Stepping out from behind the rock angst of Jebediah, frontman Kevin Mitchell re-assumes his singer/songwriter alter ego of Bob Evans for a second full-length album release. Full of charm, energy, and singalong choruses, Suburban Songbook offers some of the most enjoyable music Mitchell has created. Recorded in Nashville with producer and multi-instrumentalist Brad Jones (Sheryl Crow), the album has been soaked in a little country & western essence, but that doesn't overpower the pop flavor of Mitchell's songs. The wonderfully upbeat "Friend" benefits from the notion to pair up a catchy tune with flourishes of pedal steel guitar. Like most of the album, this little gem is centered around the theme of love ("I believe in love/But do you?") that lends an almost Beatlesque quality to the songwriting. The full band arrangement on this song is recurrent on other great tracks like "Comin' Around" and "Don't Walk Alone," which features a punchy brass section. There are moments when Mitchell's choice of sparse instrumentation brings out a more emotional tone, particularly on opening track "Don't You Think It's Time?," "The Great Unknown," and "Flame" recalling the works of Neil Young, solo John Lennon, and Simon & Garfunkel. The highlight of the album is the pop ballad "Nowhere Without You" opening with a rhythmic piano line before ushering in Mitchell and the rest of the band. A sweet note of appreciation to a lover ("Where would I go?/What would I do?/I would be nowhere without you") the influences surrounding this minor classic echo everything from Burt Bacharach to Ben Folds. The creative freedom Mitchell has allowed himself by stepping out from Jebediah has allowed a maturity to creep into the themes of his music. There are no major revelations, but the fact that Suburban Songbook won the ARIA for Best Adult Contemporary Album is another sign of the growth Mitchell's writing is experiencing. It would be hard to imagine the Aussie rock quartet present the melancholy proposition "If I didn't stink of sadness and whiskey/Could you marry me?" to an audience of teenage crowd-surfers. The consequence of these pop melodies mixing with country guitars, soulful harmonies, and folk attitudes make the album hard to categorize, but that's a large part of its appeal. Even the cover depicting a couple walking hand-in-hand down a sun drenched street shows a desire to lead many a listener down the Bob Evans lane. Only the meandering "Battle of 2004" seems to miss the mark, but musically, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Hopefully Mitchell will continue to be Bob for many years.
AllMusic Review by Clayton Bolger