Cat Doorman Songbook - Cat Doorman (aka Julianna Bright)

It took awhile, but the kids music scene of Portland, Oregon is now humming along with a number of actual (not fake) kids musicians.  Which isn't too surprising -- the city has a thriving music scene and has a very creative population generally.  No wonder it's the home to Etsy.

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Into this scene comes Julianna Bright, an artist (on Etsy, natch) and musician.  For her foray into making music for families, she's created an alter ego of sorts, Cat Doorman.  Her debut album, the Cat Doorman Songbook, contains echoes of other kids albums before hers, but the cumulative effect is one unlike just about anything.

You have the folk tradition on the leadoff track, "Peaceful," which begins, "We live to be peaceful / We live to be / Free from the whim / There's always something new to need. / We cherish what we use and / We share the rest. / We know this is how / It feels to be blessed."  The song rocks harder than most songs with the same theme, perhaps, but the spirit is the same.

But even more important to the album than a spirit of peace and love is the celebration of do-it-yourself and individual expression.  Songs like "Oh, the Inspiration!" and "Yeah!," as different as they are sonically, speak of the spark that drives people to create and express themselves.  (It actually makes "So Many Words," the alphabet song that's the closest thing to a traditional kids song -- and it's quite a way from it at that -- seem safe by comparison.)  On the ragtime-y "Two Old Shoes," Bright sings, "For every moment you could foment thoughts of loneliness / Or cause to be afraid / Line your sturdy hearts up children, throw them open and / Behold the world you made."  The celebratory lyrics are paired with an organically rough but sweet folk-rock sound made by a large group of musicians including members of the Decemberists and the Corin Tucker Band.

The whole album builds up to the stunning "Lonely Girl," the most striking kids' song you'll hear all year.  A slow song that begins as a character study of a distracted little girl ("Watch as she circles the school parking lot singing, 'This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine' / Here she is in her school's study hall / Losing time staring holes in the wall."), the song ends with a full-throated exhortation ("Lonely girl, yours is a timorous lot / You think too much Darling of what you are not and / Next time you do please recall you can sing / and the itch at your back is the beat of your wings and / They'll carry you forward to wonderful things.").

She had me at "timorous."

The 36-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 10.  You can stream three songs here.  I'd also commend the illustrated lyric sheet by Bright.  Fans of the handmade nature of the album and packaging may also want to explore Night and Day Studios' iOS app for Little Red Wagon.

Fans of Frances England, Elizabeth Mitchell, Dean Jones, and Lunch Money should find in Cat Doorman a sympathetic soul.  It's possible that if Cat Doorman Songbook didn't exist, Etsy would have had to create it.  It reminds families of the worlds and possibilities that lie outside our door, if only we're willing to see them and create them ourselves.  Definitely recommended.