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Music Review: Justin Roberts – Jungle Gym

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It’s been a few years since higher mathematics and I were on an even plane, but let’s see…(JTV-40) + R + A2/K(m)=JR. I’m pretty sure that's the formula that results in Justin Roberts’ new CD Jungle Gym. Take the James Taylor vibe with a new millennium sensibility, rock it, add some kid attitude and multiply it by music — well, mathematicians will have problems with this but I know I’m on the right track.

It’s not that Roberts sounds like Taylor; instead he reminds the listener of Taylor’s style, phrasing, and — there’s no other word for it — cool. Laid-back with an edge, can there be such a thing? Must be, since James Taylor perfected it. He also laid down some neat jazz and rockin’ hits.

Backed up by the Not-Ready-for-Naptime Players (don’t you love it?), Roberts delivers a sensational mix of songs that cover issues as diverse as fire drills, hair cuts, parachutes, and weird little brothers. Whether it’s the angst of “Never Getting Lost,” a song about a kid who lost his mom at the mall, or the pleasure of “Sleepoverland,” Roberts is able to capture childhood moments and emotions with which kids can identify and that adults will remember. He reminds us that breaking a bone isn’t all bad in “Sign My Cast,” and how much fun we can have with an empty “Cardboard Box.”

Roberts entertains with irresistible beats and cleverly constructed lyrics that invite the listener to sing along and join the fun. Jungle Gym features “pounding drums, vintage guitars, strange and fanciful time changes, and elegant flutes and French horns. Intricate vocals are…a hallmark…some songs feature 24 tracks.” Another hallmark of Roberts’ performance is joy — Jungle Gym is resoundingly happy. The unabashed cheer charms the audience, drawing it in to a world filled with imagination, expectation, and even a little fear.

The evolution of kids’ music has sometimes been painful, but with rewards like Jungle Gym, we can overlook some of the nastily annoying low points and rejoice that we have music we can enjoy with our children. At a time when summer increasingly means car travel, it’s a relief to have music that is not just tolerable for adults, but actually fun. And, let’s face facts, we grownups look forward to a “Snow Day” and “trick or treat” with the same delicious anticipation our young charges experience.

Bottom Line: Would I buy Jungle Gym? Yes! It’s going right into my car and traveling to New Jersey with me next week — the bobinos are going to love it.

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