FREE MUSIC: Songs for the New Year 2012

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Happy New Year! It’s that time of year again and I am feeling a little more reflective than previous years. As the new year approaches, for me, things like a connection to our world, togetherness and balance keep coming up.

As such, I wanted to put together a list of music that conveyed these feelings. The list below manages to do that, in addition to evoking a sense of hope and joy. I hope you enjoy them with your family as you reflect, snuggle together and prepare for a fresh start in 2013.

2273347SteveSongs – “Our World”

Families may be familiar with Steve Roslonek as “Mr. Steve,” co-host of PBS KIDS preschool destination. “Mr. Steve” typically appears in a short musical segment called Music Time with SteveSongs which airs before shows like Curious George, Clifford, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, among others. In addition to his PBS affiliation, Roslonek is an award-winning children’s musician with several of his own albums under the moniker of “SteveSongs.”

Just in time for the holidays, Roslonek recorded a song called “Our World.” According to Roslonek, “The song was inspired by a PBS request for a wintertime song to go with their digital holiday card. The card pictured Grover showing a child the moon and stars on a snowy night.” Roslonek certainly upholds the image he was inspired by with lyrics like “Last night the moon rose high in the winter sky/shining 240,000 miles/to light a path for you and I/snow fell like star flakes/and time/went flying by/thats why I know/and it always will be true/that the time I have/is better spent with you.” It’s a great song that you might just want to hear all year!

“Our World” is available to the general public as a FREE DOWNLOAD through December 31, 2012. After December 31, 2012, fans can digitally download “Our World” from SteveSongs’ official site.

Bonus: Roslonek’s eighth CD, Orangutan Van, is set to release on January 29, 2013, but fans can purchase it ahead of time, online, at http://stevesongs.com.

vtrien-345-2Vanessa Trien and The Jumping Monkeys – “Let Your Light Glow”

Receiving a Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award for their October release, Bubble Ride, Vanessa Trien and The Jumping Monkeys are back with a holiday song called “Let Your Light Glow.” Available as a FREE DOWNLOAD directly from their official site, “Let Your Light Glow” was written by Jumping Monkeys’ friend, Julie Rama Winslow and performed and recorded by the group. The song contains Trien’s beautiful voice along with the harmonious accompaniment of the rest of the group. According to Trien and the Jumping Monkeys, “The song is meant to honor the changing of the seasons and to celebrate light, warmth and connection to the people around us.”

4098344775-1African Treehouse – “Holiday Time is Here”

African Treehouse is an ongoing project to bring African music to kids around the world. It’s the brainchild of the SAMA (South African Music Award) winning team of Graeme Sacks and Erika Strydom. “Holiday Time is Here,” with its “World Music” accents, talks about the different ways of celebrating the holidays between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. This song reminds me of the excitement I felt growing up while watching clips of people around the world celebrating as their own clocks hit midnight. “Holiday Time is Here” is an inspiring song, offering educational insights for children with a festive vibe.

The song can be sampled and purchased through the Bandcamp widget below.

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Gustafer Yellowgold – “New is the New Old” and “Fa And A La”

Morgan Taylor, the mastermind behind Gustafer Yellowgold, a creature from the sun, recently released a couple of holiday videos from his 2012 release, Year In The Day.  The 11-song CD/DVD set contains videos for each of the songs on the album.  A Year In The Day celebrates various holidays throughout the year starting off with “New is the New Old,” which welcomes the New Year.  The last track, available only for the month of December, “Fa And A La,” is a warm, harmonic ode to the holiday season, as well as gathering with friends and family.  You can view both videos below and sing along as the lyrics are displayed throughout the song.  Year In The Day can be purchased through the Gustafer Yellowgold store, as well as other regular media outlets.

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Charity and the JAMband – “The Light”

Every month fans of Charity and the JAMBand can enjoy a free song directly from the band’s official site. This month’s song, “The Light,” sounds similar to a lullaby. I selected “The Light” for its soft beauty and the powerful message. After reading Charity Khan’s intentions and feelings about this song, I realized that this song could bring a sense of peace and love to all of us as we reflect on this year and prepare for the upcoming new year. I believe Khan’s summation speaks the most beautifully in the following snippet taken from her site:

“The song is called The Light. The theme is that light itself (whether in the form of twinkly tree lights, flickering candle-fire, the sun or stars) is central to every culture’s winter holiday. And it universally symbolizes purity, a hope for peace, a desire for awakening and transformation, and the amazing opportunity we’re given to recognize the basic human goodness in one another — the opportunity to lay down our fear, judgement, and illusion of separation and come together, in love, as one. For deep down, everyone wants to love and be loved. The experience of sharing love brings us our greatest joy, and the fear of separation from love is the source of our deepest pain. This truth is at the heart of all that is both tragic and transformative about humanity. And it carries within it the path to a peaceful world.”

