I'm not usually one to be swayed by the cause behind an album, but when the first sentence of an album's press release includes a statement that "kids need to know they can be creators and not just consumers," that can exert a strong pull on me. With his Kid Pan Alley program, Musician Paul Reisler has gone into schools around the country to create songs with more than 10,000 schoolchildren. The album in question, Kid Pan Alley (originally released in 2004 and rereleased next Tuesday on Compass Records) and was the result of collaboration between Nashville schoolkids and the city's songwriting community. Nashville is arguably the most vibrant songwriting community in the country (where is its Brill Building, one wonders), and so there were some exciting possibilities from combining that talent and experience with the viewpoint of youth.
Produced in combination with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, the album is a rich collection of styles, from R&B to power-pop to bluegrass to, yes, country. The strongest tracks are those where the artist was well-known enough to allow the songwriters to craft it in the artist's particular style. Kix Brooks' "Cartoons" is a great song in the slick country-pop vein while the strutting "Freaky Friday" is given a fun rendition by Delbert McClinton (it's a great kids' Halloween song out there, one that begs a "Thriller"-style video). "Whispering in Spanish" is given a '60s string-laden ballad treatment, one that Raul Malo is familiar with. And there are less familiar artists (to me, at least) who turn in some performances -- the power-pop "No Fair" performed by Will Hoge will probably ring true to a lot of 6-year-olds. Other tracks ("Little Drop of Water," for example) take a much less direct lyrical approach, showing the influence of the professional songwriters.
There are other good songs, but the sheer diversity of musical styles works against the album as an album. I understand the desire to get as many of the tracks recorded and onto the CD, but at 18 tracks and 58 minutes in length, there are some tracks that could probably have been cut. ("Extra Hand," for example, while a nice little bluegrass tune, sounds out of place amongst the poppy and often orchestrally-enhanced pieces.)
The album will probably be of most interest to kids ages 5 through 10. You can listen to clips at Amazon or at the original release's CDBaby page.
This is not the most cohesive of albums. But as a collection of always intriguing and sometimes amazing songs, with the knowledge that kids helped make this album, Kid Pan Alley commands the listener's attention. Recommended.