Independent release, 2002
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/30/2002
Back in August 2001, when I reviewed Quintessential Honey, the second album from Johnson Brothers, I exhorted them to never lose their creative spirit. I liked the fact that I was hearing a band who was willing to take all styles of music and merge them into something unique - something that would have A&R people at labels soiling themselves in shock, because this music didn't fit a particular mold.
In the past year, the band - led by vocalist Aaron Pickering - has undergone some changes, not the least of which is they've pared themselves down to a lean four-piece outfit. Their lates EP, Uno!, shows that their music has changed as well. Gone are the funky jams that made Quintessential Honey such a unique disc to listen to - and, frankly, I miss that. While this EP is no failure, it does suggest that Johnson Brothers have moved closer to mainstream... damn.
Granted, there are only five songs on this disc - and one of these is featured twice, in electric and acoustic versions. And, granted, their last effort was such a complex work that it took more than one listen to fully appreciate what Johnson Brothers were trying to accomplish. So I'm willing to concede that, had Uno! been longer, I would have had a clearer understanding of what Pickering and crew were trying to accomplish this time around.
Ah, but five songs are all I have to work with, and it just feels like it's not enough. Things really don't start cooking for the band until the third track, the electric version of "A Long Day," refueling memories of just how good this band is. The following track, "(C'mon) Inside," is also well done, suggesting the band was starting to get a feel of this new stylistic shift.
If only they had asserted themselves as strongly right out of the gate. While the first two tracks, "Head Full Of Stars" and "One Trick Pony," are hardly failures, their more outright rock tones (and abandonment of harmony vocals - at least for the time being) don't grab the listener and hold them in the way that Johnson Brothers are capable of. Sure, the final three tracks (including a beautiful acoustic rendition of "A Long Day") make the journey more than worthwhile, but when you have only 16 minutes of music to offer, every second is vital.
This isn't to say that Uno! isn't worth your time, or that Johnson Brothers have made an incorrect career move. But I'm still on the fence as to whether this is indeed a good move for the band. By giving up the musical jambalaya that made up their last album, Pickering and crew come closer to sounding like every other band on the radio today - and, in all honesty, it was their uniqueness that drew me to them in the first place.