To the extent that you can judge a various-artists compilation by looking at the list of artists, this one is hard to beat, including newly recorded tracks by Elton John, Madonna, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Sting, Tina Turner, and Bette Midler, among others. A benefit for the Rainforest Foundation, founded by Sting and his wife, the disc has as its centerpiece a 25-minute rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns' "Le Carnaval des Animaux" (including the haunting "Aquarium" theme that turns up frequently in films and TV commercials), played by pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque; the 16 other tracks are intended as a complement to this work, and the compilers asked the participants to choose a song from their childhood or that had a message for children. The result is a set of mostly traditional lullabies and folk songs: Elton John sings "Abide With Me," Tina Turner "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." The major exceptions are Madonna and Paul Simon, who wrote new songs. (Simon's "Ten Years" is the real find, even if it seems to have nothing to do with the album's themes.) New or old, however, the most of the material is calm and reflective, which may come as a surprise to anyone encountering the colorful album cover and the title Carnival! (One might also have expected something Brazilian.) A more appropriate title would have been Bedtime.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann