Tag Archives: Justin Roberts

The Dadnabbit Top Family Records Of 2012

make bekivers
Is December 31st too late to release a top records of 2012 list? Probably, but it’s what I grew up on. I’d go over to my grandma’s house on New Years Eve around noon and would watch the top 100 videos on MTV until the ball dropped. So, I stubbornly waited until today to post this Top 10 list. Pageviews be damned.

As with all lists, they’re subjective and strictly based on my opinion and what engages my 3 1/2 year old.

Dadnabbit Top 10 Family Records of 2012

10. Various Artists – Keep Hoping Machine Running: Songs of Woody Guthrie
The first of two Woody Guthrie tributes in the Top 10. This tribute, an idea by Jeff Giles and Bill Childs features some of the best in the Kindie world paying tribute to Mr. Guthrie.
9. The Pop Ups – Radio Jungle
The Brooklyn synth-pop duo is back with another batch of infectious pop songs that had our whole family dancing.
8. Elizabeth Mitchell – Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie
Another Woody Guthrie tribute and Elizabeth Mitchell brings out the sweetness of the tunes. Loved this record far more than I expected.
7. Gustafer Yellowgold – Gustafer Yellowgold’s Year in the Day
Another year, another album from Morgan Taylor. This time around he finds holidays throughout the year for Gustafer to enjoy.
6. Various Artists – Science Fair
A truly empowering album. As the father of two girls, the lyrics “Girls can do anything” and “Oh girl, you can be whatever you want to be” featured on this album make it a no-brainer as one of the years best. A perfect example of why kindie music is better than Top 40 or Kidz Bop.
5. Justin Roberts – Lullaby
Mr Roberts does it again. I’ll never doubt him again.
4. Ozomatli – Ozomatli Presents OzoKidz
The L.A. based latin-salsa-funk-hip hop band bring some fresh sounds to the family music scene. While overproduced at times, it still has the Ozomatli sound I know and love.
3. Okee Dokee Brothers – Can You Canoe?
A unique concept, executed to near perfection.
2. Lucky Diaz & The Family Jam Band – A Potluck
Only Mr. Diaz’s second full length and he’s already one of the best in the biz. Power Pop/Rock executed flawlessly.
1. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo – Make Believers
Simply put, this album kicks ass. Genre bending organic old school hip hop vibe with catchy lyrics and killer hooks. Such a rewarding album. I simply LOVE this album.

Honorable Mentions: Kepi Ghoulie, Sugar Free All-Stars, Randy Kaplan, Farmer Jason, The Board of Education, Songs for Junior Rangers, Astrograss, Ben Rudnick.

Top 5 songs (based on number of plays on my ipod)
1. Box Of Crayons – The Pop Ups.

2. Like It’s Your Birthday – Ozokids
3. Do The Kangaroo – Kepi Ghoulie
4. Lines and Dots – Lucky Diaz
5. Rocket Science – MC Fireworks

I can’t wait to see what the Kindie world brings us in 2013. (I’ve heard some of it, and it sounds pretty good.)

CD Review: Justin Roberts – Lullaby

Justin Roberts LullabyAnd The Song Goes:
don’t you worry I’m following right behind
‘cause if you’re caught in who knows where
then I’ll be your polar bear

CD: Lullaby
Artist: Justin Roberts
Audience: Humans
Sounds Like: Justin Roberts channeling James Taylor and Van Morrison.
Buy fromJustinRoberts.org
Random Thought: If Coca-Cola doesn’t offer Roberts a boatload of cash to use “Polar Bear” in their  Super Bowl polar bear commercials, they’re fools.
Tweet Sized Review: Justin Roberts makes a bad ass 70’s soft-rock Lullaby record.

I doubted Justin Roberts. A lullaby record from the guy who rocks out like no other from the family music set? I second guessed it and should have known better. The Dan Wilson of the family music scene can simply do no wrong. Lullaby is his ode to 70’s soft rock giants James Taylor, Van Morrison and others. Forget those annoying Rockabye Baby CDs, this is how a lullaby record should sound. This is how a lullaby record needs to sound.

