Mat Kearney | Just Kids (Republic)

cd kearneyHe’s real, he’s open, he’s unafraid—and he’s talented as hell.




Mat Kearney’s fourth major-label release finds him picking up where Young Love left off, continuing to demonstrate he’s much more than pop lite. In fact, Kearney makes this point straight away with “Heartbreak Dreamer,” a blend of croons, spoken word, and, well, oddity. The latter third of the track finds the artist addressing the audience (yep, this is a live track—in the number 1 slot, no less), dedicating the song to various, random groups of individuals, including “the nighttime cereal eaters,” “fat girls,” and “the retired elderly Walmart front door greeters,” encouraging each to “shake the dust.” Although I had to listen to this one a few times to fully appreciate it (childlike background vocals? spoken dedications? a live recording right off the bat?), it didn’t take long and I was soon hooked.

The same goes for the rest of the release. Just Kids is never just a “singer-songwriter” album, but one crafted by a singer-songwriter with a vision beyond a mere four chords. Kearney’s voice is still soothing and familiar: The similarity to Coldplay’s Chris Martin, oh so obvious on 2009’s City of Black & White, is always there, yet Kearney has learned to rise above it and to become more. Not that you can’t relax to Just Kids’ 13 tracks, because you certainly can. Just don’t get too comfortable.

The optimistic “Moving On” is uplifting and comforting, with the artist bidding “Forgive and let live and move on.” Next up is the title track, with its weird little backing sounds and Kearney’s personal tale of youth. It may be his story, but it’s ours, too; who among us can’t relate to hearing Bel Biv Devoe on the radio, or seeing Nike Jordans with reflective tongues? This is a love song to youth, when we had free-roaming dreams and short-lived innocence, as Kearney rues life’s timing: “If I had met you at the playground/ before a hand could tear your world down.” Definitely the most beautiful song on the disc.

“Heartbeat” is the first single from the album, and with good reason. It’s catchy as hell, uplifting, romantic, and just plain fun—everything a good pop song should be. The feel-good buzz continues with “Billion,” which also finds Kearney altering the pop recipe a bit for added flavor. “You never wanna sleep so I talk all night to the only one/ …/ Seven billion in the world, baby, I only want to be with you” he tells her, blithely blending talk and tune. “One Black Sheep” is another personal tome, as Kearney recounts escaping a life of not fitting in by grabbing his guitar and driving south to California. The forgive-and-forget “Let It Rain” leads into the heartbreaking “Ghost”; don’t be ashamed if it brings tears to your eyes. For me, the only misstep was “Los Angeles”; while it tells a good story, it’s ultimately a little too Shawn Mullins for my taste.

Just Kids wouldn’t be a pop album without a plethora of romance; add “Miss You” and “The Conversation” to the aforementioned “Heartbeat,” “Billion,” and “Ghost.” While he accepts the split, Kearney nonetheless acknowledges his loss on “Miss You”: “Last night I dreamed you were waiting/ on a corner in the coat that you gave me/ I said, darling, we were born alive/ we’ll be born again.” Listening to duet “The Conversation,” you’ll feel you are there, seated next to Kearney, delivering Young Summer’s lines in the back-and-forth.

Kearney wisely chooses to place “One Heart” after the semi-sappy duet, where it’s the perfect antidote to songs of loss and regret. Spoken word elevates this song from the traditional pop genre (this is becoming a theme here, don’t you think?), which finds Kearney embracing “the rhythm of one heart beating alone.” You had it all the time, he tells us; find it in yourself. “Shasta” closes the album (which, if you’ve got it on replay, happily never really ends) with a tang of gentle falsetto as the singer lets go of the past and approaches—actually, embraces—the unknown. A fitting ode to taking the next step, even with your eyes closed.

After listening to Just Kids, it’s hard not to think of Kearney as a close friend. He’s real, he’s open, he’s unafraid—and he’s talented as hell. I know this album just came out, but I’m already looking forward to seeing what magic Kearney comes up with next. A | Laura Hamlett

Mat Kearney kicks off an extensive U.S. tour March 10. Don’t let this be another regret: Buy the album and see the show.

First leg

03.10 | Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
03.11 | The Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA
03.13 | The Complex, Salt Lake City, UT
03.14 | Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO
03.15 | Granada Theater, Lawrence, KS
03.17 | State Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
03.18 | Orpheum Theater, Madison, WI
03.20 | Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, MI
03.21 | Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL
03.22 | The Phoenix, Toronto, ON
03.24 | Best Buy Theater, New York, NY
03.25 | House of Blues, Boston, MA
03.27 | Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA
03.28 | The Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD
03.30 | The Ritz, Raleigh, NC
03.31 | Charleston Music Hall, Charleston, SC
04.02 | Iron City, Birmingham, AL
04.03 | The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA
04.04 | Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Second leg

05.08 | Revolution Live, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
05.09 | The Ritz Ybor, Tampa, FL
05.10 | House of Blues, Orlando, FL
05.11 | Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
05.13 | House of Blues, New Orleans, LA
05.15 | House of Blues, Dallas, TX
05.16 | Aztec Theatre, San Antonio, TX
05.17 | Stubb’s, Austin, TX
05.19 | Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa, OK
05.22 | Stiefel Theatre, Salina, KS

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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