Brushfire Fairytales, by Jack Johnson
Suggested by Stuart Taylor
You can do a lot of things with a guitar.
You can make it wail in pain with a tortured solo, or have it chitter and twitter with a fast arpeggio. You can have it chug like a train or grind like a millstone, finger-pick a classical refrain or exult the room with a single swooping chord.
Or you can smash it against the wall in a textbook rock tantrum.
The buffet table that is the Man With Guitar genre is particularly crowded, boasting a menu that encompasses the driest plain crackers to the spiciest of meatballs. Will Jack Johnson prove to be inedible or delicious?
Having never heard of Jack Johnson, I didn’t know what to expect, my cursory Googlings lead me to the knowledge that ol’ JJ is a singer / guitarist / talented bloke of some renown, a pioneer in the Acoustic Pop / Easy Listening / Folk Rock fields that hails from Hawaii. If I’m honest, these facts didn’t inspire confidence. I presumed I’d be chewing on something beige and bland, reminiscent of Blunt or Sheeran or Gray. I strapped myself in with a melancholy sigh, and battened down the hatches of expectation.
But instead of unsweetened musical oatmeal, Jack Johnson served up a banquet of palatable dishes, generously spiced and full of taste and texture. Combining a gentle pop baritone with groovy and laid-back instrumentation, Johnson’s debut album is vibrant, assured, engaging, and wonderfully easy to love.
The opening track, Inaudible Melodies, sets the blueprint for the album to come, and is likely my pick for standout song. It starts with some delicate acoustic guitar before the drums kick in with a lazy roiling snare. Jack’s vocal is an understated delight, breathy and slight but mobile and experienced, delivering lyrics that are quirky and complex but essentially poetic.
The core instrumentation for Brushfire Fairytales is acoustic guitar, bass, drums, and occasional piano. This doesn’t mean there’s not other filigreed fancy to enjoy, especially in the percussive arena. The album’s only single, Flake, contains a drawling steel guitar solo and some tinkling steel drum work, while the quirky folk-rap love song Bubble Toes is underscored by low-impact bongo strolling.
There are no weak tracks on Brushfire Fairytales. Each song is a gossamer web, a Faberge egg that displays its value for all to see. There’s nothing here that’ll boil your blood or set your mind ablaze, but there’s plenty here to make you smile and coo in appreciation. From the true tale of surfing injury in Drink the Water to the nostalgic schoolday romp of Mudfootball, Jack Johnson elevates the genre of Bloke With A Guitar and maintains a fresh and interesting approach. I give Bushfire Fairytales a worthy 8/10, and will return to JJ’s back catalogue the next time I’m questing for intelligent easy listening.