If you have any tie to the family music genre, then you are undoubtedly aware of Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, the compilation put together by Dean Jones and Bill Childs to benefit a variety of Haiti efforts. So there are really two components worth discussing here -- the music itself and What It All Means.
Oddly enough, I'm going to dispose of the big picture question first. The biggest worthwhile component of the project is that it'll benefit the Haitian People's Support Project, which supports nutritional and educational programs in orphanages, schools, and temporary shelters throughout Haiti. It's an especially important task in the wake of the devastating earthquakes there early this year. Beyond that, the album is pretty much the first family-music-by-family-musicians benefit album ever. Sure you have the For the Kids series, for example, but those consist primarily of songs recorded by "adult" musicians dabbling in the family music field. The fact that so many "new school" family musicians (and a few "old school" musicians) came together so quickly on this project speaks to the supportive nature of the genre, which bodes well for the future.
All of which I ignore when it comes to reviewing albums. My view tends to be, if you want to support a cause, support it directly with your money, time, and other talents, rather than doing so indirectly. (Or be forced to support a cause you disagree with because you support that indirect thing.) Luckily you don't need to compromise with Many Hands -- while I imagine the Venn intersection between families who like the new family music scene and families unaware that there was even an earthquake in Haiti would be small, you could give this album to those families, and they'd very much enjoy it.
Because it's a compilation, there isn't the coherency of theme you might get from a single artist (or a compilation focused on, say, the songs of a single artist). Essentially it's a really good mixtape, and the list of good songs here far outweighs the list of duds. Rather than list all of the really good songs, here are 3 that I think are particularly noteworthy:
1) Lunch Money's "You Are Here" is, as I've noted already, one of my favorite tracks, both for its album-appropriate theme of connection as well for its mostly-sweet, a little bittersweet melody.
2) Jones' duet with Hudson Valley poet Jerrice Baptiste is another sweet and thematically appropriate tune, with Jones' falsetto and Baptiste's more spoken-word vocals about building a nest underlaid with a folk-electronica melody.
3) Jonathan Coulton's "The Princess Who Saved Herself" is neither sweet nor thematically appropriate. It does, however, if I'm allowed to use this phrase on a family music website, kick ass. It's everything a parent of a daughter would want said daughter to hear in formative music-listening years. (Except for the reference to math rock. Really, who likes that?)
There are more good songs -- how could I review an album with songs from They Might Be Giants, Pete Seeger, Dan Zanes, and Elizabeth Mitchell and other luminaries and not even touch on their tracks? -- and, as I said they definitely outnumber the so-so ones. The album's probably most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. You can get the album in a lot of places, including Amazon, iTunes, and, starting in September, Whole Foods.
Simply put, Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti is the year's best family music compilation and one of the year's best kids music CDs, period. Buy two: one for your friend and one for your own family. Many families will thank you. Definitely recommended.
[Disclosure: I was provided with a copy for possible review. I also premiered a stream of an album track. And Bill's a friend. The kindie music world is a close-knit one. That's why you have this album here.]