Jenn Cleary, who makes blues-leaning rock music, looked to established artists who made children’s records when writing her second family-oriented album “Happy Day.”
“There are a lot of artists who, once they went and had kids, created children’s albums,” Cleary says. “Like Kenny Loggins from Loggins and Messina, I’m a huge fan of them. I’ve got so many – Sweet Honey in the Rock, Marlo Thomas’ ‘Free to be You and Me’ was an influence when I was a kid. Even Jerry Garcia did a kid’s album.”
She says the record, released on June 17, was a bit of a gift from the pandemic, to be able to have the time to sit down and write two cohesive children’s records. The other is “All Together Now,” released last year.
“I’ve always had some kids’ songs in my other albums,” she says. “But it was just like one or two on each album, which didn’t make it as cohesive as these. With this I could focus on the kids and create a kids act.”
She hopes to get her live act into schools, museums and libraries because the songs are educational in nature. Kids can be heard singing on the record and she brought some of them on stage at a recent performance at the Junkyard Social Club in Boulder.
“I had seven kids come in and sing the songs,” Cleary says. “Several of the kids were there. They get up on stage with me and sang the songs. It was hilarious. It was really cute. I did (the record) from beginning to end and did a couple from last year’s album.”
Both albums are very collaborative, and about half the songs are written with others. Topics tackled in songs include imagination, snack time and candy and its relation to good oral hygiene. She’s also tackled going to sleep and animal poop on a song that appeared on last year’s record, the Billy Holiday-inspired “Scat’s the Word for That.” That song is a crowd favorite, especially among kids, for obvious reasons.
“A lot of the songs have a positive message,” Cleary says. “Some of them touch on appreciating the great outdoors. ‘Take a Walk in the Woods’ is a message to myself and kids that we live in this beautiful place in Colorado and New Mexico but I find myself too much on my phone or my TV.”
The song, “I’m a Yak,” is a collaborative effort with her daughter, Dorje Dolma. Dolma is originally from a rural area of Nepal but came to the United States as a child. She was adopted by an American family and grew up in Boulder. She has detailed some of her experiences in the book “Yak Girl: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal.”
“She sat down and told me all these ‘yak facts’ about her experience of raising and herding yaks up until about the age of 10 on the border with Tibet,” Cleary says. “I was able to write out the lyrics.”
The song is built around a damyen lute melody played by Dolma’s birth father, who still lives in Nepal, and a recording of villagers in her home village singing a traditional Nepalese folk song that weaves in and out of “I’m a Yak.” Dolma played bells and a whistle used to herd yaks.
“It’s very traditional,” Cleary says. “It could be a thousand years old. It’s just one of those old, old folk songs appreciating nature. Dorje came into the studio and guided the producer on how she wanted it to be a combination of the new and old world.”
Dolma says the song marks the second time she’s collaborated with her mother on a song, the first being “Families of all Kinds” on “All Together Now.” It was her first songwriting experience, and she jumped at the opportunity to follow up. Yaks are an important animal in Nepal, and people use them for transportation and food.
“I always wanted to do something about yaks,” she says. “I talk about growing up in Dolpol at 13,000 feet and no electricity. I was a herder and I was taking care of the yaks every spring, summer and fall. Yaks have been and still are an important part of life to people in the Himalayas.”
Dolma says the animals also represent a sense of peace, and she considers them to be one of her spirit animals. She sees the song as a way to give thanks to yaks and educate people about them.
“We just did a CD release for ‘Happy Day’ and I had all these pictures and drawings of yaks,” she says. “All the kids asked, ‘What is that?’ That’s an animal that’s not always in schools. Not every kid knows about them.”
She adds that she considers the song “Asian fusion” because it stylistically merges eastern and western music. Music has always been a big part of her life. She likes world music – specifically Tibetan, Nepali and Bollywood – and especially when musicians combine sounds from different cultures. New age meditation music and classical also hold spots on her playlist, anything relaxing really.
“I listen to music all the time,” she says. “Music is the only way I can create art or write. It just helps me and I listen to it every day.
She adds that she taught school in Boulder for eight years and often struggled to find music for kids that was education.
“One thing I really love about both my mom’s CDs is all of her songs are very educational and inspiring,” she says. “It’s something both kids and parents can listen to. As you are listening, you’re learning something new.”
Cleary adds that she set out to make music that kids and parents could listen to that wouldn’t send parents looking for the nearest cliff. Anyone over the age of 23 who’s seen the Muppet Babies or an Alvin and the Chipmunks recently movie can relate.
“That was the kind of intention – to merge those two worlds, and not make it too little kid squeaky,” she says. “Parents can enjoy it, too, and want to put it on.”
“Happy Day” and “All Together Now” are available on all major streaming platforms. For more music and information, visit jenncleary.com.