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★★★★★

Jack Johnson

To the Sea

Brushfire Records

Released June 1, 2010

As an artist known for his gentle voice and acoustic stylings, Jack Johnson is a pro at creating lounge music to set the mood. His fifth and newest album, 2010‘s To the Sea, stands out for just that: a unique feel-good vibe that makes you want to keep listening.

Unlike some of his previous albums, such as 2005’s In Between Dreams, I don’t feel that this latest album contains as many singles that will become popular in themselves. That’s all right. The range of emotions and variety of song styles that Johnson displays in To the Sea is memorable as a whole and reiterates his defining characteristic as an artist. The album successfully balances catchy fun with soulful emotion as it flows from more upbeat tracks like “At Or With Me” to the more somber tone of “No Good With Faces.”

The hit single “You and Your Heart” — the first from To the Sea, released 2 months before the album went on sale in June — stands out for all the same reasons that Johnson’s hits always do: an impossibly catchy melody and heartfelt mellowness. As many have agreed, the song epitomizes the lazy pace of summer days that seem to stretch on. I think Johnson shines the brightest when it’s just him and his guitar, as on the soul-searching “Anything But The Truth.” It’s easy to get lost in the humming lulls of his guitar and the weight of his lyrics as he softly sings out “I don’t know, but I don’t know that we’re meant to know.”

Even in its lighter tracks, there’s a depth to Johnson’s songwriting. He deals with love on To the Sea in a somewhat more holistic, melancholic way than on past albums. The death of his father last year and birth of his new baby girl certainly have had some effect; there’s a subdued maturity and sense of searching that permeates the entire album. Johnson’s ability to appeal to universal themes and stories aids in his diverse following.

Whether you’re looking for some good background music to slow down your busy life, the soundtrack for a summer, or perhaps are already a Jack Johnson fan, To the Sea is a solid soft-rock/acoustic album that epitomizes what Johnson stands for as an artist.