“Joy’All,” Jenny Lewis

“Joy’All,” Jenny Lewis ()

You don’t need to hear about all the things Jenny Lewis has accomplished in her storied career in entertainment for you to know they’re there. What is worth hearing, however, is that she’s never sounded like she’s had more fun making music than she does on her fifth solo album, “Joy’All.” And that even includes the lines about being in her 40s “kicking her ass” and an acute longing that wanders into scenes almost harmlessly if not poignantly all throughout the set. Take the sass, sadness or serene away and these are simple songs with a subliminal spunk that very few other songstresses can perfect as well as Lewis does here.

The mood is quick and to the point: Coming in at 10 songs and a pinch over a half hour, this collection is the perfect novella, impossible to overstay its welcome due to its brevity, yet so rich with wit, honesty and story that it’s hard not to crave more. The production helps  — above all else, the set feels like a Pro Tools-free zone, and in a world where AI is ramping up more serious threats to humanmade art than ever, this collection’s stripped-down, living room feel isn’t just a novelty; it’s a breath of fresh air.

Take the title track, which is led by a percussive upbeat shuffle given an added texture via some sugary handclaps that help lead the song forward as much as anything else in it. Lewis is mildly subdued in her delivery throughout the verses but raises her tone slightly as the track gets to the hook and she asserts, “Follow your joy’all; I’m not a toy, y’all, I got heart.” Throw in a healthy helping of falsetto “woooo’s” and you have a song that doesn’t not fit on something like Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger.”

That tune comes smack in the middle of maybe Lewis’s best 1-2-3 punch to begin an album, Rilo Kiley or not. The artisan bread completing the sandwich comes in the form of singles “Psychos” and “Puppy And A Truck,” the latter of which seems to be getting its share of attention, if only because of that whole “40s kicking her ass” line. The thing is, it almost feels like her admissions here are backed by the kind of grins that suggest she’s on the other side of life’s darker moments. Considering how all of it is relayed on top of a laid-back, sun-kissed groove, it’s no wonder she’s buds with Jimmy Buffett.

The former, meanwhile, feels like an outtake from Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours.” Even Lewis, herself, leans into a Stevie Nicks vocal aesthetic that, at first glance, feels remarkably uncanny. Sure, the singer moved to Nashville a handful of years ago after spending the bulk of her life in California, but rarely has she embodied the soft rock ethos that once made the Golden State an imperative destination for singer-songwriters. It recalls a time when bell-bottoms and big hats weren’t merely a fashion statement; they were a movement.

Speaking of moving, “Essence of Life” is a moody waltz punctuated by drummer Nate Smith’s intricate pop-jazz influence. It’s a standout both because of his playing and the ominously sparse vocal approach Lewis takes. “Cherry Baby” is nearly the antithesis of that, but dance-worthy, nonetheless. As sugary as it gets, the song is the most radio-ready on the album. It’s also the one that would probably fit the best on Haim’s revelatory 2013 debut “Days Are Gone.” Everyone knew Lewis had the funk in her; nobody could have predicted it would feel this easy this deep into the game.

But that’s why “Joy’all” is such a pleasant listen. It’s Jenny Lewis, holed up as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, enrolling in a virtual musician boot camp led by Beck and supposedly finding herself in a Publix parking lot, agonizing over the final line she wrote for the record, which ultimately lands on “Cherry Baby” and puts a bow on the whole thing perfectly: “I’m having a hard time,” she admits, “writing the last line.” It’s breezy and easy and almost patronizing in its flippancy.

Turns out, it’s also the most accurate way to sum up the album on which it resides. Because on “Joy’All,” Jenny Lewis has never sounded like she has cared less. The result is a record that all walks of fans may just end up caring about the most. It adds up to a push and pull that makes for an inescapable listen, one that is equally haunting and inspiring, consistently fun and uniquely complicated.

“How do you say goodbye forever?” she asks on the heartbreaking finale, “Chain of Tears,” before reminding everyone of how raw, personal, and painful these songs can be. But then, unlike some of her contemporaries who might overthink the landing after uttering such a powerful phrase, she nails it in the plainest way possible.

“Sincerely asking advice.”

Here’s some: More of this, please.

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