There’s a fine line between precocious and precious. Musicians with a Message (that’s a capital M) have to tread lightly to avoid turning off kids or alienating parents who suspect an agenda. Portland’s Jessa Campbell and the Saplings want to be your conservation-loving friends on their new album, Can You Feel It. Like the kid who brings full-size cupcakes and goodie bags for his school birthday party, they just need to try a little less hard.
Can You Feel It started as a commissioned project from Oregon’s “Wonders of Nature” class at the Village Home learning center, which provides curriculum for homeschooling families. There’s definitely an alternative feel to the music, led by the glorious lead vocals and harmonies of the title track. Campbell’s career spans Talking Heads tribute bands to opera to theatrical pop. Now she’s taking the plunge into the two-foot-tall section of the musical community with these nine tunes.
Nature is all around us, and music as well. On such numbers as “How I Love You Sun” and the doo-wop-tinged “Water Worth,” you don’t hear Campbell breaking a sweat. But the science-themed “Waltz of Trillium and Ant” is a mouthful and you can hear the gears grinding on “Fractals.” The band does better on “Shadow Doo Dah,” (a reworking of “O Susanna”) and the countrified “The Great Happening.” A highlight is the steel pedal guitar anthem/lullaby “Goodnight Pacific Northwest,” which closes the album and makes smart use of simple, comforting repetition:
Goodnight little one
Goodnight, sleep child
Time to dream, time to sleep
Just like me
I’ll be sleeping
Can You Feel It brought forth memories of San Francisco’s Charity and the JAMBand, who have promoted similar causes and sentiments for more than 15 years. At times they have sidestepped the same obstacles. It’s a balancing act but then again, many adults find ourselves caught up in the conflicts between personal freedoms and the stifling policies of the current administration. Jessa Campbell and the Saplings know there’s a big world out there; they’re hoping your family wants to go play outside.
Here is the video for the song, “How I Love You Sun”: