Compilations are notoriously hard things to compile. Any fool can put together a CD of good or popular songs, but their appeal as a single entity often fades after time. (Really, who listens to those Now! CDs, like, six months later?) The key is finding some loosely unifying theme or spirit to guide the collection. Park Slope Parents The Album (Vol. 1) has just enough theme to carry the day. The 17-track collection plucks chooses songs old and new, released and not, from mainly New York City artists. There are a few tracks that deal with life in New York City -- David Weinstone (Music for Aardvarks) contributes his simple "Subway" ("Bing bong / the doors open on the train / bing bong / All the people pile in") while Michael Leyden has a more rocking take in "I Hear a Train." Any compilation should also be measured by how well it does in helping you to discover new artists, rediscover chestnuts from old artists, and getting new tracks from your favorite artists. In terms of discovering new artists, Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel's "The Season Song" is a perfect pop tune from an adult band (whose members both teach in schools) writing a kids' song (specifically for this album). Dan Zanes contributes the "The Monkey's Wedding" from his Parades and Panoramas disk while Daniel Schorr's "Good Boy with a Bad Reputation" (off his first album) is a great example of his countryfied Dwight Yoakam-esque rock. And the new tracks. These, my friends, are why you should get yourself on the CDBaby waiting list and order the disk. Smack dab in the middle of the disk are two great new cuts. The Deedle Deedle Dees contribute their ode to New York City roadways (had to balance out the public transportation songs, I suppose) with "Major Deegan," which was recorded for their upcoming album. The loping song sounds timeless, especially with those "whoo-whoo's". And The Quiet Two continue their surreal attack on kids' music with the loopy and giddy "When I Dream." AudraRox's reggae song of tolerance "Moms & Dads" and the sometimes-out-of-control (in a good way) "Drunken Sailor" contributed by Astrograss (with backing vocals from AudraRox's Audra and Jen) are just as good. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the sweetest track, the album closer "Fools Will Try." Somehow these Brooklyn parents got Ralph Covert to contribute a track from his 1997 album Birthday, and it's nothing less than some of the best advice you can give to a child. This is one of those songs that should appear on a lot of new parents' mix CDs... The album is probably most appropriate for kids 3 through 8 (who probably don't care less about the appropriateness of a compilation and who just care whether a CD has good songs, which this one does in spades). The album is a fundraiser for Park Slope Parents, an informational website for parents in Park Slope, Brooklyn. For those of you who don't live in New York City, I'd recommend the CDBaby page, where you can hear samples. (The cover, by the way, is by children's author and illustrator Mo Willems, who contributes drawings that are more "Knuffle Bunny" than "Pigeon.") Though collected for kids living in New York City, Park Slope Parents The Album (Vol. 1) is appropriate for families visiting New York City, learning about New York City, oh, heck, lovers of good music. It's a great collection of music and it's definitely recommended.
OK, let's get the cover out of the way. Yes, it's bizarre. No, I can't explain it. And, yes, the album inside is better. Now that I've got that out of the way, let's get to the album itself. First Time for Everything is the debut kids' CD from the New York-based musician John Carlin. Carlin, like many kids' artists, had a career as a musician for adults, then started teaching music classes for kids. And, like many of those artists, his debut album is a very DIY affair, with Carlin playing every instrument. What distinguishes Everything from many other DIY albums are the flourishes of musical diversity within. The album starts off with the guitar-pop of "Eliza" and "Run Around," the latter song about how good it feels just to, well, run around. "Bein' a Dog" borrows some of melodic riff from "Time Warp, while the title track is a sauntering number featuring loose raspy vocals from Carlin. While I liked the original cuts, perhaps the nicest touches are the reworkings of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (featuring a musical interlude with acoustic guitar that's considerably different from, but very complimentary to, the original melody) and "This Little Light of Mine," which adds a small taste of a New Orleans brass band. The downside to the disk is that the production sometimes muddies the vocals (especially on Carlin's originals), making it difficult to understand them. It's something that certainly can be fixed on the next go-round. I'm gonna peg the 35-minute album as best for kids ages 3 through 7. You can hear clips of the songs here. By no means is First Time for Everything reinventing the kids' album. It's just an album with some nice new pop tunes with kid-appropriate lyrics and some old tunes presented with enough dash to make listening to the familiar melodies fresh. But if that's enough for you (and it's certainly enough for a lot of people), you could certainly do much worse. Recommended.