After a nearly four year absence, multifaceted artist Mat Kearney is back with his latest record, Just Kids. Drawing from a deeply personal well, the album finds Kearney continuing his self-described “schizophrenic” ways musically as he blends elements of pop, hip hop, and rock into a rich gumbo of sound that is ultimately satisfying.
Production credits this time out stand primarily with the artist himself as he took to recording parts all across his world travels and then returning to Nashville to mix the tracks. The result is a record that oozes with Kearney’s fingerprints, his hands on everything from the carefully written and delivered lyrics to each and every beat, showcasing his personality in a myriad of ways.
That personality this time is one that resonates with plenty of pop-flavored appeal while still reaching deep lyrically. As noted, this album feels very personal to Kearney and tracks like “Just Kids” and “Heartbreak Dreamers” readily speak to that, the former sharing the artist’s love story with his wife while the latter details a rise to dreams in spite of all that lay before him. Fueled by a tight beat and clever tones, the track boasts a guest spoken word lyric, sharing, “This one right here/This is for the fat girls/This one is for the little brothers/This is for the schoolyard wimps/For the childhood bullies that tormented them/For the former prom queen and the milk crate ball players/For the night time cereal eaters/And for the retired elderly Wal-Mart store front door greeters/Shake the dust.”
“Billion” carries those personal notes along with a lighter breeze, Kearney’s flow turned again to the love of his life over against a breezy Top 40 vibe while “One Black Sheep” features a slightly more acoustic vibe with bright percussion and playful gang vocals that give life to this musical autobiography. Co-written with Trent Dabbs, “Let It Rain” embraces all of life, the good and the bad, acknowledging that sometimes you’ve just got to say “let it rain,” a richly produced arrangement accenting the heartbeat of the track.
Emotive keyboards help to explore the valleys of loss on “Ghosts” as “Los Angeles” delivers a lighter tone as Kearney continues to share personal stories, this one of heading out West to record and the surprise success that followed his dreams and hard work, his easygoing flow in full effect. Loss in back in the spotlight with the mid tempo “Miss You,” Kearney singing “Every time I break these chains/Every time I feel this pain/Nothing ever really changed/I’m gonna miss you” while further relational difficulties, anchored in commitment, resonate throughout album highlight “The Conversation.” Featuring guest vocals from Young Summer, the track is easily one of the best on the record.
One of the classic existential questions is asked in “One Heart” as Kearney honestly sings, “There’s got to be more than just this flesh and bone/Tell me I’m more than just the scars I’ve known,” a bright beat pressing the song onward as he finds his resolution in the line, “If all that we’ve loved is all that we’ve ever owned we’re more than one/More than one heart beating alone.” And with album closer “Shasta,” Kearney again returns to his roots, a simple guitar line leading along his plaintive vocals as he recalls days gone by, lamenting the mistakes and embracing the joys in a spirit of grace and mercy.
With Just Kids, Mat Kearney unpacks a personal journey of life, love, loss, and more. Mining his own life for lyrical inspiration, Kearney manages to create some compelling soundscapes to collaborate alongside his soul searching, resulting in a solid listen.