In the course of several albums with his band the Deedle Deedle Dees, Lloyd Miller (I'm sorry, I just can't get used to that "H." he's undoubtedly using to differentiate himself from the other Lloyd Millers making music) has indulged his taste for stories of people making an impact on the world -- Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Gandhi, Cool Papa Bell. They're songs about famous historical characters, but they're primarily stories about characters. The songs aren't about them because they're famous -- they're famous because they're interesting.
Although the Dees have had some success (and they're working on an album for release in 2014), Miller's primary musical expression has been his singalong classes throughout Brooklyn and for his first formal solo album, S.S. Brooklyn , Miller's gone to his singalong roots for some inspiration. A song like "I'm a Duck!" has nothing to do with famous people and everything to do with waddling around a small space. He turns Dees classics like "Henry (Hi Ya Ya)," "Do the Tub-Tub-Tubman," and "Honk Honk (Major Deegan)" into more intimate audience-interactive affairs.
Interspersed with these familiar songs are some newer songs, more intimate to the neighborhood -- personal history rather than history writ large. "I'm Gonna Light Up the World" is a simple inspirational song that sprung out of Miller's trip to Haiti to visit a friend with a non-profit providing low-cost lanterns there. "Working on a Bridge" (co-written with his daughter) is about metaphorical bridges, not about the many actual bridges in NYC (listen to ""Carroll Street Bridge" for that). Meanwhile, songs like "Gowanus Canal" and "Brooklyn by Bike" celebrate the borough.
Dean Jones, who produced the Dees' last album, is back to produce this one, and he and Miller keep a light touch on the production -- few instruments, and somewhat raw, particularly tracks that are closest to Miller's singalong roots and those that feature kids singing. I particularly like the closing title track, on which Miller in slightly rambling fashion fondly sings his memories of the community in Brooklyn and slowly builds until -- appropriately -- there's a big crowd singing the final chorus. I was expecting to find more of a disconnect between the singalong stuff and the newer material, but surprisingly it flows together fairly well.
The album is probably most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. You can listen to the 47-minute album's first three tracks here.
S.S. Brooklyn is loose, a celebration of life right next door. Miller's neighbors will find this album thoroughly enjoyable. Those of you in the hinterlands of non-Brooklyn (folks like me), however, shouldn't be scared off by that description, though. There's plenty for you to enjoy even if you don't know your Park Slope from your Gowanus. Definitely recommended.
Note: I received a copy of this album for possible review.