A former pro surfer before a collision with a reef led him to reconsider his options, Jack Johnson got a great jump-start penning "Rodeo Clowns" with G. Love on a beach one weekend in 1999. Like Love, Johnson favors simmering acoustic-folk with a jazzy R&B undercurrent. The Hawaii native's honeyed vocals are preternaturally sweet, as if Van Morrison were reborn into the body of Dave Matthews, like Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait. Unlike his more jam-driven bluesy brethren, Johnson is more drawn to the pop element and the singer-songwriter vein. It's suited to his über-charismatic, ultra-laid-back style. Call it his surfer's legacy, but don't underestimate Johnson's ability to put all the elements together in insidiously catchy, kindhearted music. With that astoundingly clear and warm voice, it's actually a bit surprising he's not already topping the charts. This year's In Between Dreams is his best yet (though the changes have been incremental, and largely confined to improved songwriting), and recalls the rustic blues-pop of onetime tourmate Mason Jennings.
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