PORTLAND'S VETERAN songsmiths are showing signs of growing up—if by growing up, you mean hanging out with the kids. Last year, Laura Veirs released Tumble Bee, a splendid album for youngsters. Colin Meloy has written two children's books, with more on the way. His Decemberists bandmate Chris Funk organizes the regular You Who variety show for kids; Funk's other band Black Prairie also wrote a score for the Oregon Children's Theatre. If those projects, although successful, seemed slightly out of left field, for Julianna Bright her kiddie project Cat Doorman was a perfect experiment.
Cat Doorman Songbook, a 14-track children's album full of clever cuts of indie-pop goodness, is a delightful collection of uplifting hymns for youngsters. A large chunk of the album was recorded at home with her partner and Golden Bears bandmate Seth Lorinczi. The CD also contains a 20-page booklet of hand-lettered lyrics and a heaping helping of Bright's cute illustrations.
"I love the idea of creating these little universes and populating them," says Bright, who's also a parent. "I've done art shows where I've recorded a record that goes with every piece of art, or pulled the narrative from the art pieces and vice versa. In many ways, this was the most perfect thing for me to work on because it was a pretty full expression of the thing that I was already really into."
Bright isn't speaking only of the album. Simultaneous with the release of the Cat Doorman Songbook, Night and Day Studios has launched an interactive children's app called Little Red Wagon, based on Bright's rendition of the song "Little Red Wagon." Bright receives backup on the tune from Funk and his Black Prairie bandmates Annalisa Tornfelt and Jenny Conlee-Drizos. The app is populated by more of Bright's illustrations, which follow a young girl gathering provisions in a red wagon en route to a picnic.
Songbook is filled with sentiments to grow on, offering practical, supportive pick-me-ups via art-pop piano numbers, string-folk ditties, and literary lyrical turns by way of Bright's beautifully balanced voice. The song "So Many Words," for example, takes listeners on a journey through their advanced ABCs, where "M" is for "mitochondria," and "A" for "archipelago."
"I'm not trying to be obtuse," says Bright. "I remember being entranced by songs I didn't fully understand as a kid. I loved Sgt. Pepper's, and that song 'She's Leaving Home.' It was so amazing and so emotional to me, and I didn't even understand what it was about."