- - Monday, April 16, 2012

California 37

Train

Columbia

★★½

After dropping out of the public eye for the better part of a decade, Train came chugging back into the mainstream with “Hey Soul Sister,” a monster hit that pumped new life into the band’s career.

“California 37” is Train’s first collection of new material since that unlikely comeback. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the overarching motto here, and “California 37” sticks close to the mix of irreverent pop and breezy, summery rock that made “Hey Soul Sister” a smash.

Vocalist Pat Monahan may be pushing 45, but he works hard to appeal to an audience closer to his kids’ age than his own. Like a cool dad who knows how to talk like a teenager, he fills every song with non sequiturs and tongue-in-cheek references to pop culture, name-checking Justin Bieber one minute and Steve Jobs the next. This is the same guy who sang about deep-fried chicken and soy lattes in “Drops of Jupiter,” after all, and he makes a point of only taking himself half-seriously.

“Drive By,” already a Top 40 hit, is the best song here, driven forward by acoustic guitars and a meteoric chorus that leaps into the stratosphere. The other highlights follow a predictable pattern. “Bruises” finds Mr. Monahan trading melodies with country singer Ashley Monroe, and “When the Fog Rolls In” piles piano chords and midtempo drums into a cathartic, soulful ballad.

On very rare occasions, the band throws caution to the wind and tries out something new. “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” makes room for brassy mariachi horns and Spanish-influenced guitar lines, resulting in a sound that owes more to spaghetti Western film soundtracks than mainstream pop. Unfortunately, there’s not much room for that sort of experimentation here, and “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” winds up being the only indicator of Train’s strengths outside of the pop/rock box.

State Route 37, after which the album takes its name, is a curvy highway that stretches itself across the northern end of San Francisco. “California 37” follows a much straighter path, though, trading the thrill of a few unexpected twists and turns for the stability of a flat, familiar drive.

Love Is a Four Letter Word

Jason Mraz

Atlantic

★★½

Like a beach bum who spends every day by the water, Jason Mraz can’t seem to tear himself away from the mellow, funky, surfer-approved pop songs that have been his bread and butter since 2002.

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