The debut album from Steve Lee begins in the slowly awakening mind of young Stephen Scott Lee—the young, bearded child protagonist and alter ego in his whimsical, joyous collection of children’s songs. What Did You Do Today, Stephen Scott Lee? follows Stephen through a day full of adventures—a bumpy ride complete with an altercation with a bully, a trip to the zoo, an unfortunate mishap that lands him in the office of kind Dr. Danis and time at home with his family. Connecting the vibrant indie-pop tracks are quick, pithy skits starring Lee and a revolving cast of characters from the Nashville music scene. This record is full of cameos, both comedic and musical, by local artists such as Gabe Dixon, Aaron Winters, Kyle Andrews, Griffin House, Jeremy Lister, Calvin Turner and members of Bang Bang Bang.
“I wrote a script out and I couldn’t do all the voices,” Lee says. “I wanted all my buddies to come out and hang out and be a part of it. That’s the cool thing about doing a kids’ record—there’s no competition, so everyone was happy to come help out.”
The 23-year-old Lee—in his words: “a good ole country boy from Arkansas who just happens to be half-Asian and have been blessed with a beard”—admits he knows nothing about kids. With a chuckle, he recalls that he started writing songs to impress a girl, and that these just happened to be the ones that poured out of him. But that is part of what makes What Did You Do Today work so well—there is nary a moment of condescension, and all the 20-somethings who worked on the record seem to be having just as much fun as any kid out there listening, indulging in the simple silliness of childhood.
Lee also doesn’t know much about promoting a kids’ record, so he’s doing it his own way—an upcoming tour will take him to college campuses, rock clubs, even churches. “It’s a strange thing,” Lee says. “I can play to drunk people and I can play in a church.... I’m hoping that if I expose as many people as possible to my songs, they’ll trickle down to the kids.”
Those songs are quirky, fully realized gems filled with concisely delivered, but never cloying, messages about how to be a confident, considerate person. Standouts include “Green Means Go,” a treatise on traffic safety that displays this record’s penchant to occasionally get funky, and “Count 2 10,” a sublimely catchy tune about controlling your anger. But it’s “Grab a Balloon” that perfectly captures the spirit of this project. Lee sings about traveling around the world in 100 days hanging onto a bunch of balloons visiting friends. He wrote the song during a lonely time—when the people he cared about were scattered to the four winds. The song exudes a spirit of adventure but also a sage wistfulness, an acknowledgment that part of being human is having people you love far away from you. The bridge swells and Lee promises, “Take a look, life is your book, it’s being written as we speak / But you should know, no matter where you go, your heart is your home.”
This album arrives just as the market for hip kids’ stuff is booming. Parents should be thrilled to get something this bright and musically complex for their children, and adults might also find themselves spinning this precious story alone, anytime they’re feeling overwhelmed or craving gentle reassurance that, in the end, life is about being kind and brave, having fun, learning tough lessons and simply loving others.
For Lee’s CD release show, he’ll be joined by a full band, three keyboard players, a banjitar, a kazoo choir and much, much more.
seven loaves and a spider-crab feed 5000.
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needs more candlelight! i like this song.