Recording information: Bananabeat Studio; Fonogenic Studio.
Photographers: Carlos Santolalla; Nick Onken .
The third studio effort from Cody Simpson, 2015's Free, finds the laid-back singer/songwriter maturing further into a sophisticated and lyrical acoustic pop performer. Free is Simpson's first full-length album since parting ways with Atlantic and setting up his own Coast House label. In that sense, it's something of a new start for the Aussie whose soulful, often reggae-influenced music has long set him apart from his slicker, R&B-influenced contemporaries. Here, he sounds less like Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake and more like a devotee of the organic folk, blues, and lighthearted soul of predecessors like John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and Jack Johnson. While Simpson has voiced his love for these artists in the past, here he sinks his toes deep into the beachy vibe they helped popularize. Aiding Simpson's transition is producer Cisco Adler, whose Bananabeat label also handled the album's release. Known for his mellow, hip-hop and acoustic pop productions with Shwayze, Mike Posner, and others, Adler is a good fit for Simpson, and thankfully does little to dress up his protégé's sound. In fact, most of the cuts on Free, including the lilting, groove-oriented "Flower," the hippie-girl love song "Driftwood," and the heartfelt "I'm Your Friend," are some of the most rootsy, live-sounding recordings Simpson has made to date. Adding to that vibe are Simpson's collaborations with the equally chilled-out, surf-centric singer/songwriter Donavon Frankenreiter ("It Don't Matter") and garage-blues-meets-alternative-hip-hop mastermind G. Love ("Love Yourself"). On Free, whether he's singing about taking control of his career or about the way his girl lives "just like the ocean" (as he does on the title track), Simpson ultimately sounds pretty happy about where he's at. ~ Matt Collar