Review: New Orleans Playground (Putumayo) - Various Artists

NewOrleansPlayground.jpgIt's safe to say that the fine folks at Putumayo Kids aren't putting together a collection called, say, "Phoenix Playground," or even "Chicago Playground." Phoenix has a decent musical history for a city so young, and Chicago's musical history is tremendous, but New Orleans is probably the only American city with a musical background robust enough to provide so many songs to choose from while offering a distinct-enough sound to make the mix-tape at which Putumayo excels sound good.

While touching on many strains in New Orleans music, New Orleans Playground (to be released on Tuesday) relies most heavily on the side of rhythm and blues. With a number of classic songs on the collection (most notably Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya" and Fats Domino's "Whole Lotta Lovin'"), the adults may be forgiven for thinking that they've accidentally turned on the radio and "KOOL 97, Classic Oldies!" (See also Dr. John's bouncy-yet-mellow "Row Row Row Your Boat" and Buckwheat Zydeco's massive reworking of "Skip To My Lou" into "Skip To My Blues" for familiar voices.) But there are enough much less familiar artists and songs to make the collection not feel stale. I particularly liked Charmaine Neville's "Second Line," a fun tribute about New Orleans' brass band tradition. Credit goes to Putumayo for not always picking an obvious artist -- it was nice not to hear a more-famous Neville brother on the collection, and they chose the unknown-to-me Hack Bartholomew for a rendition of "When The Saints Go Marching In." It's too bad, however, that the collection mostly ignores New Orleans' strong jazz tradition -- while it's hinted at on some of the more brassy tracks, this collection needed a jazz track from the birthplace of jazz.

If you didn't have the familiar Putumayo illustrations, you wouldn't necessarily know that this collection was targeted at kids (only one or two tracks are really kid-focused), but let's say that kids ages 3 through 9 are most likely to enjoy it. You can hear some samples at Putumayo's album page.

This collection is a gentle if incomplete introduction to New Orleans music. Expertly compiled and arranged, both parents and kids will enjoy it. Recommended.