Wild Life, Justin Roberts’ 15th album for children, is once more supported by his wonderful selected musicians including pianist Lisa Kaplan (Eighth Blackbird), Anna Jacobson on horns, percussionist Gerald Dowd (Robbie Fulks), and vocalist Nora O’Connor (Flat Five, the Decemberists). The ten songs that make up this CD reflect his gentle, reflective and finely crafted approach to making music for children. The album opens with Roberts’ soft, comforting voice (a hybrid of Paul Simon and Iron and Wine singer Sam Beam’s mellifluous tones) calling out across the airwaves to connect with the natural sense of wonder children possess. “Maybe She’ll Have Curly Hair” is a beautiful song of anticipation and imagination for an expectant family. “I’ve Got The World (for You)” is a rocking song of love and support through good and bad times, expressed by parents to their well-loved children, and in many ways the sentiments are similarly expressed in “Glad You’re Hear,” which uses a bouncy Islands beat to tell its tale. “You Grew” is a gorgeous parental love letter to a child changing and growing, told with a refreshing eye for detail and absence of regret. “When You First Let Go” is bathed in cascading mandolin, flute and sweeping cello for this tale of parent’s special connection with their children. “Ain’t No Way” is a fine folk declaration of parent’s dedication, supported by sturdy brass and Nora O’Connor’s lovely harmony vocal, while Anna Steinhoff’s viola da gamba colors the air with hope in the reassuring “Be Not Afraid.” Roberts’ Dylan/Guthrie style harmonica adds a new color to the palette of the Springsteen-like acoustic strains of “Hide and Seek.” The title track ending tune poses a question inspired by a famous Mary Oliver poem, which asks what you will do with your amazing “Wild Life.” While the album is filled with emotion, it is never overly sentimental or cloy. Roberts’ lyrics expertly express images of kinship, connectedness and family, set to music that is both satisfying and soothing. Wild Life is a sumptuous antidote to the fearful times we live in, it is both reassuring and forward looking; it is perhaps what every family could use right now.
Lahri Bond ©2020 Parents’ Choice
Lahri Bond is a father, a writer, music historian and an art professor in Western Massachusetts. His published books include Spinning Tales Weaving Hope (with the Stories For World Change Network) for New Society Press and People of the Earth (coauthored with Ellen Evert Hopman) for Destiny Books.