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Monday, February 18th
The Critics Corner: Albums
Justin Nozuka
Justin Nozuka- Holly
Album debut showcases multi-faceted sound
Holly Name: "Holly"
Label: Glassnote
Release Date: April 15, 2008 (US), April 15, 2007 (Canada, Europe)
My rating: 4.4 out of 5

Review written by: Alan Ho
What happens when you combine Jason Mraz, Ray LaMontagne, Jonny Lang with dashes of Lyfe Jennings, Jack Johnson, Matt Costa Lauryn Hill, John Mayer, and the folk of Tyler Hilton? Such a complex but simple sounding combo is in the form of emerging Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Nozuka. In his debut album, 'Holly,' he looks to bring his cavalcade of sounds to the US.

The album is intricately crafted, showcasing sounds of folk, Americana, old school blues and soul, old school urban in a guitar driven acoustic base. Most acts might overblow the combination of the many genres mentioned but outside of a couple songs like the upbeat and comparatively hard 'Criminal,' Nozuka prefers to keep it simple and almost minimalistic. The overall instrumentation and Justin's acoustic skills may remind listeners at time of Mraz, Johnson, and even Tyler.

The album begins with minimalistic but dark piece, 'Down In a Cold Dirty Well.' The darkness stems from what is thoughts of a depressed individual who is literally collecting his thoughts in the song title. At the end of the song, you most certainly will feel empathy for the individual and yet wonder why he does not choose to be saved. 'Be Back Soon' is the first example of Justin using some of the influences he puts forth in the album; the song is very much good old Southern blues/soul with the rasping "Baby!" and the blues guitar runs that lend a hand in the soulful blues track. This track is a MUST LISTEN on the album.

'Mr. Therapy Man' delves back into the simple darkness and interesting spin in which Nozuka spins his storytelling. The song entails a therapy session where a man describes his plight as he describes about his girl leaving him but then the song takes a somewhat scornful tone as he rasps about how can she leave him when he did nothing wrong. 'After Tonight' is the hit track for US audiences and this is one of these songs one probably would be singing to a girl-centric crowd at a bonfire with the simple guitar chords and hynoptizing beat. At first glance though, you may think it is Jason Mraz singing as the arrangement is very similar to pre Mr. A-Z Jason. The repetitive nature of the track with "No, no, no, no!" might become a little tired but this is clearly a track destined for US radio.

"Save Him" may be the best track overall on the album next to the blues-soul of 'Be Back Soon.' The heart-wrenching song tells of a story of a person unwittingly observing a very bad relationship from right down the corner. Once again, a very interesting viewpoint Nozuka has taken for the song but he makes it believable through his vocal delivery, which is at its raspiest in this album.

Overall this is an album one should take a listen to, especially for Jason Mraz and Tyler Hilton fans. 'After Tonight' might be a good place to start but I would suggest starting with 'Save Him', 'Down In a Cold Dirty Well' or Be Back Soon.' The 19 year old though needs to clean up his vocal delivery as there are several occasions throughout the album where the listener may feel he is overreaching and starts to sound as though his voice is cracking. His mid-range is superb and the rasp gives him the ability to get into the bluesy soul elements, which are the strongest of the influences he incorporates into 'Holly.' Despite the occasional rawness and minor flubs in vocal delivery, this is a great foot forward for the singer-songwriter. Better watch your back Jason and Jack.

Alan HoAlan Ho is the chief head at Musiqtone. You can contact him at alanho@musiqtone.com or fill out this feedback form below.
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