Video: "The Starlighter" - Shawn Colvin

The Starlighter cover

The Starlighter cover

I don't want to say that I squealed aloud when news came across my desk that Shawn Colvin was doing an album for kids and families... but I sure squealed silently to myself.  Like many others of a certain age, I was a big fan of her 1996 album A Few Small Repairs, and I have a good feeling about her ability to bring tenderness and understanding to an album geared at a younger crowd.

The singer-songwriter announced this week that her next album would be The Starlighter, released exclusively through Amazon Music early next year.

On the album, Colvin returns to Lullabies and Night Songs, a 1960s-era book which featured composer Alec Wilder's arrangements of traditional and children's songs and artwork from Maurice Sendak.  Colvin already dipped into the book once for her 1998 holiday album Holiday Songs and Lullabies, and for this new album, she pulls 14 songs from the book.

The leadoff video for the album is for the title track, a hypnotic ballad whose video, based on Victorian paper theatres, matches its dreamlike quality.  The layered illustrations and motion design come courtesy of WeFail.  It's a lovely work of art, and leads me to high expectations for what's to come.

You can preorder the album here.  The Starlighter is released on February 23.

Shawn Colvin - "The Starlighter" [YouTube]

Christmas and Holiday Kids Music 2017

Every year when I put together these lists of Christmas and holiday-related kids music, I walk the fine line between trying get this up early enough to be of use and late enough to be of use.  What I mean by that is, if I publish on, say, November 28th, people complain it's too early and I'll have about 3 songs or albums from some very planning-oriented musicians.  And if I wait for December 23rd to make sure I get all the music included, everybody's just about sick of Christmas music and Hanukkah might already be done for.

So I'm trying to hit a sweet spot here.  I'll update it as necessary, but hopefully too many musicians aren't thinking, less than 2 weeks before Christmas, that maybe they should try to record something.

My Favorite (and the Best?) Kids Music of 2017

This past year has been challenging in terms of writing about kids music here at the site.  There are a variety of reasons for that -- you can read this post for a few thoughts in that regard -- but the fact remains I haven't reviewed as many albums.  I'm still receiving -- and listening to -- a lot of kids music, but those thoughts haven't been translated into words on a screen.  It took me, sadly, 'til the end of April 2017 to write up thoughts on the best kids music of 2016, for an album award year that ended more than 6 months before.

As for this most recent year, I did once again submit my votes for the annual Fids and Kamily Awards I co-coordinate.  You can read all about the 2017 Fids and Kamily Award winners here, but I do feel compelled to list my own ballot in the same year the awards were announced.  (Small victories, amirite?)

Looking over this list, I'm once again struck by how my own personal favorites once again fell back on familiar and long-time names....

This Podcast Has Fleas... Will It Have Legs?

This Podcast Has Fleas logo

This Podcast Has Fleas logo

Once NPR and WHYY and WBUR and Gimlet threw their (porkpie?) hats into the kids' music ring, could fellow podcasting all-star WNYC be far behind?

Of course not.

This morning sees the official launch of their first podcast, This Podcast Has Fleas, with a whole bunch of star power, including Jay Pharaoh and Alec Baldwin.  What's it all about?  Well, the promo copy describes it succinctly:

What happens when rival pets have dueling podcasts? Find out as Jones (Jay Pharoah), a slick cat with a taste for auto tune, faces off with Waffles (Emily Lynne), a dog who can’t help chewing her microphone.

As you might guess from that copy and the promotional audio trailer below, it's a comedic (and fictional) podcast.

The first episode actually dropped on Saturday, with the second episode out this morning.  Entertainment Weekly reports that it's a limited-run series -- six episodes -- which strikes me as a perfect length for this concept, which could be wonderful, or could wear out its welcome by the sixth episode.  But based on the smartly-produced first episode, which quickly set up the setting and the stakes, and had its fair share of laughs (your local 7-year-old will go nuts), I don't think it'll have any problem keeping listener interest over the series length.

