Album: American Heroes #4
Artist: Jonathan Sprout
Reviewer: Alice Neiley
Imagine the genius of Raffi’s “Baby Beluga” with large, daring bursts of glittery, whimsy filled, motivational, dance move energy. And that vocal synthesizer effect used Kanye West’s “Heartless.” And key changes. And lyrical stories about various American heroes that have never before (at least not that I’ve heard) been referenced in music. Got it in your imagination? Good.
Well…it’s here! Especially for those of you with young children, but also those without, Jonathan Sprout has done it again with his most recent album American Heroes #4, an educational tribute to giants like Einstein and Dr. Seuss, but also to the hero inside each of us. Musically, each song is completely different from the one before, though they all share a kind of optimism, either upbeat or mellow, perfect for cutting off any kind of loneliness at the pass—American Heroes relates to everyone—every mood one might be in at the time of listening.
Both “Unstoppable” and “Come with Me,” the first two tracks on the album, set us up immediately for an energy filled journey—in the first we observe someone else’s drive and passion, in the second we’re invited to join in. Despite how similar the songs’ messages are, however, and even their tempo and energy, they do completely different things musically.
“Unstoppable” begins with what sounds like carousel/music box melodies and timbre: piano with that static, ‘record player’ hue, then explodes into a chorus of “didididit, didididit” reminiscent of Styx “Mr. Roboto,” and choruses of thick, powerful harmonies, capturing both sides of what it takes to be unstoppable—gentleness, kindness, strength, and confidence—“she spent her money to support the girls/when there was nothing left she sold her precious pearls/nothing mattered more to Juliet because her heart was set on a dream/she did all she could just to be/helpful and good/she’d be unstoppable. “
“Come with Me,” begins immediately in that 80s-pop style, synthesizer and all, a great, quickening beat, with extra rhythms layered by sound effects, little bells, raindrop sounds, etc. Every time the chorus arrives with the lyrics “Come with me/free/free,” there’s a modulated key change and Sprouts voice fades slightly into the background, at the same time adopting a synthesized timbre, similar to that of recent hip-hop-pop hits. The most impressive part of this song, however, is the “trust yourself” message being delivered through the ‘modern, hip” musicality: “the inner light is our guide/the path to your salvation/is over there/put fear aside.”
“Man in the Arena” and “Powerful” have the same inner power message, as well as similar beats, tempo, and general feeling, though “Man in the Arena” instrumentally smacks of Springsteen rock with electric guitars and powerful drums, where as “Powerful” begins music-box-esque again, adding harmonica when the story of a little girl reading about world tragedies. The wall of sound present in “Man in the Arena” and “Come with Me” begins just before the chorus, when the message of the song changes from observation to action—the girl digging inside, stating her truth, and that truth making a difference.
“E=mc2,” “Through the Eyes of a Child,” and “Dr. Seuss,” all deal with familiar heroes to children—Einstein, Disney, and Dr. Seuss—“though musically they’re different as can be, which lifts our experience into specifics periodically throughout, as these ‘persona’ songs are spaced out from beginning to end of the album and move from an older age group to a younger one. “E=mc2” is composed simply, beginning with a soft electric guitar line, then expands into guitar chords, solid and sparse during the verses which explain the mathematical theory, becoming more streamline and melodic moving into the chorus. “Through the Eyes of a Child” explores the personality and product of Walt Disney, musically beginning with a strong choral “ahhhh,” magical wind chime sounds, and piano—though one of the most mellow songs on the album, along with the beautiful tune “I See a Hero,” it’s rich with instrumental movement and fairy tale. “Dr. Seuss” enters the younger child realm in terms of both music and lyric, but even for me, it’s foot tapping enjoyable just the same. Between the quirky sound effects and the multiple voice characters, it encapsulates both the twirly, zany, unique nature of Dr. Seuss’s creativity and his educational influence.
Speaking of unique, the three most unique tracks on this album, and also my favorites: “Hall of Fame,” “Interconnected,” and “Heads, Hearts, and Hands,” use unexpected instrumentation, melody, and/or tackle even more unusual subjects than usual for Jonathan Sprout. “Hall of Fame” explodes immediately into big band instrumentation, Latino style—syncopation and mariachi brass licks, etc.—completely musically different from any of the other tracks, while “Interconnected” explores humans’ relationship with the natural world, not simply in lyrics or overlapping vocals, but by adding actual bird sounds, and “Heads, Hearts, and Hands” begins with spoken word and gospel-esque humming, choral work, and chord progressions, and choruses complete with call and response, passionate improvisation, and claps, illuminating again the necessity and availability of inner strength.
In short, American Heroes #4 is an amazing album of empowerment, perfect for any child, but frankly, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the adults in the world to remember some of the ideas here, the heart, and this kind of passionate expression of hope. Well done, Jonathan Sprout, keep the inspiration coming, please, for all of us.
Reviewed by Alice Neiley
Rating: 5 stars out of 5.