Jack Johnson’s “To The Sea” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-12-19 12:12:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  3 / 5 stars

If you’re looking for a benchmark three-star album, Jack Johnson’s To The Sea is a downright lovely candidate.

To The Sea is a charming little album populated by harmless pop songs that are predominantly driven by Johnson’s guitars, both acoustic and electric.  There is, of course, the basic rhythm section we’ve come to expect: Adam Topol on drums and Merlo Podlewski on bass.  This is all accented quite nicely by Zach Gill’s keyboards.

Here and there, as in the bare bones arrangement and thick harmonies of “When I Look Up,” Johnson diverges from the regularly scheduled program, but, for the most part, this is business as usual.  Excellent tracks like “From the Clouds” and even the single “You and Your Heart” suffer from sounding too choreographed at times.  The former heats up a bit at the end and the latter is catchy and lyrically interesting, so this deficiency is covered over for the most part, though it’s not so well disguised on others like “At or With Me.”

The stripped down, direct sentiment of “My Little Girl” and “Only the Ocean” is proof positive that Johnson hasn’t lost the knack for writing and performing simple songs that present cause for pause and reflection.  Likewise, “Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology” is a catchy smirk-and-wink of a song, worthy of being termed anthemic even and thus illustrative of Johnson’s pop mentalities and abilities.

These aren’t the issues here.

What is questionable is the manner in which the other tracks blend together.  On the one hand, they operate very cohesively, as an album.  In addition to the commonalities in sound, the rhetoric of “No Good with Faces” on track three easily gives way to that on the third to last track “Pictures of People Taking Pictures,” as it does from the sociological commentary on uncertainty of track four, “At or With Me,” to the directness of the penultimate song, “Anything But the Truth.”

Clearly, To The Sea is more than merely a collection of songs written around the same time.

To The Sea (Jack Johnson, 2010)

To The Sea (Jack Johnson, 2010)

On the other hand, the tracks blend so well as to defy individuality at times.  For instance, it is difficult to decide whether a song like “Turn Your Love” is grooving or falling into a rut.  I have yet to figure out whether “The Upsetter” and “Pictures of People Taking Pictures” are moving, or whether the harmonies make up for what the words and instrumentation lack.

Ironically, this is the first time I’ve ever felt lukewarm about a Jack Johnson release.  Accusations of lukewarmth have followed him his entire career, notably being the mantra chanted by those minimizing such outstanding albums as In Between Dreams and On and On.  (Cough.  Nudge.  This means you and your sub-three star balderdash, Rolling Stone.)

Frankly, I’ve never really gotten into Brushfire Fairytales, but it has an appeal that I won’t deny, and it is also a debut effort.  Likewise, I didn’t like Sleep Through the Static at first — in fact, I hated it.  I felt it was a letdown following the “Jack Johnson goes electric” hype, and I resented the inordinate amount of attention it received from critics.  However, when I eventually warmed to it, it came as a result of realizing that the individual songs were actually of very high quality.  I still don’t think it compares as an album in the ranks of In Between Dreams and On and On, but song for song, it holds its own.

So, in summary, I’ve never felt lukewarm about Jack Johnson’s music.

Until now.

The truth is that To The Sea is a likable — charming, even — studio album that lacks the punch, the elusive “x factor” to make it truly moving.  It functions a little too nicely as background music.  It’s a bit too chill, even for Johnson.  Still, there are those moments, like his tender vocals on “No Good with Faces” and his electric solos on “To The Sea” and “At or With Me” — each singlehandedly better than any electric performance on Sleep Through the Static — that stand out from the rest, as if to remind us that Jack Johnson is an artist not to be underestimated.

You might love this album.  You might think it’s forgettable.  As such, there’s no better reason to award it a three-star rating.

Philip Selway’s “Familial” (2010) – YES, NO, or MAYBE SO

Originally posted 2010-12-21 10:30:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Philip Selway’s Familial (2010) – MAYBE

Familial (Philip Selway, 2010)

Familial (Philip Selway, 2010)

(August 30, 2010)
 
Review:

There is a great deal of potential in these ten hauntingly emotive debut tracks, but Selway simply doesn’t make good on the promise their beautiful sublety suggests.

