In Between Dreams

Jack Johnson

Brushfire Records, 2005

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


I’ve always had a strange aversion to Jack Johnson. There was no real reason for it; I think it started with the songs “Banana Pancakes” and “Bubble Toes,” the titles of which made me write him off as a cheesy balladeer. Turns out that the Hawaiian singer-songwriter is more cheerful than cheesy, injecting a nice dose of lightness into the frenzied music scene. His acoustic pop-rock gems aren’t groundbreaking, but they’re enjoyable and soothing, playing with lyrics and twists of guitar and ukulele. Meanwhile, Johnson seems both earnest and, well, cool, lending his material a charming swagger.

In Between Dreams, his third disc, is full of meditations on relationships and love, though never in an in-your-face or weighty way. This material is lilting and peaceful; it has the unique power to reset your clouded mind to a sun-and-surf sort of mentality. Opener “Better Together” features little more than strummed acoustic guitar and Johnson’s smooth, enveloping vocals, but it’s a sweet, inviting sentiment all the same, drawing you into the album. Of course it’s potentially cliché to sing “I’ll tell you one thing / It's always better when we're together,” but Johnson gets away with it – maybe it’s the sunniness of his instrumentation or the ease of his vocals that elevates his work from a simpering James Blunt ballad to something far more resonant and less guilt-inducing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Even “Banana Pancakes” is hard to find fault with; Johnson just has a sense of humor to his delivery and his lyrics that cuts how reminiscent this track is of John Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland.”  But it’s the songs that veer a little bit from Johnson’s “life is good” vibe that pack the most punch. Take single “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” which molds his guitar-and-vocals style into something darker and more tense, capturing the track’s sentiment perfectly that  “Learning loving somebody don't make them love you” but it’s all-too easy to get stuck on their hook all the same. Meanwhile, “Crying Shame” takes on the state of politics – although while the emotion is all there in Jackson’s punched-up vocals and the swirling guitars, the lyrics are fuzzy.

He fares better on my personal favorite track on this disc, “Breakdown.” With light, airy flecks of acoustic guitar and the smooth melodiousness of Johnson’s vocals, this song has just enough momentum and passion to make it soar. I’ve listened to it countleS times and it’s easily a highlight of In Between Dreams.  

Jack Johnson isn’t out to change the world – in fact, he lists music as second in his life to surfing. But what he does do, he does pretty well. His songs are vivacious, colorful, and catchy, and In Between Dreams is an easy disc to pop in whenever you need a little dose of sunshine. After all, it’s comforting to know that there is always music to rely on to add some brightness to the day.

Rating: B

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© 2010 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Brushfire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.