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“When I write, it’s like I step inside ofa dream,” says Laney Jones. “I go to this place that’s somewhere betweensleeping and waking, between memory and imagination. It’s a place whereanything can happen.”
Press play on Jones’ mesmerizing newalbum, Stories Up High, and you’llfind yourself transported there, too. Recorded at East Nashville’s famed BombShelter studio with producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Langhorne Slim),the collection is lush and immersive, with rich, elegant arrangements that ebband flow beneath Jones’ velveteen vocals. The performances here are gracefuland timeless, evoking a faded, old Hollywood glamour full of longing andmelancholy, but dig a bit beneath the surface and you’ll find that Jones isactually an optimist at heart, a believer in the relentless beauty of thismixed-up world. She wrote the album in what she describes as a “flow state,”surrendering herself to the creative process the way a monk might approachmeditation, and the result is a captivating, cinematic work that’s equal partsstream-of-consciousness and careful introspection, an honest, intuitive recordthat hints at everything from Angel Olsen and Judy Garland to Brandi Carlileand Andy Shauf as it reckons with growth, change, and the very fabric of lifeitself.
“Strange as it sounds, I found myselfsitting there crying while I was writing some of these songs because they camewith such deep realizations about myself,” Jones confesses. “The music wasthere for me when I needed it most.”
It’s a recurring theme in her life. Bornin Maryland and raised in Florida, Jones spent much of her youth surrounded byanimals thanks to her parents, who raised kangaroos, wallabies, and otherexotic creatures on their 10-acre farm. Though none of her immediate family membersconsidered themselves particularly artistic, Jones fell in love with thetheater in middle school and spent much of her adolescence performing in playsand musicals. In the classroom, she was a conscientious student with a sterlingrecord, but by the time she reached college, academic and emotional burnout hadbegun to take hold, and Jones soon found herself turning to songwriting insearch of release.
“At first, it was just a way for me tomake sense of everything I was going through,” she explains, “but as time wenton, it also became this way for me to get out of my shell. It helped me meetpeople and find a sense of community that I really needed.”
After studying abroad in China during herjunior year, Jones decided it was time for a complete 180, abandoning herpursuit of a business degree and instead applying to the Berklee College ofMusic, where was granted a scholarship to study songwriting.
“I just got addicted to it,” she reflects.“Making music felt like something I hadto be doing, and there was nothing else that could fill that void for me.”
Jones earned widespread acclaim with astring of early releases, drawing comparisons to the likes of Fleet Foxes andBon Iver for her majestic take on organic roots music. Her 2013 debut, Golden Road, landed her a nationallytelevised performance at The Kennedy Center alongside Alison Krauss, SaraBareilles, and Ben Folds, while her 2016 follow-up, Laney Jones, prompted RollingStone to hail her as an Artist You Need To Know and praise her “penetratinghooks” and “Seventies-era flourishes.” Tracks from the albums, meanwhile,racked up millions of streams on Spotify and turned up in films from majorstudios like Disney and Pixar alongside commercials for Google, Netflix, NewBalance, Toyota, and Red Bull.
“I’m really proud of those first couplerecords,” Jones explains, “but they were the result of going into the studiofor a week or so and coming out with a finished product. They were these littlesnapshots of wherever I happened to be at the moment. This time around, though,I wanted to give myself the time and the space to go beyond that, to workwithout any kind of limitations.”
So Jones let Stories Up High unfold at its own pace, capturing the record overthe course of several years and multiple recording sessions. The new songs shefound herself writing bore less of the rustic, folk-inspired imprint of herprevious work and instead drew on a hazy, more abstract palette of airy indierock textures reminiscent of Big Thief or Sharon Van Etten. Leaning into allthe radical change going on her personal life (most notably her engagement andmarriage to drummer Brian Dowd), Jones embraced the new, more self-assuredversions of herself that emerged each time she shed her skin and allowed themto guide her on her creative path.
“When you’re younger, it’s easy to getcaught up in worrying what other people will think of you,” she reflects. “NowI feel like I’ve been able to let go of a lot of that and learn to trust inmyself and my instincts.”
That confidence is clear as day on Stories Up High, which opens with thetheatrical flourish of the entrancing title track. “I fell from stories up high/ I died a little inside,” Jones sings with a visceral vulnerability. “But if Ihad a crystal ball / I never would have lived at all.” Like much of the album,the song contemplates death not so much as something to fear, but as somethingto remind us of the fleeting and fragile nature of being alive. The spacious“Long Way” makes peace with the inevitable, while the bittersweet “Daniel”navigates growing up in the shadow of loss, and the slow-burning “Remember”finds that it’s our mortality that ultimately makes our time together soprecious.
“I think that in order to live life to thefullest, you have to remember that it’s going to end someday,” Jones says. “Youhave to be present because once the moment’s gone, it’s never coming back.”
Jones frequently finds liberation in suchrevelations, detaching herself from desire and expectation and immersingherself fully in the present, even when it’s painful. The tender “If Life Is”learns to be grateful with what’s right in front of us; the swirling “EmpireState” locates the beauty in struggle; and the buoyant “Secret Weapon” findsstrength in weakness. But perhaps it’s the anthemic “Not Alone” that sumsthings up best, as Jones sings, “All of my family / All of my history / And allof the friends I’ve known / All of the pets I’ve owned / All of the books I’veread / Music that fills my head / I carry them with me wherever I go / I’m notalone.”
“To me, that’s what art does,” says Jones.“It reminds you that you’re human, that we’re all going through this together,that you’re never really on your own because you carry everything and everyoneyou ever loved inside of you.”
In the end, Laney Jones isn’t juststepping into a dream when she writes; she’s making room for all of us to joinher there, too.