The artwork to Josh Joplin’s latest album, Jaywalker, is cluttered with critters. Bunnies, birds, deer, a raccoon or two; it’s practically a zoo. But as you’ll notice, they’re all walking around in the middle of a city. What the actual intention of the art was isn’t apparent, but in a way, it seems to mirror the sound of the record. While the album has a certain pastoral, folky beauty about it, it ultimately seems very urban. Maybe it has something to do with Joplin’s stint writing Top 40 hits, a trace of which seems to linger on this release. Or maybe it’s just a combination of Joplin’s own DC surroundings clashing with those he’s encountered along the way. But on Jaywalker he seems to emit a relaxed casualness, while still maintaining a sophisticated and accessible sound.
For Jaywalker, Joplin assembled a group of studio musicians, including members of Man or Astroman and Damnation A.D., as well as his middle school principal. The resulting sound is less out there than what you’d imagine considering the personalities involved. Rather, it’s a sweet, pleasant and lazy (and I mean that in the best way) collection of laid back folk-rock songs. Many of these songs contain a little twang, which may have something to do with Joplin landing on alt-country hub Yep Roc, after leaving semi-major label Artemis.
The album begins upbeat enough with the peppy “Mr. New Years Day,” though settles into a mid-tempo folk-rock groove. “Jaywalkers of the World” is an immediate standout, particularly due to the catchy refrain of “Jaywalkers of the world/united during the song’s coda. “A Hard Year” falls more into VH1 adult-alternative territory, though Joplin’s songwriting is strong enough for it to ever get that bad. Meanwhile, “The World on a Shoestring” is enjoyable and sing-songy, with one of the album’s catchiest melodies. It’s no wonder the guy makes his money by writing hits for other singers.
Jaywalker is a Sunday afternoon kind of album, laid-back and simple, with more in the way of tunefulness than experimentation or genre-challenging. Joplin’s old label Artemis passed on the record after he presented it to them, which is only understandable. Joplin may have been writing songs that other people loved, but this record isn’t for the suits, it’s for the listeners.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.