The Vancouver singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr is far from an household name but on the evidence of this debut album "Goon" he may be troubling a stereo near you very soon. Jesso comes from that tradition of piano balladeers like Elton John, Randy Newman and Tom Waits. His music however owes as much to Lennon and McCartney in the terms of the vibe it creates and the mix of melodic sunshine and heartaches which predominate throughout. The evidence for this is all over the album. Opener "Can't stop thinking about you" has a "Abbey Road" aura to it and is simply beautiful. The next song "How could you babe" draws on Randy Newman for inspiration and is a mix of "heart on your sleeve" emotions and hurt lyricism especially where Jesso questions "And I find out you’d gone and met a new man / And told him he’s the love of your life / How could you, baby?”.
"Goon" however is no well executed 70s throwback. Having a song on your album called "Without You" invokes the name of Harry Nilsson even though its not a cover. It is nevertheless a beautiful love song which could be a mini classic in the the making and shows that Jesso's songwriting skills can conjure up Lennon-esque comparisons. Other songs like "Just a dream" lightly reference Jesso's "annus horribilis" in 2012 when his he faced a triptych of horrors in relationship break-up, a bike accident and death of a parent. Still he has emerged strong from these life blows and his talent shines through on wonders like "Tell the truth" and "Leaving LA" where he bears his heart and soul. The acoustic guitar dominated "Wait" also points towards a future direction for Jesso on follow up albums. Best of all is the plaintive "Hollywood" which is where the name Jesso can comfortably be added to the list of greats mentioned in this review.
Some tracks are less successful with the overly jolly "Crocodile Tears" standing out like a sore thumb and the slow bluesy "Bad Words" taking the Lennon link a bit far. Others like "For you" are really decent songs but drift uncomfortably towards sentimentality in the lyrics. Tobais Jesso Jr will undoubtedly have plenty of time to write these issues over future releases. For now "Goon" loudly signals the arrival of an artist who was previously a out of luck journeyman musician in Los Angeles, to someone with the potential to become a quiet sensation. Check him out now and then wear an "I told you so" T Shirt if he succeeds.
Review by Red on Black