Justin Roberts was the first ever Kindie artist I heard. Back in 2009 I was sitting with my two week old daughter listening to Music Choice on my TV and I was 30 seconds away from turning the kids channel off because they were playing something awful. But I decided to wait for the next song. “Song for You” by Justin Roberts was the next song. I downloaded the track about 2 minutes later.  The song and moment has stuck with me ever since. Had I been less patient, I may have never found the kindie music world.  I love kindie music because it helps create moments for our family that I’ll always remember. Whether I’m in the car with my daughter dancing in our seats to Lucky Diaz or The Pop Ups, its all about creating those special moments.

The morning my second daughter was born in October of this year, I had an email with a link to listen to Lullaby. We, as in my wife  & daughters, sat around my iphone and listened to a stream of the record from start to finish. It was one of those moments that will stick with me forever.

Mr. Roberts doesn’t take the easy route. Many albums are produced and recorded at a pretty bare bones/rapid pace by  artists today. Voice, guitar, hit ‘record’ and be done. The days of “Big Budget” records are gone. Except in Justin’s world. And we as listeners get to reap the rewards. The sound on this record is impeccable. Roberts and producer Liam Davis have created a ridiculously lush sound for this album. Horns, harps, plus strings from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, they pay attention to all the little details that take an album from being good to being great. Lullaby has no business being so damn compelling. Frankly, it’s the one and only time I’ll ever call a lullaby record, bad ass. But it’d be a shame to call it anything else.

So Justin Roberts, I’m sorry for doubting you. I won’t let it happen again.

If you don’t have this record set for your child’s stocking, do it right now there is still time. It’s practically a gift for yourself.

BONUS – Audio geeks! The album is being released on 180 gram vinyl early in 2013!

Q & A with Justin Roberts

Can you make a lullaby record that is not boring? The answer is “Yes” because Justin Roberts just did. Lullaby is a gorgeous, engaging and beautiful record. The perfect album for a pre-bedtime ritual. The string arrangements, the vocals – it’s Justin Roberts in top form. Again.

I first heard this album 4 hours after my second child was born. It was a magical moment, holding my newborn daughter watching her eyes slowly close as we listened to these gorgeous lullabies.

*Normally I get a chance to talk to artists over the phone and really engage in a conversation and can follow up based on what they say. Unfortunately, my new job limits my abilities to do that, so I just sent over some questions for Mr. Roberts and here are his answers*

Is a lullaby record a present to the parents who think your music gets their kids too riled up?

No, not really. I’ve thought about doing a lullaby record for some time. Initially, some folks had suggested that I just compile all my lullaby-like songs on one record. I didn’t really want to re-release the same material so I thought about orchestrating old songs, and then decided to just write all new songs for the record.

You mentioned in the past that song writing can be a difficult process. Was it is easier when making a lullaby only record? Did it allow you to focus on writing a certain type of song?

It wasn’t easier necessarily. But it was certainly different. The biggest problem was figuring out a way to keep the record interesting even though all the songs were slow. I abandoned the project for that reason and then took it up again when I thought of writing songs in different slower genres (70’s soft rock, bossa nova, r & b, etc.)

How were you able to get the Chicago Symphony Orchestra involved on the record?

Liam and I were trying to figure out who to get to play the orchestral parts and I realized that my longtime photographer, Todd Rosenberg, was also the photographer for the CSO. So he was supremely helpful with putting me in touch with everyone and they were all fabulous and fun to work with.

Your quieter songs on previous records were always tracks that stood out to me. Like ‘Song for You’ or ‘Sandcastle’ stood out because they were next to more uptempo songs on the album. Do you think some of those special moments are missed by putting all the softer songs on one record?

If I thought the songs were being compromised by the setting, I would not have released the record.

Were these songs sitting around for awhile or were they all new and written specifically for this album.

Just like any other record I’ve made, I wrote brand new songs from scratch and went through older fragments searching for ideas. All of these songs were completed in the last year or so, though some were melodic or lyrical fragments from awhile back.

Will you be doing lullaby only concerts?

I might do a few lullaby-only in-store visits this winter.

How fleshed out are the songs before you start collaborating with Liam?

