For those of you wondering, yes, this album is better than its cover. Usually.
New York-based Robbi K has pretty impressive musical credentials -- backup singer for Mary K. Blige, Aretha Franklin, and Harry Belafonte, among others. And for her third kids' CD, the recently-released Music Makes Me Happy, Robbi is joined by a great group of musicians, include Brady Rymer, Hayes Greenfield, Guy Davis, and her husband Bakithi Kumalo (who played with Paul Simon) on bass and as executive producer.
The result is an album that, for the most part, effectively blends solid jazz, world-beat, and bluesy tunes and kid-focused lyrics to strong effect. As I listened to the 44-minute album, I ended up thinking of it in three parts. The first three songs don't break any kids' music molds, but they're well done, such as the fun "Eating Some Pizza," featuring a saxophone solo from Hayes Greenfield.
The next five tracks are the album's strongest, I think. There's a funky version of "John Henry" that's top-notch, and her jazzy cover of "My Favorite Things" would sound great on any CD, kids' or otherwise. That stretch also includes the album's best original track, "Music Makes Me Happy," a strutting blues number that features Brady Rymer and blues musician Guy Davis. It's hear that the band lays its best grooves and Robbi K's powerful voice is used to its best effect. If you're gonna move to the beat, it's here you'll do so.
And then there's the last three tracks, which I tried to listen to and enjoy, but just couldn't. The song "Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy!" made me anything but, and it's followed by a song called "I Love My Teacher." While I enjoy the comparative lack of irony and cynicism in kids' music, sincerity can be taken too far, and lyrics like "I love my teacher, I'll tell you why / She knows everything clear under the sky" just don't ring true to me about how kids think about teachers, even ones they love.
I think kids ages 3 through 7 will most appreciate the lyrics here (the melodies and beats are definitely friendly to kids of all ages). You can hear selections of Robbi's music at her homepage, her Myspace page, or samples of all the tracks here at the album's CDBaby page.
Many families will enjoy Music Makes Me Happy, though like many kids' albums it does land squarely in the "everything is wonderful and, yes, happy" camp. If you (or your kids) are on the other side of the divide, you'll probably want to stay away. Still, it's a solidly performed album that really grooves at points. I'll recommend the CD, but only if I get to hit "eject" after track 8.