Happy New Year! I’ve been tinkering for weeks about whether to put together a “best of” list. Lists have never been my thing, but this week when I pulled up past interviews, reviews and music, I was quickly reminded that 2015 was in fact another incredible year in kids’ music. So, let’s do this thing!
The list below represents a sampling of the 20 best albums from 2015 plus one from 2014 (because I included my picks for the Fids and Kamily Awards which considers albums between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015) and a few honorable mentions. The albums are presented in no particular order, and are personal favorites of mine and those of my 7-year-old daughter Emily. They appeal to families who love music, the adventure of finding more of it, and parents who want to foster a love of music in their own kin. This, for me, is the big enchilada. It’s what I enjoy most about being a part of the industry and covering it for you.Take 10 minutes and sample a few songs on each album. I promise you’ll find more than one to love, regardless of your age.
[Flight of the Blue Whale] is eccentric. There is a meticulousness in the overall composition that captured my attention, in addition to the variety of instrumentation. Waltzes serve as segues, buoyantly carrying the listener along, while nontraditional objects are used to emphasize critical pieces of the story, e.g. Drinking glasses sonically illustrating weightlessness as a baleen whale takes flight.
Imagine if you were to open a National Geographic Kids or Ranger Rick magazine and there was music playing on each page. Animal Tales takes the pages of these beloved magazines and brings them to life with soundtracks cleverly matched to a variety of animal personalities. Each song is rich with fun animal facts, infused with the artists’ lovable sense of humor and clever ability to play with words and phrases, making it one of the most listenable and entertaining albums out there.
The musical variety of Big Block SingSong is tremendous and the lyrics are insightful and amusing, A block with a German accent singing in euro-funk style about hair; a monkey snapping off bluegrass-y lyrics about a “Two Banana Day”; and, with a catchy indie-pop backdrop, caveman named Dave pointing out that an erupting volcano is a hot mess. These are just a few of the priceless gems you’ll find in this collection.
“You’ve gotta be who you’ve gotta be, a dancing plant or a cat who skis // A boy in a dress, a girl in a tree, you be you, I’ll be me.” – “It Takes All Kinds,” All Kinds of You and Me
Artists in the kids’ music genre frequently reference two classic albums that inspired them and whose music embodies their same values: Schoolhouse Rock and Free to Be…You and Me. No doubt that both are landmarks, and it’s easy to see why many artists making music for families aspire to carry on the legacy of these albums and uphold the same values and messages.
Understandably, creating a modern day version of such a notable and groundbreaking album like Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be would be quite a feat. However, if anyone were to approach this task, Alastair Moock is the man.To take on such an epically classic album that has impacted so many people and challenged society’s view of our world takes courage and really the perfect amount of humor and swagger. And I don’t mean swagger like Jagger.Well, maybe in that way, but we’re talking about the children’s music genre. Think G-rated swagger.
In Free to Be, Thomas very directly spoke to her 1970’s society, proclaiming equality across all conceivable categories. With his latest album, All Kinds of You and Me, Boston-based singer-songwriter Alastair Moock picks up where Thomas left off. Joined by a stellar group of musicians (Rani Arbo of Daisy Mayhem, singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball, Debbie Lan of Grenadilla, singer-songwriter Samirah Evans and producer Anand Nayak who is also from Daisy Mayhem), Moock gently reminds kids (and adults!) that we should all be free to be who we want to be, without limitations or the borders of stereotypes, and that love is very much a force that drives acceptance. Love of ourselves as well as one another.
Moock is a modern day Woody Guthrie, mixed with a hint of Bob Dylan. You can hear it in his style, in the way he uses music as a guide for justice and most certainly in his clever wit. His gentle voice with its signature rasp lends itself nicely to the Americana sounds of his compositions. Like Dylan, there is poignancy in Moock’s approach but also a deep well of passion for social justice, equality and healing through music.As with poetry, artists can eloquently articulate in music what might seem heavy-handed, too serious or too awkward in the written or spoken word – especially for a young audience.
