CD Review of Further North by Johnathan Rice
Recommended if you like
Jack Johnson, Ryan Adams,
Shawn Mullins
Label
Reprise
Johnathan Rice:
Further North

Reviewed by Mike Farley

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J
ohnathan Rice is one of those young singer/songwriters who delivers his music as if he’s 20 years older than he really is (his actual age, for the record, is 24). Maybe it’s the baritone vocal, maybe it’s the fact that he writes from the standpoint of someone who’s been around the block a few times, or maybe it’s just that he’s already mastered the art of the hook at a tender age. Regardless, Rice’s latest, Further North, is a solid sophomore album that effortlessly crosses the line from super-cool to mainstream and back again. These are three- and four-minute pop songs that are smartly arranged and full of feeling, as well as some morbid humor.

Morbid humor, you say? Yeah, the first track, “We’re All Stuck Out in the Desert,” has lyrics that may strike you as odd: “We’re all stuck out in the desert / And we’re gonna die / Wipe that salt and sand from your blistering eye.” With words like that, you’d expect the mood of the song to be equally depressing, but the fact that it’s so uplifting adds to the intrigue right from the start. The title track is the kind of anthem Shawn Mullins wishes he could have written, with a shuffling sort of white-boy rap thing going on.

“End of the Affair” is breezy, alternative-tinged pop – think a male version of Jenny Lewis – while “THC” and “The Ballad of King Coyote” sound psychedelic, like the kind of thing you might hear blaring out of your older brothers’ speakers amid a cloud of pot smoke, while “Give It Up” is a rocking number that might be the closest thing to Rice’s track on “The O.C” soundtrack, “So Sweet.” Two of the best songs are buried near the end: “What Am I Going to Do?,” which has Beatle-esque guitar tones and melodies, and “Hard to Believe,” which is a straight-ahead pop ditty packing a huge chorus.

There are a few clunkers – witness the droning “The Middle of the Road” – but this is mostly a shining star that somehow got lost among clouds of 2007 releases. Johnathan Rice is the kind of artist that should be on your radar, even if you don’t want to get stuck in the desert with him and his sand-covered friends.

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