There is no other way to say this, so I'll state it up front -- I am going to be unfair to Mae Robertson in this review.
I could blame this on Robertson herself, but, really, it's me. Or our family. You see, her debut CD, 1995's All Through the Night, recorded with Don Jackson, still gets regular rotation at our house. We first heard it when our daughter was still an infant, and it was the soundtrack to many a bedtime routine or midnight feedings. (Here's my original review.) It was one of the first good kids and family CDs I heard and it is, without hesitation, my favorite lullaby CD.
Robertson recorded three albums of lullabies before moving back to Alabama from the New York City area in 2000 and recording 2 albums for adults and a Christmas album. Earlier this year, she released Dream, in which she returned to the lullaby world.
In some ways, little has changed since that first album of lullabies, now 12 years old. To start out with, Robertson's voice has lost none of its smooth luminosity. It is one of my favorite voices in all of music, and to hear it is to feel the warmth of a towel just out of the dryer. Robertson also has a broad-ranging view of the definition of lullaby. Her debut featured two songs made famous by Elvis, and on subsequent CDs she covered Van Morrison and the Talking Heads, among others. On Dream artists such as Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Tom Waits get her cover treatment. She certainly picks some familiar songs (Radney Foster's "Godspeed," which the Dixie Chicks sang, and Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," perhaps best known in Rod Stewart's cover) but also covers some less familiar territory.
In spite of these similarities to her debut, this album left me uninspired. I think the reason has to do with its production. Make no mistake, the backing musicianship here is first-rate. But it's just way too much for an album of lullabies. "The One Who Knows," a Dar Williams track which Robertson cites as an inspiration for the CD, leads off the album, but is way too uptempo and, well, loud for such an album. It's not like the drummer goes all Keith Moon on us, but the mere presence of the drums is such a change from that debut, which was all hushed and didn't have a drum to be found. Other musical flourishes (the guitar on Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes" or the piano on Waits' "Midnight Lullaby") would sound great on an album of mellow adult pop, but were hard for me appreciate in the context of a lullaby CD.
Like most lullaby albums, it's most appropriate for kids ages 0 through 5 and their parents. You can hear samples from the 47-minute CD at the album's CD Baby page, or you can hear a couple full tracks at Robertson's Myspace page.
So I'm probably being too harsh on Robertson here, not because Dream is bad musically (because it's not), but mostly because Robertson hit the ball so far out of the park and probably hard-wired the lullaby part of my brain to forever set my preferences for quieter, simpler songs. This album has some lovely renditions, but it's not an album I envision I playing at nighttime. If you have different preferences, you may like this for its intended purpose. And if you're like me, then get All Through the Night.