The girls were over my parents, having just seen their Team USA Olympic gymnastic heroines live and in-person. I came over the next day for dinner, to pick them up and bring ‘em home. In my experience, it’s always dicey leaving my parents’ house at night with the girls. Do we leave immediately after putting our forks down, returning home for a proper bedtime? Or do we linger and chat with mom mom and pop pop long after the sun sets, then leave at bedtime for a sleepy ride home? Decisions, decisions…
Parenting is full of tiny choices just like that one, with neither option likely to scar for life or provide assistance in securing a college scholarship. But still, in those moments, it matters a lot. Personally, I fancy letting the kids sleep in the car. The foundation of my preference is a selfish desire to enjoy a peaceful, dark, and quiet journey — I adore those kinds of drives. I adore them even more with great music, and on this particular drive, I slipped Justin Roberts’ new CD into the player for the first time.
Like a Midwestern prairie dog, Justin Roberts pops out of his writing & recording hole this month, looking to reassert himself in the fast-moving world of kindie music. A lot has changed and a lot of great music has happened since Jungle Gym, Roberts’ last album. One thing that isn’t any different now than it was then is this: most lullaby albums suck. In fact, my narrative here on OWTK re: sleepytime CDs has been something along the lines of The Last Thing The World Needs Is Another Lullaby Album. The stance is based on three primary factors: 1) most lullaby music released for children is banal and pointless, like soggy driftwood aimlessly floating out to sea. Yes, of course, a 1-2 punch of slow & boring will put anyone to sleep, but that doesn’t mean it deserves to be put to disc — because no one needs to approximate the feeling of curling up inside an elevator, 2) most families, I reckon, have children who already fall asleep, and most families, I reckon, aren’t going to want to fuck with that, and 3) because we have Bill Harely’s Town Around the Bend. But a funny thing happened on the way to bed last week, the Bear swapped out Harley’s sleepy-story masterpiece for a brand new soundtrack to her snoring, Justin Roberts’ Lullaby, marking the first time in over 5 years that a different record has spun in her clock CD radio player at nighttime. And it is still in there.
It’s not time to hit delete on my rigid position, but a slight alteration is now in order.
Justin Roberts albums, all of them, are sprinkled with gorgeous ballads. If you’re a good parent, your kid will love songs like “From Scratch,” “Sign My Cast,” and “Giraffe/Nightingale” just as much as the punchier “Willy Was A Whale,” “I Chalk,” and “Pop Fly.” (Note: The Mrs. didn’t want me to include that last sentence, because she think I am being mean. Maybe that is true, but I stand by my assertion that if your kids can appreciate a tender song or two per album, then you are doing something right.) Roberts’ songwriting genius and producer Liam Davis’ great skillful skill shine brightest when the songs breath, when elegant strings, horns, vibraphones, and minor percussion have gaps to fill. With that in mind, Lullaby should drop jaws all over the house, in and out of bed. The album, however, doesn’t exactly do that. Maybe because the trading off of swift and slow on a regular CD gives gravitas to the seemingly more contemplative numbers (however false the notion is that a song’s thoughtfulness quotient rises when the tempo dips.) When the gorgeousness is stacked back-to-back-to-back, as it unquestionable is on Lullaby, it feels, while no less gorgeous, somewhat less piercing. This isn’t a bad thing, just a thing worth noting. Still, what Roberts & Davis have done on Lullaby is a wonder. Not only did they make me love listening to a lullaby record, at any time of the day, but they somehow figured out a way to imagine a hotel bedroom recording session where Archer Prewitt, Andrew Bird, and James Taylor (with a framed Van Morrison 8×10, undoubtedly in his burgundy Last Waltz bodysuit, having been placed on the nightstand,) sweetly conjure up new ways to initiate pleasant dream sequences in youthful audiences, with songs equally lush and delicate and intricate, yet not overly conceptualized musically or lyrically. It doesn’t stun, Lullaby, but I think that’s exactly the point. Go the hell to sleep, you know?
On “Easier To Do,” or as I call it, “The James Taylor Song,” or “The Prettiest Song Of The Year,” the space left between the drum beat and the bass line is, by the time the thing gets cooking at the 2-minute mark, wide enough to slide in a twin-sized bed topped with an electric blanket and a menagerie of stuffed animals. Your child will be fantasizing about flying cats and superhero tea parties by the time the wicked late-70’s Robbie Robertson electric guitar solo arrives, followed by a succulent horn part, because, well, all that is just for you parents. And what a treat that is, sleeping kids and seductively nostalgic soft rock music that may put you and your special friend in the mood to add another branch to the family tree. It’ll be easy to do. And I think you know exactly what I mean.
Despite not totally getting the metaphor, “Polar Bear”, with its bass and cello and, for me, its patriarchal/always going to be there for you vibe, is a massive hit. Same goes for “Count Them As They Go”, the most classic-sounding lullaby on Lullaby, and the one the Bear wakes up singing every morning.
The most glorious daily moment of childhood, and also of child rearing, is painted with rich tones on the evocative “A Wild One.” It is damn near impossible to hear about climbing into warm pajamas and in between crisp linens to listen to wild tales where the “bricks are made of gold” and about a boy who “dreamed a boat and sailed it in his head” without thinking of your children and/or your own mom or dad, grandpop or grandmother — essentially, thinking about love. You’ll find yourself reflecting upon all the love you’ve had, and still have, in your life while listening to Justin Roberts’ tribute to the wild adventures you have at storytime while reading aloud to your wide-eyed kiddos.
Justin Roberts has done it again, he has proved that whether the beat behind his words is meant for dancing or for dreaming, that no one on Earth writes better, more elegantly constructed, more divinely lyrical songs for families. In this particular case, that applies to those already with one, and possibly, those driving home late at night from mom mom’s house, or those looking to start one (wink, wink.)
And so it remains, the world doesn’t need another lullaby album…once the world has purchased Lullaby.
*OWTK received a copy of Lullaby for review consideration. The opinions express above are honest and unbiased, as always.