Long before JJ Heller and her husband, Dave, welcomed their two beautiful daughters into the world, the couple — full-time independent musicians for 12 years now— were already writing songs for their children.
Each of JJ’s six full-length albums includes at least one or two of these quiet and sweet songs. Recently, JJ’s devoted fanbase began asking her to consolidate the songs on one record. As an artist, she’s very in touch with her following. And she chose to honor their wishes with an exquisitely crafted collection of lullabies called I Dream of You.
Unlike some lullaby albums that conjure a decidedly sappy nursery-rhyme vibe, the 12 tracks (11 original songs and one Tom Waits cover) on I Dream of You are hardly your grandmother’s singme-to-sleep songs. Folksy and whimsical like the rest of JJ’s catalog, everything on I Dream of You falls in line with the signature style she’s spent years cultivating.
When JJ’s fans experience big life moments, they frequently choose her music as the soundtrack. For brides, her songs accompany their walk down the aisle. For new mothers, JJ’s melodies often fill the background as they hold their newborn for the first time. Such defining moments are the stuff of memories. But the Hellers wanted to pen songs for life’s everyday moments too. “As parents, we’ve learned to value bedtime with our kids, and those last few minutes of the day are so special,” JJ says. “It’s when our kids are open to have heart-to-heart conversations. So we wanted to be intentional about creating content that could help foster that special time.”
Written from the perspective of a parent speaking words of love and encouragement to a child, this new record resonates with a message of unconditional love. From the opening upbeat title track, to the closing peaceful Lullaby with its breathtaking string arrangement and choir of crickets, I Dream of You appeals to the child inside everyone. “We want this music to bring hope to our listeners, regardless of their age,” Dave says.
Serving as the perfect companion piece to I Dream of You is the Hellers’ brand new children’s book, The Golden Feather. Kid lit is a regular, and much-beloved, part of their lives as parents to 5-year-old Lucy and 2-and-a-half-year-old Nora. And when you read as many books aimed at youngsters as JJ and Dave have, you get an idea for what works—and what doesn’t.
They did their homework and produced a fun read with appealing characters, whimsical illustrations, and a rhyming scheme that will delight young ears. The Golden Feather begins with a mother asking her young daughter, “What will you dream tonight, my Love?”
The answer takes readers on a wondrous night-time adventure including the discovery of a beautiful golden feather, the search for its owner, and the bonding of friendship and love.
Sparked by a conversation on an airplane, the book gradually took shape. “We were on a flight and didn’t have any paper, so we just pulled out the Southwest Airlines magazine and wrote a poem on an advertisement,” Dave recalls. “That was the seed to what eventually became the book.”
The Hellers agreed that having a bedtime story to accompany a lullaby record made sense, but they never thought the book would also inform their songwriting. The closing stanzas in the book, “My mommy listens closely, like mommies always do. She says, ‘When I’m asleep tonight, my Love, I’ll dream of you,’“ eventually would serve as inspiration for the title track on I Dream of You.
Dave and JJ approached their time in the studio with low expectations. “After all, the purpose of a lullaby album is to bore your audience to sleep,” Dave says with a laugh. But as they began working with producer and long-time collaborator, Ben Shive, the songs evolved in a way that connected deeply with their hearts.
“We quickly realized these songs weren’t just for children,” JJ says. “They are vehicles for peace. We were really caught off-guard by how beautiful the arrangements were.”
For artists who often find themselves exploring heavier themes, I Dream of You was a particularly welcome change of pace. “Writing lullabies was refreshing and freeing,” JJ says. “I needed a break from putting pressure on myself to write a song that would be deeply moving and life-changing for someone in a spiritual sense. In a way, it was therapeutic. To write pretty songs about love was just what I needed.” Whether you’re a long-time JJ Heller listener, or if you just discovered her music, I Dream of You, will be just what you needed too.