Many recording artists who make children's albums shade them at least a little toward the parents, but Mandy Patinkin has made that tendency explicit starting with the title of Kidults. As on his previous albums, he borrows mostly from Broadway for material, but he is also trying to find songs for late baby boomers as well as babies, with mixed results. "School Days Medley," for example, which moves from Frank Loesser's "Inchworm" to "School Days (When We Were a Couple of Kids)," ends with a charming version of Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" that Patinkin shares with Kristin Chenoweth. But another departed '70s singer/songwriter does not benefit from such efforts. It's not clear what the old Paul Whiteman hit "Japanese Sandman" has to do with Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle," but though the latter song is a rueful favorite of absentee parents everywhere, it not only remains as heavy-handed and obvious as ever, but actually suffers from Patinkin's typically committed performance; when Chapin sang it straight, it was just a bad song, but when Patinkin acts it out, it's nearly insufferable. Elsewhere, however, the singer's acting instincts range from the sweet ("If I Only Had a Brain," with different voices for the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion) to the hilarious (a schizophrenic "Holiday for Strings" that alternates between a sincere ballad performance and a raucous, up-tempo one). Children are likely to find much of this album delightful, and the only real danger for parents is that their kids will want to play it over and over again so they can memorize "April in Fairbanks." Patinkin clearly can have a career as a children's entertainer, if he chooses to pursue it among the many other acting and singing opportunities he has.
by William Ruhlmann
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