Geekdad (2022)

My brother used to scream “Freebird” at every concert he attended. Not because he actually needed to hear the classic southern rock song. Most likely, he wanted to see how the performer or band would react. And sometimes, they would respond by singing a verse or chorus. The kids on “Magical Music Train,” a track on Happy Day, Jenn Cleary‘s second collection for children, also want to hear “Freebird.” Which shows that kids today are not much different from kids decades ago – they crave the good stuff.

Colorado’s Cleary has performed music for more than two decades. She officially entered the children’s music space with last year’s All Together Now! and follows it with Happy Day, engaging her younger listeners with bluesy folk rock filled with genial, life-affirming content.

Sustainability is the theme of “Plant a Garden,” but Cleary dives right back into the sweet stuff with the subsequent track, “I Like Candy” – more about acknowledging the value of fruits and vegetables than hiding a secret stash of Tootsie Rolls. “Turtle Time” urges children to slow down (to a snail’s pace) and enjoy the natural world around them, as nothing lasts forever and we need to enjoy activities in the moment. On “Only One You,” Cleary sings about self-reliance and confidence:

There’s only one you, no one else is the same
With a wisdom inside you can’t even name
You have the key to be who you want to be

If you doubted Jenn Cleary’s good intentions, look no further than the non-profit she founded 14 years ago, which promotes innovative, locally sustainable health and economic sufficiency programs in Nepal, India, and Tibet. During this time, Cleary adopted Dorje Dolma, raised until age 10 by her nomadic yak-herder aunties, parents, and grandparents in the remote Himalayan mountains of Nepal. Her experiences are addressed on “I’m a Yak,” which uses yak whistles and herding calls to recount how the lifestyle hasn’t changed for hundreds of years – except by climate change. You can also read about Dolma’s experiences in her book, “Yak Girl: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal.”

If your only experience with harmonica is Blues Traveler’s John Popper, meet Cleary’s sideman, Mad Dog Friedman, who keeps the tempo flowing on the title track and other tunes. Happy Day winds down with the contemplative “Fly Seagull Fly” and bedtime lullaby, “It’s Time to Go to Sleep.” But with Jenn Cleary, the blues don’t need to be sad. It’s just another shade in a child’s palette and tomorrow will be another day to color outside the lines.

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