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Jack Johnson - Sleep Through the Static

Released on Brushfire Records, 2/5/08

Jack Johnson was born on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii and lives part time in laid back Santa Barbara, California. He was a champion surfer until he almost died on his board when he was 17. With his body in no shape to surf, he began making films about surfing -- writing, filming, producing and composing the soundtrack music. Thicker Than Water (1999) got rave reviews and The September Sessions (2000) won The Surfer Magazine Poll for best film of the year.

Jack Johnson was also a songwriter and when demos of his songs got onto the internet somehow, they spread like a virus and started a buzz that continues to this day. He started his own label, Brushfire, and released his debut, Brushfire Fairytales, in early 2001. The album built slowly. Its blend of folk, blues, relaxed funk, laid back reggae and mellow pop delivered in Johnson’s carefree, kicked back tenor didn’t seem like a winning combination, but it sold over a million copies by 2003, an impressive accomplishment for an artist who built his following on songs freely downloaded by his fans.

Sleep Through the Static is Jackson’s sixth album, and delivers 14 more tuneful, melodious compositions. Jackson’s music doesn’t knock you over the head; it creeps up on you like a friendly cat, rubbing against your leg then leaping up into your lap and purring until you surrender to its warm, fuzzy vibe. There’s a bit more electric guitar here, but its used as a rhythmic accent, not an attention getting device. It’s impossible to not like Jackson’s music and even the songs that deal with slightly darker subjects are infused with a friendly, effortless spirituality that will melt your heart.

“Enemy” doesn’t exactly turn the other cheek, but Johnson’s message of understanding and forgiveness is gently uplifting. He uses the gentle chimes of Zach Gill’s keyboard mimicking the chimes of a celesta to accent a jazzy blues tune that offers absolution to a troubled friend. “Hope” is a quiet reggae groove with a swinging rhythm and funky electric guitar accents, again delivering an uplifting message of love and empathy. The title tune is a quasi-rap, a wordy rhythmic verse melded to a Gospel-like chorus that sings the praises of love. It’s a song that could sound sappy, but Johnson’s balmy vocal and chiming bluesy guitar melt your cynicism.

“What You Thought You Need” is a breezy bit of acoustic R&B, another heartfelt celebration of the simple pleasures of love. The stuttering bass and drums of long time associates Merlo Podlewski and Adam Topol give the tune a warm, comfortable pulse. “They Do They Don’t” is the darkest song here, a meditation on the struggle between right and wrong that asks how right can win when doing wrong seems like so much fun. Its sinister, moody guitar and oblique lyric intensify its ambivalent lyric.

Still, even at his darkest, Johnson is full of light and hope, always holding out a friendly hand to those who need a bit of friendly consolation to get them through the night.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars