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Review: Penny and Sparrow push past Americana in ‘Olly Olly’

January 21, 2022 GMT
This cover image released by I Love You / Thirty Tigers shows "Olly Olly" by Penny and Sparrow. (I Love You / Thirty Tigers via AP)
This cover image released by I Love You / Thirty Tigers shows "Olly Olly" by Penny and Sparrow. (I Love You / Thirty Tigers via AP)
This cover image released by I Love You / Thirty Tigers shows "Olly Olly" by Penny and Sparrow. (I Love You / Thirty Tigers via AP)
This cover image released by I Love You / Thirty Tigers shows "Olly Olly" by Penny and Sparrow. (I Love You / Thirty Tigers via AP)
This cover image released by I Love You / Thirty Tigers shows "Olly Olly" by Penny and Sparrow. (I Love You / Thirty Tigers via AP)

“Olly Olly,” Penny and Sparrow (I Love You / Thirty Tigers)

In the first few unassuming bars of Penny and Sparrow’s new album, “Olly Olly,” it is not immediately apparent that this collection of songs signifies a shift for duo Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke.

“Adeline” is a stripped-back love song that is both existential and hopeful. Reach the 2:40 mark, though, and subtle distortions that echo the style of Bon Iver tease what the next 11 tracks will show — that Penny and Sparrow are ready to push beyond the Americana bounds that they are known for.

“Olly Olly” leans into a playfulness despite somber references that sets it apart from their past six studio albums. The two experiment with genres and sounds outside of their typical wheelhouse, from R&B to electronic touches. What makes the record more impressive is that it was done by Baxter and Jahnke themselves, without an outside producer.

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There’s “Baking in the Summer,” a song about sex, drugs and baking rolls, with double (and sometimes triple) entendres. A highlight on the album is “Over-Under-Lude” featuring Tobe Nwigwe. The unexpected pairing with Nwigwe’s rap, R&B and soul influences create an intoxicating track that departs from anything the duo has released.

Also on the album is the nostalgic “Need You” that sounds like a summer day and the urgent “Alabama Haint” that makes the perfect comparison between an undefined relationship and a spirit that is hard to shake (“Are you gone? Are you not?”). “Cheyenne” takes you off-guard with an unexpected dark turn.

The freedom of “Olly Olly” and the willingness of Penny and Sparrow to explore new ground charges the album with life. If this record is any indication of what’s to come for the duo, audiences can count on being pleasantly surprised.