I don't think I'm the only person who, when they saw the cover to the latest Ralph's World album, Welcome To Ralph's World when I say that my first thought upon seeing the album cover was, "Where's Giselle Potter?" She drew all six album covers for Ralph's World, and her replacement by illustrator Jim Paillot for this, Ralph Covert's first album with Disney, is akin to the Wiggles deciding that they wanted to wear black, brown, white, and green shirts or the Yankees abandoning the pinstripes deciding to trot out solid blue uniforms.
It's unlikely, however, that people would like (or dislike) the Wiggles or Yankees based on their choice of clothing -- it's their actions or songs that give them such cultural cachet. In the world of kids' music (the Wiggles aside), Ralph Covert is about as big as they get. There's not another kids' artist who in the past decade has recorded more great songs. Some artists might have a better album or two but don't have the breadth (They Might Be Giants' 2 kids' CDs, for example) while other artists aren't quite aiming for the "kids' music" target (Dan Zanes). But the world of independently-created kids' music has been, up to now, somewhat isolated from the broad American culture, and Disney, by adding Ralph's World to its lineup, is attempting to branch out.
So I realize now that Welcome To Ralph's World is less a "greatest hits" album for his current fans as much as it an introduction to literally millions of families who don't already know his playful brand of kids'-themed (mostly) pop and rock. It does follow the greatest hits template, of course -- collect a number of good songs off each of his albums while adding one new track for the diehards -- but especially since Covert has not had videos on Noggin, the notion of "greatest hits" is somewhat odd. Does the 37-minute album collect his best stuff? For the most part, yes, including the garage rock of "Fee Fi Fo Fum" and "All I Want To Do Is Play" or the gleeful pop-rock of "Dance Around." It's too bad, though, that more songs from Covert's two most recent -- and best -- albums, Green Gorilla, Monster & Me and The Amazing Adventures of Kid Astro, didn't make the cut. "We Are Ants" or "I Don't Wanna" should be on the track listing. Beyond the track selections, the new song "With A Friend (The Pooh Song)" should dispel fears that Disney will completely change Covert's style. It's a retro-sounding pop/show tune that, while not an instant classic, is certainly a worthy addition to the Ralph's World canon. The videos on the accompanying 15-minute DVD, however, will probably only please those who have seen them repeatedly on the Disney Channel. They're not bad, and the kids joking around in the audience (including Covert's daughter Fiona) are having a good time, but aside from the backgrounds -- in the style of, yes, the album illustrator Jim Paillot -- they don't have much to recommend them, visually.
Ralph's World music, particularly on this CD, which omits some of the tracks appealing to slightly older kids, will appeal mostly to kids ages 3 through 7. You can hear clips from a whole host of Ralph's World tracks at his music page.
In the end, there are really three audiences for this review. The diehard Ralph-heads pre-ordered this album weeks ago -- this review is too late for them and wouldn't have affected their decision in any case. Casual fans who some of his albums in their collection can safely skip this collection without feeling like they're missing much. And for those of you out there discovering Ralph's World for the first time, this collection is recommended as a very good (and bargain-priced) introduction to one of kids' music finest songcrafters.