The recording is a pretty faithful recreation of my demos. I arranged the songs on Logic using a MIDI keyboard and wrote most of the songs that way. Very little guitar was used in the writing process. But, getting to hear the parts played by professional English horn players and harpists was incredible.Gerald (Dowd, the Not Ready for Naptime Players drummer) is a lot better at pretending he is a 70’s soft rock drummer than I am.  In production, Liam went for a very 1970’s analog sounding mix, which works really well for the disparate styles. The one that we changed quite a bit was “Easier to Do,” which originally was more of a slow jam with analog drum machine. We decided to use Gerald and a jazz pianist and make it a little more organic sounding.

Lots of children’s artists play songs for their kids to test them out. Since you don’t have any children, does that make Liam Davis your son?

I rarely if ever test market my songs with children and don’t think I would change that if I had kids. The song has to be meaningful to me and other folks who I care about and respect their musical taste. I’m writing for everyone when I write family songs.

Nobody makes kids music to be rich and famous, but have you reached a comfort level or managed expectations in your career? Tour on the weekends, release a new album every 2-3 years, sell “x” number of albums, make “x” amount of dollars?

I don’t think anyone who is a self-employed artist reaches a level where they stop worrying about what the future holds but I’ve been lucky so far. With the way the music business is changing as more and more people listen to music on streaming sites and don’t purchase recordings, I’m a little concerned about how I can keep making “big budget” records with truly professional musicians but I’m going on faith that it will some how get figured out and so far it has worked out.

I saw you this summer in concert. At one point, Liam (as NYC street-talking, Willy The Whale) made a slight dig at your songs, saying that they all have the “ba, ba, ba” at some point. Are you subconsciously trying to keep yourself from writing that way?

No, the more “Ba Ba Ba” the better. “What the Stork Sent” has tons of “ba bas.”

At that same concert, you also did a new, non-lullaby song at the show. Do you have plans to release a new record in 2013?

Yes, we are planning on releasing a record called Recess in 2013. About half of it was recorded while we were working on “Lullaby.”

Artists such as Dan Zanes, Caspar Babypants and others have released books tied with their music. Have you thought about trying to do that as well?

I’m releasing a book with Putnam’s in 2014 called “The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade,” which is adapted from the song “Billy the Bully” http://www.justinroberts.org/music_naptime.php

Home concerts on the on rise and yet, you’re tackling something a little different. You’re working on home plays. Can you share some details on how that came about and who’s involved?

My college friend Eric Ziegenhagen and I were discussing house concerts and wondered why no one was doing house theater. I’m a big fan of the theater. I find it to be one of the most transformative forms of art. So, we decided to try doing the same thing that folks were doing with music with theater. I suggested a play by Craig Wright (who happens to be my friend and the person that wrote two songs from the “Why Not Sea Monsters?” CDs) for the first one. He currently has a play on Broadway called “Grace.” Eric found some amazing actors, John Roberts (who also went to college with us), Tracy Kaplan (from Theatre 7) and Brad Smith (who is also a very accomplished musician – Sad Brad Smith) and we started putting it on all over Chicago. It was a blast. We’re hoping to do more this year and next.

For more, read this article from the Chicago Tribune.

What was the moment where you realized you had something special going on with children’s music?

Probably in 1992, when I played “Giraffe/Nightingale” (a song from my college band – Pimentos for Gus) for the preschoolers I was working with. but I never entertained the idea of being a kids’ musician at that point.

You’re on Twitter and Facebook, but you’re not sharing every possible detail about your life. By not sharing are helping keep the mystique of an artist?

I don’t think most of what I’m thinking or doing is that interesting to share. But, if it’s creating a mystique, I’ll keep it up.

You have also done some adult shows with Robbie Fulks. Are you writing adult songs? How close are you to releasing a record for non-kids?

I’ve written a handful of adult songs. Some of them I put on this lullaby record. Some of them I put on previous family records. I don’t know that I will make another record that is just for adults since I already feel like I’m writing for adults anyway (in addition to kids), so it would seem redundant.

What were the songs you grew up listening to that inspired you to pick up the guitar.

I loved 80’s indie rock R.E.M., Husker Du, Meat Puppets, Replacements and 70’s folk: James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Paul Simon.

Albums can be formed based on what the musician has been listening to at the time or recording, so what are you listening too?

I’ve been listening to new records from Fiona Apple, Father John Misty, Mountain Goats, and Bill Fay.

Lullaby will be released on November 20th. You can pre-order your copy soon from Justin’s website.