Photo Credit: Kizzy O’Neal
Jack Johnson has already amassed a huge following (which has directly translated to chart success) over the past two decades. On the surface, he’s probably easy to compartmentalize, the epitome of a singer-songwriter who works largely either acoustic or with minimal accompaniment, creating laid-back and mellow grooves (as suggested by a recurring Saturday Night Live impression of Johnson performed a few years back by Andy Samberg). Even the title of Johnson’s eighth studio album, Meet the Moonlight suggests just another day at the office. But while the album certainly isn’t any sort of major departure for Johnson, it does show that his craftsmanship as both a songwriter and a performer is every bit as solid as they ever were.
Johnson’s detractors are undoubtedly still out there, which may be why the artist chose to open the album with the lyrics “Why is it so hard to find an open mind?” Yet it’s hard to imagine many people who wouldn’t appreciate the song, which starts as an acoustic number before adding drums, all the while reminding us just a bit of John Denver’s 1972 hit “Rocky Mountain High.” Most of Meet the Moonlight is every bit as enjoyable as this strong opener would promise. “3 AM Radio” leans towards a country-ish feel along with traces of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, all good company for a poignant song about feeling like no one’s listening at the exact moment that one has something to say.
The Dylan influence definitely turns up elsewhere on Meet the Moonlight, such as on the tight, heartfelt acoustic number “I Tend to Digress” (which, ironically, is quite focused as a song, as are all the tracks on the album). The title song is another characteristically mellow offering, this one also presenting an underlying riff that might have been at home on a ’70s progressive track. “Windblown Eyes” features a fascinating and unexpected instrumental break, while “One Step Ahead” boasts probably the slickest production on the album, and is another enjoyable uptempo gem.
“Calm Down” from the title alone would seem like the most stereotypical Johnson song on the album (particularly as the phrase repeats in the song eleven times), but like every other track, this one will inevitably win most doubters over. While “Costume Party” speaks of identity, it’s obvious that Johnson himself is plagued by no such issues, at least not as a performer after more than two decades. At the same time, he possesses the uncanny ability to put forth a variety of moods and emotions all while staying in the same lane musically. Not to mention his singing voice remains as fittingly understated as ever.
By the album’s wind-down, virtually no listener will be wondering if Johnson will be able to deliver a strong closer. And that’s exactly what the artist does with “Any Wonder.” Though another acoustic song, it’s anything but an anticlimax, as both the composition and Johnson’s vocals pack an unmistakable punch, and as Johnson is originally from Hawaii, that would of course be a Hawaiian punch. But bad puns based on fifty-year-old TV commercials aside, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to Jack Johnson’s Meet the Moonlight. You won’t regret it.