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.
Mixtape Friday: Leaky faucet plagues industry
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

There's nothing more distracting than a leaky faucet. I don't know why record companies can't hire some beefy security guard to protect albums from leaking before they come out, but once they hit the Internet, these songs spread faster than nude pictures of Paris Hilton.

The unfortunate consequence is that the rest of the album often disappoints after a great lead single. 50 Cent's "Disco Inferno" leaked months ago, but it's infinitely better than the rest of his new album, The Massacre. After Dr. Dre's beat from "Disco Inferno" whetted our appetite, all we get for a main course is a truly atrocious album with a homoerotic picture of 50 Cent on the cover.

But we keep our hopes up - here are two upcoming albums with leaked tracks that point towards greatness, but don't get your hopes up too high, or else the let down will hurt.


Beck "Go It Alone"
Following the heartwrenching breakup that inspired his last album, the dreary but beautiful Sea Change, Beck is ready to strut his way back into bachelordom on "Got It Alone." An unfinished version of Beck's new album, erroneously titled Ubiquitous, recently found its way onto the Internet. The real album, Guero(which is Mexican slang for a blonde, fair-skinned white boy), was produced by Odelay and Midnite Vultures collaborators the Dust Brothers and will be released on March 29.

Beck "Girl"
The new album returns to the goofy hip-hop funk of Beck's previous albums, but you can't undo his musical maturation since "Loser." This song is a similar up-tempo jam, but every sound seems to be in the right place, rather than the sloppy fun of his older albums. The breezy "Oohs" and "Aahs" in the background make a soft bed for Beck's dilly falsetto and bluesy guitar riffs.


Common "Corners"
At last year's Mod parking lot concert, Common told me that his new album, BE, would be released within a few months. Almost a year later and there's no album, but at least we got two leaked singles.

Fellow Chi-town native Kanye West produced "Corners," which features one of the most impressive guest appearances in years from The Last Poets, a collective of revolutionary black poets from the Civil Rights era.

Common "Food"
Ever since Common and Kanye appeared together to perform "Food" on Chappelle's Show, hip-hop heads have been hungry for this album. Common promises that it will represent a return to his old-school style, which will be appreciated after his last album, The Electric Circus.

According to Common, his new album will be his "best work ever." Though I know better, I can't help but get my hopes up.

Interview with Citizen Cope
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Rarely will I do this, but I'm going to spare the reader a long-winded introduction and just come out and say it: You need to stop reading this and go buy Citizen Cope's new album, The Clarence Greenwood Recordings.

If you don't like it and later regret your purchase, I will personally refund your money. That's how good this album is.

There's nothing especially unique about what Citizen Cope does - he's a singer-songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, John Steinbeck, and Bob Dylan, but Cope incorporates subtle hip-hop rhythms to accompany his gritty, woeful wail and acoustic guitar. Beck is the closest thing around today to Citizen Cope's hybrid of folk, funk, and hip-hop.

But while Beck busies himself with experimental meanderings, Cope gives listeners what they want, proving that it's better to be good than unique. There's no need to reinvent the wheel, as long as you roll with style.

Nowadays, singer-songwriters tend to be pretty boys with pretty songs, but Citizen Cope sings about his reality, which hasn't always been pretty.

"I sing about the people around me, the people I've met in D.C. and all over the place, but they're not always normal, model citizens," said Citizen Cope during our recent interview.

Listening to Citizen Cope is like reading a Jack Kerouac story filled with lovers and lunatics. On "Pablo Picasso," Cope sings from the perspective of a deranged man in love with a woman painted on a wall mural. Even when he sings about someone estranged from reality, it is obvious that Cope sings with sympathy.

"I try to put myself into the reality of the character, no matter how crazy he is," he said.

Citizen Cope, aka Clarence Greenwood, released his self-titled debut in 2002, but soon after left his record label, Dreamworks, because they weren't sufficiently promoting his album. He bought himself out of his contract using the advance from his next album and then signed to Arista, recording The Clarence Greenwood Project in the interim time.

The album's lead single, "Bullet and a Target" features Citizen Cope at his best. Cope layers piano and strings over the best beat you'll ever hear on a singer-songwriter's album.

The rhythm and percussion stands out throughout the album, integrating hip-hop breakbeats and live drums.

"When I was growing up, I tried to learn the guitar and the trumpet, but I couldn't play at first, so I started making beats, messing with drum machines and samplers," said Cope.

Before he was Citizen Cope, Greenwood was the DJ for a funky, laid back Washington, D.C. hip-hop crew called Basehead.

"Hip-hop taught me a lot about song structure, about the idea of measures and choruses," said Cope.

Cope's previous dabbling with hip-hop shaped his cadence, rhyme scheme, and narrative structure, but in contrast to Everlast or Wyclef Jean, Cope's hip-hop influence is subtle and well integrated.

In Citizen Cope's music you can hear bits of Bob Marley, bits of Ben Harper, and bits of Al Green, but Citizen Cope is no carbon-copy imitator.

His music is deeply personal and there's an audible honesty in his words. Citizen Cope's songs reflect the natural genesis of his musical talent.

"I couldn't afford all these expensive drum machines and samplers, so I just picked up the guitar and started plucking at it one string at a time, getting to know each string with my heart, instead of trying to understand it with my head," said Cope.

The album features a guest appearance from Carlos Santana on "Son's Gonna Rise," a hectic tale about racing to the hospital with his pregnant wife going into labor in the backseat.

Me'shell Ndegeocello plays bass on "Sideways," a beautiful song full of pathos and regret about lost love, where Cope laments, "These feelings won't go away."

Soon everybody will know about Citizen Cope, but before then you can take advantage of his relative obscurity by seeing him perform at the intimate Paradise Lounge on Wednesday.