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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.