You can read more in-depth about “The Light,” sample and purchase it here. The song can also be streamed and downloaded through the Bandcamp widget below.

Songs for the season – Part 2

Happy holidays everyone! I previously published a post recommending some holiday albums that were worthy of bringing cheer to your ear(s). I also promised to post a Part 2 with the hope of getting it out before Christmas. And even though that day has come (where does the time go?) for many of us, there are others that are still celebrating. So, in the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas, other ongoing holiday celebrations, or to add even more joy to the season, below are a few more suggestions that we’ve been enjoying and know you will too.

bigbangboom4Big Bang BoomThe Holidays Are Here

Coming off their most recent release, Because I Said So, the North Carolina trio managed to whip up a batch of some original holiday tunes just in time for, well, the holidays! The 5-song EP contains all original tracks done in Big Bang Boom’s signature style which always carries an honest-to-goodness message or two worth a few smiles and giggles. Even though Christmas Day is here, it feels especially nice to be reminded that “the spirit of the holidays doesn’t have to happen once a year,” as the song “It’s the Holiday Season” suggests. It’s a short song that suggests activities like going ice skating, big hill sledding and sharing a meal as ways to keep up the momentum of the holiday spirit throughout the year. Even Santa gets his own theme song in “That’s Just Christmas,” a fiddle ridden funk hoedown number with a bit of soul. Yes, all of that! The Holidays Are Here is a great album to take with you throughout the year. You can listen to the album at Big Bang Boom’s official site and then download it along with their other albums at CDBaby.


81+Qxk2b7BL._AA300_The Jimmies
- Mama Said Nog You Out

Mama Said Nog You Out is a 13-song collection of rockin’ holiday jams. Ashley Albert, the frontwoman and crafty songstress for The Jimmies, sings songs in the spirit of the entire holiday season. Each song has a ton of character with catchy hooks that will have you reciting lyrics well after your kids have gone to bed. In particular, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” a novelty back in the day, once again sounds fresh as it’s sung for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. There’s even a song for those that celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, dubbed “Chrismukaah.” I particularly enjoy listening to the light and fluffy sweetness of Albert’s voice in the dreamy sounding “It’s a Marshmallow World.” Heavily endorsed by the Fruitcake Defense League (as noted on the album’s cover), Mama Said Nog You Out is sure to fill you with all kinds of delight. Available for digital download through Amazon, as well as, other media retailers.

2181221030-1Todd McHatton – Christmas Songs

Todd McHatton, known for his psychedelic kindie pop, offers fans an ever-growing list of holiday tunes. The list was started in 2009 with a new song added in 2010 and 4 new songs added in 2011. This year’s track, “I Think I’m a Christmas Bunny,” is an adaptation of McHatton’s wildly popular single “I Think I’m a Bunny,” featuring Marvy Monstone (our favorite furry purple monster who thinks he’s a bunny). Although the majority of songs are related to Christmas, “Put The Star On Top,” mentions the fact that some people celebrate Hanukkah, as McHatton’s daughter informs Marvy while she is drawing a Menorah. McHatton’s gentle voice accompanied by thoughtful lyrics and groovy sounds brings lots of charm to this holiday mix. The 11-song collection can be sampled and purchased for $1.99 through the Bandcamp widget below.

BENEFIT RELEASE: Neighbor to Neighbor – Various Artists

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Story Laurie McIntosh has been hard at work putting together a family music compilation and live concert to benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The story behind the making of Neighbor to Neighbor is quite touching. Shortly after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, Story Laurie and her family drove six hours from their home in Andes, NY, to Far Rockaway. Armed with baked goods, warm clothes, and stringed instruments, the McIntosh family was determined to bring relief to the displaced victims. Also joining Story Laurie on her relief trip was Brooklyn-based performer Amelia Robinson of the delightful Mil’s Trills.

Inspired by After The Flood, the 43-song charity download for Hurricane Irene relief, Story Laurie produced her own compilation to raise funds for Hurricane Sandy relief and recovery efforts. Kicking off the making of the compilation was “Squeezebox Bus,” an original song written by Story Laurie on her way back home.

