Review: Great Big Sun - Justin Roberts

GreatBigSun.jpgThe great risk in going back and listening to an artist's early work is that you won't like it as much as the later work that drew you to the artist in the first place, thereby also diminishing your original enthusiasm. Thankfully, that didn't happen for me when I listened to Justin Roberts' 1997 kids' music debut, Great Big Sun. It is, however, a different animal from Roberts' later work.

Unlike Roberts' later work, especially his stellar 2006 Meltdown!, Great Big Sun is a stripped-down work musically. Mellow guitar, some bass, some drums, the occasional tuba -- "Our Imaginary Rhino," this ain't. Instead, folk-pop songs such as "Little Raindrop," "Great Big Sun," and "3 Lil Pigs" take center stage. "Apple Tree" is such a dead ringer for James Taylor's work that Taylor could sue for royalties (or ask Roberts for permission to cover it). Only on a couple songs does he break out of the mold of the rest of the album, "A B C D E," an original pop-reggae take on an alphabet song, and my favorite, the folk/punk-rocker "Do You Wanna Go?," which sounds a little out of place here amidst the mellower cuts.

Lyrically, the album also differs from Roberts' subsequent albums in that the targeted age range is definitely younger. This is a result, no doubt, of Roberts' previous work as a preschool teacher. The alphabet, numbers, body parts (OK, brain parts), the three little pigs -- these are of great interest to 3- and 4-year-olds and perhaps less to older kids. And the impish characters that populate many of Roberts' later songs only appear once here, sort of, in the sweet, tuba-accented "Everything Else Starts With 'E'."

Given the slightly less mature subject matter, I'll put the age range here at 3 to 7. You can hear samples at the usual online sampling places.

Make no mistake, Great Big Sun is a sweet and tuneful collection of songs. (Indeed, Roberts has commented how some people "still love the simplicity" of the album.) It's not the guitar-pop of his later work, but it stands proudly in its own right -- it's an important part of Roberts' work. Recommended.