Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Champion of Pleasantries: Jack Johnson's To the Sea

Jack Johnson has always been a songwriter who’s comfortable in his own skin. With the release of his fifth studio album, To The Sea, we find the former champion surfer back in Hawaii with his band-mates putting words to music in a most positive way without leaving the comforts of home.

This record, dedicated to his late father, is not as dark as 2008’s Sleep Through The Static; it’s a groove-laced album full of mid-tempo tunes aimed to please the ear and the heart. One of my favourites, "When I Look Up." is less than a minute long, yet it pulled me in immediately. “From the Clouds,” a great love song full of idealism, follows this short tune. Even when Johnson writes a tougher song like “Turn Your Love,” the feeling isn’t wrought with pain or angst; it’s more of a request for emotional balance from his partner in a most polite way.

I always thought James Taylor had the corner on polite love songs, but Jack Johnson can be declared the champion of the pleasantries that Taylor once sang about [see Handy Man]. But my feelings quickly changed when I heard the wail of a harmonica on the opening notes of “Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology.” This funky little ditty spells out a painful realization that the “Truth is never ending/We’re just here pretending/Let’s all laugh so that we don’t cry/Let’s all lift our glasses up to the sky for some…Red wine, mistakes, apologies….” It’s as close to the blues as Honolulu is to Rolling Fork, Mississippi, and that’s why Johnson has such mass appeal. His music dares to offend but holds back. Way back. I suppose that is a testament to his mass appeal, but don’t get me wrong; Johnson is far from mediocre because his songs are sincere, simple and … safe. As he sings on the last track on the album Only the Ocean, “you just roll over me and you pull me in.”

-- John Corcelli is a musician, actor, broadcaster and theatre director.

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