Neighbor to Neighbor is a 16-song compilation of family music which is currently available for pre-order through BandCamp for just $15. The official release date is set for December 22nd.

By downloading the digital compilation, you will not only get to hear a fantastic set of songs but you will also receive a charming little download card that makes a perfect keepsake for your generous donation in support of Sandy relief efforts. Bonus: A beautiful .pdf booklet with liner notes is available once your download code is redeemed.

All net proceeds go to The Neighbor to Neighbor Fund for Hurricane Sandy Relief which aims to support Occupy Sandy relief efforts through the collaboration of the M-ARK Project. You can find out more about this effort at Story Laurie’s official site.

Additionally, the Bearsville Theater will be hosting a benefit concert this Saturday, December 22 from noon – 3pm featuring Story Laurie and Ira McIntosh, Uncle Rock, Ratboy Jr., Grenadilla and Special Guests. For tickets and more information regarding the event visit the Bearsville Theater’s event page.

Neighbor to Neighbor – Family Music For Sandy Relief

1 New is the New Old – Gustafer Yellowgold
2 Smiling – Grenadilla
3 The Night the Lights Went Out – Uncle Rock
4 Green Grass of Summer – Dog on Fleas
5 Row de Boat – Kim & Reggie Harris
6 Squeezebox Bus – Story Laurie & Ira McIntosh (New)
7 Solartopia – Pete Seeger, Dar Williams, David Bernz and The Rivertown Kids
8 It’s So Good – Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke
9 Cuida el Agua – Dan Zanes
10 Bull Frog – Professor Louie & The Crowmatix
11 Pretend Your Hand Is a Puppet – Ratboy Jr. (Newly released 12/16!)
12 It Really Isn’t Garbage – Danny Einbender
13 I Will Be Your Friend – Guy Davis
14 This Little Light of Mine – The Saints of Swing (Previously unreleased)
15 Under One Sky – Magpie
16 Sing Me the Story of Your Day – Tom Chapin (Previously unreleased version)

Theater review: Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets

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Christmas is creeping up on us and while many of us are still thinking about gifts or checking last minute items off our list, there are still ways to savor the joys of the season. San Francisco has no shortage of seasonal theater and ballet productions for the young and old. And while all of these productions come highly recommended, oftentimes the length and complexity of the story may supersede the mental capacity of the even younger crowd; 5 and under, specifically. Until now…

Set inside San Francisco’s historic Fort Mason Center, sits the cozy Southside Theater proudly presenting Mark Foehringer Dance Project|SF’s fourth annual holiday production of Nutcracker Sweets.

Fort Mason Center interiors -  San Francisco, CA, USA

This year’s production marks the Company’s transition from the Children’s Creativity Museum to the Southside Theater until the Cowell Theater’s upcoming renovation is complete. The Southside Theater’s seating capactiy features 160 cushioned stadium style seats, making it easy for little bodies to get an unobstructed view of the stage.

Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets, while intended for children of all ages, was developed with a special focus on capturing the attention of younger children (5 and under). With a runtime of just 50-minutes, Nutcracker Sweets highlights the most exciting parts of this beloved holiday classic featuring creative costumes, colorful set design and a live orchestra with musical direction by the multi-award winning Michael Morgan.

Nutcracker Sweets was made for the child in all of us,” said Mark Foehringer, artistic director of Mark Foehringer Dance Project|SF. “The production features storytelling, dance theater, ballet and a live music performance all in one.”

The fact that Foehringer incorporated multiple disciplines into the concept and choreography is what makes this particular adaptation so captivating. The dancers do such an excellent job of expressive movement that it feels as though you can hear what they are saying, even though the show is completely silent.

Nutcracker Sweets mainly revolves around the adventures that unfold throughout Clara’s dreams. Starting out in Herr Drosselmeyer’s toyshop, Scene 1 serves as a prelude to the manifestation of the Nutcracker soldier. Chaos and silliness abound as the Mouse King and Queen infiltrate the toyshop, romping with leaps and flips just before the Mouse King turns Drosselmeyer’s nephew into the Nutcracker doll. Emmy nominated costume designer, Richard Battle, designed a stunning headdress for the Nutcracker, giving the the soldier doll an almost human-like quality. With a swing of his cape, Drosselmeyer changes the life-sized Nutcracker into a miniature, wooden doll and brings it to his niece, Clara.

