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Category Archives: Jack Johnson

Stay tuned for a review of Jack Johnson’s latest album, To the Sea

I know, I know– it was released two weeks ago and after all my hype, I still haven’t reviewed Jack Johnson’s new album, To the Sea.  I typically wait a while after buying an album before reviewing it so that it has time to sink in, gel, grow on me, etc.  So fret not, Googlers!  I’ll post a review sometime next week.

Some albums come in with a bang and hook me at first listen.  Some come in with a whisper but grow to become favorites.  To the Sea came in with a whimper, and the jury’s still out.  I owe it to my man Jack to wait to review it until after an upcoming 14 hour road trip to the west coast.  If it’s going to sink in, I’m guessing it will happen on the open road.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Jack Johnson, Music

 

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Jack Johnson’s ‘You and Your Heart’ is a rolling slice of heaven

I just bought Jack Johnson’s new single, “You and Your Heart”, and I wanted to post a few quick thoughts:

  • LOVE the upbeat rhythm guitar intro!  Jack’s writes some sweet song intros, and this one may just be one of his best.
  • Very radio-friendly.  Most of his singles are.  Deeper cuts are sure to come on the album, which drops on June 1.
  • I’m over-generalizing here, but Jack’s music can be roughly classified into three categories: Soundtrack/instrumental (his early stuff- think September Sessions or the Curious George soundtrack); Beach tunes (most everything prior to Sleep Through the Static); and the piano-driven ALO sound.  “You and Your Heart” fits squarely in this third category.

TANGENT: The third category merits some explaining- A very distinct change in Jack’s sound occurred when he added long-time pal and vocalist for ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra), Zach Gill, to the band, and heavily incorporated Gill’s school-choral-room piano style into his subsequent work.

The transition is best evidenced in Jack’s 2005 album, In Between Dreams.  This album, in my opinion, was the perfect juxtaposition of all three of the categories I mentioned above (and it’s consequently my favorite album).

NESTED TANGENT: While I consider myself something of an early days purist (most of my favorite Jack Johnson tunes come from his early soundtracks), the addition of Gill was a welcomed and natural evolution, which added an amazing dimension to the band’s sound.  If you’ve never experienced ALO, I’d strongly recommend checking them out.

But back to the quick thoughts on the newly-released single…

  • I dig the dubbed self-harmony effect.  I’m sure there’s a more official term for that, but I don’t have time to Google.  This is something that has always worked for Jack, and it works great here.

BOTTOM LINE: “You and Your Heart” is a rich, rolling track.  If it’s representative of the rest of the album, To the Sea will be a gem.

Listen to the whole track here.  It’s available on iTunes now.  The album will be released on June 1.

See previous posts about Jack Johnson here.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2010 in Jack Johnson, Music

 

Looking forward to some G. Love harp on Jack Johnson’s new album

A quick note on that upcoming Jack Johnson album– I was happy to see this tweet from long-time Jack Johnson pal G. Love yesterday:

Well, I gotta tell you- I just laid down some harp on 2 of Jack Johnsons new tunes and I’m saying -his new record is gonna be his best 1 yet

Nobody does harp like G. Love.  Check out one of my favorite videos of G. Love and Jack together:

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2010 in Jack Johnson, Music

 

It’s about time: New Jack Johnson album due in June

It’s been 2 years and 6 days since I tore the shrink wrap off a brand new* Jack Johnson release and slid it into my car stereo for a first-time listen.

So as a Jack Johnson devotee from the J.O.A.T bootleg days, I’ve got one thing to say: It’s been a long 2 years and 6 days.

That’s why June 1 can’t come soon enough.  This from the Brushfire Records newsletter:

Jack and his band, Adam Topol, Merlo Podlewski, and Zach Gill, have been putting countless hours in at the Mango Tree Studio to record their 6th studio album. The album, currently untitled, is being recorded on 100% solar energy in Hawaii and will be released worldwide the week of June 1st on Johnson’s own Brushfire Records label. Stay tuned, we’ll have more news for you on the album front in March and a new single out in April.

Following the June 1st release of his new album, Johnson will embark on his first world tour since 2008, kicking off in Europe on June 16th. The tour will be a mix of headline shows London, Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam and festivals including Glastonbury (UK), and Roskilde (Denmark). Stay posted, the US Tour dates will be announced in March.

Sweet.

