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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 6, 2006

Mellow yellow

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

North Shore singer-songwriter Jack Johnson accepted the plum assignment of writing the lion’s share of music for Universal Pictures’ animated feature “Curious George” which opens this Friday.

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Where’s Jack Johnson? He’s all over the place right now:

• At the 48th annual Grammy Awards, 7 p.m. (tape delayed) Wednesday, CBS. Johnson is nominated for two awards: best male pop vocal performance for “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” and best pop vocal collaboration (with The Black Eyed Peas) for “Gone Going.”

• On the “Curious George” soundtrack. Jack Johnson put together songs for the movie, and he’s front and center on the CD, out tomorrow. “(The music) is all sort of first-person. It’s all kind of coming from Curious George’s head,” Johnson said. “You could basically say that I’m the monkey.” The film will be in theaters nationwide Friday.

• On the music video for “Upside Down” from the “Curious George” soundtrack. It’s at www.jackjohnsonmusic.com.

• On the new benefit CD “Rock For Relief” (Zoe Records). Johnson contributed a live version of “Times Like These” to the disc. Other musicians include Howie Day, Guster and Citizen Cope.

Proceeds benefit the relief organization Mercy Corps.

• Headlining Kökua Festival. Tickets are on sale now for shows April 19 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and April 22 at the Waikïkï Shell. Johnson’s stellar group of like-minded performers include part-time Maui resident Willie Nelson with his Planetary Bandits, Ben Harper, Henry Kapono, Paula Fuga & The One Love çOhana Band and ALO. Info: (877) 750-4400.

• Touring Europe this month, Feb. 22 through March 24. Johnson’s itinerary includes Ireland, Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Austria.

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Curious George as he appears in the film, in theaters Friday.

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Jack Johnson is joined on the "Curious George" soundtrack by Ben Harper, Kawika Kahiapo and Matt Costa. The CD is out tomorrow.

Thomas Campbell

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There isn't a song on Jack Johnson's "Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the film 'Curious George' " with a simian-related lyric as obvious as Gwen Stefani's: 'This (expletive) is bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!"

Not that you'd expect that from our guy.

Johnson's soundtrack of music written for and inspired by "Curious George" puts more of his signature acoustic folkiness and earnest lyricism on display. At time, the CD sounds like a collection of "In Between Dreams" extras.

Gentle guitar and harmony-driven love songs like "Wrong Turn," "Questions" and "Broken" will please fans of that album's quiet, bonfire-on-the-beach ballads. "Supposed to Be" has a pleasant gospel-lite piano melody that keeps its soul-searching lyrics from getting too existential.

Otherwise, two-year dad Johnson leaves no doubt that in addition to thoughtfully supplying the musical inner voice of the otherwise silent H.A. Rey monkey, he was out to create an album parents and their young 'uns could all groove to.

The first single, "Upside Down," is an instantly appealing sing-along. Bouncy with percussion, an infectious melody line and sweet and simple lyrics likely more inspired by home life than "George," the song is destined to become a Johnson concert staple.

Hanging on a similar theme of appreciating life's simpler — some might say, taken-for-granted — pleasures, "Talk of the Town" praises a place where trees dance, warm winds blow and "the talk of the town is about last night when the sun went down." Guest Kawika Kahiapo's sweet acoustic guitar near song's end makes it pretty clear where that might be.

Johnson breaks it down for the rug rats, "Schoolhouse Rock"-style, on a medley of "The Sharing Song" and "The 3 R's." Sharing vocal chores with pianist Zach Gill, drummer Adam Topol and a chorus of North Shore schoolkids, Johnson surveys the joys of sharing, and the joys of reducing, reusing and recycling. Cute. But beware the sugar rush.

It isn't difficult to envision a curious monkey running amuck in the big city on "Jungle Gym," a spunky duet with G. Love on vocals and funky harmonica.

With Johnson on backing vocals, touring partner Matt Costa brings a soothing intimacy to his own "Lullaby." Ben Harper's soulful, bittersweet voice infuses his optimistic 2003 anthem "With My Own Two Hands" with gritty loveliness.

A Johnson cover of The White Stripes' exquisite schoolyard sing-along "We're Going to be Friends" won't make anyone mistake one Jack for the other, but charms nonetheless.

Nothing on "Curious George," the soundtrack, will likely shock the monkey out of anyone not already enthralled with Jack. But for longtime fans and anyone else —kids included — who might stumble upon Johnson's music for the first time?

Get ready to monkey around!

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.