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That isn't to say that such CDs are necessarily great CDs. For Our Children Too! is a disc benefiting the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which is a pretty scary topic of discussion for younger kids. Slightly older, and more musically aware, children will probably be more frightened by Amy Grant singing "My Buddy." Elsewhere on this R&B-flavored disc, though, there's fine work, with Luther Vandross performing "If I Had a Hammer," Natalie Merchant cooing "Come Take a Trip in My Airship" and Carly Simon and James Taylor doing their cuddle classic "Mockingbird." Heck, I might have bought this disc just to hear Seal purr through "Puff (The Magic Dragon)." The sound is professional, there's no condescension to either adult or child and the CD serves just as well as grownup background music as it does as kiddie lullaby. It has the added bonus of helping identify up-and-coming vocal talent: If your young one can sing along with Toni Braxton's "Brown Baby" or Babyface's "If," get the kid into a recording studio fast. (****)

But to my mind, the best of all the music-oriented CDs aimed at the kids market comes from the Music for Little People label, which recently released a series of genre samplers that includes A Child's Celebration of Rock and Roll, Big Blues: Blues Music for Kids and A Child's Celebration of Folk Music.

The rock and roll sampler concentrates on the feel-good years of "Rock Around the Clock," "Yakety Yak" and "Willie and the Hand Jive," and if it won't prepare your toddlers for the Beck CDs they'll be begging for when they hit junior high, it's at least honest, good-time music that'll put a wiggle in butts young and old alike. (****)

The Big Blues collection is even better, if slightly sanitized (no jellyrolls here), because it introduces tykes to artists from Michelle Shocked to Buckwheat Zydeco to B.B. King to Taj Mahal, and as any blues fan will tell you, this is music you never grow out of. (****)

But the top of the toddler pops has to be the folk sampler, which shares Taj Mahal, Shocked, Maria Muldaur and Buckwheat Zydeco with the Blues disc, then tosses Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Cedella Marley Booker and Jerry Garcia into the mix. Folk requires little watering down for the sake of young sensibilities, and the broad historical perspective inherent in A Child's Celebration of Folk Music's embrace of reggae, blues, zydeco and bluegrass is likely to have far worthier results down the line than any trademarked cartoons burbling about the virtues of sharing could ever hope to achieve. (*****) In the end, in kids music just as in the other kinds, music for music's sake has a built-in moral sense and rewards. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that the best kids music products are the ones that dispense with the gimmicks and get straight to the heart of the matter -- or the heart of the kid.

-- Brad Tyer

***** Rocking
**** Crawling
*** Cooing
** Crying
* Puking

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