Justin Roberts shows no signs of taking a Recess quality-wise with his ninth album for kids and their families, as melodies, lyrics, compositions, and production are as sharp as ever. The powerpoppiest of all kindie rockers, Roberts seems to be influenced by a constellation of songwriters such as Nick Lowe, Guided By Voices, The Raspberries, Elvis Costello, The Who, and Jason Falkner. Roberts' sharp, witty, and catchy compositions on Recess are uniquely original while being ever so lightly painted by just a hint of the aforementioned musicians and bands' styles, making Recess one of the best kids' music CDs of 2013.
While teaching at a Montessori school, Justin Roberts began writing and singing songs for his young students, and independently recorded his first set of songs in 1997. Producer and college friend Liam Davis persuaded Roberts to record the songs professionally, creating what became Great Big Sun, rereleased in 1998.
Roberts' continued popularity and artistic growth resulted in his 2003 album, Not Naptime, being named a Parents' Choice Gold Award winner, and one of Parents' Choice "25 Best Children's CDs of the Past 25 Years." 2006 saw the release of Meltdown!, Roberts' most accomplished kids' CD to date. The album won yet another Parents' Choice Gold Award, was listed in Amazon.com's Top 10 Children's CDs of the Year, received a Gold Award from NAPPA, and was named the #1 Children's CD of 2006 in the Fids and Kamily Poll.
The follow-up, Pop Fly, was released in 2008 to great accolades from parents, kids, and reviewers alike, while Jungle Gym made our list of Best Kids' Music of 2010, and the quiet time CD Lullaby, released in 2012, resides on our list of favorite new lullaby albums. For a more detailed profile of Justin Roberts, check out our Justin Roberts bio page.
The Music of 'Recess'
Wow! Recess kicks off with a barrage of powerpop anthems that betters anything released recently in kindie rock land. "Recess" celebrates every kids' favorite part of the school day with slashing cymbals and layers of harmonies, made all the punchier by blasts of brass. "I'll Be an Alien" roars into outer space with Beach Boys harmonies, briefly slides into a reggae beat, and returns to a fist-pumping, hand-clapping chorus as it describes the feelings of a lonely kid trying to find an identity of his own. Harpsichord and horns blend as friends set up to play "Hopscotch," ending with a Who-like drum barrage, while the liberating "Check Me Out, I'm at the Checkout" surfs along on a twangy wave as a kid enjoys his freedom in the grocery store. One of the best songs on Recess, "My Secret Robot," kicks off echoing the opening phrase from The Beatles' "Please Please Me," transforms into a chugging, Robert Pollard-inspired rocker, then flows into some Archies-like sunshine pop. The tune concludes with the kind of endless, head-rockin' codas that whichever indie rockers who were playing the Bowery Ballroom last night would give their skinniest jeans to have written. Then Roberts slows down the pace a bit with the introspective tune "Looking for Trains."
More Music from 'Recess'
A newly-adopted puppy assures his human buddy that he's with him "Every Little Step" of the way via classic powerpop choruses and a quick slip into Vaudeville. "We Got Two" is a pretty close approximation of what it would sound like if Guided By Voices made a kids' song, what with its chopping power chords, knotted guitars preceding the bridge, and awesomely ascending chorus, as a big brother gains a new sibling. "The Princess Wore Pink" tells the story of a young rogue member of royalty who influences her kingdom to shake up the dress code a little, while Elisha Graves Otis would be proud of "Otis," as a kid visits his favorite elevator accompanied by slashing, rumbling Keith Moon-ish drums. The jaunty "School's Out (Tall Buildings)" channels "Penny Lane" and Andrew Gold, as a student lets a favorite teacher know that even though the school year has ended and he appreciates his teacher's dedication to educating his students, it's summer! And, as a perfect example of Roberts' prowess at pop composition and the progression of kindie rock in general, you won't hear another chunk of music like the "Tall Buildings" section of "School's Out" on any other kids' music album this year. Recess comes to a quiet close with "Red Bird," a tune that would have fit nicely onto Roberts' Lullaby, musically sounding like a mix between Neil Young's "See the Sky About to Rain" and Ben Fold Five's "Brick."
Kudos have to go to Roberts for taking the time to write compositions, not just songs, as many of the selections on Recess are multilayered in both their musical construction and their lyrical meaning. The success of Recess is due in no small part to the production prowess of band mate Liam Davis, especially with the drums and the dense vocal harmonies. Show this album to anyone who doubts the power and craft of current kids' music and their minds will be changed immediately. Highly recommended!
Released July 23, 2013; Carpet Square Records
- "I'll Be an Alien"
- "Check Me Out, I'm at the Checkout"
- "My Secret Robot"
- "Looking for Trains"
- "Every Little Step"
- "We Got Two"
- "The Princess Wore Pink"
- "School's Out (Tall Buildings)"
- "Red Bird"