Mary Had A Little Amp
Do you love you those songs from your childhood? “Pure Imagination,” “The Rainbow Connection,” “Baby Mine,” “When You Wish Upon A Star” and such? The makers of Mary Had A Little Amp are hoping you love them so much you’ll want to hear some big stars of today do them, and therefore give your money for this CD. It’s in benefit of a preschool education division of People For The American Way, a fine organization.
As always with collections like these, we start by acknowledging that the nobility of the intentions is a given, and then move on to the more judgmental portion of our show.
If you know “The Rainbow Connection” and you know The Dixie Chicks, you already know how their contribution to this CD sounds. Gentle brilliance to my ears; you may think differently, but you’ll be wrong. Roseanne Cash’s “How To Be Strong” is also fun; you can’t go too far wrong with lines like, “You might be a king or queen, or a little French fairy girl.”
Around half the tracks are not original to this collection, but that doesn’t really hurt it. Bonnie Raitt and Was (Not Was)’s soulful “Baby Mine” originally appeared on Hal Willner’s Disney album (damn, I need to have that replaced on CD). It was a highlight of that collection and fits perfectly here. Madonna contributes her 1998 song “Little Star”; it’s nice, and the mix and production does what it can with synthesizers to lend a (then) contemporary feel to it. Without having read them, I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say the song is better than any book Madonna has written for children.
Say what you might about Blue Man Group (and as I write this, some are saying they’re anti-union), they’ve won my respect with their “Sing Along.” How? By featuring Dave Matthews on a song that, for the first time ever, gives me a use for him.
That Willner Disney album concluded with a pleasant “When You Wish Upon A Star” by Ringo Starr, Joe Henry’s here has a nice synthesized intro but is not its equal.
To answer the most important question —
“How much of this disc made you want to use the skip-function, Ben?”
— not that many. Jack Johnson’s song is a catchy yet prosaic plea for recycling and R.E.M’s “We Walk,” from 1983, is pleasant but forgettable. When it comes to R.E.M songs for children, I’d much rather have “Stand” or maybe even “Shiny Happy People.” And the appeal of the Indigo Girls continues to escape my understanding, but for them that like it…
The whole thing wraps up with a new (ish — it’s from 1995) version of that multi-generational classic “Teach Your Children,” performed by the composer, Graham Nash. You already know it, you already love it (or not).
Harry Nilsson’s “Life Line,” performed here by Nancy and Ann Wilson (with the Brian Wilson Band — cute, huh?), might strike some amnesiacs as a little lonely for childhood. Then again, for more than a few of us, childhood is a lonely time — how do you think Charles Schulz made his money? And Moby’s “Anchovie,” in particular, sounds less like a children’s song and more like a pop single, but a great one — reminded me of Sparks.
I took the precaution of running this CD by my three-year-old nephew, and I have to report that only the opening song, Maroon 5’s appropriately candy-coated take on “Pure Imagination,” held his attention for any time at all. But this is really children’s music for grownups, not grownups making children’s music.
Mary Had A Little Amp: www.epicrecords.com/maryhadalittleamp