Becoming A Kid All Over Again

Discovering the joy of a new era of kids music.

I absolutely love music. I'm sure that seems like a no-brainer, but it's the main reason I and so many others ended up here at Billboard. Sure, various business-related talents scored these jobs. But it is music that started all of us on this path and, more often than not, it's what keeps us going.

"Hear & Now" is one of several new additions to the redesigned Billboard.com and its reason for being is to give the music junkies here an outlet to tell you what is fueling their passion right now. It could be something that's riding the top of the charts or something so obscure it has little chance of ever registering. It might be something so new that it showed up at the office on a CD-R or the rediscovery of a veteran artist thanks to a reissue, box set, tour or memory.

No matter what it is, rest assured that the music you will read about under this heading will be what is making someone here smile, dance, groove or shout. It's what's making an iPod smoke and what we're telling our friends about. And, frankly, it's high time we shared some of this passion with you. (To the right, you can read some of the columns the Billboard.com staff has been writing as we ramped up to our relaunch).

In my case, right now I'm hearing a ton of kids' music. I've got a daughter nearing 18 months old and -- trust me on this -- she's redefined every aspect of my life. Sure, I'm still listening to a wealth of "adult" music at the office, but the at-home and in-the-car quality time is devoted to a new animal.

Although I want to define my daughter's musical tastes early in hopes of avoiding a 2014-17 boy band or pop starlet phase, there's only so much Replacements, Bruce Springsteen, Tori Amos, Ramones, Elvis Costello, XTC and Tom Waits she can bear at this tender age. At the same time, my wife and I are don't want to fall into the trap of mind-numbing Barney-isms, where the same lullaby tune is recycled over and over with new lyrics.

The key is to find songs do not nauseate, even after dozens of listens. Luckily we've found solace in artists making music that is as hooky for the kid as it is for us, including They Might Be Giants, Dan Zanes (ex-Del Fuegos) and Ralph's World (aka Ralph Covert of the Bad Examples).

I'll admit, we're longtime TMBG fans, so "Here Come the ABCs" (Disney Sound) easily reached heavy rotation in our house when I got an advance CD and DVD late last year. But, in just the last week or so, my daughter's obvious enjoyment of the songs has taken a new turn. She doesn't just ask (read: demand) to hear the disc by shouting "A-B-C!" but she's begun to sing words to some of the songs.

To a first time dad, this is mind-blowing! As she grasps language skills at a seemingly startling rate, I want to believe that she's a genius. But back in reality, I think at least some of her budding comprehension of songs like "Go for 'G'" and "D & W" has come about not only because these are cool, fun songs, but because she sees her parents enjoying them almost as much as she does.

Also essential have been not-so-new "For the Kids" compilations released by Nettwerk America and last year's Sony Wonder collection "Mary Had a Little Amp," as well as a "Martha Stewart Kids: Playtime" set. Here we've found youngster-appropriate music by everyone from Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson and Costello to Patty Larkin, Nickel Creek and Sarah Harmer that would likely have made our pre-kid mixes, yet delight the car-seat set as well.

Add our discovery of Laurie Berkner through Noggin and the Pre-K channel's addition of "Jack's Big Music Show," and this family is surrounded by fun, catchy and surprisingly quality tunes.

What so much of this music has in common is that it straddles the middle ground that between the likes of children and adults. These artists understand, like the creators of "Sesame Street" proved long ago, that it's possible to speak (and sing) to children in an educational fashion that's entertaining for everyone.

So instead of cranking out inane carnival tunes, artists like TMBG and Zanes instead simplify the sounds they've been making years for younger ears. The Baby Einstein folks did it with classical music, and these artists are doing it with pop, rock and folk. And it's saving my sanity and enriching my daughter's soul even as less enlightened parents I've met are pulling out their hair.