In reviewing this CD, let me be clear from the start that ours is not, for the most part, a television-watching household. It's not really a principled stand as much as it is a reflection of our busy lives. We just don't have much time to watch TV if we want to do other things like, you know, bathe and eat.
Having said that, I do wish we had a little more time, because if we did, we might find time to watch Class of 3000, a Cartoon Network show co-created by, executive produced by, and starring Andre 3000 of the hip-hop duo Outkast as musician/teacher Sunny Bridges. Even if the animation was lousy, we'd still have the music to enjoy.
Released earlier this month, Class of 3000: Music Volume 1 features one song from each of the first season's thirteen episodes, plus the show's theme song. That theme song by itself is more adventurous than most kids' music, going from funk to jazz and even picking up a nursery rhyme along the way. (You can download a copy here, courtesy of Sony, or listen to a Windows stream here or a RealPlayer stream here.)
Luckily the rest of the CD is just as creative and funky. "Throwdown" could be a hip-hop hit. "Cool Kitty" sounds like it was written 40 or 50 years ago, with a snappy surfer/girl-group vibe. "Oh Peanut" is a slower track that shows off some more classical instrumental grooves (listen to a Windows stream here and a RealPlayer stream here.) "Life Without Music" is one of the better "educational songs" of recent years. And, hey, how often on a major-label kids' music release do you get the pure instrumental bebop jazz of "My Mentor?" Rarely, oh so rarely.
If there's a drawback to the album as an album, it's that some songs are clearly tied to the visuals. In some cases it's not much of a drawback -- while I might like to see the visuals associated with "Fight the Blob," the drumline march of the tune is so strong, it works fine a song told in music. In other cases, such as "UFO Ninja," I'm clearly missing something. I'm not saying you need to have seen the series, just that I think those who have might enjoy it (and understand the story-driven songs) slightly more. For those of you don't like cartoony voices, well, I'm usually right in that camp, but the vocal characterizations here are pretty strong, and I think you'll enjoy 'em. (I did.)
The songs are probably most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 10, though with the exception perhaps of the darker "We Want Your Soul," everything here is A-OK for youngsters, too. You can hear samples at your standard internet retailers, but I'd also recommend checking out the videos from the show, available at the show's website. You can hear many of the album's tracks there.
In the end, what I find so wonderful about Class of 3000: Music Volume 1 is that a major label gave an exceedingly talented musician the freedom to create an album that takes so many risks. In the jazz interlude of the theme song, one character says, "But, Sunny, radio doesn't play songs without words anymore," and Sunny says wearily, "I know..." It'd be a shame if the public doesn't hear these tunes, be it by radio or some other way. The album is a smartly crafted collection of kid-friendly funk, hip-hop and jazz. Definitely recommended.