Jenn Cleary’s children’s album ‘All Together Now!’ resonates with audiences of all ages
The blues musician will perform Saturday at Grossen Bart in Longmont
Ziggy Marley, the six-piece salsa fusion band Ozomatli and even the man in black himself, Johnny Cash, have all crafted albums specifically geared toward children, proving that artistry for youth goes way beyond the tunes of Barney and Lamb Chop.
Boulder-based blues songstress Jenn Cleary — a staple of the Front Range music scene — released her first full-length children’s album earlier this month. Doused with feel-good anthems, environmental ethics and plenty of tight musicianship, “All Together Now!” is proving to be a favorite among kids of all ages — the audio salve to the chaos of last year.
Cleary has always had a bit of an altruistic spirit — raising money for charities, such as the Leukemia Society, since she was a girl growing up near Boston.
In the ‘90s, she founded All Together Now International — a nonprofit that brought much-needed health programs to Nepal, India and Tibet until 2010.
Not knowing the native language of the children in the countries she worked in, Cleary relied on her guitar and gift of song to be a connector and communicator.
Her charity work would eventually lead her to her adopted daughter Dorje Dolma, now 36, who came to the states at age 10 to receive life-saving surgeries. Cleary made the decision to bring her into the family, as Dorje’s health at the time was too compromised for her to return to living at 14,000 feet in her remote Himalayan village.
We caught up with the selfless creative and beekeeper ahead of her Saturday show at Gossen Bart Brewery in Longmont to find out about her latest danceable release, the joys of working on this project with her mother and daughter and what iconic ‘70s group she is looking forward to seeing live this summer.
Daily Camera: Love the latest album. What inspired you to craft a collection of songs for children at this stage in your career?
Jenn Cleary: I have recorded several children’s songs, woven into my acoustic rockin’ blues tunes on past albums. “Those Boys” — from “Back to the Wheel” (2010) — has been very popular and often requested at many of my live shows and I had written a few more that I have been playing for years live, but hadn’t yet recorded. So, when time for writing opened up this past year, I was able to focus on doing a full-length children’s record.
I always loved kids songs growing up and was very inspired by Marlo Thomas’s “Free to be You and Me.” I also loved how Kenny Loggins was able to go from being an incredible jamming rock band with Loggins and Messina and then to go on and write awesome kids songs — “House at Pooh Corner” and many others. The Beatles, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Jerry Garcia, Peter, Paul and Mary, Queen, Lisa Loeb are all adult-focused composers that also have great family-friendly tunes. Disney is full of rockers singing kids songs. There are so many great inspiring artists out there that have influenced me through the years.
DC: What was the most rewarding aspect of collaborating with your mother and daughter on this latest project?
JC: Oh wow, if there is a silver lining to the immense difficulties of the pandemic for me, it was being able to spend focused time with my mother, Margaret Cleary, and my adopted daughter, Dorje Dolma, author of “Yak Girl: Growing up the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal.” They both are book authors and very inspiring people, but neither had written a song before.
As this unexpected time opened up in our collective lives, I thought it would be a great opportunity to be creative and to collaborate. I didn’t really expect that we would end up with recordable songs, but thought it was worth a try — and if nothing else, something really fun to do together.
My mother lives next door to me now and every morning we walk a mile together. One morning this past summer, she turned to me and said, “with this new album you’re working on, I think you should write a song about caring and sharing with one another because that’s what we’re all about.” I immediately liked the idea and by the time we got home, I had the melody in my head. Within a few hours, I had the song written and ready to finalize with my mother. Having lost my father and my brother many years ago, I cherish each moment that I have left with my mother. For her to be able to co-write this song was an amazing gift from the universe. “Love Right Now” is one of my favorites on this new record and I hope that many others experience its beauty.
Dorje brought the topic of “All Kinds of Families” to me and I said, “great, now go and write down all of the words that come to mind with that topic.” Dorje had worked at the Elm Tree Preschool here in Boulder for eight years and had witnessed many different versions of families, let alone her very unique growing-up experience of being a nomadic yak herder in Nepal before coming to Boulder for life-saving surgeries back in 1995. We sat down on a Sunday with that sheet of words and created a song. It was a great exercise to do together and I feel that it is an excellent song with an excellent message.
DC: When composing music for kids, is the process very different? How did this album evolve as compared to the other ones you’ve done?
JC: There is no specific process for me. Every song’s creation has been a different one. I would say the main difference for me on this album is that I was more collaborative than ever before. I have built up a trust in my musical creations and I wanted to invite others into the possibilities of that kind of space.
DC: I know you have been steadily performing locally in recent months. How does it feel to finally be on stages again and what can attendees expect from your gig at Grossen Bart Brewery?
JC: It is wonderful to be out performing live again. And, it is really fun to be emerging out of this most surreal time with new songs, stronger guitar skills and a new appreciation for live music. Both performing and listening to others. The audiences this summer have been very engaged and appreciative, as well. On Saturday, at Grossen Bart, I will be playing with my harmonica player, Mad Dog Friedman and plan to do two hours of all original music.
DC: As live music starts to return, are there any acts you are hoping to catch this summer? Who are some musicians right now you find yourself listening to on repeat?
JC: I have tickets to the Doobie Brothers which was canceled last year, but rescheduled. The Doobies were my first live concert when I was just a wee little one myself. In terms of streaming, a couple of my new tunes have been put on editorial playlists on Spotify. So, I have been merged in with other artists like Raffi, Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes, Blippi, Sweet Honey and many more. I have been listening to many of these children’s artists to further educate myself, so I can write more and more songs in this genre.