Photo: Donald Page

Photo: Donald Page

In a lot of families, parents leave the room when kids play their favorite kiddie songs, and kids leave the room when parents play their favorite grown-up songs. That’s not the way it was in Josh Lovelace’s family when he was a kid, and it’s not the way it is now that he has two kids of his own. His first solo album, Young Folk, is a love letter to the two generations before him, and the one that follows. 

“I always knew I wanted to make a record for kids,” says Lovelace, who plays keyboards in the Grammy-nominated rock band NEEDTOBREATHE. “And I knew I wanted to make the music folky and accessible, rather than annoying or watered down.” The resulting album, inspired by homespun musicians from Wilco to James Taylor, tells the story of Lovelace’s family – and lots of other loving families, as well. 

Josh Lovelace’s grandparents loved folk music, especially Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, both of whom wrote songs for children. Josh shared that love, and his parents and grandparents also sought out artists who were more current, which is how, when he was six, he heard Sharon, Lois & Bram, a beloved trio from Canada. “They were folk singers at heart,” Lovelace says. “Some kids’ music at the time had a lot of glitter and glam. That didn’t really connect with me. Sharon, Lois & Bram were fun, but had a genuine joy and an honesty that I trusted as a kid, even if I didn’t understand why.” 

When he was 10, his grandmother died. “Dealing with grief at a young age is difficult. My family encouraged me to hang on to my memories of her, so I started collecting Sharon, Lois & Bram’s records and tapes. I still have all that stuff. When I see it, or listen to them, it brings my grandmother back into the room again.” 

Young Folk is the fruit of a lifelong passion for children’s music, which helped inspire Josh to become a professional musician. The first concert he attended was a Sharon, Lois & Bram show, and his first performances were for younger kids while working at a summer camp. Alone among members of famous rock bands, he’s been training to be a children’s music artist his whole life. 

In 2011, when NEEDTOBREATHE played Canada for the first time, Lovelace reached out to the trio. “To me, it was like meeting the Beatles,” he laughs. He became good friends with them and considers them mentors. Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison sing on Young Folk’s most poignant tune, “Sing A Song For Me.” (Sadly, Lois Lilienstein passed in 2015.) 

In addition, Young Folk features guest appearances by the Americana ensemble Spirit Family Reunion (on the twanging “Going to Knoxville”), Dove Award-winning singer-songwriter Ellie Holcomb (“More Time With You”), Nashville pop phenom Ben Rector (“A Bear in the Woods”) – and most importantly, Josh’s wife Whitney, on flute and backing vocals and his son Henry, age four, on vocals. His daughter Margo, barely a year old, contributed baby noises and lots of smiles. 

“Henry was awesome,” Josh says proudly. “On the first take, he messed up the lyrics on ‘Henry My Son,’ because he got tickled. It was a beautiful mistake, so I left it as is.” 

In a sense, Young Folk began when Lovelace started making up songs to sing around the house with Henry. The album, like parenthood itself, holds a variety of moods and styles: songs of encouragement (“It’s Okay Margo”), advice (“Eat Your Vegetables”), and idealism (the gospel-inspired “Climb A Tree”), as well as light-hearted tales of hungry animals (“A Bear In the Woods”) and itchy facial hair (the funky, horn-driven “Daddy’s Beard”). 

“This record is a love letter to my kids,” Josh says. “I hope it's a special thing for them to cherish. When I'm on the road, their dad‘s voice fills the room, even when he’s thousands of miles away. But also, songs have lives of their own, and I’m excited for other people to hear the songs, and maybe adopt them as a part of their family too.”

-Rob Tannenbaum