Josh Kelley

Almost Honest

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Josh Kelley follows his polite 2003 debut, For the Ride Home, with a great leap forward called Almost Honest. For his second record, Kelley has expanded his songwriting palette past the jangly John Mayer comparisons to incorporate a slick, funky pop sound comparable to Maroon 5 or Rob Thomas' solo work. (In fact, Honest was produced by Matt Wallace, who also helmed Maroon's breakthrough, Songs About Jane.) The strong late-album cut "Hard Times Happen" could be a Jane outtake, while opener "Walk Fast" is irresistibly slinky, and possessed of a rhythm somewhere around Steely Dan. Kelley co-wrote the lead single "Only You" with the Matrix, and it bears some of the pop hitmakers' signature touches -- a processed guitar cuts through the verses over warm electronic programming, and its chorus grabs you with weird lyrics about acting "all sweetness" that nevertheless sound perfect to your tapping foot. This veer left from adult alternative, singer/songwriter shagginess does wonders for Kelley. As affable as his debut was, it was also cut from the Mayer cloth, a place where everything's a wonderland but nothing's memorable. In Almost Honest, Kelley has a confident modern pop album that's melodic and ultra-accessible, but also packed with vibrant, interesting songwriting. He works with Joe Firstman on the gorgeous title track, a song just waiting for a late-night drive, lite rock radio, and a Lionel Richie segue. And "Lover Come Up," a collaboration with Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin, lopes along like mildly salacious blue-eyed R&B ("And when I get the urge/I'll give the love that you deserve..."). Kelley's on his game vocally throughout Almost Honest. He's not the best singer in the world, but he doesn't pretend to be, instead working within the songs, inhabiting their dynamic arrangements. He's dusty-throat confident on the country-rocker "20 Miles to Georgia" and softly expressive on the midnight mood of "Shameless Heart." It's forgivable if the latter sounds a little too much like Chris Isaak covering Mazzy Star, because it's part of a record that wears its slick, modern sound with pride.

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