JENNY & JOHNNY - I'M HAVING FUN NOW
With 2010 quickly becoming a fleeting memory, I have once again managed to avoid doing a Top Ten Albums of the Year list. I used to do them religiously, and I get requests each year for them. Inevitably, I'm always disappointed by mine about a month after making them. First off, I don't hear everything. Lots of it, but not everything, and by the time I get around to hearing something later, I'm annoyed I didn't get to put it on my list. Then there's the second-guessing. I remember one year putting an Edie Brickell disc on my Ten list. Listening back, I don't know what I was thinking or hearing. Finally, I can't take all the abuse. You stick your list out there, and immediately you get a torrent of mockery. Geez, who knew you could be attacked for liking U2?
Top ten lists are a good way to find out about something you might have missed though. So while perusing other people's lists, I've seen a few I want to hear, and some I want to give another listen to. One Facebook friend posted that his favourite was the recent Jenny and Johnny disc, so back it went in the player, and I'm glad I did. It is one excellent power-pop gem. Jenny is Jenny Lewis of critically-loved Rilo Kiley, and Johnny is her b-friend, solo artist Johnathan Rice. Both are serious songwriters, but I've never really cottoned on to either before, at least not with reservations. Lewis has always seemed too serious and self-confident about her talent, making music we're supposed to get and love, while Rice has belonged to the great pack of young male singer-songwriters, not really rising above many of the rest.
Here, the title says it all. This is one fun modern pop album, with guy-girl vocals and harmonies, sweet melodies and big production. Everything rings; the guitars, the voices, the words. Like the recent team of Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, the duo's goal is to make feel-good songs the way they used to do them. There's a whole bunch of old pop styles here, and little tricks such as echo-drenched twangy guitar, breathy vocals akin to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood duets, and ultra-clever lyrics that deliver smiles on each song. Here's a few bon mots: "You'd make bedroom eyes at a test tube", "For God and for country/for Michael Jackson's monkey", "like a cold sore at a kissing booth".
Rice has a decent voice, but Lewis has a real killer instrument, and it's probably the key to all the success here. Her singing is perfectly suited for this fun pop, and she's also a brilliant harmony singer, so she puts a kick into Rice's lead vocals as well. Maybe I've been missing something about these two in their respective careers before, but I'm really hoping they stick with the duo.