By Rachel A.G. Gilman
Four years after the release of “Young Love,” Oregon-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mat Kearney returns with his fifth studio album, “Just Kids.” It was fun, easygoing beats that earned Kearney his claim to fame. He goes down a more hip-hop-influenced and reflective path with the new release. However, Kearney manages to maintain the vulnerability, innocence, and sensitivity fans have always appreciated.
Appropriate due to its release just before March, “Just Kids” comes in like a lion and finishes like a lamb. “Heartbreak Dreamer” sets the tone for the album, a bold move since it’s almost five and a half minutes. Despite its length, the track mixes electronic elements and spoken word with the successful inclusion of Anis Mojgani’s poem “Shake The Dust” to create something inspiration. Concluding the album is an almost as lengthy song, “Shasta,” which features the gentleness of Kearney’s voice against a glass-filtered electric guitar in a near-perfect balance. It quietly and simultaneously looks back into the past and forward to the future.
In between is a fair amount of successful material. “Moving On” is upbeat and extremely catchy due to the way Kearney has managed to layer his voice against an electric-pop beat. The frequently repeated lyrics,“Forgive and let live and move on,” seem to act as the lesson Kearney has learned in his journey of growing up. The first single from the album, “Heartbeat,” is equally catchy, unsurprisingly. Although lyrically it has a tendency to be too cutesy, musically it shows a competent range of all Kearney’s capabilities.
Acoustic-driven songs can also be found on “Just Kids.” “One Black Sheep” is incredibly autobiographical, depicting Kearney’s ever-present lost feeling while growing up and finding his way in the world. It’s honest and emotional without being preachy, simply putting things against a basic chord progression and drum beats. “The Conversation,” a duet with Young Summer, takes listeners down a folksy path where a couple reveal their raw emotions to each other. It’s a true love song, a good balance of acoustic guitar and piano on the choruses.
“One Heart” fully commits to Kearney experimenting with hip-hop elements, playing with a kick drum and more spoken word to explore what it really means to be in love. It might be a little heavy to have two songs on the same album that discuss feeling one’s heartbeat, but Kearney can get away with it because he makes them sound completely individual. The titular track, “Just Kids,” also delves into hip-hop with a nostalgic flavoring, discussing more elements from Kearney’s past. It has the most reflective and experimental tone of all tracks, somehow giving it a bit of an unexpected melancholy twist.
Whether you are a Mat Kearney fan or just looking to just check him out, chances are there will be at least one track on “Just Kids” that will make it onto your spring break playlist.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org