Releasing a song has been compared to sending a child out to face the world: Where it goes next is largely out of its creators' control. Even so, some fates are easier to predict than others. (Just ask Bruce Springsteen, whose screaming protest song "Born In The U.S.A." has been repeatedly perverted into a chest-beating nationalist anthem.) When Stevie Nicks penned "Rhiannon" for Fleetwood Mac, chances are she never imagined it arranged for an out-of-tune piano, a xylophone, an open-tuned bass seemingly only capable of playing one note, a hyperactive percussion section (consisting of a tambourine, a woodblock, and cymbals), and a choir of rural Canadian schoolchildren. Still, there it is on Innocence & Despair, a compilation of two mid-'70s albums by two Canadian schools now dubbed The Langley Schools Music Project. The Project was headed by Hans Fenger, a longhaired musician who decided the best way to introduce music to the children of his sparsely populated British Columbia school district was to have them perform the songs they already enjoyed. Citing Phil Spector, Sun Ra, and Carl Orff as inspirations, Fenger used his kids to create a wall of sound the likes of which no one could have imagined. "The children hated 'cute'," Fenger recalls in Innocence's liner notes. "They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness." The songs certainly back up the claim: "Space Oddity," "The Long And Winding Road," and "In My Room" all have a melancholy edge that's only emphasized by the off-key, out-of-synch, incredibly enthusiastic performances. Sure, the project's unintended humor provides most of its appeal. If Fenger had any hopes of making professional-quality albums, he might have considered running each song through more than three rehearsals before hitting "record." Besides, the adult sentiments of "Rhiannon" and "Sweet Caroline" sound pretty funny coming from children. But listening to Sheila Behman's sweet solo on "Desperado" or the hopeful, hokey sentiments of "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft," it's hard not to be moved. It may be more than a little rough around the edges, but in its own way, Innocence & Despair finds perfection.

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