Despite the name, the faces on this SoCal singer-songwriter's sophomore disc aren't exactly unfamiliar: There's the Shins, there's Josh Rouse and, perhaps most of all, there's Jack Johnson, who signed Matt Costa to his Brushfire label and has had Costa open for him on tour. So the pleasures of Unfamiliar Faces don't have anything to do with the originality of Costa's voice or of his writing. Big deal: As Johnson has proven several times over now, a mellow man with a mellow song can go a long way in these troubled times of ours.
Costa sings about staying up all night and sleeping in on Sundays and being impressed by the sight of you undressing; sometimes he sounds happy, sometimes he sounds sad, but he never sounds especially anxious about anything, which gives Faces a steady emotional equilibrium that allows Costa and producer Tom Dumont (of No Doubt) to sweeten the material without overpowering it.
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Opener "Mr. Pitiful" rides a peppy "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" piano line; "Never Looking Back" has twangy campfire guitars; "Emergency Call," in which Costa complains of suffering from the "hypochondriac blues," shuffles like Exile-era Stones; "Miss Magnolia" is high-and-dry mountain music. A few times, as in "Heart of Stone," Costa's lyrics and melodies vague out, leaving you wondering how this open-mike night got into your CD player. But for the most part the familiarity of his stuff serves as a balm, not a bummer.