Nothing Left to Lose
On his 2006 major-label debut, Nothing Left to Lose, singer/songwriter Mat Kearney comes across as a mix of John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and U2. Kearney has the loose-limbed, acoustic feel of Mayer's earliest work, but he has a hazy hip-hop underpinning to a lot of his songs that recalls Mraz — plus, like Mr. A-Z himself, he will easily slip between crooned choruses and rapped verses. Then, he shares the sincerity, not to mention the vague Christian undercurrents, of early U2, and he certainly builds on their echoey guitars and arty soundscapes throughout Nothing Left to Lose, which means that he can also occasionally sound like Coldplay here, particularly on the relaxed epic "Crashing Down" and the piano-driven anthemic power ballad "In the Middle." It's a modern sound, pitched halfway between adult alternative pop and collegiate jam bands, and since Kearney is an ingratiatingly sincere guy, it's often appealing on a pure sonic level, even if the stylistic mash-ups occasionally sound awkward. In specific, the raps often sound shoehorned into the arrangements, sticking out like sore thumbs even when the hip-hop beats themselves go down easy — but to his credit, Kearney never sounds as smarmy or self-satisfied as Mraz. There is never a moment on this album where he doesn't sound earnest and serious, a trait that would be an Achilles' heel for most singer/songwriters, but there's an inherent modesty to Kearney that keeps him from sounding lugubrious and self-absorbed. Usually, he simply sounds likeable, thanks to his guy-next-door voice and clean, evocative production. So, he has the sound down on Nothing Left to Lose, but the songs are a little uneven, partially due to the preponderance of awkward rap-rock cuts that sound clunky next to his ballads and folky pop, partially due to the fact that his on-record persona is so modest that his songs sound modest too. That said, his modesty is appealing, and so is Nothing Left to Lose, which expands on the strengths his 2004 Inpop debut — quite literally, since six of the 13 songs here are remixed versions of tracks from that effort — to position Mat Kearney as a promising AAA singer/songwriter, particularly for those who find recent John Mayer too muscular and recent Coldplay too cold and arty.