As singer-songwriter Kat Edmonson started to think about recording a new album, she had one question in mind. She wanted to know if we ever reach a point in our lives when we no longer dream.
“In seeking an answer to that question, I referred back to the music from my childhood, which was mostly songs from Disney movies from the mid-20th century,” says Edmonson in a phone interview from a San Francisco tour stop. “My musical foundation has been the Great American Songbook and jazz. The same writers that wrote the Great American Songbook were writing the music for these Disney films. It all ties together historically. I began to listen to these songs and think of a narrative that I wanted the record to be about. It’s all about our experiences dreaming and imaging thing for our future and all the wonderful things and all the frightful things.”
Edmonson’s mother, who sang with jazz bands but never pursued singing as a profession, introduced her to the songs when she was a youth. Edmonson’s resulting album, Dreamers Do
, combines mid-20th century Disney songs (from Alice in Wonderland
, Peter Pan
, Bedknobs on Broomsticks
, Mary Poppins
, Babes in Toyland
), with familiar classics (“What A Wonderful World” as well as “All I Do is Dream of You” from Singin' in the Rain
) as it follows a theme about what happens to us when we dream.
The album also features two new original songs — “Too Late to Dream” and “Someone’s in the House.”
“There’s 40 musicians on the record in total,” Edmonson says. “We had all kinds of musicians on the album. We had Chinese strings and West African harp and steel pan and orchestral harp and lots of strings. It really ran the gamut because I have these grand ideas. It pares down nicely in the live show among the four musicians.”
The beautiful album opener, “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” sets the tone for the release. It features a bouncy piano riff and Edmonson’s fluttering vocals.
“I have always loved that song,” Edmonson says of the track that’s from Cinderella. “It’s rather an instructional song. I was all of 4 years old the first time I heard it. It tells a person what happens if you have faith in your dreams. I took that as factual information as a kid. I wanted to start that as an innocent understanding of how your rainbow will come smiling through, as the song says.”
There are also interludes between the songs indicating different points in the “nocturnal journey.”
“There’s a lot of interstitial music,” says Edmonson. “The record is an experiential one. You don’t have to listen from start to finish, but if you’re old-fashioned like me and inclined to do that sort of thing, you’ll see it’s really a journey that’s being offered. It takes place over the course of one sleepless night. It started with an invitation to dream. All of the interludes help create the experience we have when we move from one dream to another and wake up and go back to sleep.”
For her rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” Edmonson sought to “create a mood of mystery and adventure.”
“I wanted to convey what it is to embark on the pursuit of one’s dreams,” she says. “It’s exhilaration and excitement and fright. No one really knows where they will wind up going when they sent out to follow their dreams. I had been enchanted with the kora, which is the West African harp. It sounds magical to me. It was the first opportunity I found to record with it. I thought that there needed to be some kind of earth drum to go with it. That’s when we decided to use the tabla. Our tabla player was sitting by our kora player when we were recording, and they were playing off one another and it’s really fun.”
The album also includes her rendition of “What a Wonderful World,” a song that’s been covered numerous times.
Ultimately, Edmonson succeeds in putting a distinctive stamp on the album with her child-like vocals.
“I’ve sung it at so many friends’ weddings,” she says. “I’m very familiar with that song. I love the song. It’s one of my favorites. If you try to do a version of that song when you can easily compare yourself to Louis Armstrong and feel immediately defeated. I felt like I had something to offer. It’s really how I feel about the world. My drummer arranged that entirely on his own. That was the one track I didn’t arrange myself. He tried to approach it in the style that he thought I would do it based on my previous recordings. He did such a great job.”
After delivering such a complex album, Edmonson says she’s thinking she might make a much simpler album next time around.
“I always have lots of ideas for albums,” she says when asked about what she’ll do next. “I’ll just open my little drawer and pull out an idea. This was a very expensive record to make. Maybe the follow-up will be more stripped down. I always wanted to make a duo album with piano. Maybe this would be the time for that for both inspirational and economical reasons. I am just grateful that I continue to have the opportunity to continue to record.”
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