The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER FOUR is Jack Johnson

Originally posted 2010-02-18 13:56:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the second in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

For an artist whose entire recorded career is contained within this one decade, Jack Johnson has compiled an expansive and impressive catalog.  He has matured quickly, enough to form his own record label and to gain the respect of some of the biggest names in rock music.

As I type this, I’m listening to the live En Concert version of “Constellations,” a duet with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, performed as comfortably as if they were buddies jamming in their parents’ basement.

Most notable of all is the manner in which Jack Johnson has achieved success — namely, by recording chart-topping albums in an age when singles are all the rage and illegal downloading has cut many artists’ sales.  In a mere nine years, Johnson’s repertoire extends across four studio albums, a soundtrack, three concert DVDs, and a live CD.

Without a doubt, Jack Johnson is one of the top rock artists of the decade.

AN ALBUM GUY, AN ACOUSTIC GUY…

Just to recap:  singles ruling the music kingdom, illegal downloading killing sales, music stores closing their doors.

Well, you wouldn’t know it by the way Jack Johnson has built his career.  Thus far, it’s gone down something like this…

2001: Brushfire Fairytales, a mix between conventional (read: acoustic) and catchy/quirky, a debut album that manages to crack the top forty in the U.S., rising all the way to number 34 despite the fact that the only single released faltered on the fall line, forty slots lower.  Songs like “Inaudible Melodies,” “Flake,” and “Losing Hope” were already outstanding, while others shared the promise of thematic (“The News”) and lyrical (“Posters” – “Here comes another one, just like the other one”) material to come.

2003: On and On, a darker, more lyrically interesting album, a follow-up that skyrockets to number three in the U.S. and manages multi-platinum sales globally.   You wouldn’t know it from the U.S. singles charts, but there are some tremendous songs here — “Taylor,” “The Horizon Has Been Defeated,” “Gone,” “Holes to Heaven” — the list goes on…

2005: In Between Dreams, a veritable “best of” collection, an instantly classic album with a crystal clear sound and a beautiful sense of atmosphere, a true masterpiece.  It hit number two in America, and in a rare case of the UK being behind, they finally caught wind of Johnson as he topped the charts there.  It’s all here — the carefree, relaxing (“Banana Pancakes,” “Better Together”), the serious, politically-charged (“Crying Shame,” “Good People”), the good love songs (“Do You Remember?) and the jilted love songs (“Sitting, Waiting, Wishing”).

2008: Sleep Through the Static, billed as “Jack Johnson gone electric,” an even calmer, lower-key record than he had ever produced before, one that takes some time to grow into.  This is a case of each individual song being great — played in order, the “chill” factor is too much at times.  Not the strongest note to end the decade on, but it leaves us with some wonderful tracks like “All At Once,” “If I Had Eyes,” “Go On,” and “They Do, They Don’t.”

JAPAN, THE GREEK, AND EN CONCERT

His career as a professional athlete — surfer — may have been brief, but Johnson hasn’t stopped moving in this career, either.

And there are the films to prove it.

Live in Japan is more than just a concert DVD; it is a documentary of the On and On tour.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, comes A Weekend at the Greek, an even more interesting, visually stimulating documentary of two concert dates on the In Between Dreams tour.  I’ve seen a good number of rock documentaries and live DVDs over the years, and believe me when I say that the latter (The Greek) is perhaps the best I’ve seen.

En Concert, released last year, was the final Jack Johnson release of the decade, and his first CD/DVD combo.  Excellent, colorful booklet?  Check.  Great setlist?  Double check.  Some great guest duets?  Triple check (J Radio, Paula Fuga, and Vedder).

In any rock artist’s career, the ratio between studio albums and live albums must be carefully balanced.  From the outside, three live CDs and/or DVDs may seem excessive when held up against four studio recordings, but Jack Johnson somehow managed it.  He was smart to release Japan as a bonus disc with The Greek, and he held off on a companion CD until En Concert.  This was a rare circumstance of the overlap between smart marketing and an affordable, fan-friendly strategy.

WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS — COLLABORATIONS AND OTHER VENTURES

If this was all Johnson produced this decade, it would be more than enough.  However, he wasn’t content to stick to these traditional products alone.  He took on the task of recording the Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the film Curious George soundtrack, involving others like G. Love, Matt Costa, and Ben Harper.  This was not only a strong release, but also featured some of the strongest tracks of his career — “Upside Down” (his highest charting single at #38), “Broken,” “Wrong Turn” — as well as some of the silliest, albeit catchiest — “The Sharing Song” and “People Watching.”

Meanwhile, he continued his interest and involvement in independent films (he did graduate as a film major, after all!), contributed to numerous high profile tribute releases (“Mama, You Been on My Mind” for I’m Not There, “Imagine” for Instant Karma, “Someday at Christmas” for This Warm December), and nurtured the careers of the several artists on his Brushfire Records label.

My respect for Jack Johnson is multiplied when I consider how he accomplished all these things on his own in less than ten years.  He is a unique voice and sound in modern rock music, as well as a prolific artist, and as such, I was not surprised to hear that, a mere month into the new decade, he has already returned to the studio to work on his fifth album, due out in June 2010.

