Trouble Is Real
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2005, Volume 12, #6
Written by T.J. Simon
Johnathan Rice is a 22-year-old native of Alexandria, Virginia who was raised in Glasgow, Scotland. In lieu of seeking a higher education, he spent his post-high school years honing his musical chops while gigging in New York City where he garnered enough interest from the major labels to produce his remarkable debut Trouble Is Real. Fans of Damien Rice (no relation), Pete Yorn, John Mayer, Badly Drawn Boy, and Van Morrison will find plenty to enjoy on this eclectic and consistently pleasing album.
For making Trouble Is Real, Rice put together an excellent supporting cast that is anchored by Mike Mogis, who not only produced the effort but also plays nearly every instrument requiring an electrical outlet. Mogisí penchant for electronica-oriented flourishes are scattered throughout the textured, Seal-influenced, dance track Leave the Light On, a song that also boasts one of the best choruses on the disc. Jesse Harris from the Norah Jones Band leaves his fingerprints on the vaguely blues-y Lady Memphis, which he co-wrote with Rice, and Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley also receives a co-writing credit on Behind the Frontlines, a breathy whisper of a track invoking the popular style of Bright Eyes and M. Ward.
For the most part, the music on Trouble Is Real straddles the line between symphonic-laced folk and easy-to-enjoy power pop. The string sections from collaborator Nate Walcott transform Riceís pretty songs into lushly textured mini-masterpieces, and this is most apparent on My Motherís Son and City on Fire. Things go a little overboard on the track Stay at Home with the incorporation of a horn section and childrenís choir, but Rice is able to pull back with the inclusion of gentle Van Morrison-inspired acoustic ballads such as The Acrobat and Break So Easy. The albumís power pop tracks ó So Sweet and Kiss Me Goodbye in particular ó sound like out-takes from Pete Yornís Musicforthemorningafter.
At a length of 16 songs, Trouble Is Real might leave the listener feeling a bit over-served, and the album could have been issued without the unimaginative and unimpressive cover of Gram Parsonís Hickory Wind as well as Riceís attempt at alt-country on the Jay Bennett-inspired Put Me in Your Holy War. While Riceís foray into punk-pop on Salvation Day is credible, the effect is quite jarring among the outingís otherwise gentle songs, and the result is that it fits into this record about as well as spinner rims do on a minivan.
Despite these transgressions, keep an eye on Johnathan Rice for he is an artist on the verge of exploding into the mainstream. Heís a handsome, emotive lad whose music has appeared on prime time teen dramas including The OC and Smallville. He also is playing a young Roy Orbison in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, which is slated for theatrical release later this year. All of this sits on top of a genuinely impressive debut album that is packed with songs that are sure to appeal to the masses. If his follow-up albums are nearly as good as Trouble Is Real, Johnathan Rice is destined to be a household name.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box