Through clever repetition, “My Life is a lot Like Yours” speaks from a child’s perspective and illustrates the normalcy of family life with same-sex parents (two moms/two dads), reinforcing that families might look different but they can still be a solid unit and operate in similar ways to those with a mom and dad at the helm.“You Might Be A Girl” stomps on gender stereotypes by articulating the endless possibilities available to girls today; Samirah Evans’ voice adds so much strength to this empowering song. Like it was written for her (and in a way it was), this song tops my daughter Emily’s favorites list.
Taking on topics and conveying them without preaching is delicate. Moock meets the right criteria with poetically intricate lyrics that are impactful, delightful and accessible to a large audience. His 2014 Grammy-nominated album, Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids, for example, gave listeners insight into his ability to address sensitive subjects head on; each song reflects his family’s experiences during the time when his daughter Clio (now in remission!) was diagnosed with leukemia. Moock’s capacity is tremendous.
In “I Am Malala,” Moock sings: “I raise up my voice for an equal chance // To live and learn and grow // to be who I want to be and explore // The things I want to know.” Through these words, he reminds us that it takes courage to stand up for who we believe we are. But through that courage we grow and learn how to make a lasting impact.
As I was listening to this album and thinking about an angle for a review, the seemingly ever-present phrase Live Laugh Love came to mind. While I recognize the beauty in this motivational quote, it’s so overused thatI typically write it off as just another “Hallmark” greeting.
The thing is, the effect is much more meaningful and profound when I think of the words one by one. Each one makes a bold statement, commanding me to remember to hold onto its important value as I move about my day – as a parent and just as me. All Kinds of You and Me offers the same relief. My personal favorite song, “All in a Day (featuring Anand Nayak),” inspired by Cynthia Rylant’s book of the same name, smoothly underscores this sentiment with encouraging words: “...live it well, make it count // fill it up with you // The day’s all yours, it’s waiting now… // See what you can do.”
Whether we directly speak to our children about justice, acceptance and global love, we prominently place a big Live Laugh Love sign in our homes or we let the music do the talking for us, it’s never too early to incorporate the values woven within All Kinds of You and Me. Just like Guthrie and Dylan, and many others who spoke out so freely and took a stand for change and love, Moock proudly joins the ranks, inspiring future generations to do the same “cuz every life’s a kind of prize.”
Today’s post features a Father’s Day Q&A, as well as Moock’s latest video for “It Takes All Kinds,” the first single from his forthcoming release due out June 19, 2015. All Kinds of You and Me was inspired by Marlos Thomas’ groundbreaking album Free To Be…You and Me, and similarly presents a collection of songs encouraging us to be proud of who we are and accepting of others. We are all unique, and Moock celebrates the sweetness of this in the first released single + video, “It Takes All Kinds.”
To produce the video, Moock paired up with Key Wilde of Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke whose illustrations and animation complement the song in an excellent way. Wilde’s ability to create wonderfully weird characters pairs well with Moock’s encouraging words: “We come in every shape and size, we live all different kinds of lives / We’re seldom wise to criticize cuz every life’s a kind of prize.” And that applies whether you’re a dancing plant, a dog who oinks, a boy in a dress, or a girl who climbs a tree! Yeah!
Read on for some Father’s Day Q&A followed by more Moock music videos!
Below Moock shares his thoughts on being a Dad, his plans for Father’s Day and how his family participates in making music with him.
KCG: What are you planning to do for Father‘s Day?
AM: Absolutely nothing!
KCG: What is the best thing about being a dad? AM: Being called Dad by two beautiful kids.
KCG: What is the hardest thing about being a dad (especially if you are a touring artist)?
