Mraz’s ‘Four Letter Word’ sure to spawn hitsWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Mraz, “Love Is a Four Letter Word”
While alternative acoustic music is firmly in his wheelhouse, Jason Mraz continues to defy expectations by experimenting with a plethora of genres on “Love Is a Four Letter Word.” As the title of the album implies, there is plenty of his typical catchy love songs and wordplay to go around, but there is just as much experimentation.
The genre jumping leads to some great results, like “I Won’t Give Up.” The acoustic-country song about commitment to a relationship sounds like a toned-down version of something Rascal Flatts would sing with a touch of Ray Lamontagne.
Mraz has consistently managed to produce a pair of radio hits on each album while doing his own thing. His debut album “Waiting For My Rocket To Come” blew up in 2002 thanks to the tracks “You and I Both” and “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” while stellar songs such as “Sleep All Day” flew under the radar. On 2005’s “Mr. A-Z” it was “Life Is Wonderful” and “Wordplay.” Mraz reached new heights of popularity in 2008 on “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things” with “Lucky” and “I’m Yours,” which set a record with 76 weeks on the Hot 100 chart.
“I Won’t Give Up” will be one of the hits on this album. Candidates for the second single include “5/6,” “The Freedom Song” and “Who’s Thinking About You Now.”
On “5/6,” Mraz embodies the spirit of ’70s funk with a sound between Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. He keeps that vibe going while giving the horn section a workout on the soulful reggae track “The Freedom Song.” “Who’s Thinking About You Now” is a jazzy ballad with Mraz’ trademark playful lyrics such as “I scan you like a credit card, connecting freckles like I do the stars.”
Despite a decade passing since his debut album, Mraz continues to find new ways to stay fresh. The result is several hits with a couple misses and an overall solid album. The artist is bound to miss a couple of times when putting 18 tracks out there at once.
***1/2 out of 5
Train, “California 37”
Train had all the makings of a one-hit wonder in 1998 when “Meet Virginia” climbed the charts. They managed to stave off that label with the title track off their follow-up album “Drops of Jupiter.” The release of “Calling All Angels” set the stage for Train to really take off, but the band all but disappeared after that, including a three-year hiatus, before dominating the charts in 2009 with “Hey, Soul Sister.” Despite the band’s momentum heading into “California 37,” Train comes to a screeching halt.
The band tries too hard to be catchy on the album while forcing references to California into songs more than The Beach Boys reference surfing. The first track of the album “This’ll Be My Year” seems to pay homage to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with its up-tempo wordplay. The country duet “Bruises” with Ashley Monroe has potential, but the vocals are overpowered by the strings.
The lone exception to the album’s mediocrity is the first single, “Drive By.” The song provides just the right balance between playful lyrics in the verses and a catchy chorus. However, you’re better off buying the single and leaving the rest of the album behind.
** out of 5