Indie children’s musician Justin Roberts reflects on his newfound fatherhood on Wild Life | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Indie children’s musician Justin Roberts reflects on his newfound fatherhood on Wild Life

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Since 1997, Evanston indie rocker Justin Roberts has built a deep discography of children’s music that treats listeners of all ages with respect. He first got an inkling that he wanted to make originals for kids while teaching at Step by Step Montessori in Minneapolis in the early 90s, and he’s since become an unusual type of star in children’s music: though he didn’t have kids himself, his ability to speak to them through music has earned him three Grammys for his independently released albums. Roberts became a father for the first time in 2018, and on his 15th solo album, the brand-new Wild Life, he reflects on his newfound responsibilities with the same gentle care he takes when he describes our complicated world to young kids. He sings about his wondrous curiosity about his child’s possible future (“Maybe She’ll Have Curly Hair”) and the queasy mix of trepidation and pride he experienced when his child began to show some independence (“When You First Let Go”), approaching these complex emotions with a welcoming tenderness that validates the experiences of parenthood. To help him color these plush yet minimal lullabies, he recruited a group of old and new collaborators: Eighth Blackbird pianist Lisa Kaplan, Flat Five vocalist Nora O’Connor, Robbie Fulks’s drummer Gerald Dowd, and cellist Anna Steinhoff (who’s also Roberts’s wife). With Wild Life, Roberts uses the same musical approach he takes with his children’s songs to reach adult ears, whether they belong to parents or to people who’ve never wanted kids: when the buoyant “Heart Like a Door” reaches its symphonic climax, it sounds as lovely as an indie-rock classic.   v

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