Monday, January 17, 2011



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.

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