Autobiography in song

Mat Kearney’s upbeat personal album


Chances are you’ve heard Mat Kearney playing in a TV drama and attempted to find the song on Shazam, but some actor talked over it and you missed it. Maybe you heard it playing in some hipster cafe and tapped your foot along to it, but never found out who was singing.

Mat Kearney is pervasive but doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves. He sounds like Chris Martin of Coldplay, but his songs are more upbeat and tend to have deeper meanings. His fourth album, Just Kids, was released this week, and it shows just how much he has developed as an artist.

Kearney’s music is the upbeat cure to any bad day. His music is like a vacation—there’s a lot going on but every part of it is fun and memorable. Each song on the album has a different vibe. His single “Heartbeat” is catchy with an electronic feel. “One Black Sheep” demonstrates more of a folk vibe and “Let It Rain” feels like an old-school ballad. The album also features elements of ’80s and ’90s pop coupled with contemporary electronic sounds.

Kearney surprises me in each song. His previous albums were good, but Just Kids is where he has really found the right mix of spoken word and alternative, the guitar work blending the two together. “Billion” is another strong one, demonstrating a return to Kearney’s roots with spoken word art and hip-hop verses. I really wasn’t a fan of the hip-hop type of song on his first album, Bullet, and the ones on Nothing Left to Lose were a little too cheesy for me, but by combining spoken word with alternative choruses he makes the songs flow together much better this time.

Each song also tells a story. This is especially true of the title track, “Just Kids”, an autobiographical song about Kearney’s life whose name, he says, is a shout-out to his hometown and childhood. “One Black Sheep” is also about his life growing up in Oregon and the journey to his present situation. When asked about the song, Kearney said he wanted it to have an “autobiographical Paul-Simon-meets-hip-hop” feel. The album continues through the events of his life, exploring topics like questioning his faith, meeting his future wife, and his dreams and aspirations.

I found a few of the songs a little more preachy than I’m used to, particularly “Let It Rain”. Kearney’s album would have felt incomplete without these songs, though; a few references to his faith filled the gaps in his autobiography.

This upbeat but honest album is a definite must-have for your library on those days when you need a simple pick-me-up. Give it a listen any time you want an album that incorporates a wide range of musical genres.