Mat Kearney seems to describe the trajectory of his music career halfway through his third album when he croons, "From the moment that you popped out on the scene, hard to know what you got or [what] you're meant to be." The Nashville-based singer made a splash with 2006's Nothing Left to Lose, but didn't seem to grasp fully what he had at the time. After exploring the nuances of his sound on his next album, Young Love could be considered his arrival record, finding the right flavor of hip-hop, adult alternative, and classic storytelling. The formula works well for the Oregon-born songwriter, who again uses his raspy tenor to take melodies in directions you wouldn't necessarily expect. The album comes off much like the opening weeks of a relationship, where moments bounce between earnest and playful, heavy and light, but each ultimately memorable in its own way. There are sounds influenced by Bruno Mars' flirtatiousness ("She Got the Honey"), Jason Mraz's hip-hop fusion ("Ships in the Night"), and even Elvis Costello's retro-rock coolness ("Young Dumb and in Love"). And don't forget the children's voices on "Count on Me" that make you want to pick up a jump rope and join in a playground game of Double Dutch. Most of Young Love works like a soft summer soundtrack that sounds best when played in its entirety. The album hails Kearney's development as a songwriter as well as longtime producer Robert Marvin's depth of sonic effects. All in all, a noteworthy release that reveals more layers the longer you listen.
Jared Johnson, Rovi