Justin Roberts' Perfect Summer Party
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
If your kids are too young for Monopoly, then you might want to try a little Justin Roberts. He is a large figure in the admittedly preschool-sized world of children's music.
His seventh CD, called "Jungle Gym," comes out today, and our kids' music reviewer Stefan Shepherd thinks it has an enduring appeal.
(Soundbite of song "We Go Duck")
Mr. JUSTIN ROBERTS (Musician): (Singing) Thursday and the rain is starting. I can hardly wait for kindergarten because when it pounds and pours, it always means recess indoors.
STEFAN SHEPHERD: While there are a few differences between a great song for adults and one for families the amount of cursing, perhaps theyre often similar. Take, for example, the opening track, "We Go Duck." With an infectious chorus, elegant rhymes and handclaps, it's a perfect summer party song. It just happens to be about Duck Duck Goose.
(Soundbite of song, "We Go Duck")
Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) And when you least expect it, when you least expect it, you will be selected, when you least expect it. You go duck. Yeah, we go duck, duck, duck.
SHEPHERD: Roberts avoids lesson songs and instead, paints spot-on portraits of how kids view the big and small events of their lives: haircuts, broken arms, or temporarily losing one's mom at the shopping mall. And even though summer is just beginning, I can't stop listening to the instant Halloween classic, "Trick or Treat."
(Soundbite of song, "Trick or Treat")
Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) My mother watches the (unintelligible). My brother's nervous, so he can hardly talk. But I'm just a ghost in an old bed sheet. When the door opens, I go trick or trick or trick or trick or everyone's outside (unintelligible) to trick or trick or trick or trick or falling leaves will soar, we'll go door to door, and we're ready to trick or trick or trick or trick or..
SHEPHERD: Roberts' greatest songwriting gift, however, is the way he tells these stories from a child's perspective without sacrificing the perspective of adults. "Sleepoverland" starts out anticipating the adventures the youthful protagonist will have at an upcoming slumber party.
(Soundbite of song, "Sleepoverland")
Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) We'll make a maze of pillowcases, tie blankets to chairs with our shoelaces, holding flashlights up to our faces...
SHEPHERD: But the adult listener will recognize the mixture of bravado and vulnerability in the boy's desire to set up a string-can phone back to his house so his parents can tell him how much they miss him.
(Soundbite of song, "Sleepoverland")
Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) Back at home, Mom and Dad are probably wondering what I'm doing right now, and if they could, I'm sure they would hook up a soup can to a string that stretches all the way back home. And they'd say hello, hello, hello, we really miss you. Hello, hello, hello, we want to kiss you.
SHEPHERD: With this album, Roberts continues to craft masterpieces in miniature, the sonic equivalent to A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh or Kevin Henkes' children's stories. Like those books, Roberts' songs are likely to reach across and through generations.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. ROBERTS: (Singing) Well, who knew when we could do, is stop somewhere they'd be giving me lollipops that were covered in hair? And they'd put me in a chair, and they'd raise me in the air like I'm some pony on a carousel just spinning nice up there. But I am not a regular kid, and I don't know what I did to be stuck here with this man who has sharp objects in his hand. Yes, I'm getting a, getting a new haircut. Oh, it looks great...
SIEGEL: Stefan Shepherd writes about kids' music at zooglobble.com. He reviewed the CD "Jungle Gym," by Justin Roberts.
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