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Album Review | Johnson toys with trademark sound

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 08:10

One thing Jack Johnson is always good for is consistency. Listeners will rarely hear him suddenly changing his sound — Johnson avoids pulling a “Miley Cyrus,” who dramatically evolved over the past five years from her Hannah Montana “The Best of Both Worlds” (2006) days to her new, edgier single “Wrecking Ball” (2013). And although drastic change can sometimes be exciting, Johnson’s steady style is far from boring. On his new album, “From Here to Now to You,” Johnson manages to put the perfect amount of spin on his classic acoustic sound to keep things interesting. Indeed, the listener gets a little taste of everything on his sixth studio release.

In a recent interview with Billboard Magazine, Johnson claims he hasn’t intentionally tried for these subtle changes — instead, his music develops somewhat spontaneously.

“I never really have an idea of what the record is going to be like,” Johnson said. “They’re really just a collection of the songs I’ve written over the last year. Every one has been like that.”

“From Here to Now to You” wouldn’t be a Johnson album without its fair share of ballads and slow tunes. The track “Don’t Believe a Thing I Say” is reflective of Johnson’s traditional slow, laidback and almost melancholic sound. Though certainly not upbeat, it still manages to keep audiences hooked until the last note. Following suit is “Never Fade.” With steady drums pressing along throughout and an almost perfect amount of lackadaisical rhythm, this song is right on par with many of Johnson’s previous pieces.

“I Got You,” the first single from the album, definitely isn’t the best track (perhaps a ploy by Johnson, so as not to give away the good stuff at first). It is, however, very typical Johnson, assuring his fans that this newest album, while straying slightly from the norm, will still satisfy the Jack Johnson craving for which his diehard fans are searching.

Perhaps the most innovative work on the album, “Tape Deck,” with hints of country, brings out a side of Johnson we’ve never seen before — complete with a banjo and harmonica. Even more surprising than this different style is Johnson’s ability to rock it. Most listen to his music for its relaxing and tranquil qualities, but this change certainly isn’t a bad one. It’s not often you find yourself snapping along to Johnson’s tunes (though there are a few exceptions, like his 2005 song “Banana Pancakes”), but once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

He takes another abstract turn on “You Remind Me of You,” which contains jazz-like elements. Johnson utilizes an acoustic sound only to emphasize the jazzy undertones. It’s not often you hear Johnson humming out runs and “ba doop ba doos.” Quite honestly, one wouldn’t expect him to have success in that genre, but once again, he makes it work.

By far the most interesting aspect of Johnson’s music is his ability to combine a slow beat with a relatively cheerful tone. Usually when slowing down the metronome, artists lose the energy needed for a positive song — however, Johnson manages to keep it balanced, especially on the album’s closing track “Home.” 

Overall, Johnson’s new album is an enjoyable listen. Even if you purchase “From Here to Now to You” just to add to your sleep playlist, it is well worth the investment. It will be interesting to see if Johnson decides to continue this trend toward more upbeat music. Who knows — maybe he’ll even consider losing the guitar someday (though that’s a bit of a stretch). In any case, his latest album’s debut at number one on the Billboard charts proves that fans are more than willing to follow Johnson as he explores new sonic territory.

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