Jason Mraz takes listeners on acoustic ride

Jason Mraz YES!

On his fifth studio album, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz returns to familiar lyrical territory, exploring the highs and lows of love in his bright, folk-pop style. This time, though, the sound is both richer and more stripped down — an acoustic ride enriched by the vocals, strings and percussion of his partners on the album, the all-female quartet Raining Jane. Their layered harmonies lend an ethereal vibe throughout, and an almost gospel quality to the album’s best song, the closing ode to love, “Shine.”

Mraz co-wrote every song on “YES!” with the indie group from Los Angeles, except for the worthy resurrection of the heartbreaking Boyz II Men classic, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

“YES!” tells a love story, from the initial intoxication to the inevitable goodbye. Every moment of an ordinary day is magic in “Hello, You Beautiful Thing.”

“I know it’s gonna be a good day,” he sings over bouncy guitars and marimbas. “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

After heartbreak, he goes “Back to the Earth,” an enthusiastic sing-along about nature’s solace.

“I try to stop the world from moving so fast, try to get a grip on where I’m at,” he sings, “and simplify this dizzy life and put my feet in the grass.”

Like Mraz’s previous albums, “YES!” is cheerfully optimistic, as evidenced by the single, “Love Someone.” But the real standouts are the more introspective tracks, like the cello-driven “You Can Rely on Me” and the downbeat “A World With You.”

“Let’s throw caution to the wind and start over again,” he sings as a cello cries. “I want to see the world the way I see a world with you.”

Sandy Cohen

The Associated Press

Morrissey WORLD PEACE IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

Morrissey has been a solo artist for nearly 30 years, but his brilliance with The Smiths — the British band many consider the real band of the ’80s — will forever haunt him. That legacy can take a backseat, at least for a moment, in the instance of this week’s release of “World Peace is None of Your Business,” Morrissey’s first solo album in five years.

Following 2013, a year plagued by illness and canceled concerts, the career upswing that began for the singer with the publication of his autobiography, a huge hit in his native U.K., continues with “World Peace.”

Morrissey sounds fully restored in “World Peace.” While “Refusal” was largely a noisy, aggressive rock album, Morrissey cultivates his pop sensibilities for his new album. And dense production in “Refusal” is stripped away in favor of polished, transparent arrangements that leave space for the singer’s singular vocals. Employing his voice as an expressive instrument, he sings with comfortable ease and confidence.

When Morrissey sings “world peace is none of your business,” he doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about world peace. He means he believes there’s nothing he or any other person who’s not in a place of power can do about it.

“World peace is none of your business,” he sings coyly in the album’s military percussion-accompanied title song. “You must not tamper with arrangements. Work hard and sweetly pay your taxes, never asking ‘What for?’ ”

“Staircase at the University” is one of Morrissey’s tales of doom set within a cheery pop song, not unlike one of the Smiths’ finest moments, “Girlfriend in a Coma.” The words of a college student’s father rings through her head as she crams all night and day through March, April and May. “ ‘If you don’t get three As,’ her sweet daddy said, ‘You’re no child of mine and as far as I’m concerned you’re dead.’ ” Another Morrissey song that can’t have a happy ending.

Among the world’s most recognizable vegetarians and animal lovers, Morrissey naturally takes the side of the bulls in one of the album’s multiple Spanish-flavored songs, “The Bullfighter Dies.” “Hurray, hurray,” he cheers. “The bullfighter dies and nobody cries, because we all want the bull to survive.”

A songwriter who had big pop success in the U.K., with the Smiths and after the Smiths, the pop-chart eligible songs on “World Peace” include his unusually happy “Kiss Me a Lot.” On the other hand, the acerbic sentiment he expresses in “Kick the Bride Down the Aisle” may play best to his faithful fans. “She just wants a slave,” he accuses, “to break his back in pursuit of a living wage, so that she can laze and graze for the rest of her days.”

So, with his book, an acclaimed return to touring and a new album even he can be proud of, Morrissey’s post-Smiths career reaches a high water mark.

John Wirt