The vague sense of dread that settled over me when Jason Mraz signed to Elektra a few years back turned out to be well-founded. After hearing of Mraz from a friend and listening to the self-released studio and live recordings he sold from his website and at shows, I knew his talent would inevitably send him rocketing up the charts. But I also resigned myself to the knowledge that the funky, expressive character of his early solo acoustic work would be neatly ordered and polished for radio readiness.
As expected, Waiting For My Rocket To Come employed a crack studio band and added some co-writers to the mix, causing the record to sound considerably slicker but somewhat muted. Mraz’s soulful tenor was still unmistakably present, but his jazz-inflected guitar work languished in the mix, and the co-written lyrics and music lacked the freshness that made him popular among coffee-shop crowds.
On Tonight, Not Again, some of the old flavor is back, with Mraz performing seven songs not on Waiting, including set staples from the solo (or duo, with percussionist/backing vocalist Toca Rivera) days such as “Common Pleasure” and “1,000 Things.” The backing band renders the tunes a bit cheesy at times, but Mraz’s endearingly goofy charisma shines through amid the interim-song banter and scat vocals. The disc (which comes with DVD footage of the same performance) is a “must have” if you’re a fan, but dig up some of Mraz’s earlier recordings if you want to hear the real article.