Scene 2 progresses with a smoke filled stage as Clara falls asleep. The dreamscape begins as the Mouse King and his army challenge the Nutcracker (and his toy soldier army) to a fight. As the battle unfolds, the Nutcracker is almost defeated until Clara rescues him by hitting the Mouse King on the head with her shoe. Swooping in, Drosselmeyer reappears, leading the couple into Candy Land.

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Candy Land’s scenic design, created by Peter Crompton, is perhaps the most interesting and colorful with its one-dimensional images of frosted confections and cherry topped ice cream sundaes. Scene 3 is the most dance intensive part of the production as Clara and the Nutcracker prince are presented with sweets of all sorts from the Sugar Plum Fairy. After a delightful party, everyone disappears as Clara’s dream fades.

Scene 4 picks up with Clara coming into Drosselmeyer’s toyshop where she is once again reunited with her Nutcracker Prince. This is the only part of the production where I felt like the story was a bit rushed, as though it was at risk of exceeding the 50 minute mark. Although, based on the aforementioned ages of the target audience, it’s likely that this observation went unnoticed. From my daughter’s standpoint, for example, things made perfect sense and ended quite happily.

Overall, I was entertained by the show and impressed by the thought that went into creating a special experience for the younger set. The choreography was expressive and moving, and the costumes were bright and inspiring. I took a peek around the audience from time to time to gauge their response and saw nothing but wide eyes and smiles.

Perhaps the most spectacular piece of the production was the characterization of Herr Drosselmeyer as a magician and the significant role he played in making the transitions seamless through the use of his cloak. Although the talented cast danced wonderfully and with vibrant smiles, it was the character of Herr Drosselemeyer that continually caught my eye. Using Drosselmeyer’s cape to move the show along in such a smooth way was a subtle but significant part of show that upheld the magic of the story. It was as if the cloak was a character all on its own, which is a hat tip to Mark Foehringer’s excellent direction and choreography.

As a bonus, the dancers made themselves available for a meet and greet afterwards which added to the excitement of the entire experience, especially since the Sugar Plum Fairy was more than happy to lend her wand for photo opportunities. This was the icing on the cake as many of the young theater-goers eagerly awaited their turn to snuggle next to their favorite character and smile for the camera. In fact, I was instructed several times, by my daughter, to make sure I got a picture of her with her favorite dancers, which is profound because getting her to pose and smile for the camera at the same time is akin to asking her if I can brush her hair.

For parents looking to introduce this beloved tale to their little ones, Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets is a great way to go. It upholds the charm and fantasy of the classic tale while captivating the hearts and minds of the young and young at heart.

The final two performances will take place on the following days. Location, pricing and box office information can also be found below, as well as a video preview.

Dec 22 Sat 11 am, 2 pm and 4 pm
Dec 23 Sun 11 am and 2 pm

WHERE: Southside Theater (Landmark Building D, 3rd Floor) at Fort Mason Center, Marina Blvd. and Buchanan Street, San Francisco

TICKETS: $25 general admission http://www.fortmason.org/boxoffice

Check This Out: Justin Roberts – Lullaby

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Justin Roberts, multi-award winner and Grammy nominee for his 2010 album Jungle Gym, is most widely known for his power pop sounds and rockin’ family concerts. With his latest release, Lullaby, Roberts moves in a new direction by putting together an original collection of ballads that will melt your heart.  Between the accompaniment of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and hushed tones of Roberts’ voice, the sounds are divine. Roberts composed and arranged the songs himself while his producer, Liam Davis, added the finishing touches to give the album a 70’s soft rock vibe.  Lullaby also features backup vocalists from the Chicago production of the musical Hairspray, as well as other members of the Not Ready For Naptime Players.

Throughout the album Roberts conjures up vivid images as he strings words and phrases together in a masterful way.  With songs like the guided meditation of “Count Them As They Go,” Roberts taps into our imaginations by inviting us to envision a picturesque landscape while also encouraging us to let all our worries of the day just slip away.  In the Paul Simon inspired “Nothing On You,” Roberts transforms the sounds of the pouring rain into a perfect sounding symphony “…as it strikes the sidewalk with its exquisite small talk” and later likens a flock of geese to “fleeting notes and rests that stretch across the sky.”

