There's always been a touch of fantasy in Lucky Diaz's music for families. From Diaz's first kids' EP's very first single, the strutting blues "Blue Bear," Diaz has often trafficked in a milieu that's familiar but not quite this world. Filled with no small amount of anthropomorphic animals, Diaz's world is saturated with color and tastes like cotton candy.
The dream-like nature doesn't just apply to the animals, it applies to Diaz's thematic touchpoints. Throughout his discography, Diaz returns repeatedly to the idea of dreams and aspirations. This is a band who dreamt of creating a TV show, made an album that gave voice to the show whose heart was the songs about dreamers and hard workers like Jackie Robinson and Amelia Earhart, and then produced the show (and won an Emmy Award for it to boot).
It is this second meaning of "dreams" that Diaz and the Family Jam Band explore to tremendous effect on their latest album, the just-released Made in L.A.. As the center of film and TV production in the United States (and, arguably, the world), not to mention a major locus of music production Los Angeles holds a place in the imagination of artists and dreamers looking for their big shot. La La Land is but the most recent fantasia on Los Angeles as the locus for dreams writ large. Yes, as you can guess by the title, the album is an ode to the city of dreams, but it's also an ode to the dreamers that flock there.
The album kicks off with "The Magic Believers," specifically with Diaz singing, "I've got a voice in my heart / For some it's not much / But for me it's a start / But I will / Dream it out loud..." and fellow Los Angeles artist Mista Cookie Jar rapping "We come from the city by the sea called L.A. / Where people live to share their dreams on the center stage..." It doesn't sound like anything Diaz has recorded before, dreamy and AutoTuned six ways from Sunday, and it's absolutely wonderful.
That's followed by "Silver Lake Stairs," another dream-like song. This one, co-written by and featuring another L.A. musician, Todd McHatton, has more of a mellow chamber-pop feel and is capped by Alisha Gaddis expressing wonder at the top of the titular stairs and seeing all of Los Angeles spread out before her. Lest the album get too ponderous, that's followed up by the summer anthem "Paletero Man" and the silliness of "Traffic," both of whom feature yet another well-known SoCal kindie act, Andrew and Polly. Other highlights include Lucky's NorCal friend Frances England on "Echo Park," the guitar showcase on "Pato Loco," and the rave-up album closer "Fiesta De La Brea," which needs to be used by the La Brea Tar Pits for promotional purposes, like, yesterday.
If you haven't gathered by now, much like how movies might be the vision of a single person but require a cast of dozens (or thousands) to pull off, this album features a large team of Los Angeles-based musicians -- it really feels like a team effort, with each artist putting their own imprint on Diaz's guitar pop. This isn't an album celebrating the city in name only -- with maybe only the exception of "Jelly," all of the songs on the 36-minute album provide a different angle on life in Los Angeles. (The album's probably most appropriate for kids age 5 and up.)
Made in L.A. is the best album yet from Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, based on themes Diaz has used from the start of his kindie career, but with an even sharper pop sensibility and a very specific sense of place. Filled with dreamy songs and humorous takes on life in Los Angeles, with pop hook upon pop hook, it's a celebration of a particular city that's got a universal appeal. One of my favorite albums of the year and highly recommended. Thanks, dreamers.