Review Summary: Mat Kearney drops the hip hop delivery and creates a consistent adult contemporary album with many possible Top 40 hits.
Singer-songwriter Mat Kearney made a descent splash in the mainstream with his 2006 major label debut album, Nothing Left To Lose
. The album was unique given Mat’s use of “rapped” Chris Martin-like vocals that went hand-in-hand with an adult contemporary format of soft radio rock. The album was a success in both the Christian and the mainstream market in which it spawned three charting singles.
Mat Kearney has returned in 2009 with his sophomore release, City of Black & White.
This time out the songwriter has opted to remove his rap and hip hop influenced delivery for a more streamlined and typical contemporary album. This transition is somewhat of a dangerous move for the singer as now the only thing that can possibly distinguish Kearney from the rest of his peers is merely the quality of the tracks to be found on the album. Fortunately it turns out that Mat Kearney doesn’t disappoint and instead delivers a consistent album that is full of possible Top 40 hits.
City of Black & White
starts strong right out of the gate with the first five tracks. Kearney delivers an effective combination of melody and yearning lyrics that create sugary sweet tunes that are bound to sweep young and naïve women off their feet. “Fire & Rain” is an anthem of particular interest as a reverberating guitar tone enters an anxious verse that collects into a captivating chorus that is one of the best on the album. “Here We Go” has a slow rhythm that flows seamlessly within the track as it carries the listener and subsequently begs for repeated radio plays along the way. The flow of the album hits a bump in the road with the piano crooning of “New York to California”. The track isn’t really that bad in truth, it is just sort of awkward with a forced hook and build-up that fails to capitalize on its potential.
The second half of the album continues on in much the same vein as the first via primary acoustic undertones on top of which Kearney relays his melodic tales of love and/or loss. The quality of the tracks is not quite as strong here as the first half, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that filler happens to be few and far in between. “Never Be Ready” and “On & On” recall Kearney’s first mainstream hit, “Nothing Left To Lose”, and plays on its accessible strengths to a positive outcome. “Straight Away” feature a piano foundation with a classically crooned verse that effortlessly transitions into a catchy and destined-to-be-hit yearning chorus.
City of Black & White
may be slightly disappointing to listeners that found Kearney’s unique rapped style of singing on his debut to be enjoyable. However, the songwriter’s transition to common adult contemporary songwriting has paid off well on this album as he has delivered an adequate and consistent release of yearning and catchy songs that are just begging to be released to the radio and played on popular teenage drama shows.