Then there is delicate the sound of the pizzicato cello as it tiptoes its way through “Heart of Gold,” a song which I play so much that it’s almost unfair to the rest of the album.  A similar arrangement, accented by triumphant horns, bounces its way through the comforting “Polar Bear,” a song that expresses encouragement and devotion as Roberts provides the security blanket reassurance of “if you’re in trouble please know that I’m there/but don’t forget that I’m your Polar Bear.”

As the album winds down, we are treated to “Wild One,” which never fails to make me shed a tear or two as it touches upon the fleeting innocence of childhood and how special the moments during bedtime are.  It’s a Van Morrison sounding R&B number with soulful backup vocals, adding to the sentimentality of the song.  This one is sure to hit a few sweet spots with its literary references intertwined with fantastic wordplay as Roberts brings us into a scene between mother and child as they decide which story to read at bedtime.  Although I so often look forward to that time of night, anxious to unwind on my own, it’s also the time I cherish the most as my daughter grabs her snuggle blankets, sucks her thumb and curls up in her bed, eagerly awaiting the comfort of a good story.

Lullaby is a stunning album and one that will definitely fulfill its categorical promise as it soothes your beating heart and lulls you and your little one to sleep.  It’s also perfect for those times where everyone needs a little change of pace.  Highly Recommended for ages 0 – 5 but would fare just as well for adults.

I had the privilege of interviewing Justin regarding his approach to Lullaby which you can read here.

Below you can listen to “Polar Bear,” “Nothing On You” and “Easier To Do.”  Lullaby is available for purchase and digital download at all media outlets, including Amazon and Roberts’ Merchandise page.  Also worthy of checking out are books and illustrations by the exceptionally talented Alison Jay who designed the packaging for Lullaby.

Listen to this: Holiday Road Trip and Party Playlist

Turn up the holiday cheer with these 10 holiday and seasonal songs.  Whether you are going on a trip or bringing the fun into your own home you will definitely find cheer among this timely list of tunes!

This, my friends, is the right list for the job.

Happy holidays!

Credits include the following (provided by SoundCloud)

1. Nogturne in C Minor by The Jimmies : http://www.gimmejimmies.com
2. Oh, Hanukkah by Randy Kaplan: http://www.randykaplan.com and www.mykazootv.com
3. The Great Dreidel Tournament by Groovy David http://www.groovydavid.com
4. Eat Your Fruitcake by Farmer Jason http://www.farmerjason.com and www.mykazootv.com
5. Untangling the Christmas Lights by Brady Rymer http://www.bradyrymer.com
6. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by The Not-Its! http://www.wearethenot-its.com
7. Under the Tree by Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band http://www.luckydiazmusic.com
8. Too Many Presents by Uncle Rock http://www.unclerock.com
9. Frosty the Snowman by Randy Kaplan http://www.randykaplan.com
10. Jingle Bells by Renee & Jeremy http://www.reneeandjeremy.com

Interview: Conversation with Justin Roberts

Justin Roberts

Justin Roberts, widely known for his catchy power pop hooks, recently released a gorgeous lullaby album once again proving that he is a master at his craft. While Lullaby is completely devoted to ballads, it is the toned down vibe of the album that illuminates Roberts’ brilliance as a songwriter. A full review of Lullaby can be found here.

My friend sent me a quote a while ago during a time when he was researching music and its effects on our mood. I think it perfectly sums up the feeling of listening to Lullaby.

“Certain common and simple verses, even a single line or two, that appeal to one’s heart and mind, when repeatedly sung or hummed with melody, rhythm and cadence and listened to by oneself, is like the divine symphony! It touches the core of our being and fills our heart with unspeakable joy and measureless happiness. It encircles us all around. This has to be experienced to be believed.”

With that, I hope you enjoy reading through the interview below.

KCG: I have really been enjoying Lullaby and it’s been great to see how much praise the album has gotten so far. In your career you have received a lot of acclaim for the records you’ve put out. Do you have high expectations for yourself with each new album?

JR: Unfortunately, yes. But, the thing with Lullaby is that it was kind of a hard left turn in terms of it being really different than anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve certainly written ballads in the past, but it was new for me to try to create a whole record of the same mood, using a lot of instrumentation that I don’t normally use. In writing lullabies, you’re often writing from a parent’s perspective, which I’ve done before on a few songs here and there, but not on a whole record. It was kind of a challenge to do something different rather than just making another power pop record, which I’m working on now. I wanted to try and do something different in between Jungle Gym and the upcoming record, [Recess]. I didn’t know how people would respond to it and it’s been nice to hear that people like it. As an artist, your goal is to have both critics and fans always enjoy what you do.

