Monday, May 08, 2017

Joanie Leeds & the Nightlights: Back in Brooklyn, Baby

There is no starter's guide for childhood. And even if there was, babies would just gnaw at it. By the time toddlers would be old enough to read it, they'll have already ripped it apart. And would any writer really trust helicopter parents not to censor the parts about "over-sensitive and over-protective" mamas and papas at bedtime? The happy replacement is, of course, family music – albums with kid-friendly instructional or informative songs that possess a sly parental edge. With parenthood comes experience. Now-a-mom Joanie Leeds, and her Nightlights, have returned with their first post-child CD, BROOKLYN BABY.

Ms. Joanie has stated that she intended to write another collection of themed songs, similar to WHAT A ZOO. The obvious choice of her current borough, Brooklyn, was, well, obvious. A baker's dozen of loquacious location-conscious GPS-setting, toe-tapping tunes later, her quintet produced BROOKLYN BABY (the title itself a play on words for her toddler daughter, which is also often used as a common rap saying).

Cognizant of the old stigma of Brooklyn being an "outer borough," the Nightlights navigate listeners away from Manhattan via "Subway" and the first track, "Ferry Nice." It's almost like the group is kicking for a licensing deal to promote the new Waterways transit service. Songs for those who can walk untethered under a turnstile include "By Myself" and "Library Book," which carries a little "9 to 5" vibe. "Brooklyn Baby" is a ballad (one of three on the CD) penned as a love song (one of two on the CD) to Joanie (and drummer Dan)'s daughter. Taking the classic novel "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" as a starting point, Joanie sings:

There's a tree, wild and free
And it grows in Brooklyn,
It grows in Brooklyn.
You're my Brooklyn baby,
But you won't stay a baby.

The anthemic power ballad "Love Is Love" spoonfeeds the concept of inclusion as by-the-book as possible, right down to a verse with "It doesn't matter if you have one mom or two / if you're a Muslim or a Jew / If your clothes are old or new." Staying close to her PJ Library roots, Joanie sews a bevy of semitic terms into "Shayne Punim" (Grandma will plotz!). "Rainbow Bagels from Outer Space" channels 1970s punk icons Blondie. In terms of rebranded material, there's a remix of GOOD EGG's standout track, "Hipster in the Making," which fits snugly and smoothly into this CD's wheelhouse, as well as a dreamy, faithful cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" to close your mental road trip.

My kids provide the truest acid test for any new music. In a bygone era, Life cereal wasn't good enough unless "Mikey liked it." Driving around with my six-year-old (Matt) and having him pick up enough of the chorus to sing "Ferry Nice" or "Rainbow Bagels from Outer Space" is one thing. Watching him play with his wrestling action figures and break into "Library Book" helps make my recommendation a thumbs-up. BROOKLYN BABY shows there's no performing rust, no lack of imagination or ingenuity, and certainly no musical postpartum depression from Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights.

BROOKLYN BABY is available on May 19 from Joanie Leeds' website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.

Here is the promo video for BROOKLYN BABY, featuring "Ferry Nice":

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