Monday, September 24, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1182: Jenny Lewis

I’m fresh off a lovely three day weekend where I got all kinds of chances to do fun things, hear great music and generally enjoy the company of wonderful people.

Disc 1182 is… Acid Tongue
Artist: Jenny Lewis

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover? A blotter sheet of Jennys. I know what Hunter S. Thompson would have done with this cover, but I need a place to keep the CD.

How I Came To Know It: I loved Jenny Lewis’s 2006 album “Rabbit Fur Coat” so I took a chance on “Acid Tongue” without having heard a single song.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four slight variations on Jenny Lewis’ solo career: two solo records, one with Johnathan Rice and one with the Watson Twins. Taken together (as I choose to do) that’s four ‘solo’ records. Of those four, I put “Acid Tongue”…fourth. Hey, someone has to be last.

Ratings: 3 stars

It is no surprise Jenny Lewis has so many different solo projects; she is constantly experimenting with her sound.

On other albums Lewis explores stripped down folk (“Rabbit Fur Coat”) and highly produced pop (“Voyager”) and masters them both. On “Acid Tongue” there her usual brand of indie pop made (relatively) famous with her old band Rilo Kiley, mixed with a lot of traditional blues riffs. While I admire the ambition of it all, I found the crossover awkward in places. 

First the good stuff, and there is plenty. “Pretty Bird” is a moody atmospheric piece that showcases those pure vocals and with its mix of bluesy bass groove, Latin guitar flourishes, and ambient feedback it takes a lot of risks and manages to make them pay off.

The title track is less musically risky, but one of the finest tracks on the record. here Lewis opts for a stripped down acoustic guitar strum and a narrative style that would have been equally at home on her previous album, the folksy “Rabbit Fur Coat”. The song has Lewis in familiar territory, as she walks the line between hippy wisdom and lovelorn regret:

“By the rolling river is exactly where I was
There was no snake oil cure for unlucky in love
To be lonely is a habit like smoking or taking drugs
And I've quit them both, but, man, was it rough”

Unfortunately, many of the songs explore the blues, and the twee indie pop doesn’t suit the grit of the blues. Lewis’ vocals are so pure and light by nature and while the musicians find the spirit of the blues in their delivery, the combination with the more pop elements is a bit strained.

This is particularly noticeable on the long and bloated “The Next Messiah”; an almost nine minute song where Lewis explores pretty much every classic blues riff, one after the other. Every piece of it is well played, but stitched together it felt a bit too much like an end-of-the-night bar band medley.

Johnathan Rice (from Jenny and Johnny) was on the album, but his presence didn’t excite me. What did excite me was Zooey Deschanel of She and Him singing backing vocals on a number of tracks. Deschanel’s amazing vocals add a nice touch of sugar on the backing vocals wherever she appears.

Carpetbaggers” has a nice rolling melody that reminded me of mid-eighties Tom Petty but the moment was slightly spoiled by the warble of Elvis Costello making an appearance halfway through. More Zooey, less Elvis!

The album ends on a high point with “Sing a Song for Them” an anthem for the down and out. Deadbeat dads, weekend tweakers and “Boulevard freaks” all get a shout out, among many other folks living a life less travelled, and often not escaping unscathed from the experience.

The CD packaging for “Acid Tongue” failed to impress. It is a simple slip of cardboard, making it impossible to put the title on the edge. As a result, I rarely am inspired to put the CD version on as I scan my collection. Most of the time, I don’t even see it.

Instead of liner notes, it comes with four pictures featuring candid shots of the band recording the album. The shots didn’t look artsy so much as they look like pictures not good enough to make it into your photo album (back when photo albums were still a thing).

Overall, “Acid Tongue” has a few flaws, but it also has its fair share of beauty, and Lewis deserves credit for always finding ways to infuse new ideas into her sound. It doesn’t always work, but it works enough on this record to warrant a solid 3 out of 5.

Best tracks: Pretty Bird, Acid Tongue, Godspeed, Sing a Song For Them

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