I just hope the new album will be more In Between Dreams and less Sleep Through the Static (his disappointing last release).  STtS was a clear departure from the melody-driven, uke-laced tracks on IBD and the brilliant “Sing-A-Longs” from the Curious George movie.  It’s a musician’s nature to mature and explore new areas, so I don’t expect a full return to the beach scene.  But let’s at least get some sand on the toes this time around, eh Jack?

——

* Yes, I know Jack’s live compilation, En Concert, was released back in October. I love live albums, but I have a hard time categorizing them as new albums.

Click here for past blogging on Jack Johnson, and if you’re pining for a night under the stars immersed in the Jack Johnson vibe, be sure to revisit my 2-part review of the Salt Lake City stop on his STtS tour.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2010 in Jack Johnson, Music

 

Zee Avi’s debut album a vocal and instrumental masterpiece

Album art courtesy Brushfire Records

Album art courtesy Brushfire Records

Why do I like Zee Avi so much?  Could it be her novelty?  If you’ve listened to her, you know what I mean by that.  Avi’s voice is completely unique.  And not in a calculated or blatant way.  Her sound is a striking mix of Billie Holiday and Norah Jones.  The former was known for tailoring her vocals to sound like a horn.  Indeed, play some Billie Holiday and walk away from the speaker until the words sound muddled.  What you still hear will sound very similar to a trumpet or a sax playing.

Purposefully or not, Avi’s voice shares this characteristic, which may be why the horn accompaniment on her recently released debut album sounds so appropriate.  In fact, one of this album’s pillars is the instrumentation used in these songs, my only previous exposure to which were Avi’s minimalist YouTube videos.

The more I listen to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire artists, the more I conclude that ingenious instrumentation is what sets them apart.  Somebody (or somebody’s) over in Mango Tree has an impeccable knack for mixing instruments and sounds.  I’ve noticed it ever since the Jack’s In Between Dreams.  For the record, whoever tweets for Brushfire told me kudos on Avi’s album go to members of Jack’s and Matt Costa’s bands and Ozomatli.  Somebody’s calling the shots, though, and I’d like to shake their hand.

Of course the real star on this album is Miss Zee Avi, her songs, and the emotion she conveys in her voice.  Avi is one of those artists that make you feel like you know them simply by singing a song.  Each of the albums 12 tracks is a musical delight.

I won’t go track by track, but favorites include “Just You and Me,” “Monte,” and “Honey Bee.”  If you’re a selective music purchaser like I am, I’d buy these tracks online for a nice introduction.  Then, in this case, of course I’d buy the rest.

Noteworthy highlights include the simple guitar melody on “The Story,” a song that is best listened to at night in the mountains, and the horn/vocal duet on “Just You and Me” which illustrates my point about the voice-horn comparison.  The rolling “Darling” would sound equally at home on a road trip or in a club.

You might assume, based on my previous doting, that I’d have no complaints about the album.  You would be wrong.  “Poppy,” Avi’s first original song, and “First of the Gang” are lackluster at best.  And “Kantoi” is downright annoying.  Mind you, these tracks are fine vocally and musically.  They’re just somehow less than the sum of their parts.

I also might have arranged the album differently.  Ordering the slow, emotive “Is This the End” right after the bubbly “Just You and Me” takes the air out of things mid-album.  “Is This the End” would be better appreciated were it the album closer.  A track featuring Jack Johnson in some way would have topped things off very nicely.  Here’s hoping that happens on her next album.

These criticisms considered, Miss Avi has me hooked.  This album is mature beyond its scope and rich beyond its simplicity.  I just ask that after she becomes a mega star, that Avi not forget the little old bloggers like me who had her back from the beginning.  Here’s to the beginning of a beautiful career!

www.zeeavi.com

 

Summertime Tunes: Jack Johnson’s ‘Taylor’

Although the month of May tends to be one of the most hectic months of the year for me (end-of-year school programs for the kids, spring cleaning, garden planting, friends and relatives getting married, etc.), it is also arguably my favorite month.

This is probably due to the fact that no time of year was sweeter for me growing up than the last days of school before summer break.  You remember those days, don’t you?  Testing is wrapping up, projects are done and in, most of the serious stuff is over.  It’s around this time of year that the world seems to let out a sigh of relief.  Life in May– even for us hard working, child rearing, mortgage paying adults– seems a little like a Beach Boys tune.

So for those of you who, like me, are stuck in some basement cubicle preparing TPS reports while nature is awakening outside, I’m going to post vids of some of my favorite summer tunes every week.

