The first few seconds of the album give listeners a good idea of where Slezak and her production team Josh Kaufman and Nate Martinez are coming from. Distant, echoing, atmospheric percussion leads into a simply-strummed acoustic, pedal steel, and organ, reminiscent of a long lost Friends of Dean Martinez tune, and asks the cosmic question "Where Did You Come From." Backgrounds continue to play a major part in the songs as guitar and vocal are decorated by shimmering, whispery washes of notes and chords on "You Got Love," lyrically surrounding a young child with a multitude of loving relatives and caregivers.
Slezak co-wrote the title tune "Watching the Nighttime Come" with bandmate/husband David Wax, a song that describes the wondrous aspects of a day-ending sunset and marries surfer/musician Donavon Frankenreiter's laid-back, shuffling style with Fleet Foxes' experimental sonics. The old English folk song "Leather Winged Bat" quietly choogles along like a Johnny Cash tune; and dig the great dramatic transitions from verses to choruses. Caspar Babypants recently covered this classic on his album Here I Am!, giving it new lyrics and retitling the tune "Brown and Lonely Worm." During the instrumental "Jessie's Waltz," fiddle, guitar, and organ are slowly and somberly propelled by tambourine and thudding kick drum, bringing to mind a panoramic view of the sun falling below rolling, aging hills.
One of my favorites from Watching the Nighttime Come is the epic "Tallis Canon," a 500-year-old hymn that, in the hands of Suz Slezak, sounds like a glorious outtake from Brian Wilson's Beach Boys Smile project. She and her band/producers create a track that could easily be the centerpiece of an album by The High Llamas, Stereolab, or Spiritualized. Slezak's brief version of the Chilean folk song "Caballito Blanco" begins with subtle harmonica work, then blooms into a bouncy psychedelic romp that sounds like a collaboration between Os Mutantes and Harry Nilsson. Renowned family music performer José-Luis Orozco recorded his more traditional take on the tune for his classic De Colores and Other Latin American Folk Songs for Children.
The final few songs on Watching the Nighttime Come form a trilogy of calming tunes, beginning with "The Quietest Star," a short, piano-led instrumental that features sounds of the evening twilight. Slezak closes the album with two covers, fiddler Alan Kaufman's "Yodel Lullaby" and renowned songwriter/singer Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye." The former is a cosmic cowboy ballad that sleepily wobbles, like a tired child's nodding head; the latter, a tender breakup tune appearing on Cohen's 1967 debut Songs of Leonard Cohen, could serve as a gentle introduction for tiny ears to his catalogue.
Strictly speaking, Watching the Nighttime Come isn't a lullaby album; Slezak's songs belong in a genre I like to call "Naptime Music," songs that provide a restful background for those not quite ready to snooze. If you like Suz Slezak's work on Watching the Nighttime Come, check out Mr. David's The Great Adventures of Mr. David, Kesang Marstrand's Hello Night, or Dean Jones' Napper's Delight. And for more info about Slezak's music or tour dates, stop by the official David Wax Museum website.
Released February 10, 2015; Mark of the Leopard
- "Where Did You Come From"
- "You Got Love"
- "Watching the Nighttime Come"
- "Leather Winged Bat"
- "Jessie's Waltz"
- "Tallis Canon"
- "Caballito Blanco"
- "The Quietest Star"
- "Yodel Lullaby"
- "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye"