The release of the international (and bootylicious) pop star Beyoncé’s stratospheric album “Lemonade” hit the airwaves right when Justin Roberts was putting the finishing studio touches on his identically named record. But instead of hip-hop sampling and smackdown lyrics, the Chicago-based Roberts’ “Lemonade” is a folk-infused, acoustic album—a departure for the wildly popular kiddo artist and his usual milieu of power pop and rock anthems.
He maintains that he chose the title first.
“She must’ve been tapping my phone calls,” he says with a laugh.
Household items like cardboard become percussion instruments on his “Lemonade”—a production technique Ms. Knowles most likely doesn’t employ—and the roster of bandmates, including legendary singer/songwriter Robbie Fulks, lends a stripped-down beauty that fans old and new (and old and young) will appreciate.
The majority of the album was recorded live, and Roberts counts among his favorite tracks “Rolling Down the Hill,” a bluegrass number “about all of the responsibilities we have as adults and [how] we forget that we can roll down hills.”
Changing things up seems to be the name of the game for Roberts, a guy who jumps from creating Grammy-nominated kindie pop albums to scoring a rock musical (2014’s “Hansel& Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat”) and back to writing children’s books. The upcoming The Great Henry Hopendower, a tale of childhood and magic tricks, was inspired by Justin’s own youth where he’d don a red-checkered magic suit “…to put on magic shows in my driveway to basically no one.” The “strange little book” is also a gentle primer to first experiences with loss.
As for any potential confusion between “Lemonade” listening audiences, Roberts has a plan that borders on genius: “What I want to do, as I’m doing some sort of crowdsourcing/fundraising for the record, is you get both my ‘Lemonade’ and Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ and they’re both signed—by me.”