First up is Mr. Jack Johnson with a song whose vibe screams ‘summer’ even though its lyrics are fairly depressing.  That’s Jack’s magic- only he can take lyrics about politics and fish being poisoned and wrap them into a musical package that gives you the uncontrollable urge to go out and buy a surf board.

This is one of Jack’s early music videos, and I love it 1) because Ben Stiller is in it, and 2) because it shows Jack’s humble, extremely shy personality.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Taylor:

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2009 in Jack Johnson, Music

 

Zee Avi’s track aside, Brushfire’s Warm December serves up lukewarm holiday tunes

warm-december1

Despite my less than glowing review of his latest album, regular readers of this website understand the significance of Jack Johnson’s music to me.  So please don’t think I’m unduly knocking the guy when I call Brushfire Records’ newly released This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 1 simply lukewarm.

I’m wary of contemporary Christmas albums because musically they tend to be flat and unoriginal- as if the artist realizes his album will spend most of the year gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.   Why waste your imaginative tunes and best riffs on something that will be listened to for a maximum of 1.5 months per year?  Most contemporary Christmas albums aren’t so much about Christmas spirit and traditions as they are about Christmas dollar signs.  They’re mostly superficial nods to an already watered-down holiday.

The relatively small palette of holiday standards has been rebooted so many times that contemporary artists taking their stab at it tend to overreach in order leave their stamp.  The result is an uninspiring, often mangled rehash of songs that simply don’t need rehashing.  Surprisingly, the reboots on Warm December aren’t half bad.  Mason Jennings resists the temptation to overdo “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” instead offering a pleasantly bare-bones version of the classic.

Jack’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has been a family favorite ever since I got my hands on a copy of it 5 or 6 years ago (it’s definitely got that good old-school Brushfire Fairytales sound)  It’s nice to see “Rudolph” appear on this album, though I would have appreciated some more new material.

Zach Gill’s “Silent Night” is another example of the beauty of simplicity when it comes to Christmas standards.  Just one beef– he’s replaced the phrase “Christ the Savior is born” in the song’s second verse with a repeat of “Sleep in heavenly peace” from the first.  Not sure whether this was for stylistic reasons or politically correct ones.  I’d like to think it’s the former.

When rebooting the classics alone isn’t satisfactory, artists often feel like they need to add original tracks or covers– the love song that has nothing to do with the holidays but makes passing mention of Christmas in its hook in order to match the season; The generic lament about being alone for the holidays; a lame wish for world peace.  And no contemporary holiday album would be complete without the classic “only wanting you for Christmas” song?

You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?  It’s because they’re on every single album.  And Warm December is no exception.  Here is where this album fits the mold of its sub-par contemporaries.  I’ll be honest; the lyrics to Jack’s “Someday At Christmas” almost made me dry heave (Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys/Playing with bombs like boys play with toys…) You know I love you, Jack, but I’m sick of the politics.  I’m sure it’s a hit with the college crowd, but it just ain’t doing it for me.  All the same, Jack’s use of the subtle self-provided harmony on the track is very well done.

Matt Costa’s “All I Want For Christmas” might be ok if it didn’t sound like he’s singing “All I wants a Christmas is you” over and over again.  Money Mark’s track has kind of a catchy synthesized melody, but the trite lyrics are cringeworthy.  Similarly, while G. Love’s “Christmas Baby” and ALO’s “Christmas Time” are fine musically, the tracks on the whole are nothing to write home about.  Covers by Neil Halstead and Rogue Wave are airy, smooth, and true to form– but ultimately forgettable.

The obvious standout on Warm December is newcomer Zee Avi’s “No Christmas For Me.”  Avi’s dusky vocals are fresh, cheery and genuine.  She’s the only artist on the disc that sounds like she gave this song her all.  If you buy this CD, buy it for her track (or you can download the track alone for free as a promo from Jack Johnson’s iLike page.  You can listen to the entire album while you’re at it).

I’ve been impressed by Avi’s talent and humble personality since I discovered her on YouTube several months ago, and I wrote about her in September.  If the amount of hits I get on that post every day is any kind of indicator, the young artist formerly known as Koko Kaina has the potential to make it big.  I still haven’t heard when Brushfire plans on releasing her freshman album, so “No Christmas For Me” and her YouTube vids will have to tide us over until then.

