Friends, touring mates, and occasional collaborators Ben Harper and Jack Johnson recently released albums which provide a conspicuous contrast. Harper's Diamonds on the Inside, the Southern California native's fifth studio effort, overwhelms with its variety; it features reggae, classic rock, blues, funk, gospel and his signature R&B-rock.
Johnson's On and On, the native Hawaiian's second album, proves limited and narrow in comparison. It consists predominantly of acoustic guitar riffs and semi-philosophical lyrics, a beachy brand of pop-folk. The album's first half is particularly homogeneous. Tracks including "Times Like These," "Traffic in the Sky," and "Taylor"--while pleasant--are stripped-down and difficult to distinguish.
Nonetheless, On and On--the follow-up to Johnson's platinum debut, Brushfire Fairytales--should not be branded a disappointment. "The Horizon Has Been Defeated," which receives heavy radio rotation in cities with quality stations, is a relatively funky take on the pitfalls of technology. The heavy bass line of quirky love song "Wasting Time" qualifies it as a standout. And the up-tempo "Holes to Heaven" is a melodic, narrative yearning for simpler times.
Other notable tracks on the album include the bluesy and gear-shifting "Tomorrow Morning" and "Rodeo Clowns," which sounds like something off of hooky Brushfire Fairytales.
If you're looking for politically charged lyrics and roaring bass lines, don't buy or download On and On. The pleasant-voiced Johnson, who is also an accomplished surfer and filmmaker (Thicker Than Water and others), doesn't once bash Bush, and the music is more soothing than stirring. But if sundown surfing or meandering drives in the desert help put your world into perspective, you may want to give On and On a spin.