The "For the Kids" series was kids' music before kids' music was cool. Or at least really cool. Its first two compilations, released in 2002 and 2004, were earnest and enjoyable collections of, for the most part, adult artists tackling kid-friendly tunes. The first disk had a few more heavy hitters (Sarah McLachlan, Tom Waits), while the second had a bit more of an underdog feeling (Robyn Hitchcock, Nada Surf).
How, then, to describe this third installment, which will be released by Nettwerk tomorrow?
Well, let me put it this way -- it's the first kids' music compilation where I almost feel too old. Now, you might be thinking, "Ummm.... it's a CD of music for kids... you're supposed to feel too old." True, but in this case I'm talking about the bands -- some of them aren't in my core demographic.
For example, Of Montreal, who leads off the disk with "I Want To Have Fun," is a darling of the Pitchfork crowd, and while I don't say that pejoratively -- I'm a member of the Pitchfork crowd -- I also realize that the sub-crowd of parents who are members of the Pitchfork crowd is a small crowd indeed. So it matters little that, against my expectations, the song is pretty good, because I'm not sure the people in my child-rearing crowd (a considerably larger one) would care. Same goes for the Format, who turn in a slightly odd and operatic "Does Your Car Have a Mustache?" or Blitzen Trapper, who add the zippy "New Shoes" to the mix. Good bands, not quite in the my demographic.
One of the hallmarks of the series has been its relative lack of interest in musicians who make their living playing for kids, and that holds true even more here. Only one band, the Sippy Cups, get a slot here, and that's with a cover of a non-kids' song, "I'm a Believer." There are a few traditional songs on the CD -- O.A.R. do a brief reggae-tinged "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and while Steve Lee-compatriot Kyle Andrews and the Submariens turn in a peppy "Wheels on the Bus" and trip-hoppy "My Darling Clementine," respectively.
There are some other good tracks here (the awesome "See You on the Moon," from another compilation, by the Great Lake Swimmers; "James Taylor's "Jellyman Kelly," done appealingly raggedly by Mates of States), but there are three tracks here that are key for me. The first two are songs that are decent enough and will probably have everyone talking. Over the Rhine's "The Poopsmith Song" is a song that illustrates, in repeated detail, where one should and should not poop ("Not on your arm / not on your leg / not on your toast / not on the eggs"). The transgressionary nature of the Seussian tale (yes, I just used the phrase "transgressionary nature" in talking about kids music) might be too cute by half if I didn't hear kids (probably the bands' own kids) singing -- it probably was a song written to help them use the toilet. MC Lars' "The Lint Song" is another one of those "too cute by half" songs that's probably more amusing to the parents than the kids, but there will probably be some 8-year-old older siblings who find the rap about, well, lint the funniest thing ever.
And then, finally, there's the Barenaked Ladies. A band which, if I'm any indication, has probably almost fallen off the radar screens of many of the purchasers of this CD. Cassettes of Gordon lost, the CDs of Stunt simply disappeared as the band pursued other, more serious songs. After a listen to their previously-released (though new to me) rendition of the traditional "The Other Day I Met a Bear," I wondered aloud, "Why has this band not recorded a kids' CD?" The track is my favorite on the CD, which is saying something, considering "See You on the Moon" is on here, too. The tune (originally released on a Simple Life-branded collection, for goodness' sake!) is energetic and with the band sounding like they're having a ton of fun -- listen to them chant "Ten Feet!" with ever-increasing loudness. It may no longer be cool to listen or like the Barenaked Ladies, but this track is just too much fun to let those silly notions carry.
The songs here are most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 9. The 56-minute album, like its predecessors, will serve as a benefit in the US for the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. (In Canada it'll benefit the Sarah McLachlan Outreach Project.) You can check out the tracks at various internet retailers, and Blitzen Trapper's "New Shoes" here.
For the Kids Three! is a solid collection of songs for kids, songs for parents, and, well, songs for those somewhere in between. It doesn't always hit all the sweet spots at the same time, but everyone will find something to like here, especially given the collection's broad range of indie-rock styles. And for those of you who loved the first two compilations, but are wondering just who these bands are scattered amongst Moby and the Barenaked Ladies, I encourage you to take the plunge -- your kids might find a new favorite song, while you might find a new favorite band. Definitely recommended.