Reviewed by Gregory Keer
We hopscotch to our new rundown of children’s music reviews with the welcome return of a Family Man favorite. Maybe kids don’t really care about great songwriting. They just know they like a tune when they hear it. I can tell you that kids love Justin Roberts’ music, as evidenced by boppin’ audience members at his concerts, the robust sales of his numerous CDs, and the consistent call-in requests to the SXM’s Kids Place Live channel. But a lot of adults admire superb musical craft and, man, does Justin Roberts have it. Each song on his newest recording, Recess, offers music and lyrics that change and surprise in neatly wrapped, highly kinetic packages.
Of the 12 tracks on Recess, a number of the outstanding examples are the title tune, with it’s Billy Joel tinges and words that glorify the beloved classroom break, and “I’ll Be an Alien,” with its Beach Boys harmonies performed with Roberts’ very awake bandmates, the Not Ready for Naptime Players. “My Secret Robot” has a ’60s British Invasion rock style in its account of a boy’s mysterious metal friend, and “The Princess Wore Pink” gets all medieval in this piece about a royal girl who starts a color craze. Whether he’s rockin’ out or getting all pensive, Roberts keeps us engaged with sounds and images that make summer cooler and brighter all at once.
SInging Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids, which comes from a personal place and leads its listeners to a public stage that showcases the strength of children who are battling/have battled cancer. Boston singer-songwriter Alastair Moock, who has quickly become one of the family music world’s rising stars, could have been leveled by the news of his five-year-old daughter Chloe’s diagnosis of leukemia in July of 2012. Yet, he found the power to write songs to inspire his child and the many other children and families who endure cancer. These pieces are beautiful, emotional, and honest.
On the first song, the quietly lilting poem “I Am the Light,” Moock says, “C is for cancer, that’s growing in me/A is for able, that’s what I will be/Able to bend like a tree in the wind/My branches are strong even though they are thin.” Moock shows the many facets of the experience, from the playful “When I Get Bald,” “B-R-A-V-E,” and “Take Care of Your Grownups” to the inspirational “Home When I Hold You” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Lending their talents to this gorgeous project are Elizabeth Mitchell, the Okee Dokee Brothers, Rani Arbo, Chris Smither, and Aolfe O’Donovan.
Two other unique recordings complete this month’s children’s music reviews, including a new release from pianist-composer-singer Lori Henriques. With The World is a Curious Place to Live, Henriques exhibits her signature flair for witty lyricism, quirky vocals, and complex-yet-accessible jazz piano. She provides insights on carrots (“Crunchy Privilege”), language (“Le Francais Est Magnifique”), and philosophy (the title song). Then, there’s Crosspulse Percussion Ensemble, whose album I Like Everything About You (Yes I Do) brims with percussive and vocal sounds in their most natural state. This project of a non-profit arts organization based in Oakland, California, mines musical gems from around the world, from the U.S. to Africa, on such tracks as “Walkin’ the Dog,” “Yamawele,” and “Breaths.”