BJ & Dawn: The Land of Make Believe, 2010

Today marks an historical moment.  This is by far the most recent release I have ever written about.  This past Tuesday BJ Block and Dawn Pemberton’s The Land of Make Believe was released on iTunes, but can also be found on cdbaby.  It’s the work of BJ Block and his friend Dawn Pemberton, who after having many successful shared shows have finally written some music together, and the result is refreshing and uplifting.  Local Vancouverites BJ and Dawn are each incredibly talented musicians, but this is definitely one of those collaborations where the sum is even more than its parts.

The album notes on cdbaby describe The Land of Make Believe as “a children’s record for grown-ups,” and when I read that I laughed out loud.  That is exactly what it is.  BJ’s guitar lines often sound 80’s-Sesame-Street-inspired, and the references to the classic television show get a little less subtle when two tracks, “You Happy?” and “Up and Down” lift direct samples from my favorite Sesame Street guest: Little John John.  The result?  Wisdom from the mouths of babes, and a nostalgic smile on my face.

I’m getting ahead of myself though; those are nearly the last songs on the recording.  “Just Be” beams us straight into a happy “make believe” world, without it feeling too foreign a place.  In fact, a lot of the album has an optimistic take on life in a way that is almost otherworldly, yet Dawn Pemberton’s soulful voice make it thoroughly believable.

When “Unlucky”‘s dirty bass line begins to groove I find myself unexpectedly weighing the ever-debated paradigms of choice vs. circumstance.  “Turn It Around” feels a bit like a continuation of the same thought, but I don’t find it quite as strong.  There are, however, some pretty boss guitar solos.  And I am left wondering whether to call this jazzy soul or soulful jazz.

The next stretch of songs are my favorite, probably because they are all danceable party tracks.  “You Happy?” makes it clear that this is far more than a “children’s album for adults,” but the kind of album that anyone can enjoy.  I am seriously thinking of getting it for my parents, my brother who has three young children, and my teenage nephew who plays guitar.  And I can literally think of nothing else that would be a good gift for all three of those demographics.  Except maybe food.

By the time I’ve thought this thought I realize how perfectly appropriate the name of the next song is: “Everybody’s Party.”  BJ and Dawn just want everyone to have a good time, and I think they’re accomplishing their goals pretty well.  And though the last couple songs have done their job at creating a certain mood for the room, I am quite sure that “Up and Down” makes me want to do the muppet dance (you know, the one with the limp arms?) all on my own.  I can’t help imagine the guitar licks expressing the movement and language of some ridiculous new Jim Henson creature popping up around buildings and from behind trash cans.

The album is rounded out by two slightly more reflective love songs, “Without You” and “Tender,” which do their part in making me crave more from this duo.  BJ and Dawn to answer your question, I am happy too.

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