KCG: Although you do have one or two ballads on each of your previous albums, sitting and devoting an entire album to them seems like it would be a deeper, more personal process for you. Do you feel like this is a more personal album based on the change of pace in comparison to your power pop records?

JR: It really is. What was difficult about it was that I started working on it, finished one or two songs and had some other fragments, then started to wonder how I was going to maintain the mood and keep it interesting so that it wouldn’t be a boring record. I had a fragment of this melody to “What the Stork Sent” and then I thought of slowing it down a little bit but putting it into a Bossa Nova. Then I thought about how there are many genres of music that have slower songs and I don’t have to do classically based stuff. When I started working with that in mind, I thought that I could try and write an R&B song, I could try to write a Van Morrison style song, etc. The variety of styles seemed like it would make for a more interesting album and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

KCG: Sounds like it gave you more freedom while still being able to maintain the signature softness and emotional appeal of a typical lullaby record.

JR: When I’m writing any of the songs, like “Meltdown” or “Pop Fly,” each song has to appeal to me as an adult and should be something that reminds me of my childhood or gives me some sort of emotional response. So, while writing a record, I don’t think I’m writing it for 3-year-olds. I think I’m writing a record for children, families, adults, parents and everybody. It gives me a much broader range of what I feel like I can do.

KCG: The orchestral accents in the songs are timed perfectly with some of the verses you sing to make for really beautiful arrangements. Did you construct the arrangements and timing of each of these parts yourself?

JR: Yes, I wrote and recorded demos of all of the songs on my computer, mostly using a keyboard to play the string parts and the horn parts, etc. I also wrote backup parts on a couple of songs that were clearly meant for a gospel group. Liam had the idea of bringing in 2 women from a Chicago production of Hairspray. I’ve never had that sort of standard backup singer sound on a record and they were amazing singers. It felt fresh to me. And, it was pretty incredible to have the Chicago Symphony players in the studio, some of the finest musicians in the world, sing and play along with the parts that I had written on a mini-keyboard. The difference between hearing the parts played on a mini-keyboard and hearing the real emotions that the string players and the horn players put into the notes was really powerful. Even though I knew the parts, hearing someone else play them with just a beautiful musicality was really moving. It’s always so worth it when you get someone in who is just a complete pro and makes something that might be somewhat special into something really magical.

KCG: You have a reputation for putting on rockin’ music shows. How are you going to incorporate Lullaby into your live shows?

JR: It’s going to be difficult. Most of the songs don’t lend themselves to a live show unless we have a string quartet and an English Horn player. And, we can only do so much with synthesizers. I think we’ll probably learn a few of the songs that are playable by the band, but we’re probably only going to play one or two songs from Lullaby at any given concert, whereas when I put out Recess next year, we’ll probably play five or six songs from that record. I’m hoping Lullaby will spread through word of mouth, where it’s given as gifts to parents of newborns and young children, and then those parents will enjoy it and want to tell others about it instead of buying it as a result of hearing the songs at our shows.

KCG: It would make for a beautiful concert.

JR: I had a friend of mine suggest doing a whole concert devoted to Lullaby. I don’t know how well it would work for children. I have been doing some solo in-store performances, where I’ve been sitting down doing a handful of songs from from Lullaby, but then needing to do other songs to keep the audience engaged. It’s really meant for the type of setting where a parent and child can listen together during quiet time or late night. It’s not really meant for keeping the attention for a 2 or 3-year-old.

KCG: The instrumentation and lyrics of the songs paint such a beautiful picture. For example, with “Count Them As They Go,” the lyrics “picture this” and “all the aching thoughts we keep/just let ‘em go like sheep” in combination with the perfectly timed graphics is like a guided meditation. Crows typically carry the burden of representing the dark side, so to use that to represent negative thoughts was an interesting contrast.

JR: I was really happy with the video that ALSO, a company in Chicago, created for “Count Them As They Go.” The fun thing was that I gave the company very little direction. I told them to match the mood and repetitious quality of the song and they pretty much came up with the whole concept. The only thing I suggested was to have one single crow go across the screen at the beginning of the song when it says “white sheep, black crow.” And then at the end of the song, when it says “the birds are waiting on the line so let ‘em go it’s time” it’s should be the same kind of bird. For me, the black crow is sort of unexpected in the whole thing and it’s for negative thoughts as well. The whole thing feels very Buddhist to me, although I am not a practicing Buddhist.

