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Lullaby Time


LML Music

If you cast a casting director's light on Shine, you might logically choose Suzanne Jamieson Selmo as the voice of a gentle Disney princess or a butterfly. She has that kind of sugar-sprinkled sound that makes almost any song float in a protective pink bubble. Destination: the intersection of Warm and Fuzzy in the Land of Optimism. Billed as Suzanne Jamieson, her earlier album, 2009's Sun-Up Sky back in 2009 struck me as creampuffy crooning, with a lack of depth where it might be called for. So, I thought an album of material fashioned as Lullabies for Everyone might be the right fit. The prettified, polite approach is applied in broad strokes not to traditional tot-targeted tunes, but to more show music and standards.

One might consider many lullaby collections in the category of "Music as Functional Purpose." Strongly prioritizing the calming balm of melody lines for the intention of what lullabies aim to do—lull—means that nuanced phrasing for lyrics or making them more thought-provoking or layered is not what it's about. Musical lines and accompaniment spin fluff and feathery nests for cozy dozing. Rose-colored glasses are required eyewear. While the gauzy arrangements and the vocal cooing one's way through Broadway and pop won't make them preferred Lullabies for Everyone, I suspect that the very young may be content. I don't doubt that it's all coming from a sincere, serene place. The singer is seen on the back cover sharing pillow space with her also-blonde little daughter (to whom the brief liner notes are addressed); she's expecting her second child in several weeks.

Although Suzanne is an actress (out West) and has done cabaret—where it can be all about the lyrics, personalizing and digging deeper—Shine showcases little detailed drama from this mama. Since we spot the potential to serve both masters (music and lyrics) on both albums' more involving tracks, it can be rather frustrating that the intended "hypnosis" of melody is so dominant. As I see things, exposing the very young and the restless, even subliminally, to the musical theatre canon and the other pages of the Great American Songbook as bedtime storybook is an honorable goal. And I am firmly convinced that even young children can feel more if a lyric is acted with many colors, rather than words being enslaved to a sing-the-notes/slumber-to-each-number agenda. When a singer's natural timbre and tone tend to the tender or gushingly girlish, naturally a little goes a long way. The endeavor could have benefited from some underplaying or a few arrangements that were more stark or more lush.

The general pervasive moods of selections are in evidence, but the presentations are more monochromatic than shaded. Peter Pan's "Distant Melody" is an interesting case in point. In the musical, the Styne/Comden/Green gem is indeed cued by Peter's fading recollection of a lullaby he heard "long ago," but it's meant to be bittersweet: a warm memory that's also unsettling and creates a yearning. A touch of that is here, but it's kept at a distance. A smile felt a mile away is firmly in place. A reasonable choice or a missed opportunity? In the context of The Music Man, "Goodnight My Someone" is tinged with a restlessness, loneliness and hope, wishing well and "sweet dreams to carry you close to me" to an as-yet unmet sweetheart-to-be who's out there somewhere. In the show, there's the added impact of Marian the librarian/piano teacher teaching this concept to her young pupil and it being a nice balance to her song of finding love for real ("Till There Was You," which the vocalist opened her prior CD with). Performances outside the context can be informed by it. But here, it's just another generalized goodnight hug, pleasingly pretty but placid. While that's plenty for some, the "mellow-ization" mission may make material too glib or glossed-over for others. Employing the songs for their surface value has some value, but I'd rather see what's swimming below the surface.

Interestingly, one of the stronger pieces is an original by the singer mom and musical director/pianist/arranger John Boswell, a versatile musician who switches from the gossamer, murmuring low gear he's in here to zingier levels on others of his many projects. Their collaboration, a truly endearing goodnight message of bonding, "I'll Miss You Til the Morning" is more invested and involved. Still, I wish a couple of false rhymes had been avoided (there are words that could be set to get a rhyme for "my pet," a term of affection which might be a bit precious or quaint anyway). There's some sloppiness in the songwriting credits, too: Is it snarky to point out, or a logical question posed—for an album so focused on melody lines and legato and less attentive to lyrics—that four songs have only their composers' names listed? (Four others fare better, luckily having melody and words by the same person, such as Music Man Meredith Willson, though his surname is spelled wrong). Nevertheless, giving credit where it should've been due, the words of the unmentioned Alan & Marilyn Bergman are wonderful to hear on the rarely encountered "This Quiet Room," another of their joint efforts with composer Michel Legrand.

Irving Berlin's lesson of perspective and gratitude, "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)," is a major success story. This more measured approach to fretting is sung persuasively and personally, with its more grown-up viewpoint potent. And there's more richness and variety in the voice and arrangement. Boswell and the other two musicians, guitarist Lawrence Juber and cellist Stephanie Fife, sometimes get things feeling crowded in their layers of lugubriousness.

The Beatles are represented by the reassuring "Goodnight" and "Here Comes the Sun." From Disney, via our could-be Disney princess, is the reverse psychology of "Stay Awake," the Mary Poppins piece, and Dumbo's tender "Baby Mine," still many years later effective as a balm for the bullied. (An elephant never forgets, nor do many little kids in need of support who were and are exposed to its words of wisdom and warmth.)

Maybe Shakespeare was right about sleep being the thing that "knits the raveled sleeve of care," but there can be loose threads left hanging and they seem neglected here. But the main message comes through loud and clear—well, soft and clear. It's not so much my cup of tea, but there may be something to be said for serving up a cup or two of comfort treats like sweet hot cocoa with marshmallows.

- Rob Lester

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