Old Favorites Division
• Great new albums from longtime favorites both superfamous (Dan Zanes) and more under the radar (Recess Monkey) have gotten almost daily requests since being acquired. And while veterans Brady Rymer, Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke, and the Hipwaders were already on our radar, each of their 2011 releases may have been their best yet in each case.
• Missed Coverage Subcategory: Somehow I missed writing about it at the time, but the latest from kid-hop pioneer Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Monkey Wrench, maintains his dazzlingly high standard in an album for slightly older kids (and grownups...but aren't they all, really?). I always worry that it seems like faint praise when I say he's the only kiddie rapper we ever listen to; it's not. 23 Skidoo is in the stratosphere of his industry—one of the top four or five kids' musicians currently recording, in my opinion—and it's not his fault no one else to speak of has managed to produce even decent hip-hop for a children's audience yet. (Give it time.)
• As usual, several artists known for their adult-oriented tunes delved into the kid genre last year. Our favorites were the sublime Songs from a Zulu Farm from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and the (marvelously) ridiculous Down at the Zoo from Too Many Cookes (a.k.a. Mick Cooke of Belle and Sebastian).
New Horizons Division
• Maybe best of all, we got to add a few bands and musicians we'd never heard before to our watch-for list in 2011. From Monty Harper's lyrical skill and factual accuracy (the only comparable kids' songs about science are from stratosphere-dwellers They Might Be Giants) to Papa Crow's gentle, soothing indie-folk sound, we were glad to meet them.
• Missed Coverage Subcategory: They got a vote from me in the Fids & Kamily Awards voting, but I never managed to actually post about Always Saturday’s excellent debut album, the double CD (one with stories, the other with individually corresponding songs) Love Is Plural. The 10 tracks of reggae- and calypso-tinged feelgood pop, reminiscent of the likes of Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews Band, are expertly produced to generate warm, calm feelings in kids and adults alike. And the stories (with the corresponding instrumental tracks playing underneath) match the music's tone exactly—good-humored, fun, smile-inducing.