Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue

Jenny Lewis is probably one of my favorite lead female singers. But, her prodigious talent goes far beyond just her dynamic voice. She has shown a propensity for writing excellent songs with infectious melodies. I would group her in the upper tiers of her group/brand with the likes of Feist, Emily Haines, Eleni Mandell, and Cat Power. Lewis' background is actually pretty interesting. She's a former child actress having appeared in commercials, tv shows, and a dozen or so movies after being born in Las Vegas and raised in Southern California. After she finished acting in 2001 she started a band named Rilo Kiley with Blake Sennett, Pierre de Reeder, and Jason Boesel. The sound of the band has really taken cues from Lewis' interests in country acts like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Kline, and Lucinda Williams. Starting out with a country twang, the group is now more associated with more of an "downbeat indie rock" sound. Rilo Kiley put out three albums between 2001 and 2004, but it wasn't until 2006 that Lewis ventured out with solo material on Rabbit Fur Coat which was aided by the Watson Twins. Rabbit Fur Coat was a departure from Rilo Kiley and was a coming out party of sorts for Lewis. It demonstrated a musical range and that really put her on musical radars (as if Rilo Kiley opening for Coldplay during their 2005 U.S. tour wasn't enough). Personally, I really enjoyed Rabbit Fur Coat even if some of the songs were knockouts and others seemed a bit rushed.

Going into Acid Tongue I was a bit skeptical since she would be without her stellar backing vocalists the Watson twins. I didn't know how she would do having to support an entire album (ostensibly) by herself. Well, after numerous listens I was horribly mistaken. This album is excellent from front to back. There are collaborations and assistance from the likes of Elvis Costello, M. Ward, Zooey Deschanel, and Chris Robinson. They chip in with backing vocals, a duet (Costello on "Carpetbaggers"), and accompaniment. The resulting album is full of energy, excitement, verve, and genuine emotion. There are ballads. There are country rockers. There is even an epic three song interlude described by Lewis as an "ode to Barbara Streisand and the devil." What more could you ask for in a 9 minute song? Another factor in making this album such a success is that much of it was recorded live. Not live in front of an audience, but live in studio with everyone playing at the same time versus having each part tracked and pieced together digitally. There's a lot of pressure to play well when you're doing that type of recording, but it adds to the excitement and emotion that can't be faked. Believe it or not, the whole album was recorded over a 3 week period and spans 11 tracks clocking in around 47.5 minutes. This album will surely be talked of on Best of 2008 lists in a matter of months. Not only is it a departure from Rilo Kiley, but it's leeps and bounds more mature than her previous solo effort. Jenny Lewis may eventually decide to ditch Rilo Kiley and focus on solo material because she has clearly proved that she can stand out on her own.

"Cartpetbaggers (w/Elvis Costello)"

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