Review by Brad Green:
Remember the old riddle? What grows bigger the more you take away from it? A hole of course, although a pop song just about fits the bill. The more complexity and orchestration you strip from a simple chorus the bigger seems to be the hit.
One of the reasons for this is that young adults are the great CD consumers, and at the same time the demographic most susceptible to questionable taste. The very young, on the other hand, have the advantage of an unadulterated sensibility, one not yet defiled by exposure throughout adolescence to rock music radio and wall-to-wall video clip television.†
So Iím always prepared to give kidpic soundtracks their chance. Certainly they can be a mixed bag. When, as here, they take the form of contemporary compilations, the likelihood is that they will either give themselves over to the novelty and jejune beats to which young ears are undoubtedly vulnerable, or refuse to condescend to an audience that is more likely to respond to inherent emotional cues than whatever faddish riffs the mass media are trying to convince us are cool.
I have to admit that when one of these soundtracks arrives my first inclination is to scan the track listing for the one thatís obviously been thrown in for the oldies. The most impressive thing about this Disney compilation is that the Dr. John selection didnít even turn out to be the best cut. Letís Make a Better World isnít the greatest moment in the Docís boogie blues repertoire but itís still a fine recording, capturing the trademark gravel in his voice -- somewhere between, if not quite as potent as, Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles -- and his rollicking keys. Rounded out with reggae guitar and creative, cross-cutting backing vox, it alone sets the album above average.
The happy discovery is that some country pop from Stephanie Bentley, classy rock from Fiction Plane and gospel meets hip-hop from Little Axe not only provide variety but more than match this benchmark. Bentleyís song revolves around a splendid acoustic guitar of sparkling tone delivered with finesse. The articulated patterns and rhythmic nuances put most country strumming to shame, and provide a fine platform for Bentleyís warm voice and the friendly melody. It is a country crossover recording at the very least the equal of any of Faith Hillís mega-chart-busters.
Fiction Planeís song If Only might well be what Sting would sound like as an alt-rocker. Itís got edge in the production, and the writing and musicianship combines class and street cred. More adventurous and almost as impressive is the albumís closing track, Down To The Valley, which showcases the varying influences of guitarist Little Axe, who has enjoyed a career veering from blues roots to sessions for rap stars.
Necessarily the album remains fun and up-tempo from first note to Little Axeís last chop. About the only dull moment comes from the biggest name. Despite his leviathan reputation Moby rarely impresses, and Honey is as bland and flavourless as most of his material.
The most pop-oriented offerings come via Eels, the one band with two representations on the record. Framed by a distorted electronic riff and adorned with ever-changing instrumentation, Fine Down is as stylishly conceived as it is playful and unpretentious, while Mighty Fine Blues, carried by a Lou Reed-esq vocal, just about lives up to its name. Further expanding the albumís diversity are its danceable opener Dig It by D-Tent Boy and some southern sounds from North Mississippi All-Stars.
Donít be fooled by the Disney label. They might be formulaic but the quality control remains and Fantasia isnít the only music that adults can enjoy from their productions. This is a far more mature collection of light and easy tunes than most albums on the pop charts.
Published October 30, 2003
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ARTISTS: D-Tent Boys; Shaggy; Eels; Moby; Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps; Kebí Moí; Pepe Deluxe; Stephanie Bentley; North Mississippi All-Stars; Eagle-Eye Cherry; Devin Thompson; Dr. John; Fiction Plane; Little Axe