This review sort of felt like a Krzysztof Kieślowski movie in miniature, with randomness and chance affecting my life (albeit in a small way). I recently received a CD from Portland-based artist Lori Henriques which, while the packaging looked lovely on the outside, had a 2008 copyright date on it. Given my stack of CDs, a 3-year-old CD would not normally be placed at the front of the line. But in a random e-mail, I happened to mention that fact to Henriques, who pointed out that the copyright just applied to the songs themselves, not to the recording, which was, in fact, new.
So: yay for chance! Because it meant I listened to this a lot sooner than I would have otherwise, which means I can tell you about it much sooner than I would have otherwise. Outside My Door: Songs for Children of All Ages is unlike any kids' CD I've heard in a long time. It's a throwback to 1970s piano jazz, nothing but Henriques' voice and nimble piano work. It's inspired by Sesame Street, though the lyrics especially are a bit advanced for the preschoolers who are that show's target audience. (Henriques also cites Dave Frishberg as an influence -- he wrote some songs for Schoolhouse Rock!.) It's a Broadway (or perhaps off-Broadway) musical waiting to be made, or perhaps the subject of the first kids' music-themed episode of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, or a Randy Newman album consisting of pleasant narrators.
On a slightly more kid-music-related tip, the songs are a little reminiscent of David Tobocman and lyrically it reminds me a bit of Molly Ledford's lyrics for Lunch Money, with words like "ennui" (in "Something You Learn"), "plapable" ("It's Hard To Wait for Your Birthday"), and "Odysseus" ("Mean People"). Heck, it features the phrase "T.O.," which Henriques helpfully provides a Wikipedia reference for.
All this eruditeness -- the fact that I'm using "eruditeness" in a review of the disk -- might make it seem very hoity-toity, but it's not. (And not just because she rhymes "goat turd" with "awkward.") The 29 minute album isn't going to cause a lot of dancing; in fact, it's got more melancholy in it than at least 95% of all kids' albums. But kids, if they sit down and really listen, will hear words that do indeed speak to them -- the difficulty of waiting for your birthday ("It's Hard To Wait for Your Birthday") or a secret desire to be a twin ("If I Had a Twin").
The 29-minute album is appropriate for kids ages 4 through 10. You can hear the whole thing here. Also of note: gorgeous packaging courtesy of Henriques' brother Joel Henriques, proprietor of my new favorite website Made By Joel. Another chance discovery.
So there you have it -- an album that I said was unlike any kids' CD I'd heard for a long time is compared to maybe a half-dozen other artists. But Outside My Door is something quite remarkable -- an album of "piano jazz for kids" that isn't limited by any of the words in that phrase. A refreshing sound, and an absolute pleasure to listen to. Highly recommended.