Even with my disappointment after Sleep Through the Static, I can already feel my anticipation building!

“Walter Johnson” (Jonathan Richman A Cappella Cover) – OPENING DAY DOUBLE HEADER 1 of 2

Originally posted 2009-04-06 22:51:20. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Jonathan Richman lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

Hey there, sports fans!  Welcome to yet another “Chris Moore Monday” here at the Laptop Sessions new music video blog.  Today, as you may already know, is the opening day for the 2009 season of the New York Mets.  Ah, America’s favorite pastime…

Baseball!

Because I couldn’t be home in time to watch the first Mets regular season game, I decided to celebrate by learning and recording not one but two cover songs tonight.  This is the first video, inspired by an encounter with one of my colleagues.  At the end of school on Friday, he stopped by my room and said simply, “Listen to Walter Johnson before opening day.”  All I could think to say was, “Is that a song or a person?”  Sure enough, it’s a song.  He smiled as he replied and repeated that I should listen to it before opening day.  So, as suggested, I looked it up on YouTube early this morning and found the Jonathan Richman song “Walter Johnson.”  It’s an a cappella performance from his 1995 album You Must Ask the Heart.

A search of Wikipedia produced a brief biography and a picture of Richman with a guitar and prominent eighties-era Tom Selleck chest hair.  I don’t know what I expected, but it was certainly interesting to put a face to the singer of this unique song.

Truth be told, I have no real idea what possessed me to record a version of “Walter Johnson.”  There’s something about recording your own version of a song that forces you to become intimate, if only temporarily, with a track.  In this case, I don’t have any plans to buy any Richman albums in the near future, so I figured it would be a long time before I heard “Walter Johnson” again.  Being that it was opening day, it only seemed appropriate that I would pay tribute to Walter Johnson by singing my own version of the song.

I hope you enjoy it.  Feel free, of course, to laugh as you wish.  The “bum ba bum ba bum” parts are pretty funny — at least, they were to me at first.   But, really, this is the perfect day to sing this song!

And this is only the first of two baseball-related tunes I’ve carved out for you today.  Tune into the next one, “Joe DiMaggio Done It Again,” coming very shortly (watch it!)…

“Broken” (Jack Johnson Cover music video)

Originally posted 2009-11-02 23:51:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Jack Johnson chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

The best part about contributing to this blog is that, every so often, all the pieces fall together at just the right time.  For example, I still have the remnants of a cough that just doesn’t seem to want to leave me entirely, yet I really wanted to record a new video for tonight.  Meanwhile, over the weekend, I was listening to Jack Johnson on shuffle when this song — “Broken” from his Sing-a-Longs and Lullabies from Curious George soundtrack CD — and immediately felt the urge to learn and record it.

Fortunately, the register is fairly low and the chords are very simple, so this was a joy to lay down as a session.

Of course, every cover song music video is not without its challenges when it involves me…

The only difficult aspect of this song is that, although I’ve heard it dozens of times and could sing along to the chorus in my sleep, I really don’t know the verse.  Thus, I put “Broken” on repeat in my car on the way home.  After listening to it seven or eight times straight, I didn’t seem to be much closer to nailing the lyrics.  Still, I soldiered on — I typed up the lyrics from the booklet and practiced a few times to the music.  Finally, I practiced a few times on my own before I hit the “record” button.

And, a few takes later, you have a session to watch!

The reason I was listening to Jack Johnson in the first place was that Mike showed Jim and I his copy of En Concert, the new live CD/DVD, this past Thursday at wrestling.  Based on my disappointment at his last record, I hadn’t purchased the CD myself, but Mike had nothing but great things to say about it, so it’s only a matter of time before I find my way back to the “J” section of my local Newbury Comics store…

Speaking of new music, I am wildly curious about tomorrow’s new Weezer release.  The title alone has caused some controversy.  Based on a recommendation from The Office actor Rainn Wilson (who plays Dwight Schrute), Rivers Cuomo and company titled their latest studio album Raditude.  I’ve heard the first track, “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” and it may be cheesy, but it sounds great and it’s fun to listen to.  That being said, the other titles on the album alone are enough to make one question what Raditude will be like — tracks like “I’m Your Daddy” and “Girl Got Hot.”

All I will say for now is that The Red Album seemed very weird at first, and it quickly grew on me.  I was just listening to it this weekend, in fact, and realizing that it is truly one of my favorite Weezer releases.  I can’t imagine that this new album will be up to that level, but I have promised myself that I will reserve judgment until after I’ve heard it a few times.  Based on their incredible catalog alone, Weezer really does deserve the benefit of the doubt.

More on that next time…

And that about does it for me, at least for now.  This week is crazy for me, as my grades are due this Friday.  In addition, I have meetings today and now Thursday, a full day of professional development (i.e. no time to grade) tomorrow, and I’m monitoring the selling of tickets at the drama production on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Add in some wrestling on Thursday night and a whole lot a gradin’ goin’ on, and I’ve got one busy week!  I am looking forward to the weekend, as I’ll be completing a swap with my former student Geoff — some Ben Folds for some Tom Waits.  It’s bound to give me some more interesting listening and perhaps some more interesting Laptop Sessions songs…

See you next session!

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.