Some people rush into things to quickly and make a hash of it. You know the type; steaming head-first into the latest fad or trying out a crazy new sport. In the end – which usually isn’t long – they either get bored and quit, or realise it’s harder than they thought it was so give up. The same can be said of a lot of bands out there, hitching themselves onto the latest style of music, and after their first album is over, they’re nowhere to be seen. This cannot be said about Noah Francis Johnson; he’s older than the average debut album artist at 49, and this brings with him a lifetime of experiences and passion which he works into his new record, Life and Times.
When you first hear Noah’s voice it’s obvious he’s a fighter; strong and soulful, with hints of a keen wisdom. He fought to get to where he is, not only musically but in a literal sense – he actually used to be a boxer. And his vocal qualities are best heard in opening track Say You Love Me. Featuring a piano riff reminiscent of Daft Punk’s Within, Noah releases then tames his voice at will throughout. You have to be born with a voice like his, you might be able to teach people how to use their vocals, but Noah lives his. The song is given an edge by its strange harmonica sections near the end, finishing off a great and intriguing track.
Ball Room Blues shows off Noah’s softer side in a sentimental ode to his father. Singing about “looking at you, feeling so proud” over gentle guitar and violin, it’s heartfelt, tender and appealing. It’s one of the album highlights and again gives you a window into the singer’s lifetime of experiences.
Switching between genres is a skill that many artists find difficult to do, but Noah does this with ease, and should draw praise for it. On track Valentines of Fire he even goes for a stage musical vibe, but the lyrics on the song fall a little short, almost sounding like rhyming for the sake of rhyming. This is where Noah occasional falls down on his debut, forcing lyrics instead of allowing them to be free. In my room is another track guilty of this, starting off with Noah singing about stuff in his room; he may have been trying to come off as aloof, but it can be seen as a little lazy. It’s a shame because there are decent lyrics littered throughout the album, and with his life of through many walks of life, he could easily draw and use them a bit more.
But there is still lots of invention on the record, and this is shown off best in a cover of You’re the One That I Want of hit movie Grease fame. Noah strips it down in an acoustic led track and really pulls it off. You may think it wouldn’t work but it really does, and it’s a testament to Noah’s ability to chop and change music. It shows that under the poppy, cheesy veneer surrounding the original version, it still manages to sound great in this chilled out remake – the sign of a great song.
The album is a good effort and shows peaks of greatness throughout. If Noah can tighten up lyrically and keep doing what he’s doing, he’ll have a bright future ahead.