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Jack Johnson
Brushfire Fairytales

Review By A. Colin Flood
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Jack Johnson Brushfire Fairytales

CD Label: Enjoy Records 0-4228609942-2

 

  If you think this is about Jack Johnson, the world's first African-American heavyweight boxing champion (1878 -1946), convicted in 1912 of transporting his white wife across state lines, and for whom Miles Davis made a tribute album for -- this is not that Jack Johnson.

This is the other one. This is about the young Jack Johnson who made two water and surf related movies. This about the young Jack Johnson whose beguiling simple and addictive "Brushfire Fairytales" CD is in endless rotation on my player since I heard his seductive tenor with a tightly interwoven bopping bass and percussion.

If you like the barely half-spoken singing of John Mayer's hit, "Your Body Is A Wonderland," currently gracing the airwaves, I think you will like this one. If the quiet Paul Simon album was a little too sedate for you, this disc is a younger, hipper, simpler and much more enticing version. The young Jack Johnson's voice is not quite as strong as James Taylor, nor as smoothly velvet as Michael Franks, but Jack Johnson the singer wisely doesn't push or over-extend off his capabilities.

With his trio of guitar, bass and drums, this is an acoustic album through and through. "Brushfire Fairytales" is like James Taylor's mellow singer/songwriter work, with a relaxed beauty and understated depth that rewards repeated listening. The album is amazing simply on its minimalism. It holds your attention without the commercial smoke and mirrors of pop acoustic rock. The young Jack Johnson has something to say in sometimes-cryptic lyrics.

Born in Oahu, Hawaii, the young Jack Johnson, a former surfer and film-school graduate, has a knack for acoustic ballads whose calm surfaces hide a subtle but strong lyrical undertow. Like the cover, Jack Johnson's lyrics and song titles don't make simple sense in relation to each other, though they are mostly about young adult soul-searching and relationships. In "Posters," for example, he sings about the superficiality of one-dimensional wall hangings (people?), without directly referring to them:

Well I'm a superficial, systematic, music television addict 
Check out my outsides there ain't nothing in 
Here comes another one, just like the other one 
Looking at himself but wishing he was someone else

The young Jack Johnson maintains a steady pace and sound. Great guitar and bass rhythms, with creative lyrics, give off a certain vibe that appeals to listener's ears. Johnson's voice is a smooth flow with a distinct confidence. His lyrics are fun, sad and political. Some folks criticize this album for its lack of variation. However, it is appealing enough to make the Billboard Top 100.

The album retains an artistic feel to it -- as if he had most of the creative input about the visual and sonic aspects of its production. The blue colored album cover has a picture of Jack Johnson the singer huddled under a hood as the frustrations and joys of life raining down on him, but there seems to be no explanation of lyrics that directly refer to a rain-soaked spirit or person.

Johnson says his musical influences are "Nick Drake, The Beatles, Hendrix, Tribe Called Quest, Dylan, Ben Harper, Radio Head, G. Love and Special Sauce, Otis Redding, Neil Young, Marley, Kurosawa, Tom Curren and so on."

Equally important to the album, and the unsung hero of it, is the bass player known as Merlot. His spot on rhythms carry the beat in the foreground with the lyrics and the guitar work. Merlot credits Thelonious Monk, Michael Jordan, King Tubby, Bruce Lee and Bob Marley for his influences.

 

 

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