Grown-ups may recognize the voice of Lisa Loeb from hit songs such as "Stay (I Missed You)" and "I Do," but thanks to her forays into children's music, the singer/songwriter/guitarist has a whole new generation of fans. Local families will have a chance to sing along with Loeb when she performs at Stanford's Bing Concert Hall on Sunday, July 17.
Loeb first rose to fame when her music was included in the iconic '90s film "Reality Bites," making her the first artist to score a No. 1 single in the U.S. without being signed to a record label. Since then, she's had a fruitful career, releasing a number of critically acclaimed pop-rock records (solo and with her band Nine Stories) featuring infectious melodies and heartfelt lyrics.
Loeb has enthusiastically embraced the children's music scene. Her most recent album, a compendium of 35 beloved classics called "Nursery Rhyme Parade!", was released last year via Amazon Music and her own Furious Rose label. While her previous albums contain mostly original songs, "Nursery Rhyme Parade!" exclusively focuses on timeworn favorites such as "The Muffin Man," "Humpty Dumpty" and "Hey Diddle Diddle."
"I didn't realize until I really started playing a lot of kids' concerts that what they really connect with is songs that they already know. These are like hit songs for them. There's a real satisfaction to be able to sing along with them," she said.
Instead of elaborate production or silly voices, "Nursery Rhyme Parade!" has a purposely stripped-down sound. Loeb's lovely, unadorned vocals are front and center in the mix, with occasional harmonies, acoustic instrumentation and percussion in the background. And while she imbues her singing with enough personality to tell a story (such as while portraying the scolding mother cat in "Three Little Kittens"), the overall presentation is gentle and straightforward rather than cutesy. It has a playful, intimate, soothing sound that's evocative of a mother singing her children to sleep, which was exactly Loeb's intention.
She described the "old-school, analog" album as something "simple, to help kids and grown-ups connect," and reminiscent of her childhood, "before there was so much interference by telephones and computers and info at your fingertips."
Nursery rhymes may well be the original ear worms, surviving in popular culture for hundreds of years. Young listeners are drawn to the catchiness of the tunes, the repetition of the rhymes and rhythms and, "sometimes the weirdness of the lyrics brings them in," she said, laughing. The pleasure of repeating the "knick-knack paddywack" nonsense lyrics of "This Old Man," for example, cannot be denied. (But "Three Blind Mice," which didn't end up on the album, is not a favorite of Loeb's young daughter, who said, 'Mommy, that's too violent,' Loeb recounted.)
In addition to her music career and active family life -- the mother of two is currently finishing up another kids' record and contributing music to Amazon's "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" TV show -- the ever-busy, Los Angeles-based Loeb has branched out into film and television acting, voiceover work, books and stage musicals for kids, a nonprofit coffee brand and even her own line of eyeglasses.
Lisa Loeb Eyewear, launched after many years of fans admiring her proudly bespectacled look, features affordable, fashionable frames, all named after Loeb's songs.
"If my name's on it, I want it to represent me," she said. "I'm very involved with -- and sort of obsessed with -- any project I put out. I spend way too much time on my computer doing things other than writing and recording songs. Being a business person and a creative person and figuring out where the two mix is an interesting balance."
Though Loeb has often played in the Bay Area over the years, she said she's looking forward to returning to Stanford University for the first time since she visited colleges as a teen (she ending up earning a comparative-literature degree from Brown University).
At her show, fans can expect plenty of chances to sing along with the songs they love, drawn from her various kid-friendly projects. Performing for children "takes a little more energy" than playing for a crowd of adult fans, she said, but the value she places on audience engagement is the same.
"I ask kids a lot of questions, and audience participation will change the show. There's an ebb and flow of participation and listening," she said.
"A lot of my music is based on my summer-camp experience," she added. (Loeb has also founded The Camp Lisa Foundation, a nonprofit that helps send underprivileged kids to camp).
"Kids respond to the funny or gross-out songs or songs they know from school; the parents have a great time, too," she said. "Really, each concert is different but people seem pretty happy in the end."
What: Sing Along with Lisa Loeb
When: Sunday, July 17, at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Bing Concert Hall, 327 Lasuen St., Stanford.
Cost: $25 adults/$12 kids
Info: Go to Stanford Live.