2008 was a banner year for the Hotel Café, whose popularity soared as songwriters like Priscilla Ahn, Meiko, and Ingrid Michaelson -- three artists who routinely graced the Hollywood venue's stage -- all released fine albums. The Café's female alumni hit the road in late 2008 as part of the Hotel Café Tour, allowing Joshua Radin the chance to release his own record during the lull. Simple Times is the songwriter's second album, building on the hushed guitar 'n' vocals combo that helped push his debut effort, 2006's We Were Here, onto the soundtracks of several television shows. His craft has improved since then -- after all, We Were Here featured his earliest attempts at songwriting, appearing only two years after his decision to give music a shot -- but Radin still struggles with the balance between mood and melody. Simple Times is a warm, easygoing album geared for Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings; even so, its most interesting moments only occur when Radin invites somebody else into the vocal booth. Meiko lends her voice to "Sky," the album's most memorable pop song, while the up-and-coming songbird Erin McCarley harmonizes throughout "They Bring Me to You." Radin could use the musical input of those two artists, yet he relegates their role to that of a background vocalist, forcing them to sing major thirds over melodies that, frankly, pale in comparison to the girls' own material. The presence of Patty Griffin during "You Got Growing Up to Do" shows that Radin's potential may be evident to more veteran songwriters, too, but it's nevertheless muddled on this record, which offers a pleasant listen but fails to pack the melodic wallop of Radin's Hotel Café peers.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey