Album Reviews

Jenny Lewis – Joy’All

(EMI/Blue Note) UK release date: 9 June 2023

Former Rilo Kiley singer’s fifth album is the sound of a woman fearlessly grappling with middle age and dealing with all it has to throw at her

Jenny Lewis - Joy'All For most of us, online interaction during the pandemic was probably restricted to Zoom quizzes and work team meetings. For Jenny Lewis, it was a bit different – enrolling on an online songwriting workshop organised by none other than Beck Hansen, who challenged her to write a song a day in her home to a specific set of guidelines.

It’s from that project that Lewis’ fifth album was born. Considering the circumstances, it’s a surprise how light and breezy Joy’All sounds. Recorded entirely in Nashville, there’s a definite country tinge to many of the songs, but as you may expect from the former lead singer of Rilo Kiley, there are many complex emotions bubbling under the surface.

Puppy And A Track is an immediate standout, with an opening line of “my forties are kicking my ass, and handing them to me in a margarita glass”, before talking of dealing with a mid-life crisis by travelling round the country with a hypoallergenic dog. The little touches of pedal steel add to the track’s classic rock atmosphere.

The infectious title track recalls Ani DiFranco (a former collaborator of Lewis), full of handclaps, vocalisations and multi-tracked harmonies, while opening track Psychos is full of Lewis’ trademark wit with lines like “I’m not a psycho, I’m just trying to get laid”. Giddy Up even becomes seductive and laidback, Lewis cooing “take a chance, on a little romance, we’re both adults” over an irresistibly slinky melody.

As ever with Lewis’ work, there’s also a deep well of sadness to be tapped into as well. Apples And Oranges sees her trying to settle down with a new love who’s “hot and cute, but he just isn’t you”. Balcony is dedicated to a friend who took their own life during the pandemic, and you can feel the loss emanating from every note, while Essence Of Life (“The essence of life is suffering”) sees the pedal steel utilised wonderfully, as if the guitar itself is softly weeping.

Dave Cobb’s production beautifully applies an FM radio sheen across the album, while retaining that edge which Lewis has always had. There are similarities to prime mid-’70s Fleetwood Mac at times, while other songs are even reminiscent of Lewis’ own work with Rilo Kiley. The closing Chain Of Tears even nods to Elvis Presley‘s Suspicious Minds before it spins off into a spoken-word introduction.

There’s really only the incongruously grungy Love Feel which feels like a bit of an outlier, and even that not’s a bad song, but just feels out of place amongst the brisk, summery vibe of the rest of the album. Overall though, Joy’All is possibly Lewis’ best solo work to date – the sound of a woman fearlessly grappling with middle-age and dealing with all it has to throw at her.

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