On his last two studio albums, Jack Johnson pushed into darker territory and delved deeper into electric guitar work than ever before in his music career. Now, with his sixth studio album From Here To Now To You, the Hawaii-based singer-songwriter reclaims his role as a maestro of surf folk-rock while expanding and strengthening his songwriting craft. Written entirely on acoustic guitar and brought to life with lush yet rustic instrumentation, From Here To Now To You finds Johnson refining his gift for storytelling that’s both refreshingly down-to-earth and enlightening.
Recorded in Hawaii at Johnson’s own Mango Tree Studio, From Here To Now To You marks a reunion with Mario Caldato, Jr. (the producer of Johnson’s biggest-selling release, 2005’s In Between Dreams, as well as albums by the Beastie Boys, Super Furry Animals, and Seu Jorge) and Ben Harper (the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who played slide guitar on Johnson’s first-ever single “Flake”). Also featuring Johnson’s longtime band members Adam Topol, Merlo Podlewski, and Zach Gill, From Here To Now To You channels the warm intimacy of those collaborations into songs whose seeming simplicity continually unfolds into rich layers of emotion.
Primarily inspired by Johnson’s family, From Here To Now To You opens with “I Got You” (a heart-on-sleeve, whistling-accented ode to his wife Kim) and closes with “Home” (a tribute to the Johnson abode that sets its images of overgrown grass and waxing moons to gorgeously cascading guitars). An earnest yet playful serenade to his daughter, “You Remind Me Of You” pairs mellowed-out scat-singing with sweetly self-effacing lyrics (“Daddy made you messy/And your mama made you neat”). And on “Never Fade,” Johnson recounts the first time meeting his wife with a romantic reflectiveness that’s tender and thoughtful (“You see I knew right then/That this could last so long/I went home that night/I wrote my first love song”).
Elsewhere on From Here To Now To You, Johnson spins stories that embody everything from youthful ambition to weary concern for the future of the planet. On “Washing Dishes,” for instance, he assumes the part of a sure-footed dreamer (“I’ve been washing dishes/Singing from the bottom/But one day I’ll be running this place/And one day I could take you away”), while the wistful and whimsical “Tape Deck” lets the listener in on Johnson’s misadventures in starting up his first rock band (“And all of the girls will be in the front row/But in the end we just chickened out/Because we can’t sing, we can only shout”). Changing gears on the dusky, British-folk-influenced “Ones and Zeros,” Johnson delivers a quietly cautionary message about the environment and our ever-growing techno-obsessions (“Into a world where boys and girls/Are holding hand-held devices/While they’re eating and they’re sleeping/And they’re dreaming of the prices”). Rounding out From Here To Now To You are reveries like “Don’t Believe a Thing I Say” (a lilting love song to the cosmos) and “Shot Reverse Shot” (a handclap-backed piece of pop built on surrealistic lyrics about trick photography and rock-paper-scissors games).
Although Johnson’s golden vocals and graceful acoustic-guitar work form the heart of From Here To Now To You, the album achieves intricate textures by weaving in eclectic instruments like ukulele, melodica, bass kalimba, glockenspiel, and Wurlitzer piano. And on “Change,” Ben Harper wields his Weissenborn slide guitar to intensify the melancholy in Johnson’s smooth and ambling tale of the woes and wonders of aging. From song to song, From Here To Now To You radiates an easy, joyful energy that Johnson attributes in major part to his musical kinship and chemistry with Caldato (a Brazil-born part-time Rio resident who shares Johnson’s lifelong passion for island reggae).
Largely informed by his identity as an island boy, From Here To Now To You also finds Johnson fully embracing his urge to channel his love of his homeland into his songwriting. Written mainly on his front porch—and recorded at his oceanside studio with nightly sunset breaks for swimming and surfing— From Here To Now To You portrays Hawaii’s North Shore as a rootsy paradise that’s supremely peaceful. And with the unaffected ease of his melodies, Johnson—who’s headed up a Hawaii-focused nonprofit environmental education organization with his wife for the past decade—re-creates that sense of blissed-out serenity all throughout From Here To Now To You.
“To The Sea was an in-between state, but this new album feels like a return home,” notes Johnson. While 2010’s To The Sea and 2008’s Sleep Through The Static both saw Johnson meditating on the loss of loved ones (his father and cousin, respectively), From Here To Now To You bears a much brighter mood without sacrificing emotional complexity or—of particular import to Johnson—relatability for the listener. “Even though these songs are very personal to me, personal enough that they’re real and have a truth to them, they’re also broad enough that people can apply them to their own lives,” he points out. And because he infuses those songs with such grace and gratitude, Johnson ultimately performs the singular feat of not only aligning himself with his listeners—but also elevating and inspiring them simply through his generosity as a storyteller.
Having sold more than 19 million albums since his 2001 debut Brushfire Fairytales, Johnson has more than proven his natural penchant for creating a connection with his audience over the years. But with From Here To Now To You, Johnson reaches a level of universality that turns each track into something of a boundless gift. “The trick for me is always in finding this balance,” says Johnson, who’s now gearing up to tour North America and Europe this fall. “I’ll write a song then figure out if I’m comfortable sharing it with the world. And the reason I usually am is that I’m assuming people are throwing themselves into the story—making themselves the x and the y of the equation. In the end, they’re putting their own story in there.”