Children's music is the stepchild of the mainstream musical world. If you are searching for new musical experiences for your child this season, recordings with tie-ins to movies and video may be your best option outside of tracking down a children's specialty store.
Soundtracks for all the new children's films are available on compact disc. The major shortcoming of soundtrack albums, of course, is the overabundance of orchestral background music. Given that most films have only a few hit songs, filler is a must in order to complete a CD.
Among current movies marketed to children ("a bug's life," "The Rugrats Movie," "The Prince of Egypt," "Lion King II: Simba's Pride," and "Mulan"), the music from "a bug's life" and "Rugrats" makes the most compelling listening, thanks to the contributions of luminaries Randy Newman ("a bug's life") and Mark Mothersbaugh (Rugrats"), formerly of the alternative band Devo.
Newman's "The Time of Your Life" is as jaunty a tune as he's penned since his hit "Short People," and even the orchestral pieces are entertaining and hummable. The same can be said for nearly all the tracks on the "Rugrats" album. Despite the juvenile lyrics, bordering on outright scatology, the springy melodies seem to appeal across age ranges. Indeed, at a recent screening of the film, adults seemed to be surreptitiously bouncing right along with their more openly delighted offspring.
The music from the original "Lion King" certainly outshines that in "Return to Pride Rock," an album "inspired" by the straight-to-video sequel "Lion King II." But "Pride Rock" has a charm that makes the entire CD upbeat, refreshing listening.
Venturing outside the major chain stores into specialty stores, a few new releases are worth mentioning. For the younger set, (ages 2 to 8), "Flumpa's World" (Ion Imagination Records, Nashville) is a well-intentioned pop treatment of issues surrounding rain-forest ecology. Although a tad earnest, and definitely not for the over-8 crowd, the songs are fun and engaging. The same can be said of "Rock N Together" (Craig 'N Co., Sherman Oaks, Calif.). A favorite that mom and dad will enjoy too is the a cappella "Seven Wonders."
For the youngest group, the folk-acoustic "40 Winks," by Jessica Harper (Alacazam!, Waterbury, Vt.) is a nice selection of lullabies. The title song is a particularly smooth, jazzy twist on the soothing nighttime song.
It's hard to avoid the Disney juggernaut when talking about children's music. Seven of the bestsellers on the children's list this week at the online service Music Boulevard (www.musicblvd.com) come from Disney. Several are repackagings of old material ("Children's Favorites, Vol. 3," "Princess Collection," "Official Album," "Winnie the Pooh: Friends Forever"). That's not necessarily bad, as long as you know what you're getting, and it certainly helps clueless grandparents looking for a reliable gift.
THIS WEEK'S BESTSELLERS
1. Toddler Tunes, Cedarmont Kids
2. Return to Pride Rock, Disney
3. Very Veggie Christmas - Veggie Tales, Lyrick Studios
4. Mulan (soundtrack), Disney
5. Children's Favorites, Vol. 3 Disney
6. a bug's life, read-along, Walt Disney
7. Music for Children, Mozart Effect, boxed set, BMG/Children's Group
8. Winnie the Pooh: Friends Forever, Disney
9. Princess Collection, Disney
10. Official Album, Disney
Source: Music Boulevard