Passions run high on It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You, the gripping third album from Nashville-based storyteller Jillette Johnson. She’s not talking about “a beautiful day” in the Mr. Rogers way. Her vivid vignettes are soaked in regret, self-loathing, envy, empathy, humor, and, finally, joy, recounting the rocky journey of a restless soul constantly seeking more.
Shifting gears from 2017’s All I Ever See in You Is Me, Johnson trades her keyboard-based pop to partner with guitarists Joe Pisapia (who also produces) and Dan Knobler (who also engineers), resulting in an album that feels like the work of a genuinely collaborative band. It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You ranges from bubbly country-tinged ditties to bluesy stomps to tender serenades, with Pisapia and Knobler crafting subtle touches designed to add color rather than attract attention, sometimes injecting sonar-like pings for a spacey vibe, or uncorking sustained licks reminiscent of glam rock, or engaging in charming down-home picking.
A compelling blend of grace, yearning, and a little grit, Johnson’s subtly expressive voice — not far from Sheryl Crow’s in her hitmaking prime — would enhance virtually any setting. It’s a Beautiful Day opens with the dreamy “Many Moons,” which flashes back in cinematic fashion to riskier, more carefree times, when getting drunk at the mall or sleeping with a stranger on the beach seemed like a good idea, when youthful illusions of invincibility and control outweighed common sense. Johnson isn’t playing the wiser-but-duller scold, just trying to figure out where she came from by spooling through chapters of her past.
Johnson’s scenes from others’ lives are as much about herself as her subjects. She laments the passing of a broken soul in the power ballad “Angelo,” only to insist, defensively, “If anyone could help / It wasn’t me,” hinting at guilt over his fate. On the genial folk-pop romp “Annie,” Johnson addresses a current lover’s ex, thanking her for teaching him “how to love with his whole heart,” and declaring herself “happy as can be.” Such giddy gratitude feels awkward in light of Annie’s situation, and it’s easy to detect a trace of gloating over the outcome.
Johnson frames her own experiences in blunt terms, often drawing on the language of therapy. The morose “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere” takes a darkly funny look at self-destructive behavior, depicting a “pathetic” barfly who wallows in drunken misery, knowing full well it’s her own fault. On the snarling “What Would Jesus Do” Johnson declines to judge a fellow sinner, even one “foraging for dope under the highway,” concluding wryly, “What would Jesus do? / I don’t know, but he wouldn’t do it my way.” Showcasing her vocal firepower, the soaring rocker “Jealous” confronts the universal, selfish urge to resent another’s good fortune, admitting sagely, “Someone else’s gain isn’t my loss.”
After examining the psychic debris left by bad boyfriends and self-inflicted wounds, as well as celebrating pure happiness, this insightful, engrossing album embraces acceptance on the gorgeous closing track, “Letting Go.” Revisiting the theme of control explored early in It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You, Johnson says, “I like to think I understand everything,” but concedes it’s impossible to determine where life will take you, so just go with the flow. Given the unpredictable state of the world these days, that’s a thoroughly reasonable philosophy.