Growing up is tough. That’s why Peter Pan refused to do it. Suspended adolescence is one of the primary charming enticements in becoming a children’s musician: You get to continually relive your childhood experiences through the eyes of an attentive, appreciative audience. Raffi never had children of his own over the course of a 40-year career. Others embark on “late” parenthood, when they’re established themselves and the timing is right. That’s the case with Justin Roberts, who released his first kid’s music CD, Great Big Sun, in 1997. And released his first child in 2019—more than 20 years later.
Roberts’ latest release, Wild Life, chronicles the delights, trials, and tribulations of new parenthood. It falls well within the bounds of his last effort, Lemonade, as well as an earlier effort, Lullaby. The songs are acoustic, with keyboards and harmonica on “Hide And Seek,” which is about “how there ain’t nobody who doesn’t want to be found” more than the kid’s game. The CD also contains a few shout-outs to God, on this track as well as “Wild Life.” Put that information into your non-secular folder when you compile your musical shopping list.
Produced by “Not Ready For Naptime” bandmate Liam Davis, Wild Life is a deeply personal effort for Roberts. Newborns are more prone to tantrums during loud music, resulting in an absence of ravers and audience participation tunes. Wild Life instead relies on a group of instrumentalists that includes fellow bandmate/percussionist Gerald Dowd, pianist Lisa Kaplan, baroque cellist Anna Steinhoff (incidentally Mrs. Roberts), and vocalist Nora O’Connor (who has sung with the Decemberists).
Roberts welcomes his firstborn with wonder on the song, “Glad You’re Here”:
We don’t know if you descended from some far-off distant star
But you landed in our laps now we happy are
Now we’ll dance with you and sing to you while we’re spinning on this sphere
So you don’t forget the world is full of love, and we’re glad that you’re here
Title track “Wild Life,” perhaps the most evocative song on the CD, is a life lesson written by longtime Roberts’ friend, playwright Craig Wright, with a chorus urging kids to “cut their own path through this wild life.” The liveliest song, “I’ve Got the World (For You)” almost gets the kids up and dancing. I said almost. On Wild Life, children’s music bridges the space between parents and kids, sharing the spectacle of modern life, and taking baby steps until everyone—no matter what age—is confident as an individual, special person. And ready to walk on their own.
Here is the video for Justin Roberts’ new song, “Glad You’re Here”: