May 5, 2005

Johnathan Rice: Trouble is Real

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I’m sure that this is part of some big PR ploy; a bunch of big wig record execs plotting an effective way to market up-and-coming artists like Johnathan Rice. We’ll present Rice as some relatable disaffected voice to young people. He’ll be accepted as a tortured, angst-ridden modern troubadour, big with the teenage girl demographic. They like the dark poetic soul appeal as of late, (insert here any of the disheveled, guitar-strumming, obscure band t-shirt wearing singer/songwriters to emerge as of late. Well, the songwriting part need not be required.) I have to say, the corporate powers that be were indeed right and their marketing scheme worked yet again, at least for me.

Rice’s back story makes the kind of endearing impression that I find to be admittedly inspiring. Rice decided that he wanted to become a singer shortly before he was supposed to go off to college and his parents gave him a year to follow his dream. The next year unfolded in a colorful story about life in New York City involving a gay porn star roommate and a string of random jobs to make ends meet. After a brief stint in the city, a once resolute but now discouraged Rice returned to Virginia ready to write off his short-lived career as a false start. Well, shortly upon his arrival back home, wham bam what do ya know? Record labels came knocking on Rice’s door faster than a New York minute.

I’d heard Rice on internet radio before and I fell in love with the track “So Sweet.” Rice possesses a gift for creating subdued effective songs, holding back when needed and otherwise ushering in a flood of emotion to create a calming, subdued effect in both instances. He seems to have a thing for beautiful sweeping strings and has them elegantly arranged on almost every song. They appear to be a key component of the record and there’s even a song dedicated to their role called “A Short Song for Strings,” which serves as a segue into Rice’s equally ingeniously composed “Mid November.”

Trouble is Here ranges from the socially aware and political “Put Me in Your Holy War,” where Rice intones, “All God’s children got automatic weapons … cause Jesus loves you/ they’re coming after you,” to the lively and animated “Kiss Me Goodbye,” to the heartfelt “The Acrobat,” in which Rice vows, “I will leave this world and become a dream.”

Rice’s voice is awfully similar to John Mayer’s or a restrained Jakob Dylan’s, but more so the former. The two are more notably alike with their raspy hushed voices and prolonged drawled phrasing. Let’s hope Rice won’t ever record something in the vain of the atrocity that is “Your Body is a Wonderland.”

Trouble is Here is Rice’s first full-length release, and I have to say that at 16 songs it proves to be a bit long of a collection for a newcomer. It’s evident that Rice got a lot of help from his friends as it is hard to find Johnathan’s true voice. The album is stylistically scattered and it would be interesting to see more of Johnathan’s direction on future recordings. In the future, albums should be more cohesive, but Trouble is Here is an excellent first record that can stand on its own. And besides, Rice gets big ups from me for spelling his name as Johnathan.

Archived article by Sophia Asare
Sun Staff Writer