Jason Mraz, "YES!" (Atlantic Records)
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."