Top Two Tracks:

“By Some Miracle” & “Falling”

Eric Clapton’s “Clapton” (2010) – Yes, No, or Maybe So

Originally posted 2010-11-16 11:00:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Eric Clapton’s Clapton (2010) – NO

(September 27, 2010)

Clapton (Eric Clapton, 2010)

Clapton (Eric Clapton, 2010)

Review:

For the fogey-at-heart, Clapton is a trip down Memory Lane with a set of covers recorded on high quality modern doohickeys; for anyone searching for a creative pulse, turn your interests elsewhere — this is a Clapton who has yet to regain what was lost post-Reptile.

(And, for the record, I may dry heave if I read one more review praising the overplayed ho-hum predictability of  “Diamonds Made From Rain” and “Autumn Leaves.”)

(P.S. I considered simply writing: “Clapton: the brilliantly original title says it all,” but I wouldn’t want to be harsh.)

Top Two Tracks:

If I had to choose, “Everything Will Be Alright” & “Hard Time Blues”

Your New Music Report! (May 2010)

Originally posted 2010-05-15 17:24:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Well, it seems that I won’t be able to post the set-list for tonight’s Pearl Jam concert in real-time after all, due to either issues with the site or my WordPress app or both.

Instead, let’s talk new music!

It’s been two weeks since the first third of the year flashed by, and it’s been quite a year for new music.  Perhaps my surprise and excitement is due to the fact that I didn’t have high hopes for this year.  After all, nearly all of my favorite bands have put out music very recently (i.e. the past two years).  And yet there have been more than enough new releases to pick from these past four months.

Some artists, like Ringo Starr and Jakob Dylan, continue to put out music that lives in the shadow of their greater efforts of the past.  Others, like the Barenaked Ladies and Spoon, have somehow managed to create some of the best music of their lengthy careers.  Still others, such as She & Him and Broken Bells, are creating music and casting the shadows that future efforts will need to live up to.

This year has certainly had its hits and its misses, and it got off to an eclectic but ho-hum start, but I have already been hooked by five outstanding records.  Now, only one of these has received my five-star stamp of approval (All in Good Time), but the other four are a full four stars without question (Broken Bells, Volume Two, Heaven is Whenever, & Sea of Cowards).

The latter four albums represent an interesting range of sounds and influences.  Broken Bells have found a compelling sound by blending the rock basics with some more experimental, synthesized sounds.  She & Him give you the eery feeling that you’ve stepped into the past without actually sounding dated.  The Hold Steady have put together the best all-out rock and roll album of the year, to be sure.  And the Dead Weather present an out of control frenzy of rock, this time around with more single-worthy songs and considerably better continuity as an album.

In the midst of the outstanding and the forgettable are some interesting records.  Take American VI: Ain’t No Grave, Johnny Cash’s final posthumous release of new material.  It certainly doesn’t stand up to IV or even V, but it is such a beautiful that includes a perfect closing track for his long and storied career.  Steven Page’s first solo effort incited extreme reactions from most fans and critics, divisions in both categories respectively hating it for being so unlike his other music and loving it for… well, the same reason, I suppose.  As for me, I’ve very much enjoyed A Singer Must Die, although I rarely listen to it in the car and I’m very anxious to hear his first solo album proper, which should arrive later this year.  (And, to be fair, I downgraded it from four to three and a half stars in deference to what a full four stars should really represent.)

If you haven’t been listening to the first albums of the new decade, then you’ve been missing some real gems.  And, if you’ve missed my reviews along the way, I’ve compiled them below for your reference.  I’ve even translated my “Yes, No, or Maybe So” reviews to the standard five star system for your ease.   I’ve been listening constantly to the four listed as “coming soon” — between rounds of BnL, She & Him, and the Wallflowers, that is — and I’ll have those reviews posted throughout the next two weeks.

New Albums, 2010:

Y Not (Ringo Starr) – 2.5 stars

Transference (Spoon) – 3.5 stars

Realism (Magnetic Fields) – 2.5 stars

Heligoland (Massive Attack) – 2 stars

A Singer Must Die (Steven Page with the Art of Time Ensemble) – 3.5 stars

American VI: Ain’t No Grave (Johnny Cash) – 3 stars

Broken Bells (Broken Bells) – 4 stars

All in Good Time (Barenaked Ladies) – 5 stars

Volume Two (She & Him) – 4 stars

Women & Country (Jakob Dylan) – 2.5 stars

Forgiveness Rock Record (Broken Social Scene) – coming soon!

Court Yard Hounds (Court Yard Hounds) – coming soon!

Heaven is Whenever (The Hold Steady) – 4 stars

Sea of Cowards (The Dead Weather) – 4 stars

High Violet (The National) – 3.5 stars