Sleepytime Special – The Lullaby Train to Dreamland
Geofonica Records (2011)
Throughout his recording career, Brad Powell (The Candlelight Guitarist) has shown that he likes to stretch his boundaries, having released albums of soft instrumental music with nature sounds (such as his debut), a John Denver tribute album (Golden Eagle) and a blending of jazz, acoustic, and neo-classical (Sunflower Serenity). Now, he turns his performing and composing talents to yet another new theatre - lullabies. As I would expect, he has succeeded as this is a fantastic CD, perhaps his best yet.
Many artists put the word "lullaby" in their album titles, but this may be the first one I have ever reviewed where the title is so well-earned. Not only is the music on this excellent album perfect for helping infants and children fall sleep, but the majority of the songs actually are lullabies: "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," "Rock-A-Bye Baby," "Brahms' Lullaby," and many others. In fact, even those whose titles may not ring a bell will be instantly recognizable when you hear the melody itself.
One caveat, though—if you decide to buy this recording (as you should) to help your young 'uns fall asleep, be sure to buy an extra copy because, trust me, you will want one to play for yourself. This is one of Kathryn's and my favorite "cooking dinner" albums, one that we have enjoyed time and time again. This is due to both the treasured melodies of the many fine songs, but more importantly, the superb arrangements by Powell and the equally sublime performances by himself (on guitar) as well a host of guest stars on piano, violin, flugelhorn, clarinet, percussion, string bass, and tuba (yes, tuba).
Three of the songs on the album are originals by Powell: "All Aboard the Sleepytime Special" (which opens the album in a slightly uptempo but still gentle vein, befitting its placement as the first track), "Hush Little Tuba (Instrumental Fantasy)" (on which Powell once again interjects some classical elements—love the Mozart riff!), and "Ann and Andy's Ragtime Lullaby" (which also has a little spark of energy to it, but again, it's restrained). All the others are timeless classics and will wash over the listener (i.e. if, like me, is old enough to recall them) with warm waves of loving nostalgia.
There's way too much great stuff on this disc to highlight every track. "Brahm's Lullaby" is sweet and tender while "Rock-a-Bye Baby" has that gently rolling fluid feel to it that musically conveys the titular rocking. "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" features a delightful bell tone keyboard alongside Powell's guitar and "All the Pretty Horses" uses flugelhorn to great effect, imparting a pleasant etherealness to the song. "Hush Little Tuba" lets the tuba carry the main melody of "Hush Little Baby" and then evolves into the aforementioned series of classical piece interludes (something Powell has done before on previous albums). "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Rai (That's an Irish Lullaby)" carries just a hint of Irish folk influence, as does Powell's laid-back rendition of "Oh, Sleepy Boy (Danny Boy)." The last two tracks are the classic "Frére Jacques (Are You Sleeping)" followed by an unexpectedly and thoroughly delightful "Beautiful Dreamer," that seems to float out of the speakers on feathery wings, featuring some of Powell's most nuanced fingering work and spot on string accompaniment. Honestly, if your child/children are still asleep by this point, no music in the world is going to help them hit the hay.
Every Candlelight Guitarist album I have reviewed (he has two more recent ones I haven't heard yet) has proven to be a delight. Whether he is playing as a solo artist or with talented accompanists, performing his own originals or his great arrangements of others' works, he always brings heart, soul, and tons of artistic virtuosity to the recording. Sleepytime Special will calm the busy mind of your young children as well as soothe your own troubled spirit. There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel like a kid again and this wonderful album will take you back if you have the inclination to make the trip. My highest, wholly unqualified, recommendation.
The album is available CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, and Rhapsody.