I'm sorry to say it, but the best thing about Johnathan Rice's debut album isn't Johnathan Rice. Sure, his songwriting is thoughtful and engaging and his voice is warm and emotional. But what makes Trouble Is Real a top-notch album is the production work of Mike Mogis. Mogis, whose best-known work has been behind the boards for albums by the likes of Bright Eyes and The Faint, has developed a soundscape for Rice that's somewhere between Malcolm Burn's atmospheric elegance and T-Bone Burnett's organic ethereality. The result gives Trouble a certain wispy grittiness that makes Rice's already-excellent songs that much more impressive and adventurous. Rice is neither indie-rock crooner nor slowcore sad-sack, preferring a more mature approach. Though most of the record is quite low-key, when "My Mother's Son" explodes into string-laden beauty, you won't be surprised by the melodrama that Rice is capable of, thanks both to the high level of craftsmanship that went into the production and the intrinsic quality of his songs.
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