AM: I actually tour less since I switched my focus to family music than I did in my earlier “grownup” career – and, because shows are early, my kids can come to (and participate in) shows, so that all works out well… I think parenting is challenging for everyone, and I’m certainly no exception. Being a parent is a great job, but it’s a definitely job.
KCG: How often do you play music/sing with your kids? Do your kids join you during performances?
AM: My (twin) girls have sung with me on stage since they were toddlers, and we’ve done a lot of co-writing over the years too. It’s one of my the things I love most about what I do. One of my girls is especially interested in singing and performing… Given that they’re now eight and no doubt about to enter a period of life when dad is going to be a huge embarrassment, I plan to savor this time while it’s still here! And I hope, when they come out on the other side of adolescence, they’ll want to sing and play with me again.
Below are videos featuring Moock and his daughters. “Inside a Book,” which was written with his daughter Elsa and “When I Get Bald,” which he performs with his daughter Clio.
You can’t prepare for life crises but when you are faced with one, keeping hope alive and maintaining your spirit can prove to be an arduous task. In July of 2012, Alastair Mock and his wife, acclaimed writer Jane Roper, were faced with the biggest challenge of their lives when they found out that one of their twin daughters had cancer. Clio, only 5 years old at the time, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “It felt like we were drowning,” says Moock. “For the first week or so, my wife and I walked around in a trance. Then, I went home and got my guitar.”
Out of that musical epiphany blossomed a beautiful songwriting partnership between father and daughter. Moock and Clio spent their first month in the hospital singing and writing songs together. “Singing together in the hospital was transformative, not just for Clio, but for me. It reminded me how powerful music can be,” says Moock. Watching Clio’s spirit come alive as they sang songs like the whimsical “I’m A Little Monkey,” was magical and the driving force that propelled Moock to create Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids, an inspiring album filled with joyful songs that could touch children and families in the same way.
Starting off the album is an acrostic style poem called “I Am The Light” using the word “cancer.” This empowering opener is spoken from the perspective of a “brave kid,” standing strong, able and ready to make the best of the long voyage ahead. Following this song-poem is the funky “When I Get Bald,” a song that embraces the beauty of the changes one faces with this sort of illness. The song’s accompanying video is touching yet light-hearted as it highlights Moock’s knack for artful humor.
Moock, a Massachusettes based children’s artist, is a veteran musician with a long-standing career as a folk singer. First, playing for adults and then moving into the children’s genre in 2010 when his children were born. With his signature gravelly voice, à la Louis Armstrong, Moock combines playful lyrics with rootsy melodies, reminiscent of Woody Guthrie.
Joining Moock on this recording are some amazing artists that add a hearty blend of sounds. Elizabeth Mitchell joins Moock in “Take a Little Walk with Me,” a soft folk song with a motivational message while The Okee Dokee Brothers bring on a hootenanny with a lively rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Hard Travelin.'” Blues legend Chris Smither adds soulful vocals in “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” while patients, former patients and siblings, collectively named “The World’s Bravest Kids” join in on “This Little Light of Mine.” And, considering the family as a whole, are songs like “Have You Ever Been Jealous,” featuring Rani Arbo and “Children Take Care of Your Grown-Ups.”
Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids provides a well rounded account of what life is like “on the inside” of cancer, while also challenging the fear and pain that comes along with it through the healing powers of music. Built on the foundation of love for his daughter and the positive effects the entire process has had on her, Moock has created a vehicle through which he hopes can benefit children and their families in the same way. Singing Our Way Through: Songs For The World’s Bravest Kids is more than just a collection of songs. It’s a companion that seeks to uplift spirits, while providing support and understanding to those who might need a little sunshine through the clouds of any troubling circumstance. A truly powerful album that any family can benefit from.
Donations from the proceeds of this album will help Alastair perform and distribute free albums to patients, hospitals and oncology programs around the country. The Singing Our Way Through project is not — at least for now — a registered non-profit, so your donation is not tax-deductible. But it is much appreciated, and goes a long way to help. Click here to donate.