Justin Roberts: Songwriting Magic

Justin Roberts’ new Jungle Gym CD zoomed to 2010’s Top Ten with the first rocking drumbeats of “We Go Duck.” That opener celebrates the children’s game “duck, duck, goose,” then veers into a lesson on language variations (“No matter what you call it, the game is the same, from Paris to Ukraine.”) He captures the game’s surprise with the phrase “when you least expect it” until you’re convinced he’ll never get around to singing “goose!”

The Mariachi horn section opening “Sleepoverland” enhances Roberts’ songwriting magic. A litany of packing for an overnight trip turns a musical corner for a low-key break, then goes back to the high spirits of the song’s opening notes. The classical music backing “Sign My Cast” has the perfect mix of violins and horns, while Justin’s wistful vocal laments the activities he’ll be missing so perfectly that I felt guilty. “But before you go, sign my cast…” Each song is its own one-act play.

There are layers to Justin Roberts’ songs. Sure, they’re catchy on the surface, but his musical side trips work like an inner dialogue. Each album is a new creative experience, yet maintains its familiar sound. Justin Roberts is one of the names in kids’ music who can be trusted to create something wonderful. http://justinroberts.org/music.php

Brilliant Synthesizer-Concept Combo

Another trustworthy kids’ music name belongs to Recess Monkey. This Seattle-based trio’s The Final Funktier CD ends my prejudice against synthesizers and concept albums by brilliantly combining both.

“Sunglasses” is a rhythmic traveling song with a nod to the band’s Beatles roots by repeating “here comes here comes here comes the sun.” The goofy “Space Elevator Music” acknowledges you’re listening to a CD, with backup singers straight from a Bacharach song.

Yet the journey gets back to the basics of Recess Monkey with “The Galax-Sea,” an evocation of floating to ponder “what’s on the other side?” “Booster Seat” keeps the space theme going with a danceable rock quest for “a rocket booster booster seat.” Synthesizer sounds are pushed aside for sweet vocal harmonies on “One Tiny Light” (“danced around my curtains a wondrous flight”).

Recess Monkey is a delightful live act as well as one of the best recording bands in kids’ music. Catch them in my Kids Corner Garden at the XPoNential Music Festival July 17 and 18. We’ll take over the Camden Children’s Garden for two days of great music for kids from local and national favorites. http://kidscorner.org/html/xmf10.php

Kathy O’Connell is a contributing writer to MetroKids and host of the Peabody-award-winning Kids Corner, weekdays 7-8pm on WXPN 88.5 FM.

Categories: Music Reviews