Review: Jack Johnson's 'Meet The Moonlight' Will Appeal to Fans Old and New

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 24, 2022

Review: Jack Johnson's 'Meet The Moonlight' Will Appeal to Fans Old and New
  (Source:Republic Records)

Jack Johnson's "Meet The Moonlight," his eighth album and first in five years, has been described as both intimate and experimental. While the latter should be taken with a grain of salt — this isn't a radical sonic departure from any of his previous albums — it certainly is a work of striking intimacy. Over the course of ten songs, with a succinct 35 minutes running time, Johnson addresses concerns pertaining to the need for connection and community, as well as impermanence of life.

Collaborating with Blake Mills, a producer whose work with Alabama Shakes and Perfume Genius suggests that Johnson might be rattling his cages a bit, the Hawaiian singer/songwriter's signature laid-back style remains intact, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Johnson and Mills contribute the lion's share of instrumental performances, with Johnson's usual backing band — Adam Topol (drums and percussion), Merlo Podlewski (bass and vibraphone), and Zack Gill (piano and organ) — contributing to a handful of tracks. Throughout, fingerpicked acoustic and electric guitars and vocal harmonies are prominently featured with bass, percussion, and subtle additional sonic flourishes.

The first song, "Open Mind," sets the pace for the rest of the album, its mid-tempo gait residing somewhere between groove tune and reflection. Johnson questions the ease of slipping into cynicism "when everything around us is begging just to be loved a little more." It's also quite an earworm. Elsewhere, "Don't Look Now" and "Costume Party" are stylistically similar, and equally as infectious.

Among the more reflective songs, the nocturnal title track reminds that big dreams are accomplished through smaller actions ("You can make the flame / Meet the kindling, make the fire / Don't let anybody say it's too hard"). The conversational verses of "I Tend to Digress," which meditates on the passage of time, give way to a syncopated hook on the song's title phrase as if Johnson's catching himself in a moment of rumination. The gentle folk of "Windblown Eyes," with its evocative tremolo guitar, contends with loss while navigating the difficulties of remaining in the present moment.

The album's only misstep is "Calm Down." But nobody likes to be told to cool it, Jack, no matter how sweet those layered vocal harmonies may be. Otherwise, the focused collaboration of Johnson and Mills, with judiciously sparing use of other musicians, is highly effective throughout "Meet The Moonlight." As Johnson explores personal and social concerns, Mills reframes the artist's familiar style in a way that should appeal to both long-term and new fans.

"Meet The Moonlight" is available now.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.