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Sing-A-Longs’ a curious cross of feel-good nostalgia

Chris McGrady | Thursday, April 13, 2006

Past sunny days, best friends and fun times – some memories never get old. Jack Johnson’s latest effort “Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the film Curious George” is a hefty dose of nostalgia, and in this case, is just what the doctor ordered.

While reminiscent of much of his previous work, Johnson’s sound on this album never fades or becomes tired. While some artists are criticized for their lack of variety and growth, here it works for Johnson. His feel-good, “warm day on the beach” sound is the type of auditory candy that has the ability to bring the listener back to his youth. This CD in particular is geared toward a younger audience, hiding moral and life lessons in the music.

This effort features Johnson paired up with other popular artists, including up-and-comers Ben Harper and Matt Costa, as well as tried and true favorite G. Love. The best songs on the CD are the ones that feature the accompaniment of these prominent musicians, including the songs “Jungle Gym” (featuring G. Love), “Lullaby” (featuring Matt Costa) and “With My Own Two Hands” (featuring Ben Harper).

Johnson, famous for his melodic strumming and lackadaisical sound, originally struck gold as a direct result of his professional surfing career. After studying film at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Johnson helped produce a surfing documentary aptly named “Thicker Than Water.” Johnson provided the music for the film, which received high praise for both its cinematography and – more importantly – its accompanying soundtrack. Johnson chose to follow a career as a musician, and scrapped his surfboard for a guitar. The direct result of this decision was a beachcomber’s dream. Johnson’s “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” style has made his sound the theme music for a whole sub-culture of living.

“Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies” opens with the song “Upside Down,” an upbeat tune with a Caribbean-vibe. This song is the prototype of one of Johnson’s songs – lively and soft-spoken, but definitely not under-spoken. Furthermore is “People Watching,” where the usual island-inspired guitar is mixed with some playful piano chords. The result is an entertaining mix. Next is the more subdued track “Wrong Turn,” that seems to speak of a painful break-up. The song is also typical Johnson, featuring acoustic guitar picking and a soft style of singing that has come to be his signature sound.

“Jungle Gym,” featuring G. Love, is the type of sound that can’t help but remind the listener of past times. The next song, “We’re Going to Be Friends,” is a remake of the version by White Stripes and is well done. This track may be recognized from the soundtrack of the popular movie “Napoleon Dynamite.”

“Lullaby,” featuring Matt Costa, is one of the top two songs on the album. Costa and Johnson’s voices compliment each other brilliantly, and the guitar work on the song is soulful and strong.

The best song on the CD – “With My Own Two Hands” – features Ben Harper and is the type of song that the listener can hear over and over without it growing old. As the song crescendos, it becomes more enjoyable, and by the end of the track, the listener is only ready to hear more. Once again, Johnson’s voice meshes wonderfully with his accompaniment, as Ben Harper’s impressive – albeit unusual – voice strikes well with Johnson’s restrained tone.

“Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies” is a strong album, but not a great one. Despite Johnson’s familiar sound and warm tone, the listener cannot help but notice that most of the songs are very similar. However, the fact that his albums can be quite homogenous and still maintain their musical attractiveness is a testament to the effectiveness and talent that Johnson possesses.