KCG: A lot of the songs on the album don’t really sound like traditional lullabies, which is interesting because it’s called Lullaby so it automatically puts it in that category.

JR: I think because of the nature of the Lullaby record, a lot of the songs are treading the line between being love songs and being lullabies. It just depends on what perspective you hear the singer coming from. A song like “No Matter How Far” sounds like a ’70s soft rock song and not necessarily like a traditional lullaby.

KCG: Why did you decide to call the album “Lullaby?”

JR: Actually, Liam’s wife came up with the idea. We were talking about the idea of making a lullaby record. People were saying “why don’t you take all your soft songs and put them on record and make a lullaby record?” I didn’t want to do that because people have already bought those songs. Then I thought maybe I could take old songs, orchestrate them and make them new, interesting recordings. When I started thinking about it more, I thought it would be better if I just wrote a bunch of new songs and made a lullaby record. Then, Liam’s wife said “You should make a lullaby record and call it Lullaby.” Once she said that, I was mulling around the idea of a “Lullaby” song in my head and started writing the lyrics to it in 3/4 time with the idea of “it’s all in the end lullaby.” So when I was going about naming the record it just seemed like the right thing. I know [Lullaby] treads that line between being a grown-up record and a lullaby record and I’m happy that people are going along with the ride, because my fan base seems to be parents and kids. So, it’s nice to be able to make a record like this and have people appreciate it even though it’s for a different time of the day than they might listen to my other records.

KCG: That makes sense because although it is categorized as “family music” or “music for children,” parents are very much involved in determining what is listenable. Also, I think parents need music just as much to help them get through their day. If I enjoy listening to something that my daughter responds to, it’s a bonus and I am more willing to suggest it to friends and family. I am a huge music lover and I appreciate when music and lyrics consider both parent and child.

JR: Exactly. For me, there are times where I write songs and think “ok, this is a song for adults that I’m putting on a kids’ record.” The song “From Scratch,” on Pop Fly, is a sweet song about my grandmother and I know a lot of parents are going to like the lyrics because a lot of people have very similar memories of their grandmother. Then I have a 3-year-old come up to me and tell me that “From Scratch” is their favorite song and it’s like “what?!” So, if I began the process with what I think a child would like, I’m going to shoot low and you just never underestimate what kids are going to appreciate. I was just talking with a friend who had been listening to Lullaby with his son and thought there was a depth to the lyrics in the songs that he thought his son might not get. And then his son ended up drawing pictures of some of the things in the songs and totally responding to them. It was a great thing for my friend because when he listens to Lullaby, he finds it emotionally moving and it was a nice experience to see his son responding in the same way. So, I always go into it not knowing what kids are going to think. I’m almost more sure that adults will like something because I also am a music lover and try to make things that I like in music.

KCG: A while back you were pursuing religious studies.

JR: At University of Chicago I did a Masters Degree in Religious Studies. I had started off as a Philosophy of Religions Major concentrating in Buddhism. I switched over to Theology, but then I didn’t pursue a Ph.D. or anything. But, I was thinking about being a professor of religion.

KCG: Did any of what you studied influence the songs you wrote on Lullaby?

JR: I’m sure it did. Like I said, when I was writing “Count Them As They Go,” I was very much thinking about all of the tenants of Buddhism and the philosophy of that, although I do not actively practice them in my own life. I think it comes out in various ways. I think there’s a certain way of looking at life that people can find in songs. With the song “Lullaby,” in particular, I was sort of thinking a lot about how, traditionally, lullabies have elements of tragedy and elements of darkness in them that you don’t really think about. I’ve always wondered why “Rock-a-bye Baby” became such a standard thing to sing to children and so I was reflecting a lot on that dichotomy. A lot of the songs [on Lullaby] have this kind of imagery of beautiful things in fragile situations, like the stork delivering the baby or in the song “Lullaby,” there’s the image of all of these cradles in trees waiting to be knocked down. I think that sort of fragileness of life and the beauty that is passing, etc., certainly is influenced personally by things that I studied in college and graduate school.

KCG: In “All For You” you say “if the wise men say.”

