15 April 2008

Justin Roberts "Pop Fly"

Let me start this review by making the following declaration:


"Pop Fly", Justin Roberts' sixth album for kids, is without a doubt the greatest children's record ever made. There you have it...you could legitimately stop reading now.



Oh, you're still here. Well, let me explain a bit further...

"Pop Fly" (released today on Carpet Square Records) is a fascinating album for several reasons. The record, like none before it, has prompted an artistic integrity conversation with the Bear. This is something she probably heard me mention in regards to adult bands and records that I've been listening to but never before in relation to a kid's act that she fancies. Upon hearing half of this disc I needed to explain to her that some artists (be it in music, film, literature), when they reach a certain level of popularity, may attempt to replicate their now-recognizable style to keep those adoring fans on board for future projects/releases. This is disgusting for several reasons. Most notably because the artist is limiting their own creativity and artistic potential and also because they are also selling their audience well short by assuming fans cannot appreciate anything different or grow artistically along with their favorite author/songwriter/filmmaker. Ridiculous.

Thankfully, Justin Roberts is doing neither. "Pop Fly" is a diverse and ambitious work that has Justin and the band genre-hopping while expanding the depth of instrumentation from prior releases. Additionally, Roberts' vocal work has never been better. He has always been a sort of vocal chameleon, often sounding fresh yet distinctly familiar and comforting. For example, throughout "Pop Fly" you'll hear him sounding like Ted Leo on the hilarious "She Sits" (listen for the lines with elongated, embellished vowel sounds "...the baby sitter's got it maaade" and "...when I'm in the 7th graaade") and Bob Dylan on "Henrietta's Hair' (initially I was calling this Josh Ritter-esque but of course all roads paved with this sound lead back to Mr. Zimmerman). The production quality of his vocals, along with the rest of the music, is top notch. This may be the best recorded kid's record ever as well, it is pristine without being glossy and too-perfect...if that makes sense.

Liam Davis (Justin's longtime producer/multi-instrumentationalist/collaborator) is a true star. If you didn't think so before, "Pop Fly" makes it quite obvious. His deft touch is all over this new album - from tasteful mandolin fills to the Beach Boys-backing vocals on "Kickboard, Baby, Yeah" to the playful Casio-sounding keyboard parts in the chorus of "From Scratch". "Pop Fly" is layered with numerous moments of gorgeous musicianship, those seemingly nonchalant little guitar parts, lyrical phrases and bass lines that make a great record memorable.

It only makes sense that the best album would also contain some of the best individual songs ever recorded for the underage set and "Pop Fly" does. The aforementioned "Henrietta's Hair" and "From Scratch" are two perfect examples of Roberts' brilliance in the areas of musical composition and songwriting as are "Giant Sized Butterflies" and "Fruit Jar" - the two lullaby-esque songs on "Pop Fly". I am almost giddy when I think about this album. It is magical and absolutely perfect without a weak or even average song in the bunch.

We are in interesting territory here as the Bear's favorite acts are releasing subsequent records and she is growing with the artists. It is an incredibly exciting time for the Mrs. and I as we are witnessing the growth of not only a little girl but the development of a true, pure music lover. We as a family couldn't be more pleased to have Justin Roberts' music serve as catalyst and fuel for this artistic and musical passion.




Buy "Pop Fly" now
!

2 comments:

GBK Gwyneth said...

I'm surprised that no one else has commented.... we LOVE this CD!!!

msic said...

Well said. My daughter, wife and I enjoy JR's stuff but this record is kind of a quantum leap forward, not just in the songwriting but especially in the highly varied sonic textures. He isn't just good "for a kiddie rock act" anymore; he's just flat-out good by any measure. And as your review points out, it's easy for any recording artist to stick to the same tried-and-true cash-cow formula, but this is particularly true in kiddie rock, where there's the added (widely misinterpreted) cognitive argument that kids demand familiarity and pattern. It's just too easy to crank out the same product over and over, particularly if your name rhymes with Flaurie Derkner.