With starry-eyed lyrics and jangly acoustic melodies, Jaywalker would make an ideal soundtrack for a coming of age flick set in the Dust Bowl. Brooklyn resident Josh Joplin — who previously crafted glossy ditties on the same label as the Backstreet Boys — unpacks a collection of nostalgic narratives and guitar-driven pop on his solo debut. Although he tries to position himself as the quirky folk singer next door, Joplin’s relentless romanticism makes him more akin to adult contemporary staples Matthew Sweet and Shawn Mullins.
Bright-eyed optimism pokes through the songwriter’s weary vocals, which bear a striking resemblance to those of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. “Sing to me a sweeter song / Let me know that I belong / All I need is a pretty melody,” he declares earnestly on “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Jaywalker‘s rosy tales of being poor and falling in love blandly capture the innocence of youth. Yet heavy-handed preaching on the importance of individuality (on the title track) and the pitfalls of materialism (“Mortimer’s Ghost”) often cross the line from sincerity to straight-up hokey. The album may not satisfy his fellow Woody Guthrie fans, but it might still appeal to people who like Mandy Moore movies.