Everybody has those days in their life when they don't want to do much of anything. Maybe you've had a bad week, or things just haven't gone the way that you'd like them to. Whatever the case may be, it just seems like a good day to do nothing. And relish in it. Until recently, I called these days Mondays. But now I have a different name for them: "Johnson Days." (Now let's not take this to a weird place, it's far too early in the review for that.)
I had never heard of Jack Johnson prior to In Between Dreams. A few months ago, my German friend purchased this CD that he was incredibly excited about. So he popped it in his CD player while we were driving and I was treated to my first meeting with Jack. Cool, mellow, simple Jack.
Since that first listen, I guess you could say that I've been somewhat immersed in a world of soothing melodies, swooning lyrics, and simple rhythms. This was a sound that I wasn't used to. My album collection is full of the likes of Foo Fighters, Alter Bridge, and Fall Out Boy. Don't get me wrong, I still like rocking out to those bands. But lately, I've been wanting to sway my head more than bang it. I have Mr. Johnson and his magical guitar to thank for that.
1) Better Together
The opening slide notes from Jack's guitar is a great way to start out this album. It sets the tone perfectly. As with most of the songs on this record, you'll want to sing along with Jack on the first listen, even though you don't know the words. The song is about how being together with the one you love makes you better than either of you could be separately. And to the gentlemen reading this review, I suggest that if you want to make a girl's heart melt, pick up a guitar and learn to play and sing this song. Trust me on this one.
2) Never Know
With a lyrical delivery that's much quicker than the previous song, you might be caught just a bit off guard. The chorus has him stretching out each syllable as if he were giving himself more time to think of the next word he wants to say. But I like it. (I especially like the way he says "cluuuuuueeee-less".) As the title would elude to, this song is about not knowing what is going to happen in life. We think that we have everything laid out for ourselves, but the fact is, we can't plan for everything. And so we can't know everything either.
3) Banana Pancakes
Another oozingly sweet song. This one is about wanting to do nothing but stay in bed with your loved one. I really like the stop-start chords in the intro. I'm still amazed at how well he can create a completely serene mood by a few strums on his guitar strings. There's a little breakdown part where he has a very sing-songy rhythm in his voice that practically begs you to bob your head.
4) Good People
A bluesy little riff starts out one of the most socially conscious songs on the album. One thing that I've noticed on this CD, and it's probably my only qualm with it, is that even when Jack starts singing about heavier topics, the tone doesn't shift. He sings every song as if it were about mango trees and cool breezes, which works terrific for the songs that are actually about those things. But for the weightier ones, such as Good People, I think he should have changed the tone to show a little bit more emotion. Still, an excellent song with some thoughtful commentary on the state of society.
5) No Other Way
This song is about being so close to somebody that you feel what they feel. In this case, Jack sings about not being able to sleep because there are problems in his relationship. He goes on to say that he would tell her everything, and would never withhold anything from her. Or, at least, that’s what I got from it. You can practically hear the sweetness drip from your ears after listening to this. A soft guitar line plays throughout, adding a nice backdrop to the sweet lyrics.
6) Sitting, Waiting, Wishing
If you’ve heard anything from Jack Johnson, particularly off of In Between Dreams, chances are that this is the song you’ve heard. It’s the first, and as far as I know, the only single released off the CD thus far. That’s how I first heard Jack Johnson, without knowing it was Jack Johnson. The song kicks off with and maintains a funky/folksy guitar rhythm throughout. The tempo never really changes much, but that’s okay. I like this song mainly because I can connect with it, as cheesy as that sounds. And that’s another thing that Jack does very well, without even trying, it seems. He can tap into the simplest of emotions. The song is basically, in its own words, about “waiting on love.”
7) Staple It Together
A bit of reggae feel is spliced in to mix it up a bit on this track. The steady bass riff keeps it grounded while still giving it a good beat to groove to. It’s not my favorite song on the disc, but it does help to stir the pot and keep things fresh. Along with some of the wittiest lyricism on the album, it also has one of the most repetitious choruses. Mmm hmm.
The first of two short little interludes on the disc, Jack basically just tells you about four very vague “situations.” Nothing really special here. But I do like the muted guitar chords that he plays.
9) Crying Shame
Jack takes another turn towards politics in Crying Shame, which is evidently a song against war. I know what you people are thinking, but this is not just another rant against the Bush Whitehouse. As a matter of fact, it seems like it’s more about war/violence in general, and never does it specifically mention our president or the war in Iraq. He seems to show a little more emotion in this one than he did in Good People.
10) If I Could
This is one of a select few songs that can actually make me tear up from hearing it. Jack’s smooth voice floats over the picked notes and soft taps on bongo drums as he sings about the correlation of life and death. Much like Live’s Lightning Crashes, this song portrays someone being brought to life while someone else’s is ended. Such a good song.
To keep with the theme of the rest of the album, Breakdown is about slowing down. It’s about taking time out of your regular, hectic day to just meet people. To live life. To share moments. Great message and a great song. And on top of it, it has a mandolin in it.
The second interlude-type song on the disc. This one is a little bit more clever, though. He sings the first few lines in French, and then says, in French, that he doesn’t know to speak French, so she’ll “have to speak to him some other way”.
13) Do You Remember"
One of my favorite songs by Mr. Johnson. He sings about his first meeting with his wife and how crazy he was, and still is, about her. He depicts some of the moments in their lives together that they shared; the good and the bad ones. One hell of a fun song to play along with as well.
A very good, although somewhat melancholy, way to wrap up the album. Out of all of his songs, I think that this does the best job of using imagery. You can’t help but see the stars that he sings about in your head. Just a good, mellow, tune to end the CD.
Now, In Between Dreams may not be perfect, but it’s certainly one of the most relaxing albums you could ever want to chill out to. Beautiful melodies and simplistic, but effective, lyrics will have you singing along and bobbing your head within the first couple of listens. So do yourself a favor: go pick up In Between Dreams and mellow out.