John Farnham

Jack

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Rejuvenated by his show-stopping duet with Coldplay at 2009's Sound Relief, Australia's most successful solo artist in its musical history, John Farnham, returns for his first new studio album in five years. His 20th studio release, simply titled Jack, sees the former teen pop idol and Little River Band frontman embrace a previously hidden swing-blues side for the first time in his 40-year career. Like its 2005 predecessor, I Remember When I Was Young: Songs from the Great Australian Songbook, its 11 tracks feature Farnham's own spin on some of his favorite standards, in this case the R&B classics of the '60s, including a faithful rendition of Percy Sledge's "24-7-365," a big-band interpretation of Ray Charles' "You Don't Know Me," and a rather uninspired brass-fused medley of the latter's "Hit the Road Jack" and Peggy Lee's "Fever," all of which show he's lost none of his trademark lung power, but it's a power that, along with the bombastic production, regularly overwhelms the melodies and subtleties of the original material. Things don't improve much on the seven new compositions, as he belts out the corny cocktail bar-style blues ballad "Nobody Gets Me Like You" with the gusto of a gale-force wind, while the uptempo swing number "Love Comes Knockin'" and blue-eyed soul finale "Sunshine" sound like lazy Michael Bublé and Simply Red pastiches, respectively. It's a disappointing turn of events, as the opening two tracks, the emotive Southern soul torch song "Love Chooses You" and the infectious Motown stomper "You Took My Love," written rather randomly by U.K. pop princess Pixie Lott, show a lot of promise. But overall, Farnham's self-proclaimed "The Voice" just isn't the right one to sing these types of songs, while its hodgepodge of busily arranged covers and limp original efforts ensures that Jack is a lackluster comeback that fails to build on his recent credible endorsements.

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