Sometimes music is all about doing nothing more than putting a smile on your face. Leave it to a surf dude from Hawaii to provide just that vibe. After an injury forced him to spend more time with his guitar than his surfboard, Jack Johnson's music career was born. Now, with In Between Dreams, his fourth record, Johnson has ascended to that spot in the hammock of our imaginations once occupied by Jimmy Buffett.
But this isn't gimmicky fare served up Buffett-style; Johnson sounds more like James Taylor with a splash of soul. You can see why it's the No. 5 seller on Amazon.com right now, and why he'll be headlining the Gorge on Aug. 13.
"Never Know" and "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" are already classics, and "Banana Pancakes" offers us rat-racers a jealousy-inducing take on island living: I love to lay here lazy / We could close the curtains / Pretend like there's no world outside... There's not much to this stuff, but surfer Jack will get his simple hooks into you. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
IRON & amp; WINE
Woman King THREE STARS
It's odd when a well-known artist comes out with an EP. Especially one with a proven track record in indie circles. Why not just wait and release a full-length album?
I guess "odd" has been the name of the game, though, for Sean Beam, the famously bearded one-man band behind Iron and Wine. Since his 2002 debut The Creek Drank the Cradle, Beam, a film professor from Florida, has, perplexingly, taken the normally raucous indie world by storm with his hushed, fingerpicky melodies and sensitive lyrics.
The EP may seem strange, but Beam takes advantage of the format, exploring in six songs the concept of womanhood with typical enigmatic flair. Lines like "Someday we may see a woman king, bloodshot eye, thumb down and starting to weep" beg for hours of dissection.
But though the music creates a definitive sound -- groove-heavy, pentatonic, almost Malian in flavor -- it's monotonous. By the end of the disc, you feel like you've heard the same song four or five times. That's great for a soundtrack, but for a concept album, it falls flat. -- JOEL SMITH