Jonathan Rice – Good Graces


Jonathan-Rice1On the cover of his new record, Good Graces, singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice, bearing a strong resemblance to a handsome movie star from a bygone era, sits alone, staring longingly into the abyss. Despite this visual imagery of solitude, the songs on the musician’s latest album reveal two things that are in stark contrast with the photograph: Johnathan Rice is 1) a man in love and 2) a man with many talented friends and collaborators.

“I’m so in love/Never want to be without you,” Rice croons in a gorgeous soprano tenor in the delightful “Empty Head.” Later on in the album, in the standout track “Soldiers,” Rice uses the phrase “songs of devotion,” which is exactly what a majority of the tracks on Good Graces ostensibly are. Other lyrics on the record revolve around the singer’s anxiousness to make love to his paramour, share laughs with his companion and remove himself from his partner’s proverbial doghouse.

The album’s prevailing theme of love can in no way be misconstrued. In fact, it’s virtually cemented by the record’s second song; “My Heart Belongs to You,” the album’s finest track, is an ode to romantic resignation. It also features the record’s most beautiful and heartfelt lyrics: “I always thought that I would wander my whole life without the chance to hold a thing of perfect beauty/But here we are, as day returns to night.”

Good Graces isn’t entirely saccharine poetry, however. Songs like “Lou Rider” and “Surfer’s Lament,” with their playful and sinister lyrics and undeniable funky grooves, demonstrate Rice’s ability to transcend the lovelorn singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar stereotype. The former track is part Lou Reed tribute and part ‘70s AM radio homage, with the singer’s deadpan verses interspersed between more upbeat and melodic choruses replete with a joyous siren-like squealing sound and infectious male-female harmonies. The latter depicts a “Surfin’ Safari,” so to speak, but with its themes of drugs and death, it’s more akin to the Beach Boys’ despairing “Surf’s Up” than the triumphant “Catch a Wave.” The track is musically defined by ominous electric organ tones and a scorching surf rock guitar solo.

The musical accompaniment on Good Graces is informed by a cast of Johnathan Rice’s most talented musician friends. The silky and sultry voice of Rice’s Jenny and Johnny bandmate and girlfriend, former Rilo Kiley songstress Jenny Lewis, is ubiquitous. Elizabeth “Z” Berg, the Watson Twins and surfer Chad Marshall also contribute vocals. Dawes bassist Wiley Gelber and ex-Rilo Kiley/current Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band drummer Jason Boesel comprise the rhythm section. Rice shared production and guitar duties with longtime collaborator “Farmer” Dave Scher, and the album was recorded over a seven-day period at engineer Pierre de Reeder’s Kingsize North Studio in North Hollywood. (Yes, Pierre de Reeder played in Rilo Kiley, too.)

Good Graces, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter’s third full-length record, is Johnathan Rice’s finest solo work to date. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the brevity of the album is not the only thing about it that’s Beatlesque, as time and time again, Rice demonstrates his aptitude for writing pop songs with the effortlessness of a young Paul McCartney. This expert songwriting makes Good Graces not merely good, but great.

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