Mat Kearney “Just Kids” Album Review


Prime Cuts: One Black Sheep, Let It Rain, Heartbreak Dreamer

"Just Kids" unfolds like a novella with page after page of anecdotes from Mat Kearney's own life.  With perspicuous attention paid to details, you can almost picture each scene in your mind's eye as Kearney sings about growing up, his struggles with faith, his bouts with self-identity, his run in with God, his meeting with his future wife, and his dreams and aspirations.  Just like every well-narrated story, there is a dimension to these autobiographical accounts that have bearing on those of us who care to lean in to listen.  Many of the issues that Kearney sings about on this record will not only strike a chord that resonates with us, but they also have a pedagogical function in teaching us from truths milled through the wheels of life refined by the very Word of God. 

"Just Kids" came together over the past few years while Kearney toured the world. For the very first time, he built a portable studio on his bus, and he cut songs all over the globe from Los Angeles and Sweden to his home studio in Nashville. Most of this vision is a product of his own production, but he had a little help from MDL [Maroon 5, Justin Bieber] as well as frequent collaborator, Josh Crosby. Since his Columbia Records debut, "Nothing Left to Lose," Kearney has amassed for himself a total of 5 top 20 hits on the Adult Top 40 Chart.

Featuring a Middle Eastern serpentine melody and the militant sounding percussion over half-spoken-half-sung vocals of Kearney, album opener "Heartbreak Dreamer" has all the hallmarks of a hit single. It is essentially a shout-out to the overlooked heroes the world frowns upon.  Continuing on the inspirational route is "Moving On," an insatiably catchy tune adorned with a stoic 80s-Police coolness.  Kearney's keening attention paid to details is in exhibition on the title cut "Just Kids."  The first line that will harken so many memories for those of us who grew up in the 90s:  "'Cause it was Bell Biv DeVoe, playing on my radio/And I had Wu-Tang Clan living in my stereo."

Boasting a hint of Mumford & Sons folkish vibe is "One Black Sheep."  It's a coming of age song where Kearney recalls his nascent feelings of sin and his need for a Savior in the midst of a well-narrated storyline.  Lyrically the most heartwarming song is the retro-sounding power ballad "Let It Rain."  It is quipped with lots of great lines; this is a song that will help those who of us who feel like we are submerged in the floods of life.  On the other hand, lead single "Heartbeat," though not the best song on the record, has a more contemporary sound to it leaning towards electronica. 

Experimenting with a cacophony of sounds from 80s-pop to rustic folk to contemporary EDM to 90s-soul-rap, there isn't a dull moment on this record.  And to add further zest to already a spicy record are the vivid images and picturesque descriptions.  All of these thus make "Just Kids" a gorgeous three-dimensional sonic autobiography.



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