Laney Jones was raised among kangaroos, wallabies and other exotic acquisitions on a 10-acre property in Central Florida. “I was pretty isolated, which created a lot of internal dialog,” says Jones. “I think that’s where my introspectiveness comes from. When you have a conversation with an animal, they don’t talk back, but you can feel them in some way—and you’re listening in a quieter way.”
That Dr. Doolittle lifestyle must feel like a world away for Jones. These days, she’s living in Nashville with her drummer husband, Brian Dowd, a band member and frequent collaborator. She’s just minutes away from The Bomb Shelter, where she recorded most of Stories Up High with Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Langhorne Slim). “Long Way,” which we’re proud to premiere today, is one of two songs on the album recorded in Jones’ home studio.
“Brian was working on the loop for that song in the living room, and I was in shower,” she says. “By the time I came out, I had the idea for the first verse. I wrote the whole song dripping wet in a towel.”
Due out May 20 via AHPO, Stories Up High has been the beneficiary of some advance praise. And while its classicist feel may be a nod to Judy Garland (one of Jones’ heroes), a more fully formed assessment might be Carole King by way of Big Thief. Jones’ vocal delivery is shaky and vulnerable, at times prone to histrionics but never out of sync with the emotional uncertainty that forms the basis of a loose narrative.
“I took way more time with the record,” says Jones says of Stories Up High, her third album. “This one was so much more intentional, mostly due to COVID. I was actually able to make art this time around.”
Jones’ animal-loving parents weren’t particularly musical, but they were supportive when she found her way into various plays and musicals as a teenager. “I was a total theater rat,” says Jones. “I did costumes and lighting. I stage-managed To Kill A Mockingbird when I was 12 years old. I learned about amazing singers through musical theater.”
Her junior year, Jones scrapped plans for pursuing a business degree at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and applied to Berklee College Of Music, landing a songwriting scholarship. Armed with all the right tools, she aimed high on her 2013 debut, Golden Road, and it earned her a nationally televised performance at the Kennedy Center alongside Alison Krauss, Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds. Meanwhile, tracks from that album and her self-titled 2016 follow-up found their way to a growing fanbase on Spotify. Major brands like Disney Pixar, Google, Netflix and Red Bull took notice, using her music in their ads.
Ultimately, Stories Up High marks Jones’ official separation from those events in her recent past—as promising as they might sound. “I feel like I had to make this album to let go of some things,” she says. “This record is more like a novel—a slow burn. Most of the songs were written in my living room sitting on my grandma’s old couch. ‘Long Way’ is about not giving up, and maybe that’s what the whole album is about. Life is a journey, and it’s a long fucking way. But in the grand perspective, it is what it is. And that’s OK.”