Music for (All of) the Ages | Music Matters

Whether the vagaries of early spring temperatures are keeping energetic kids indoors or parents are thinking ahead to summer road trips, music that can be enjoyed by every member of the family is worth its weight in gold. Streaming services all have channels for children, but their offerings can be hit or miss, and they won’t be of any use in older cars or anywhere without reliable high-speed Internet accessibility. The albums noted below cover a wide range of styles and will provide families with hours of musical fun. Moms and Dads will find just what they’re looking for, from soothing lullabies to high-energy songs to get kids moving.

Familiar faces

Plenty of musicians who got their start making music for adults have branched out into tunes for the younger set. These albums are a good place to start for multigenerational listening.

Lisa Loeb, the cat’s-eye-glasses-wearing darling of the 1990s, won this year’s Grammy for Best Children’s Album for Feel What U Feel. Veronica De Fazio is the head of youth services at the Plainfield Public Library, IL, and assigns reviews for School Library Journal’s children’s music ­column, ClefNotes. She recommends Loeb’s 2017 release, Lullaby Girl, explaining that on the album, “Loeb takes 11 well-known songs such as ‘Be My Baby,’ ‘Dream a Little Dream,’ ‘What the World Needs Now Is Love,’ and ‘A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes’ and crafts them into soothing tunes” that are “perfect for children during bedtime and for adults searching for some tranquility in the day.”

Is there anyone who doesn’t love Dolly Parton? Her first album for children, 2017’s I Believe in You, was inspired by some of the books given away through her Imagination Library and comprises “13 beautiful songs that tackle bullying, friendship, kindness, and even childhood cancer with an upbeat, positive outlook,” says De Fazio.

Though he’s now one of the brightest stars on the kindie scene, Dan Zanes was a member of the 1980s roots rock band Del Fuegos. His latest album, Lead Belly, Baby!, is a tribute to the folk-blues icon.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo (whose Songs of Peace & Love for Kids & Parents Around the World was nominated for a 2018 Grammy), Jewel, Ziggy Marley, Jack Johnson, Barenaked Ladies, and They Might Be Giants (TMBG) have all ventured into the kids’ arena; additionally, TMBG’s bassist, Danny Weinkauf, creates children’s music with his Red Pants Band.

A lot of folk music can be enjoyed by listeners of all ages, and the Smithsonian Folkways catalog is a great entry point for anyone interested in introducing youngsters to the genre or for exploring it themselves. Its offerings include albums by the beloved and prolific children’s musicians Ella Jenkins and Elizabeth Mitchell, as well as works by such familiar names as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and albums of folk songs from around the world.

Branching out

It can be difficult to know where to start delving into the canon of children’s music if there isn’t a recognizable name attached. De Fazio has a number of recommendations of recent releases that adults won’t mind listening to over and over, beginning with the self-titled debut album from “pop-esque/adult contemporary” band The Moonlights. The 14 original cuts, she says, “blend beautiful musical arrangements with gentle lyrics that allow the gorgeous harmonies to shine.”

Also high on De Fazio’s list is JoJo & the Pinecones’ Night and Day, which features jazz versions of well-known standards as well as original tracks. The album’s first half contains “high-energy songs that follow the arc of a day from waking up to having breakfast for dinner,” while Night says farewell as listeners get ready for bed. Skillful arrangements put a jazzy twist on classics such as “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “I Can See Clearly Now,” “Night and Day,” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” as well as a few surprises, including the Smashing Pumpkins song “Farewell and Goodnight.” “Strong vocals combined with rich instrumentation make this a jazz album that the whole family will enjoy,” De Fazio says.

Folk rock fans will gravitate to Red Yarn’s Born in the Deep Woods. The final album of Portland, OR–based musician Andy Furgeson’s “Deep Woods Trilogy” combines original tunes with traditional ones. Furgeson’s “rockabilly arrangements of ‘Old Mother Goose,’ ‘Mr. Gamble,’ ‘Leatherwing Bat,’ ‘Old Black Dog,’ and ‘Crawdad’ find new life and energy when enhanced with a Red Yarn twist,” says SLJ reviewer Stephanie Bange. The writing contains clever turns adults and children will enjoy; Furgeson wrote the lyrics to “Deep Woods Revisited” as a collection of alliterative phrases, all in alphabetical order.

De Fazio calls Jazzy Ash’s Swing Set “an entertaining, yet extremely important ­musical history lesson.” The artist spent years researching traditional African American songs and rhymes and chose 14 tunes to present in a modern arrangement. The songs are all at least 90 years old and include the folk songs “Li’l Liza Jane” and “Hambone”; updated versions of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” and “When the Saints Go Marching In”; the lullaby “All the Pretty Little Horses”; and the traditional spiritual “Down by the Riverside.”

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Stephanie Klose About Stephanie Klose

Stephanie Klose (, @sklose on Twitter) is Media Editor, Library Journal.

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