Jenny Lewis: Joy’All [Album Review]

Jenny Lewis
Blue Note/Capitol Records [2023]

There’s a determined, purposeful up-tempo feel on Jenny Lewis’ fifth solo project, the aptly titled Joy’All. It’s as if the former child actor and former Rilo Kiley singer has decided that little is gained by holding on to past harms when you can “follow your joy’all.” But she’s not living in denial either. In the album’s title track, she remembers being put at risk at an after-school party: “I was a little kid, a lot like you. It almost destroyed me, yeah. Baby, what are you going to do?” At some point, she decided that the way forward is to “lead with your heart, keep your head down, sister, please be smart” and “get a little wiser every day.” And it doesn’t hurt that the song’s rhythm percolates with positivity, featuring a soulful R&B bassline, a fun melody, and sisterly harmonies sung by Jess Wolfe, one half of Lucius.

She follows that song with the admission that “my 40s are kicking my ass.” But in the buoyant countrified pop she offers, the key to happiness is a “Puppy and a Truck,” which works “like a shot of good luck.” It’s a playful song informed by the smart, Laurel Canyon sound that influenced pop music in the ’70s, and the modern country smarts of her Nashville connection, producer Dave Cobb (Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton). As she comes to terms with reaching mid-life while being single, in her first airplay single “Psychos,” she insists, “I’m not a psycho, I’m just trying to get laid.” Several other tracks find Lewis coping with a relationship that has ended (“Essence of Life”), comparing her new love interest with an old one (“Apples and Oranges”), and being willing to “take a chance on a little romance,” as she sings in “Giddy Up.” After all, she states, “we’re both adults.”

And this is adult pop/rock with an attitude. In “Love Feel,” she celebrates some of her favorite things, but inevitably shows her age: “Radio telephone, telephone and radio. Phone booth, top 40, jukebox, honky-tonk.” And when she lists some musical highlights like “Marvin Gaye, Timberlake, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash. John Prine, Waylon, and Willie…” well, she’s not wrong. In “Balcony,” she imagines reconnecting at a reunion with an old love, knowing in her heart that “it’s never going to be the way it used to be. You cannot unsee the search history.” So, as she sings in “Cherry Baby,” life’s a mystery… but it’s meant to be lived, so sometimes you need to leap from the balcony just to make sure you didn’t miss an opportunity. After all, Lewis says her only regret is having “traded my ’64 Malibu for a van.”

Jenny Lewis continues to follow her pop song muse to good effect, adding 10 more great songs to her burgeoning collection of soulful ruminations on a life well-lived. It’s a fun soundtrack for any summer drive, a party mix for adults who still have a spark in their eyes and a dance in their step.

“Puppy And A Truck” / “Joy’All” / “Psychos”

Neko Case / Fiona Apple / Norah Jones

On The Line (2019) / The Voyager (2014) / Rabbit Fur Coat (2006)

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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