Various Artists

Mary Had a Little Amp

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Mary Had a Little Amp is a collection billed as "Music's Biggest Stars/Childhood's Greatest Songs." In fact it is something quite different as about half of the record is devoted to acts covering classic childhood songs and half are childlike songs by big stars like Madonna and R.E.M. It makes for a pretty schizophrenic listening experience, but for the most part it works okay because the songs and performances are strong, especially those of artists covering classics. The highlights are the Dixie Chicks harmonizing sweetly on "The Rainbow Connection," Maroon 5 getting spooky and weird on "Pure Imagination" from Willie Wonka, Bonnie Raitt and Was (Not Was) delivering a sensual take on "Baby Mine" from Dumbo recorded in 1988, and Joe Henry getting atmospheric and trying his torch-singer tux on for size on a dramatic "When You Wish Upon a Star." Probably the most interesting track is Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart performing a cover of Harry Nilsson's "Lifeline" from his classic The Point! record with Brian Wilson's backing band at a tribute concert for the Carl Wilson Foundation. Using the Wilson sisters is an interesting bit of stunt casting and it works well. Some of the other new and original songs that also work well are the sweet duet between Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson on "Gentle Breeze" and Rosanne Cash's gentle and wise "How to be Strong." R.E.M.'s "We Walk," taken from 1983's Murmur, Madonna's "Little Star," and Moby's "Anchovie" are less successful and leave the listener puzzled as to the reasons behind their inclusion. The record is a benefit for programs supporting preschool education programs, and that is certainly a worthy cause. It is too bad a little more thought wasn't put into the selection and programming of the tracks here. It may be something you want to pick up to support the cause, but it won't be something you pick up to put into your CD player very often.

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