Review Summary: Hmmm...so Adult Contemporary isn't so evil after all.
I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised I had to add Mat Kearney into the Sputnik database; apparently no one on this site watches that much Grey’s Anatomy
– which, by the way, I’m not saying I do either, just so we're clear here. Well, to be fair, I watched the one episode that Mat Kearney's music was featured on, but that was the ONLY one, I swear! It's not like it's my favorite show and I watch it religiously or have posters of Dr. McDreamy hanging up on my bedroom walls at all or anything like that. All right, good thing we set that straight...
Anyway, for those of you who don’t watch or much care for VH1, Mat Kearney has become a reasonably big player in the Adult Contemporary scene – he’s had two singles, “Nothing Left to Lose” and “Undeniable”, crack the Top 20 in that format; his songs have been featured on numerous television shows including, yes, Grey’s Anatomy
; and he’s become pretty good homies with Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and pretty much every other big late-night talk show (except, sadly, The Daily Show
and The Colbert Report
Now, I’m sure some of you have looked at the words “Adult” and “Contemporary” and already frantically begun clicking the “Back” button on your internet browser before you are bombarded with frequent John Mayer/Sheryl Crow/The Fray/Goo Goo Dolls/washed-up INXS comparisons. Fair enough; I’ll grant you that all of those artists suck (except for The Fray, in my opinion). However, though his music may at times have similarities to other AC artists, at his best Mat Kearney creates music that is entirely original and his own and, more impressively, honest and relatable to everyone.
Kearney’s style is in the acoustic singer/songwriter vein but with hip-hop undercurrents running throughout – somewhat like Jack Johnson (especially on “Where We Gonna Go from Here”) or a more earnest Jason Mraz. Nothing Left to Lose
, his 2006 major label debut, actually plucked 6 of the best songs off his real first record, 2004’s Bullet
, and it’s those tracks that most prominently feature Kearney’s laid-back, non-pretentious flow mixed with his deep singing vocals. The newer half of the record relies far more on melody and, by that, I mean falsetto. There’s a lot less hip-hop and a lot more Americana Coldplay. Sometimes these mixed albums have sequencing problems and songs that won’t logically flow into the next, but Nothing Left to Lose
doesn’t have that problem; if you didn’t know coming in that half of this record was on a previous one, you wouldn’t guess while listening to it.
Kearney’s greatest gift is his unwavering sincerity; on Nothing Left to Lose
’s best tracks like “Undeniable,” “In the Middle,” and “Won’t Back Down,” there is no sense of ego or pretense at all. There is such an organic, non-processed feeling that it feels like these songs came straight from the soul and Kearney had
to write them. It’s an extremely rare quality in music and Kearney has it. He still has room to improve, particularly on newer tracks like “Wait” and “Where We Gonna Go from Here” that don’t seem as necessary as “Bullet” or “Girl America” do. In fact, though entirely pleasant, most of the newer half of the record loses a bit of the freshness that the older half possesses – basically what Season 2 of Heroes will be compared to Season 1.
That said, those are minor quibbles of a record that has something going for it that few other albums do: a real connection with the listener. Nothing Left to Lose
– whether it portends to greater things in the future or not – remains a record with a universal quality that has earned it popular acclaim and makes Kearney one of the brightest young stars in the mainstream of music.
In the Middle
Won’t Back Down