Jenny and Johnny are a composite hybrid of Jenny Lewis (who for now, appears to have largely forgotten about Rilo Kiley in place of an increasingly long line of side projects) and singer-songwriter Jonathan Rice, who has graduated a unique and unconventional path from being Lewis’s backing guitarist, to her lover, to collaborator. Which was certainly news to me; not least because my initial thoughts pertaining to the doe-eyed snapshots of them on the album cover was that they appeared awkward, fake and unconvincing. Relationships: what do I know?
Their first album together certainly has an appropriate title. Fundamentally, it is the sound of two contented people enjoying themselves, having a laugh and simply knocking a few songs about with an aroma of carefree bonhomie. Thankfully for the most part, this resolves into something endearing and welcomingly fresh rather than the potentially overwhelming pretension that it could easily find itself attached to. Deep down, they’re both too rooted in Americana's folksy simplicity to get too carried away. In their case, experimentation means that less-is-more: light, pretty melodies and songs that sound like they’ve been left to mature in oak casks, underpinned by a mosquito bite of sobering cynicism.
I’m Having Fun Now doesn’t really seek to make any over statement of thematic or creative intent, often appearing to deliberately seek out the less adventurous path through the music. Refreshingly devoid of self indulgence, it is perfectly happy to let the songs come and go as they please. The only drawback to this reliance on playfulness rather than purposefulness is that whereas songs such as ‘Scissor Runner’ and ‘My Pet Snakes’ provide a strikingly direct and focused kick-start to the proceedings (complimented by the achingly gorgeous ‘Switchblade’), the album does run into a patch of 'what have we got left in the box?' doldrums during the mid-to-latter part of its course, specifically during the irksomely titled ‘New York Cartoon’ and the dull, inconsequential ‘Slavedriver’; ideas that probably sounded better in their heads than they do on tape. The majority of the time however, the mix of disparate musical elements combust slowly, warmly and effectively; woven through a pleasingly sparse framework of lo-fi surf rock guitar and uncluttered drum groves that allow the songs to speak and the melodies to sparkle.
Overall, the most surprising aspect of the record is how, despite her more prominent profile and her ever-sultry LA-calibre flirting, the record doesn’t really seem to belong to Lewis. Though she still sings delightfully in that purring, peeking-through-the-bedclothes voice, partway between daytime radio and traditional country standard, she generally remains in the shadow of Rice’s cynical, expansive drawls that seem somehow to propel the record that bit higher every time he offers his interjections. Throughout it all, he seems to be the one in overall control, hands on the steering wheel. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the standout closing track ‘Committed’, a gearshift slide into breakneck rock and roll tomfoolery, complete with the quite splendid lyric “For God and for Country / For Michael Jackson’s Monkey”. There’s an underlying temptation to wish for the whole of the album to contain the same wide-eyed drive and focus, but in being a simple and enticing collection of musical flavours and tastes from two people who seem to be having the time of their lives it makes for a fine listen and a rewarding experience. They’re pretty, they’re young, they’re talented and they make some simple, delightful music, who’s complaining? As side projects go, this is one of those that will happily turn left rather than right when climbing onboard that transatlantic flight to you.
7David Edwards's Score