Monday, October 13, 2008

Joshua Radin Returns With "Simple Times"

Sophomore slump. It’s every musician’s biggest fear when releasing a follow up to a successful debut record. For some, the second album solidifies their careers and skyrockets them to complete stardom. Take for instance The All American Rejects. They had a hit single with “Swing Swing” from their first album, and then came back a few years later with “Move Along,” which produced three mega-hits for them. That ensured a diehard fan base and established them as one of the biggest and most popular acts in pop/rock today. Then there are other acts like Maroon 5, whose debut garnered four top ten singles, but only managed to have one song from their second album break onto regular mainstream radio rotation. In other words, the second record can make or break a musician, and arguably there’s far more pressure surrounding its release than is the case with a first album.

On September 30th, Joshua Radin released his second album “Simple Times.” A musician who has already made a name for himself by appearing on soundtracks to films such as “The Last Kiss” and television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “One Tree Hill” and “Scrubs,” Radin is known to his fans as the father of the “whisper rock” genre. His soft singing sounds like powerful whispers over luxurious acoustic folk rock. He was asked recently to perform at the wedding of TV personality Ellen DeGeneres, and is known to be one of actor Zach Braff’s best friends. Having found success among fellow celebrities, the question then remained: will he be successful outside of the Hollywood crowd and break into the regular public’s eye?

The answer is “yes.” “Simple Times” surpasses Radin’s already stellar debut “We Were Here” and takes his signature sound to brand new levels. The album begins with “One Of Those Days,” a traditional Radin song that sounds like a good friend trying to comfort you after a long, bad day. His singing and lyrics evoke a conversational tone--so much so that you, the listener, are convinced he understands you. It’s as if he’s offering his shoulder for you to lean on as he serenades you back to a level of comfort.

Following is the lead single, “I’d Rather Be With You,” a mid-tempo song that clearly establishes Radin’s romantic side. It also leaves no doubt why chick flicks and primetime soap operas are eating up his music like candy. It’s a really cute song that talks about all the risks he has to take in his life, mainly allowing himself to fall in love and be with the person the song is written about.

Next comes “Sky,” a duet with fellow singer/songwriter Meiko. It’s another mid-tempo pretty song. However, the demo version of the song that Radin released earlier this year on his “Unclear Sky” EP was far superior to the album version; it should have been the one featured on the record. The demo featured Ingrid Michaelson instead of Meiko and it sounded like a true duet, as the two singers traded verses and then came together to harmonize in the chorus. On the album, Michaelson is replaced by Meiko (who is also phenomenal, don’t get me wrong) and the difference is that the song isn’t as much of a duet so much as Meiko providing background vocals, leaving most of Michaelson’s parts to be sung by Radin. True, it is his CD. But any fan who is familiar with the demo version and the beautiful simplicity of the blending voices may be thrown off by this change. Still, it’s a lovely track--and if you aren’t familiar with the demo, then this song may easily stand out as an album favorite.

The album’s most poppy moment is found in “Vegetable Car,” an upbeat track that deals with lusting after a beautiful eco-friendly stranger. “She drives a vegetable car, Diesel, Mercedes, green, two-door. I barely know who you are. Lisa Loeb glasses, I’d sure like to ask you to stay,” he sings. The lyrics credit her sex appeal to how “green” she is and create a pun based on one of his influences, Lisa Loeb’s biggest song “Stay.” It’s both cute and cheesy, but in the best possible way. After listening to it, you’ll find yourself singing it in the shower to get your day started.

The record then takes a more serious turn, moving from the feel good theme to darker, more sorrowful lyrics. The song “Free Of Me” deals with Radin’s emotional instability and how incapable he is of remaining in a relationship because he will only hurt his lover. He sings about how everything around him is falling apart and how he needs to be alone so as not to bring people down with him. It’s a genuinely sad song in which the listener feels badly for both him and his lover. His raspy voice and soft whisper singing give the illusion of crying, making it hands down the most sincere and raw track on the album.

Following next is “You Got Growing Up To Do,” a heart wrenching duet with songwriting icon Patty Griffin. The deliberate placement of this song directly after “Free Of Me” appears to serve as his lover’s response to the previous track. It’s as though Radin wrote the same story twice, but from the perspectives of the two opposing characters. The lyrics reply to the cry of help in “Free Of Me” by granting understanding and saying that the “best thing I can give to you is for me to go, leave you alone, you got growing up to do.” This gives Radin the space he needs to figure both himself and his life out. It perfectly hits the chord of the tragic realities couples sometimes face when they realize that, even though they might be meant to be together, their timing may be all off.

The album closes with “No Envy, No Fear,” a slow nostalgic track that almost sounds like parental advice about not letting opportunities slip away. The song has a much more dominant folk “twang” about it than the rest of the album, as the acoustic guitar is the featured instrument and gets plucked in ways not previously heard. This fits in well with the storytelling aspect of folk music’s origin. Radin’s “carpe diem” theme serves as his way of projecting his own experiences onto his listeners so that they don’t make the same mistakes he did. He informs us of the pain and heartbreak life might bring us, but that it should not deter us from love or living life as fully as we possibly can.

“Simple Times” is an album perfectly described by its title. It deals with the simplest human emotions and behaviors in ways that are thought evoking, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Radin’s trademark vocals, acoustic music, and sincere lyrics provide the formula for a beautiful folk album that will be long cherished by his fans. It blends just the right amount of everything that should go into songwriting and performance, and should not be missed by anyone who appreciates what it means to be a true artist.

Like it? Buy it here


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