This first time I heard Jack Johnson, I thought Austin, Texas, big-shot Bob Schneider finally took some singing lessons.
Johnson has so far drawn comparrisons to G. Love and Ben Harper, the latter of whom plays slide guitar on Johnson’s 2001 debut Brushfire Fairytales.
Of course, Johnson doles out the same kind of blues-y, acoustic, singer-songwriter rock as Texas phenom Schneider, and both men possess deep, seductive croons. Hence, the confusion.
But it’s hints of Johnson’s Hawaiʻi up-bringing that ultimately separates him from his co-horts.
Brushfire Fairytales draws its biggest strengths from its laid-back mood. Johnson sticks to a spare, minimal sound throughout the album, never dressing up his songs to be more than they are and seldom venturing to the faster end of a metronome.
Even when he does rock out on “Middle Man” or “Mudfootball”, Johnson sounds positively cool. Here’s a guy who doesn’t need to emote to get his point across.
Subtle “island” touches also makes Johnson’s music stand out.
Slack key picking informs the opening licks of “Inaudible Melodies” and “Sexy Plexi”, the latter track sauntering to a reggae rhythm. Steel drums add a dash of flavor to the mournful “Flake”.
And while “Posters” and “The News” don’t contain any overt Hawaiian references, the single-guitar-and-voice arrangement is a time-honored aesthetic in Hawaiian music.
But don’t think for a moment Johnson is gunning to take a few Na Hoku awards away from the Brothers Caz. Johnson’s “local” touch is as subtle and effortless as his memorable melodies. Plus, he possesses a really, nice, soothing voice.
Brushfire Fairytales is, as critic-types are wont to say, a strong debut. Johnson doesn’t let flash get in the way of his songs, and he injects enough of his own background to make his music truly personal.