Johnathan Rice
"Further North"

(Reprise Records 2007)Johnathan Rice - Further North

Singer/songwriter Johnathan Rice effortlessly exudes a laidback cool on "Further North." It seems he does not even try on his sophomore album as he presents his vocals with a nonchalant attitude over instrumentation that ranges from wistfully rambling country to solid rock 'n' roll. But then again, Rice never seems like he is asking for your acceptance on "Further North."

Admittedly, it is quite difficult to find Rice anything but likable. Even as he is singing of breaking a guy's neck on "We're All Stuck Out In The Desert," the song's lightly reverberating melody is one you will undoubtedly find yourself humming later. On "THC" thick buzzing instrumentation mingles with a trippy, loosely looped guitar sound while the gentle twinkle of "What Am I Going To Do?" incorporates a melodic '60s guitar riff.

"And I don't trust my friends anymore than I trust the cops," Rice philosophizes over a clapping rhythm on the otherwise shadowy "Giving It Up." Similarly, "It Is Best To Keep It All Inside" offers the album's most direct approach while reminding of Leonard Cohen. Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis adds background vocals to a number of the tracks and, most notably, duets with Rice on the deceptively lively country of "End of the Affair."

Perhaps the most absorbing aspect of "Further North" is Rice's thoughtful lyrics. He is one smart cookie and always remains just one step ahead of you with his clever turns of phrases. Match those personal lyrics with music that hints at hooks and is willing to take some chances. And as well rounded of an album as it is, "Further North" only hints at Rice's true potential as a musician.

B+

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