Whenever I think of musicians who are great storytellers, Brooklyn indie-folk singer-songwriter Common Jack (a.k.a. John Gardner) stands out as one the most talented and one who seems to do it with such ease and grace. Common Jack's new EP, Lake Song (frtyfve records), is a refreshing and grounding musical expedition that's built around the carefree, calming vibes of the lake on which John grew up. Co-produced with Harper James (Eighty Ninety), the breezy, acoustic guitar and piano soundscape that weaves together the five gorgeous tracks of Lake Song gently gives way to bursts of lush, layered backing vocals glittered throughout the EP. John's expressive vocals narrate the personal, from-the-heart stories that comprise Lake Song.
"Water has always held a spiritual power for me," John says. "Lakes especially have been wellsprings of strength and peace for me whenever I go back home or when times get tough." John says Lake Song was born out of one of those tough times. Battling frequent anxiety attacks and a personal life that was in shambles, he says, "All of the songs I began writing were conversations with myself – explorations on loss, letting go, and finding my way back to a sense of wonder I thought was gone forever." John adds, "Lake Song is ultimately about letting an outside world that often seems built to obliterate us just drift on by; it's about taking a breath, laying back, and listening to the waves softly lapping the shore."
John formed Common Jack several years ago during a world tour with the actor-musician Broadway show, Once. For more than two years, he traveled the world and performed in a show that allowed him to play seven instruments on stage next to some of his best friends. Conversations that John had with musician Glen Hansard (co-creator of Once) inspired him to take the leap and start releasing the music he had been writing for years in his free time. Common Jack's recent independent single and EP releases have racked up millions of streams online.
"The Lake" introduces the Lake Song journey, conjuring up elements of Sufjan Stevens with its gentle fingerstyle acoustic arrangement and dreamy, hushed vocals. Imagine yourself floating like a cork on the water with no resistance as you absorb the peaceful vibe. ("Weightless in the afternoon | Floating through the thought of you | Waves carry me like a bed.")
"Zion National Park," the EP’s lead single, was written by John after doing an overnight drive through the Grand Canyon and up into Zion with a bunch of friends. With its lilting wash of vocals, acoustic guitars, and roomy drums, John tugs on a deceptively layered thread as the rising sun burns the shadows off the desert floor. ("I’m not built for happiness | Or so I thought | Maybe I deserve this | Maybe I was wrong.")
"Fresh" reflects on being realistic and honest with the strengths and flaws of two people who are meant for each other - when words aren't really necessary to feel what's already known to each other. ("I'm not fresh, I'm not clean | I come totally undone once a week | You over test, You can be mean | You are honest even when you shouldn't be")
"Still Awake" ranks as one of my all-time favorite songs. I fell in love with it when it was released as a single last year. With its graceful tempo, charming melody and clever lyrics, the song stemmed from a collection of late-night thoughts documenting trouble sleeping. "I was bored out of my mind one night, unable to sleep and mindlessly fiddling around on my guitar," John says about the song's origins. "The first lyric came about because I just started narrating my boredom to myself. That line, 'I can’t sleep again so I am ordering some food | scrolling through the movies, coming up empty on Hulu' was so fun to me. It's so plain yet something about it struck me as really evocative and relatable." The steady-paced, fingerstyle acoustic guitar nicely drives the track, with lush layers of breezy backing vocals in the production.
Closing track "I Don't Mind" reflects on escaping the mindset of seeking external validation, and instead doing what is most meaningful and fulfilling for yourself. ("I am done spending all my money trying to find serenity | I sold my guitar to buy myself some time but I don’t mind | No one knows my name and I’ve barely got a dime but I don’t mind.")
I'll close this post by sharing a fun, musical bit I discovered while recently visiting Common Jack's website. For any guitar enthusiasts, there's a separate page on the website dedicated to "Chords and Lyrics" to some of John's personal favorite Common Jack songs. So tune your guitar, find your capo and head over to the CJ website!