If ukuleles make their way back onto the pop charts, you can probably thank Vance Joy.
The Australian singer-songwriter delivers an exciting sophomore effort with “Nation of Two,” a 13-track collection in which he proves he isn’t too cool to play a little uke, banjo or even that guitar-ukulele hybrid known as a guitalele.
Joy, born James Keogh, had a breakout hit with 2013’s ukulele-led “Riptide” and became the opening act for Taylor Swift. This is his time to really shine — and he seizes it.
The sensitive strummer links up with several veteran songwriters — including three tunes with Dave Bassett and three with Dan Wilson — for an album of very personal love songs. Joy is all over the CD, writing or co-writing every song and even contributing to the cover art.
The clear standout track is the alt-rock anthem “We’re Going Home” but other beauties include the uke-led ditty “Saturday Sun,” the slow-burning “Alone With Me” and the achingly beautiful “I’m With You.”
If you yearn for music by Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and even early Ed Sheeran, these are your jams — earthy, folky and honest. Joy’s songs are nicely not overly produced, allowing a little charming vocal strain every once in a while.
Joy’s co-writers tend to elevate his songs into something a bit more substantial, whether it’s with a brass section or strings, pushing him to go bigger. The four tunes he is credited with writing alone are clearly the weakest, but also the most personal.
It all adds up to an appealing album from an artist with a promising future. “Won’t you take your time on me?” he sings in one song, and it seems absolutely rude not to. Mark Kennedy, AP Entertainment Writer