Oakland-born singer Jennifer Johns has a penchant for funneling myriad influences into her music. Her sophomore album, Painting on Wax, is an ambitious stab at soul, hip-hop, dancehall, calypso, and industrial, among other styles. Johns is an excellent vocalist, and the album's production runs from solid to top-notch. The talent is there; it's the execution that occasionally needs improvement.
The album begins unevenly. The title track is Johns' interpretation of a mid-'80s hip-hop single, complete with Too $hort-esque thump and atmospheric DJ scratches of vocals and electric guitar stabs, but her attempts at rapping and dancehall chatting come off as stilted. Painting's dancefloor anthems like "Move wit It" and "Get Up" don't distinguish themselves from other local club joints. And the innuendo-laden "Goody-Goody Gum Drops" and "Nasty" feel uncomfortably forced.
However, Painting on Wax finds a good rhythm about midway through. The spare, Caribbean– and Middle Eastern–influenced "Let the Drum Moan" has an infectious groove. "Like You" is a melancholy R&B track with layered vocals and meandering jazz guitar. "Chasing the Sun" and "Golden Eye," which sport heavy Asian and African influences, sound truly inspirational with Johns' soulful singing behind them. And after earlier missteps, dancehall-influenced hip-hop like "Ghetto International" (a posse cut featuring Zion and Gift of Gab, among others) and "All Love for the DJ" end the album on a high note. While all the tracks on Painting on Wax don't always hit their mark, the half that do are worth a listen.