JR: That actually comes a little bit more from me listening to Frank Sinatra 24/7 for many years on end. That for me is more just traditional songwriting usage of the wise man. I played [“All For You”] out for a solo event that I was doing early on for adults. It was right when I was saying I wasn’t making a lullaby record. A mother at the show came up and said how much she appreciated a song like that which has an element of I would do anything for you. I’m gonna screw up occasionally, but I’ll always be there for you. It’s not unlike a love song, but I like the sentiment of the song and it was refreshing to hear a mother say that it’s the kind of lullaby she would love to play for her child.

KCG: You do a beautiful job of stringing words together and creating vivid images for your listeners. For example, in “Nothing on You,” when you sing “the rain strikes the sidewalk/with its exquisite small talk/so many syllables I’ll never comprehend” and then later on in the song you liken the geese to musical symbols as you sing “those fleeting notes and rests are stretched across the sky.” Also interesting is “Wild One” and how that phrase takes on double meaning throughout the song. As a songwriter, do you put a lot of thought into the structure of the words you use?

JR: I really like the way words sound together, and lyrics are what I really tune into when I listen to songs. Great chord changes and great melodies are sort of important to me, but I find I get a lot more moved by the content of the lyrics when they’re well written. That’s what makes me care about a song. I spend a lot of time changing a little tiny word in songs that some people might think it’s crazy. I will go back and forth between “no it should be the or that.” With the “exquisite small talk” I think I was trying to be Paul Simon for 5 seconds and that whole song is a little Paul Simon-esque. “Exquisite small talk” is such a kind of phrase that he would use in songwriting when he uses overly technical language in his love songs [laughs]. With “Nothing on You,” I was writing it for a friend, whose father was passing away from cancer, from the perspective of her singing it to him. I wrote most of that verse as it is like 3 years ago, had it sitting on a hard drive and was never able to finish it. Then, as I was writing all these songs, I came back to it and I’m so glad I waited because I actually like the way the rest of the song turned out. I really like the imagery of the birds flying overhead like musical notes and that idea of the lingering final bird in the air being like this beautiful melody.

KCG: Sometimes using words in a descriptive way allows people to feel the music and form their own idea about what is being sung. It makes for a more emotional experience in some ways.

JR: I often like hearing what people think a song is about or when it applies to something in their life. Occasionally it matches up to my initial idea and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way that’s the whole point of making something and leaving that openness. It’s really nice to get feedback from people. When you make something that you’re proud of you want that to translate to other people and hope they have some sort of visceral response to what you’ve done. I’ve gotten alot of that both from close family and people I don’t know that well so it’s a nice combination.

KCG: How long did it take you to write Lullaby?

JR: I started writing it in about June 2011, but then I set it aside for a little while. I really began, in earnest, in January of this year. I had a huge creative burst when I was writing multiple songs a day and just spending like 16 hours at a time at my computer writing. Some of the songs were fragments from a long time ago, like the song “Polar Bear.” I had 20 seconds of that idea on a recording from years ago, but it was played on guitar. I liked the idea of the guitar part at the beginning, but then I thought “what if it was played by a pizzicato cello” and so I recorded it with a cello, added the strings in and then I started singing over it. And with the bridge, I started hearing these kind of orchestral percussion parts and horn parts and it really turned into something way beyond what I would have written if I had finished it when I wrote the first part of it. So, some of the songs were brand new creations but a lot of them were working with little fragments and changing them into songs. Most of the lyrics were written from winter into spring of this year.

KCG: Have you spent some time listening to Lullaby? How do you feel about the way it turned out?

JR: I’ve listened to it mostly in a critical way. When Liam finished the mixes, I had absolutely no changes for what he’d done. He generally does things pretty close to the way I imagine, but better. The vocal treatment was great on all of the songs and everything was perfectly balanced in the right way. He kind of went for this ’70s analog sheen to the whole thing that just really fit the content. We mastered it with J.J. Golden at Golden Mastering in California, who we work with all the time. J.J. did a really great mastering job. I generally listen to the records several times after I make them and then I don’t listen to them again. Then, maybe I’ll listen to them again in like 10 years and think “Oh my god, that’s what that sounds like? And we’ve been playing it live! I had totally forgotten recording this!”

KCG: How much time do you spend touring each month and do you see that increasing once Recess is released?

JR: I spend about 2-4 weekends a month out of town or playing shows [in Chicago]. Touring is really how I make my income. People are buying less music or finding it other ways so there doesn’t seem to be any better way for me to sell a record than to go to someone’s town, play a show and then sell records and merchandise afterwards.