Bottom Line: Warm December is overall a lukewarm album.  If you follow the Brushfire artists closely, are a completist, or prefer shallow holiday-ish tunes to more authentic Christmas music, you’ll probably like it.  A good chunk of the sales profits will go to musical education for kids, making it a worthy purchase.  Otherwise, download Zee Avi’s track and hope for a warmer December if a second volume is released.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2008 in Jack Johnson, Music, Zee Avi

 

Jack Johnson SLC concert review, part II: A man and a guitar

The following is part II of my review of Jack Johnson’s Salt Lake City tour stop last Monday, August 18.  Scroll down to read part I.

Jack Johnson performs at a foreign venue that I can neither spell nor pronounce. He's wearing the same t-shirt he wore at SLC, though. (photo courtesy jackjohnsonmusic.com)

The weather for Jack Johnson’s Salt Lake City concert last Monday couldn’t have been more perfect.   It was one of those evenings that remind me why I love summer so much- clear and calm, comfortably shrouded in the day’s surplus heat.  My 1-year-old daughter, Miss Ella, was enjoying making her blanket-to-blanket rounds.  The sun began to set as Rogue Wave finished up their set, and Miss Ella and I decided to make a diaper change run.  The couples around us agreed to guard our spot from the roving masses of Johnny-come-lately’s trying to squeeze into every minute gap between blankets.

Of course finding our spot again was like trying to find your car in a Disney World parking lot, only without the help of cute character-themed row markers.  The lawn by this point was one giant patchwork quilt of individual blankets occupied by a largely homogenized Pac-Sun clad crowd.  Scanning the crowd from the top of the lawn was pointless.  We had to weave through until we saw a recognizable landmark, in this case the intricate dreadlocked hairdo of the lady sitting behind us.  There was no way we were leaving the blanket again that evening.

After about 30 minutes, Jack Johnson appeared on stage to raucous applause.  The band (Jack, drummer Adam Topol, keyboardist Zach Gill, with ALO bassist Steve Adams filling in for an absent Merlo Podlewski) launched into an upbeat version of “Hope,” a song from Sleep Through the Static that is among my least favorite Johnson pieces overall, but one that actually made for a decent opener.

Without a word by way of introduction or greeting (Johnson is notoriously shy), He followed up with classics “Flake” and “Taylor.”  Since these two tracks are early works, it was great hearing them with Zach Gill’s background vocals and keyboarding flare (the animated multi-instrumentalist was added to the lineup in 2005).

Jack infused “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” with an old Cars tune and followed it with a nicely orchestrated version of “Sleep Through the Static.”

Most everybody on the lawn remained standing for the duration of the set list.  Miss Ella was happy to sit in my arms and sing and dance along to the music.  While she seemed to love every song, she recognized and jived most to the ones we play in the car often- especially “Upside Down” from the Curious George soundtrack.  Even the magic hour of 8:30 pm (her bedtime) did little to deter her participation, though her dancing after that point was punctuated with an amusing delirium.

Jack is, to be honest, a bit stiff on stage.  For me, this is part of his appeal.  The former pro-surfer first picked up the guitar out of the desire to simply write campfire songs for the beach.  In interviews, he still mentions his amazement at his shotgun journey from “man and a guitar” to stadium headliner.  Despite his superstar status, Jack enters each stage looking like a college grad coming into his first job interview.

His muted exuberance and the extreme mellow nature of his tunes sometimes tempts his audience to treat some of the performance as background music.  This routine- and I argue fully expected- aspect of the concert continues to baffle reviewing media reps attending their first Jack Johnson show.

Of course I’m one of those fans that’s fascinated with every part of the performance, from the way Adam switches between percussion sets to Zach Gill’s smooth, almost jellyfish-like playing style.  Another appeal is Jack’s polite demeanor and clean persona (curse words are nowhere to be found in either his music or his performances).  Jack has the refreshing ability to be at once family-friendly and fully mainstream.

Jack’s satisfyingly long setlist included almost every song on Sleep Through the Static and most of his staples, and was spiced with an all-accordion take on Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (cleverly titled “The Devil Went Down to Bavaria”) by Gill.

He ended the concert like he began his career- alone and accoustic- a man and a guitar in a five song encore that included introspective pieces like “Times Like These” and “Home.”  Miss Ella stayed true until the end, applauding each song by wiggling her hands and yelling “Heyyyy!”

