the search box. Read some glowing reviews and hear some tunes. This CD recently was the only audio winner in the annual awards from the Oppenheim Foundation.
You Are My Little Bird by Elizabeth Mitchell. A new Smithsonian Folkways release with a fresh take on some cherished American folk songs. Go to www.npr.org, enter her name in the search box and listen to "Folk and Rock Re-Interpreted for the Little Ones" from Oct. 6.
Girl Power: Music For Girls by Various Artists. This fabulous compilation features great kids' music artists and benefits Rett Syndrome research. Buy this CD and find more information at www.girlpower2cure.org.
Gary Rosen Sings a.a. Milne. Rosen has been releasing wonderful kids music since he was part of the pioneer children's music duo, Rosenshontz. Find out more at www.garyrosenkidsmusic.com.
Beethoven's Wig 3 by Richard Perlmutter. Looking for a fun way to introduce classical music to your kids? Look no farther than www.beethovenswig.com.
Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, children's musician and producer. His Web site, www.BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children's music. The Web site also includes an archive of all Koch's past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e-mail notes and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.