Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Shawn Colvin Revisits Childhood on 'Starlighter'

Maurice Sendak inspired many a children's dream, as well as a nightmare or two. His illustrations are evocative and fanciful; smart and welcoming yet hinting at great menace and peril. Among his best-known work is LULLABIES AND NIGHT SONGS, accompanying music and arrangements by lyricist Alec Wilder. The book has enchanted and given flight to many imaginations. Among the best-known of those is singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin, who brings forth THE STARLIGHTER, her interpretation of many of those same works.

Over the course of her 27-year career, Colvin has been honored with three Grammys (two for 1996's “Sunny Came Home”). But she's better known in my household for her fourth album, 1998's HOLIDAY SONGS AND LULLABIES, recorded while she was eight and a half months pregnant with her daughter Caledonia. The album became such a regular nightly routine for my older son, Ben, that we wore out one copy and had to purchase a second.

LULLABIES AND NIGHT SONGS struck a childhood chord in Colvin. She returned to it once her daughter was born. And she returned to it again for THE STARLIGHTER. The 14 tracks range from "Hush Little Baby" to "Minnie and Winnie" (video also available from her web site) with lyrics by Alfred Lord Tennyson. If this was a one-off, THE STARLIGHTER could be dismissed as a cynical attempt to take advantage of public domain collateral. However Colvin has made repeated – and admirably sincere – visits to this well. And has a lengthy, demonstrated love of the source material.

THE STARLIGHTER succeeds dramatically as a musical equal to its parents, both Colvin and LULLABIES AND NIGHT SONGS. I conducted several listenings, attempting to ensure that I stayed awake throughout the process. I was mostly successful, drifting off during "The Journey" and "Bobby Shaftoe" at one point. But that's more a reflection of the dreamy nature of the fully realized and orchestrated arrangements and my own occasionally spotty sleep patterns. Colvin strove to be true to Wilder's vision and voicings. And if she can catch one lone reviewer unaware, imagine the stunning effect THE STARLIGHTER could achieve on many a child. Among them, your own. As poet William Blake wrote (now the closing track, "Cradle Song,"):

Infant wiles and infant smiles
Heaven and Earth of peace beguiles.

THE STARLIGHTER is available February 23 exclusively through Amazon Music (pre-orders being taken now).

Here is the video for the title track, as depicted by Victorian paper theatres in the illustration style of children’s books from the same era, created by WeFail, the Manchester, UK/Los Angeles-based motion design studio. Every video element was drawn using a digital tablet before being animated by hand. Colvin’s character consists of 30 individual hand-drawn pieces, each digitally painted before motion design was applied to create the complete figure.

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