July 2, 2012
I guess the first big wave of all-star music compilation albums for charity came in the 1980s, coming off the high-profile all-star singles of Band Aid and USA for Africa (though really George Harrison's Bangladesh concert in the mid-'70s probably inaugurated the general concept). Following the premise that whatever was big during the childhoods of those of us who are now parents will become big anew in children's entertainment, it's not shocking that we've started to see some great all-star kid-music compilations of late. The great thing these—besides the no-longer-even-remarkable fact that the genre indisputably has more than enough leading lights to fill several such CDs—is that the best ones give kids and parents a chance to sample the genre, and perhaps even find some new favorite artists.
The very best compilation I've come across is 2010's Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, Science Fair was created to address the continued underrepresentation of women in science-related fields—all its net proceeds will be donated to Girls Inc.'s science-education program—and accordingly, it features songs about science written and performed by many of the kid genre's top female artists. (It's even co-produced by two of them, Elizabeth Mitchell and Lunch Money's Molly Ledford, along with Bill Childs and the ubiquitous Dean Jones.)
Many of our family's favorite artists are here with typically top-notch contributions—the aforementioned Lunch Money and Mitchell, as well as Frances England, Barbara Brousal (whose name may be unfamiliar, but whose gorgeous voice is unforgettable to any parent who wore out Dan Zanes's first several albums), and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (here backing up MC Fireworks, aka his daughter, on the ebullient "Rocket Science"). A couple of bands known for their non-kid music make an appearance as well: '90s Brooklyn rock band Babe the Blue Ox with the dissonant, new-wave-y "Surfin' Minnesota" (which our three-year-old has dubbed his top pick on the album); and Mates of State with a fitting cover of Guided by Voices' "I Am a Scientist" (the video for which is below!).
And yet, the tour de force of the album, by vote of all four members of our family, is the somewhat lesser known—at least on the East Coast!—Lori Henriques's lyrically adept "Heisenberg's Aha!," in which she somehow manages to explain the uncertainty principle in the style of Kurt Weill. (And it's catchy—our seven-year-old pressed "repeat" several times after the first play!)
It all adds up to another top compilation from Spare the Rock that makes contributing to a good cause a doubly pleasurable experience.
[Cover image courtesy of Spare the Rock Records]