Let us first stipulate that there is no need for a Beatles cover album. The most popular rock band of all time, I have no doubt full cover albums number in the thousands (let alone individual songs, which probably approach if not exceed a million in recorded form). The originals are permanently lodged in listeners' heads, often in a way that those listeners might wonder why anybody would even try improving upon them.
So, having said that, what of Caspar Babypants' latest collection of songs, Baby Beatles? Is this just a cop-out, the kindie equivalent of digging into the Great American Songbook as a final musical cash grab?
Let's answer that last question with a firm "no." As he noted in a recent essay, Chris Ballew, the Caspar Babypants mastermind, owes a great deal of his musical career to the inspiration of the Beatles. It is better, perhaps, then to view this album as an homage to the lads from Liverpool and their songs, and in that regard Baby Beatles works quite nicely.
Ballew's entire Babypants career has been dedicated to making music for the youngest listeners -- while he certainly would welcome the kindergarteners who want to dance along, he's more interested in their younger siblings. So while he's always been interested in stripped-down arrangements, that becomes even more important in a covers album where the tricky part is retaining the song's essence while giving the artist's own spin. That's especially tough given how familiar some of these songs are.
For the most part, I think Ballew succeeds, usually by making the songs nimble and as light as a feather, even more so than his previously-released songs. "Here Comes the Sun" is peppier than the original, an incredibly joyful way to kick off the album (his version of "Ob La Di Ob La Da" with Jen Wood gives me similarly happy feelings). I love the use of faint handclaps on "Birthday." "Blackbird" hews very closely to the original, but why wouldn't it when it's so perfect to begin with?
I'm not enthused with every reworking -- "Yellow Submarine" and "Octopus's Garden" in particular sound too thin -- but the hits here exceed the misses. And while some of the song choices seem odd and perhaps picked because of their ostensible ties to childhood ("Mother Nature's Son," "Little Child," "Cry Baby Cry"), those choices at least prevent the album from just being a recap of the Beatles' greatest hits.
The 20-song has a runtime of about 48 minutes and is most appropriate for kids ages 1 through 4, though, c'mon, it's the Beatles. Just about everybody will recognize at least some of these tracks.
I don't think any Beatles cover album is essential -- just listen to the originals -- but Baby Beatles is just different enough to hold the listeners' attention far more than they would for some random (often Muzak-inspired) cover. There is no such thing as a bad Caspar Babypants album, and while I look forward to the next album of his original music and less-well-known traditional songs, this will do quite nicely in the meantime. Definitely recommended.
Note: I received a copy of the album for possible review.