Bushfire Records, $11.50
review: Marla Cantrell
Try to pick just one reason to love soft-rock superstar Jack Johnson. The obvious is his music. His latest album, From Here to Now to You, is filled with gorgeous lyrics, his signature acoustic guitar, and a voice that’s been called everything from mellow to meditative. There may even be a little Jimmy Buffet influence going on. But then there’s his determination to leave each city on his tour a little better. He does that by teaming up with local charities, donating to four or five in each location. It’s estimated he’s given $25 million away since 2008. He also has a Farm to Stage program, which brings local organic food vendors to his shows, and sets up water stations to encourage his fans to bring reusable water bottles.
None of that philanthropy would be possible, though, if Johnson weren’t a brilliant singer/songwriter. He starts this album out with a happy number called “I Got You” that celebrates the bond that keeps couples together even when the best laid plans get dashed. The album continues to build, one great song after another. “Washing Dishes” is one of the best, the instrumentals perfect, Johnson’s laid-back voice carrying you away with the story of a dishwasher and his dreams of making it big one day. Even “Ones and Zeros,” which takes a look at our poor treatment of the earth and the possible outcome if we don’t straighten up, is sung so beautifully it’s easy to overlook the severity of the lyrics.
If Johnson’s been accused of anything, it’s being too mellow. It’s not criticism that particularly troubles him. He’s heard too many fans tell him they listened to his music while in labor, or they played his music at their weddings. Even Steven Colbert weighed in, coming backstage when Johnson recently played on his show. Colbert walked up to Johnson and instead of shaking hands began to sing every verse of “Sleep to the Static,” one of his previous hits. Colbert then told Johnson it was that song, along with a piece of classical music, he played every night when he visited Iraq, just before falling asleep. It wasn’t an easy song to sing and Colbert did it wonderfully, Johnson said in a recent interview, adding that Colbert’s comments were life changing for him.
He looks back on his childhood in Hawaii, learning to surf at five, learning the guitar at eight, and is thankful for both experiences. He started writing songs at twelve, and the guys in the band are all longtime friends. Now, as a father of three, he loves the time between albums when he’s writing at home, and teaching his kids to care for the earth the way he does.
As for his music, he still sees it as his hobby. There’s so much bliss in it that it can’t be work. His formula is spot on. This is his fourth #1 album and his fan base continues to grow. Give From Here to Now to You a try. It’s the perfect music for this month of Thanksgiving, mellow and reflective and absolutely heartfelt.