It's a little odd, given the wave of popularity kids' music is riding right now, that there aren't more best-of compilations. They're not unheard of, mind you (and, no, the Rachael Ray compilation doesn't count), but they're certainly not crowding the shelves either, are they? In part, I'm guessing it has something to do with the very independent nature of 99% of the kids' music produced. Sure, there are artists like They Might Be Giants or Ralph's World who are recording for a major label, but the vast majority of albums are self-released.
So perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the Land of Nod's first kids' music compilation, Best of the Land of Nod Store Music, Volume 1, originally released in 2004, is that it actually attempts to provide an overview kids' musicians of the past and present, off labels major and not, fitting the bill like little else on the market. You have the great quartet of Smithsonian Folkways artists -- Ella Jenkins, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Woody Guthrie -- making an appearance alongside current stars Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts, Ralph's World, and They Might Be Giants. With the exception of maybe Roberts' "Yellow Bus" and Zanes' "All Around the Kitchen," there are no absolute must-have tracks here by the artists above, though the tracks chosen are solid, and picking just one track out of the many by each of those artists would be exceedingly difficult. Of the lesser-known artists, Rosie Flores' "Red, Red Robin" (off Bloodshot's Bottle Let Me Down comp) and Peter Himmelman's "Sherm the Worm" shine out most brightly here.
If Vol. 1 is a solid, if safe, collection that you could give to your parents for them to play when they have the grandkids over, Best of the Land of Nod Store Music, Volume 2, released in 2005, makes an attempt to speak to parents who might actually buy the CD for themselves. To some extent, it goes over the same ground as Volume 1 -- Zanes, Roberts, Mitchell, and Himmelman make a repeat appearance, as does Lead Belly. It's the new stuff that skews considerably younger. Cake's funky reworking of "Mahna Mahna" or the Mr. T Experience's rollicking "Unpack Your Adjectives" aren't necessarily seminal kids' music tracks, but they're a heck of a lot of fun. Andy Partridge from XTC provides not one but two excellent tracks of music originally written for Disney's James and the Giant Peach. (It was rejected in favor of music by Randy Newman -- hey, I love Randy Newman, but let somebody else do the Disney movies for a change.) If the first volume had more of an establishment view of the kids' music universe, this volume includes more newer and less conventional music to give a better sense of the possibilities inherent in the genre.
At 38 and 40 minutes long, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are a good mixtape length. You can find them at any major internet retailer as well as the Land of Nod itself, natch.
Regular readers of this website will probably be familiar with many of the artists on the two CDs, and will even have a number of the tracks' original releases in their families' collections. If I had to recommend just one CD, I'd probably go with Vol. 2, just because I think the less-familiar songs are stronger. Having said that, both collections are strong and would be a nice introduction for your doubting neighbor or relative that there isn't some great music being made for kids now (or 50 years ago). Recommended.
Obviously, there are some conflict-of-interest issues here, seeing as my reviews (warts and all) are also used on the Land of Nod website. All I can say is that the collections here were one of the reasons why I decided to sign on with them. I'd be posting the exact same review even if I had no association with them.