It’s not uncommon for an artist to “re-invent” themselves. Sometimes, there will be
hints of where a musician is going all throughout their career and one day that final destination is suddenly clear. Such is the case with Mat Kearney. Throughout his musical journey he has favored a beat-poet, spoken word style woven into acoustic rock tunes and piano ballads. Now, with his newest release “Young Love,” Kearney gives us a straight-up pop/hip-hop album that is sure to turn some heads.
The opener is the first single off of the record, “Hey Mama.” Kearney recently performed this song on “The Tonight Show” and it was easy to see that he enjoys playing this upbeat number live. On it, Kearney gushes about his wife, Annie, and goes on to describe their first meeting. This song could truly be great and enjoy commercial success, (in the same vein as Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister”), but some of the pop “cheesiness,” if you will, kind of spoils the fun. One thing listeners will have to understand quickly is that Kearney likes his clapping and likes his drum tracks.
Kearney’s spoken word takes the spotlight on “Ships in the Night,” which has a decidedly hip-hop beat and tastes strongly of OneRepublic. Unfortunately, the following track, “Count on Me,” shatters the seriousness of the previous song and borders on being gimmicky. With children’s voices singing “abc” and “123” during the chorus, one has to
wonder which audience Kearney is singing to exactly. Things look up, however, with “Sooner or Later.” The pop style is still there, but this time it’s done in a mature way. “Chasing the Light” is a solid track about Kearney’s friend who is struggling to find themselves in life.
The first obvious appearance of the acoustic guitar is on “Learning to Love Again.” With this song, we start to hear a familiarity of Kearney’s songwriting. It’s heartfelt and poetic. One of the strongest tracks on the album, “Down,” is next. It’s the closest thing to Kearney’s previous material and is impactful in its message. The lyrics speak of individuals who are in difficult situations but hold on to faith, despite their circumstances: “Can you hear when we call/There where we fall/Standing our backs against the wall/Top of our lungs/Hallelujah/Where pain and love bleed into one/Baby when all you see is darkness/We all need forgiveness.”
“She Got the Honey” is solid musically, but not so much lyrically. The line “She
got the honey and I got some money” is too similar to “Rich Woman,” written by McKinley Millet in 1955. Most recently, the song appeared on Alison Krauss’ album, “Raising Sand.” While the line may be new to some listeners, it’s not new to me; therefore it felt a bit lazy. “Young, Dumb and In Love” is the most intriguing track musically. It features some fun, Americana style guitar and boasts a catchy chorus. A definite highlight for sure.
To the close the album, Kearney sings an acoustic ode to his father, Michael P.
Kearney, on “Rochester.” In an interview with Celebuzz.com Kearney says, “My grandpa ran an illegal gambling ring in Rochester, New York. The mob came to town and had them arrested, so my father had to get out as fast as he could.” The track is honest (it’s sprinkled with the word “hell” and references drug use), but one can sense that Kearney deems his family’s story worth telling. Amidst the pain and struggle, he concludes, “We’re gonna walk right out into those heavenly fields/Run like there was no more time to steal/My three boys and the grace of God revealed/Knowing one day you’re gonna take me out of here.”
Mat Kearney has always been a favorite songwriter of mine because of his creative, compelling lyrics and his unique blend of genres. “Young Love” strays quite a bit from
that territory and instead mainly focuses on care-free, feel-good rhymes and rhythms. While it may not be entirely introspective or original, Kearney’s summer album should please listeners who are looking for just that: a fun, summer album.