March 3, 2005

Infectious joy from Jack Johnson
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

While the sun struggles to break through the blizzard in Boston, Jack Johnson's new album In Between Dreams brings much appreciated warmth to an otherwise dreary winter of bland, gray music. It's a bit more upbeat and multi-layered with various instruments than his previous albums, but it's still filled with Johnson's characteristic relaxed vibe and subtle, poignant lyrics.

Johnson's music will make you feel good on the inside. The timbre of his voice and the simple plucking of his acoustic guitar convey a contagious joy in life. Johnson seems so content with life that his melodic smile might seem exaggerated, until you remember this guy spends most of his time surfing and playing guitar on the North Shore of Oahu.

In fact, Johnson's life at the beach was so good that he was initially reluctant to pursue a music career at all. Johnson decided against signing to a major label and dealing with record companies and all those "mediocre bad guys" he sang about on his last album, On and On.

Instead Johnson started his own label, Brushfire Records, with his wife and friends, releasing his phenomenonal surf movies, September Sessions and Thicker Than Water, and their equally great soundtracks.

The only person happier than Johnson might be his wife. Many of the best songs on In Between Dreams are love songs dedicated to her, including "Do You Remember?" on which Johnson sings about first meeting his future wife: "I was crazy about you then and now/ but the craziest thing of all/ over 10 years have gone by/ and you're still mine."

On "Banana Pancakes" Johnson sings about staying inside and making banana pancakes with his wife and kids on a rainy day. While some might envy the lavish Cribs on MTV, Johnson paints a much more attractive picture of his domestic life: "We could close the curtains and pretend there's no world outside."

Johnson supports hiding from the outside world sometimes. On "Good People" he sings, "Where did all the good people go? I been changing channels/ I don't see them on the TV shows."

Since his first album Johnson has been an outspoken opponent of television and its effect on our culture. On iTunes Originals, an album he released last year, he explains the inspiration for his songs: "Sometimes I get embarrassed when I turn on the TV, you know? Cuz' we're all the same thing and when I see some other humans acting so silly on some reality TV show, just to sensationalize, it just kinda makes me feel stupid."

"Staple It Together," "Never Know," and single, "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing," are Johnson's most upbeat songs to date, with funky reggae rhythms and occasional jazzy piano. Johnson adjusts his flow for these songs, nearly rapping his way through his verses. While most rappers brag about their bling, all that Johnson can do is "tell you that my metaphor is better than yours."

Some people like their musicians bigger than life, but I prefer mine full of life. Johnson overflows with soul, in a quiet sort of way.

In order to promotes his new album, Johnson signing autographs at Virgin Records on Newbury Street today at 1 p.m. He will also perform songs from In Between Dreams, but you will need to show your purchased copy of the album in order to get into the concert.

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