Now I will note that the concept of a canine with social media/entertainment savvy is not entirely original -- hi, Dog With a Blog!, hello, Fetch with Ruff Ruffman!  In fact, the announcer's voice in the trailer sounds suspiciously like Ruff's (though I think it's Eugene Mirman's, who's also on the show).  But it's the mid-2010s now, podcasting is the new blogging, doncha know?

Here's hoping that it does well and that its sister show, Pickle, which is an Americanized relaunch of Zooglobble favorite Short & Curly, made in partnership with some of the same Australian producers and talent from the original show, has a successful launch starting December 11.  I certainly wouldn't mind seeing a little friendly kids' network competition, though hopefully that competition's a little more cooperative than that of the dog and the cat are at the start of this series.

Best Children's Album Nominees - 60th Grammy Awards

Since the Grammy Awards are celebrating their 60th awards on January 28, 2018, will they celebrate the Diamond Jubilee by giving all the winners diamond-encrusted-megaphone Grammy Awards?  That would certainly raise the suspense and interest in the winners, even in the smaller categories, up a notch.

But, sadly, I'm guessing the Recording Academy will not go to any such length, but we can still note the announcement of the 5 nominees for Best Children's Album.

Top Kids and Family Podcasts (November 2017)

Squeaking this in juuuuust under the wire, it's my November list of the top-ranked podcasts for kids and families.  (For those of you interested, here is October's list of top-ranked kids and family podcasts.)

If you're looking for a podcast for kids, you could -- and should! -- of course look at my list of podcasts for kids (now above 125!), but if that's a bit overwhelming, try the podcasts listed below, or the official Kids Listen app, featuring shows from Kids Listen members.  Popularity isn't always synonymous with quality, but you could do much worse than dipping into the shows ranked below -- many of which are Kids Listen members -- to start out.

At 18 ranked shows, November continues to be just shy of June's all-time high of 19 ranked shows.  (That means 18 shows that appeared in the top 100 of both the iTunes and Stitcher "kids and family" charts when I checked it.)  The total number of podcasts listed below is 37, just 1 shy of October's new record.  While only one podcast hit the overall iTunes Top 200 (down from 4 in July and August), and the Top 200 Kids & Family chart featured 43 shows, down from August's 45-show record, the Stitcher total of 30 was 3 higher than the previous record.

As always: this is a blunt instrument, combining pure rankings from two fairly opaque charts, and for a variety of reasons has only marginal value as a measure of quality.  (Results compiled from Top 100 podcasts on United States iTunes and Stitcher "kids and family" charts on Thursday, November 30, 2017.  Podcasts that appear on both charts are ranked below; remaining podcasts only appeared on one list.  Of special note: Dream Big appeared on iTunes' overall Top 200 and is #1 on the Kids and Family chart, but not at all on Stitcher's family list, so for that podcast at least, this list certainly underplays its popularity.)  Anyway: grain of salt noted.

Two other reminders:

1.  If you're looking for a list that has most (or all) of these podcasts, check out my comprehensive list of podcasts for kids.

2. If you're interested in the future of podcasts for kids, you might be interested in Kids Listen, a grassroots organization of podcasters and folks like me interested in helping high-quality audio for children thrive.  We're looking for other interested folks -- producers or otherwise -- to join in!

With that out of the way, let's get to the chart.

1. Wow in the World

2. Stories Podcast

3. Brains On!

4. Story Pirates

5. Storynory

6. Circle Round

7. Story Time

8.  Tumble

9. The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian

10. The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

11. Eleanor Amplified

12. The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd

13. Little Stories for Tiny People

14. Peace Out

15. What If World

16. Ear Snacks

17.  Short and Curly

18. Bedtime Stories Cozy Corner Podcast

Others (listed alphabetically): 1001 Classic Short Stories & Tales, Activated Stories, Bedtime History, Book Club for Kids, But Why, By Kids For Kids Story Time, Children Stories and Joyful Podcast, The Cramazingly Incredifun Sugarcrash Kids, Disney Story Central, Dream Big, Family Folk Tales, Mick Munster Monster Hunter, Official Adventures in Odyssey, Podcast Kid, Spare the Rock Spoil the Child, Sparkle Stories, Summer Reading, That Story Show, This Podcast Has Fleas