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Johnson keeps playing the same good song

Observer Scene | Thursday, March 17, 2005

Although the majority of “mainlanders” have not actually visited Hawaii, most people could describe Hawaii without great difficultly. Visions of leis, luaus and ocean sunsets come to mind for most, but the sounds of Hawaii may escape their grasp. There is a simple solution, however – buy a Jack Johnson album. A North Shore native from Oahu, Johnson brings Hawaii to the world through his strumming and gentle singing that plays as the perfect soundtrack for watching a sunset while sitting on the edge of a beach. In his third studio-released album, “In Between Dreams,” Johnson does not change much in regards to his style of music or lyrics. The album bounces from song to song with Johnson’s soothing voice and folksy guitar playing transporting the listener to the warm beaches the songs seem to have been written for. “In Between Dreams” does not stand above Johnson’s first two albums, providing a solid dose of traditional Johnson without many surprises. The overall sound of the album hardly differs from that of his first two albums, “Brushfire Fairytales” and “On and On.” In fact, any one of the songs on “In Between Dreams” could be added to either of the previous albums without disturbing the overall feeling of those albums. Many critics would view this as a weakness and perhaps as a musician it is a failing to be seemingly stuck in one style. However, for those that are devoted to Johnson’s style, “In Between Dreams” simply makes his playlist a bit longer.Lyrically, the album fits into the typical Johnson pattern of mostly covering day-to-day topics such as girls, rainy days and even “Banana Pancakes.” However, per usual, a handful of songs hit some more serious topics such as an anti-war sentiment and the question of, “Where’d all the good people go?” Johnson’s lyrics are playful with a point, such as in “Good People” when Johnson sings, “Turn on the boob tube, I’m in the mood to obey.” Although at times some of the lyrical choices seem a bit childlike, for the most part they fit with the mood of Johnson’s music and as such are forgivable and even enhancing to his work. “In Between Dreams” is a just a hint more somber than “Brushfire Fairytales” and “On and On.” For the most part the songs are generally mellow with a couple of pleasant exceptions such as “Never Know” and “Banana Pancakes.” “Never Know,” one of the best songs on the album, is an upbeat song with a catchy melody. The lyrics are a bit on the serious side as Johnson philosophizes, “Never knowing / We’re shocking but we’re nothing / We’re just moments, we’re clever but we’re clueless / We’re just human amusing and confusing / We’re trying but where is all this leading? / We’ll never know.” The song is musically memorable and the lyrics have a depth that is not available on every track making “Never Know” stands out in the midst of the other songs on “In Between Dreams.” Jack Johnson has found a successful formula and he has obviously decided to keep using it. “In Between Dreams” is not groundbreaking. If “In Between Dreams” had been Johnson’s debut album it is very possible that he would not be as well-known as he is today. Nonetheless, for fans of Johnson, “In Between Dreams” is 14 more songs to enjoy. Johnson doesn’t reinvent himself in his third album, but he doesn’t have to.