Jack Johnson’s eighth album arrives in an unhurried style that suits the Hawaiian singer-songwriter’s music. His last one, All the Light Above It Too, was notable for featuring a few songs criticising recently elected US President Donald Trump. He may have a mellow beach bum persona – he started writing music as soundtracks to his surfing films in the early 2000s, and if you only know one of his songs, it’s most likely the one about banana pancakes – but outside the albums he’s been an energetic campaigner for making the music industry and wider world greener, with his own environmental education foundations.
Any fire or anger is invisible on this smooth 10-song collection, however. You can still stick him on at your barbeque without anyone dropping a sausage. One new song has a lilting, head-nodding feel, the musical equivalent of a row of palm trees swaying, and is literally called Calm Down. There’s a weightier bassline on the single, One Step Ahead, which seems to be lightly critical of social media but sounds hopeful all the same: “No one sees face to face or eye to eye/This is not how it has to end,” he sings. Open Mind could also be about the black-and-whiteness of what passes for online discourse: “Why is it so hard to find an open mind?” It has Johnson revealing that he can’t sleep some nights, but the lullaby vibes of the gently plucked guitars will probably help.
To make Meet the Moonlight he got together with Blake Mills, the Californian musician who has played with Bob Dylan, Norah Jones and Lana Del Rey, and was nominated for a Grammy for Producer of the Year for his work broadening the sound of retro soul band Alabama Shakes on their marvellous album Sound & Colour. Mills’s influence on Johnson is more subtle. There are some lovely touches in the background, such as the steel drums that pass through on Windblown Eyes and the melody created by blowing into beer bottles on Costume Party. The relaxed atmosphere was enhanced by the capturing of some of the music while Johnson was still rehearsing.
The most powerful song is the closer, Any Wonder, with just an acoustic guitar strummed loud and loose, a distant organ and a beautiful chorus. He can continue to save the radical behaviour for his political work as long as he keeps coming up with music as simply affecting as this.