I don’t believe in the concept of `old souls,’ the idea that somehow, because of the knowledge, compassion and abilities found in a person far exceed those of their peers, they are merely an anomaly. Johnathan Rice is an artist who I’m sure some would stick with that label. The truth is, Rice simply knows the history of music and can sing like nobody’s business. Sure, he’s only twenty-one years old, and yes, that makes him somewhat incredible, but give credit to the man, not to some throwaway metaphysical concept.
Trouble is Real is Rice’s debut album, and already it’s one for the ages. Rice had one previous promo CD, but every song is reprised here on his full-length. Strangely enough, the six songs that have two homes are the best on the CD, especially the stunning “My Mother’s Son.” Expect to hear this song quite a bit over the upcoming years, and to have myriads of people confuse it for Nick Drake. Other times throughout the album, Rice can conjure thoughts of Ed Harcourt, Ryan Adams, Gram Parsons, Patrick Park, Jeff Buckley, Gomez and Doves. All of the success of this CD can and should be attributed to the pure and raw talent that Rice has within him. His press sheet begins as a history of the music that the youngster listened to growing up and how it shaped him (and thank his family that they played such great music!), so if Rice is trying to emulate his favorite artists, at least they’re good ones.
Johnathan Rice is originally from Glasgow. You wouldn’t know it by the sound of his music or voice, and that might be due to the fact that he moved to America at a young age. It must be a blessing to find your direction, in both career and style, before being able to drink legally. In fact, it will be quite interesting to see how many people will become confused between the weathered voice and the baby-faced man. They’re hard to put together visually. The man who helped Rice fully realize his musical ambition is none other than Omaha super genius Mike Mogis, the man who helped put Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, The Faint and Eisley on the map. Mogis fleshed out Rice’s sound, putting him on a level above singer/songwriter and into the realm of the ethereal. Jenny Lewis also pops up on the album, co-writing and singing “Behind the Frontlines.”
Trouble is Real is nowhere near a typical debut album. It is so accomplished that one would think it were a third or fourth release. I worry that Rice has nowhere to go but down, but I have faith that we will continue to be blessed with more great music in the years to come. Rice will also try his hand at acting as he will be seen in the upcoming Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line, playing a young Roy Orbison. Johnathan Rice is one of those rare artists, treading the line (no pun to his film debut intended) between genres and keeping the work as a whole faithful to his own idea of what great music should be. Consider me, already, a big fan of Jonathan Rice, but maybe that’s because I have an `old soul.’