Compilations: All too often, as I’ve observed before (and as you’ve likely noticed), they’re leftovers or donated rarities that should have stayed rare. No matter how good the cause, the “unreleased track” from your favorite band frequently turns out to be something left over from a high school battle of the bands.
But for some reason, that seems not to be the case as much in family-friendly music. Recent years have brought, among other releases, the excellent Play and the mostly great For the Kids series; go back a few years and you get Bloodshot Records’ The Bottle Let Me Down and the incredible Stay Awake collection of Disney covers from folks as varied as The Replacements and Tom Waits.
The pace isn’t slowing. Below, you’ll find some fun records that will introduce you to a lot of bands you’ve probably never heard before, some from kid-oriented performers and some from performers who have never done anything for kids.
Ditties for Kiddies: This release of mostly bluegrass and alt-country tracks, benefits Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit that brings free musical instruments and instruction to public school kids. You probably haven’t heard of almost anyone on this CD (I hadn’t), which makes finding its delights even more fun. The lead-off track, “Pickle Juice,” done by the Deep Fried Pickle Project (who put together the CD), is hilarious and catchy, and shows a sense of humor and whimsy that persists throughout the CD. Other highlights include “Birthday Is Over,” done by Shinyribs (the solo project of Kevin Russell, front man for the Gourds) and my favorite song on the CD, “Daisy,” singing the praises of a VW bus, done by Deadwood Revival, with gorgeous harmonies and evocative lyrics. These aren’t kids’ bands, but you’ll wish they’d do more stuff for kids. CDBaby.com/cd/dfppap
High Meadow Songs: Along the same lines, musically, but with a bit more serious tone, is this release, a benefit for an arts scholarship program in the Hudson Valley of New York. Unlike Ditties for Kiddies, this record features a lot of performers who have done music for kids in the past — Dog on Fleas, Elizabeth Mitchell, Medeski Martin & Wood — but a number of more general audience performers, too — Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, Debbie Lan, and others. It’s a gentle CD that works a bit more subtly than some. Mitchell’s “When Spring Comes” is a little bittersweet (“When spring comes, there’s nothing you can hide”) but overall joyous, and her “Handsome Molly” with Dog on Fleas will make you wish they’d do a full record together. HighMeadowArts.org
Funky Kidz: No! Don’t run away, just because of that wacky “z” at the end of “kid”! This is so much better than you’d think given that spelling conceit! It’s made up of classic songs — both standards (“This Land Is Your Land,” “Froggy Went a Courtin”) and more recent (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and “Yellow Submarine”) performed by some of the best New Orleans has to offer, including Bonerama, The Radiators, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Ingrid Lucia, and more. Most attempted funk for kids ends up sounding like you’re in the New Orleans section of a theme park — not this. This is the real deal, and it sounds great. Just ignore that “z.” FunkyKidzMusic.com
Rock ‘n’ Roll Coochicoo Revue: All that folk and funk is fine, but what if you want to rock out some? This release, from the Boston area, may be for you. It’s smart, funny in parts, and pretty varied, featuring tracks from Tanya Donnelly (formerly of Throwing Muses and Belly), Bill Janovitz (from Buffalo Tom), and many other New England rockers. Chris Colbourn’s song about Emily Dickinson, “V for Verlaine,” may be the highlight for kids who want to rock and write poetry.
Bill Childs is a law professor in western Massachusetts who hails from Minnesota. He and his kids produce a kids’ music radio show, “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child,” weekly; check it out at SpareTheRock.com. Contact him at [email protected].