When the stage lights went down it was time to face the infamous USANA traffic jam.  Miss Ella fell asleep on my shoulder as we walked toward the exit to meet my wife.  Another summer night, another great Jack Johnson concert.  The usually maddening bottleneck was a little lighter than usual, and Miss Ella slept contentedly as we navigated the sea of break lights under the same aloha spell that laces Jack Johnson’s music.

 
 

Jack Johnson SLC concert review, part I: Setting the stage

Jack Johnson (photo courtesy jackjohnsonmusic.com)

Jack Johnson (photo courtesy jackjohnsonmusic.com)

When I heard that Jack Johnson was coming to town, whether or not to go see him was never a question in my mind (even though I was disappointed by his latest album). The question was with whom? For reasons I’ll never comprehend, concerts simply aren’t my wife’s cup of tea. Outdoor concerts are even less so.

So since going to a concert alone just seems sad, I needed to find a companion for the evening. I asked my wife if it was ok if I took a date. She consented.

My date was a fine young lady- pretty like my wife, sweet, and a little bit younger. She doesn’t mind that I have a gut and am a little dorky. I see her every day, but because I’m so busy, I was excited to finally have a little one-on-one time with her.

Believe it or not, she had never been to a concert before. But she’s a huge Jack Johnson fan- mostly from his soundtrack work. She’s not a high maintenance lady, which made things much easier for me- lawn seating and a sharing a concession stand combo meal would be A-OK with her. Best of all, I was able to get her in for free.

The concert was great, and though my date actually nodded off a time or two and tried to steal another girl’s nachos, we had a wonderful time. I realized early in the evening that keeping her happy was the key- something Jack Johnson and his openers handled for the most part.

I just had to keep her diaper dry and her pacifier handy.

My wife dropped us off at the front gate and ran through a quick checklist to make sure Miss Ella and I were all set for the event:

Sippy cup?  Check.
Baby doll?  Check.
Baby backpack?  Check.
Pebbles hairdo and SpongeBob eyes?  Check.

I wasn’t surprised to see several parents with their children, given the popularity of Johnson’s soundtrack to the Curious George movie, but my 1-year-old Miss Ella might have been the youngest.  We spread our blanket on the lawn and were early enough to get a decent spot (as far as lawn seating goes).  Then we  bought some popcorn, which Miss Ella attempted to share with everybody we passed.

The first opener was British groover Dale Halstead, who got little reaction from the audience.  Granted, Halstead’s set was pretty unremarkable.  But I’ve never seen such an apathetic response to any first opener.  I kinda felt sorry for the guy.  It might make him feel better to know that Miss Ella happily danced along with each of his songs.

Halstead was followed by Rogue Wave, a band I was somewhat familiar with but not impressed enough to invest in.  Their live performance, however, made me rethink.  Miss Ella and I loved Rogue Wave.

It’s too bad the majority of the lawn audience decided to arrive and start finding a spot right during Rogue Wave’s set.  A plethora of latecomers tried to fill the small spaces between our blanket and the others around us, so we all made a pact to place jackets, bags, and various other items in those spaces to deter the vultures and buy us some extra space later.

Miss Ella isn’t shy, and she began networking the minute we sat down.  She’s only been walking for two weeks, so the sloping lawn proved tough to negotiate.  Nonetheless, she was able to waddle onto the blankets of everybody around us- much to the initial chagrin and eventual delight of our neighbors.

Her to-do list was the same for each adjoining blanket: 1) lay down to test the softness, 2) show its occupants her baby doll, 3) study their faces, and 4) drop hints that she’d like a bite of their pizza or a sip of their Coke, 5) come back and check in with Dad, 6) move to the next blanket.

This was especially entertaining with the young couple to our right.  It was obvious that this was the “big date,” the dealmaker.  Ella trudged over to their blanket and plopped down next to the girl, whose motherly instincts immediately kicked in, quickly deflating the romantic mood her date had been so diligently crafting.  She held Miss Ella and tickled her face for several minutes.

The guy was annoyed, but he understood well that revealing his displeasure would be disastrous.  So he sat there with a pretend smile, waiting for Miss Ella to get bored and move on.  Somehow detecting all this, Miss Ella gave him the same look she gives me after spilling a bowl of Spaghettios on the floor- the look that says, “Sucks to be you, huh?”

The boyfriend-to-be was not amused, but the rest of us could hardly contain our laughter.

Click here for part II of this review.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2008 in Jack Johnson, Music, Random Musings

 
 
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