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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Jenny Lewis
Acid Tongue
Warner Bros.

Rating: 6.8/10 ?

September 23, 2008
Jenny Lewis' career trajectory has been one marked by her expansive range. When it comes to songwriting, Lewis, the child actress-turned-darling of the indie music scene, tends to be a tourist: she visits a genre, co-opts some aspect of it, and essentially embodies that sound. The various genre lenses through which she has filtered her music - whether alt-country, folk, funk, soul, rock or indie-pop - have more often than not found Lewis landing feet-first and being embraced by the communities she draws inspiration from. Best known for her collaborations with Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello on their Postal Service album, and as front woman of Rilo Kiley, Lewis' solo career has been launched on a clearly delineated route, one distinct from her past musical efforts.

Acid Tongue follows the soulful gospel of Lewis' solo debut, 2006's Rabbit Fur Coat. Though sonically different, the albums share a similar melancholy overtone and life-battered cast. What Lewis' latest release offers is a slice of Americana, a romanticized version of dusty, small-town life. Largely comprised of simple arrangements, there's a sense of authenticity that Lewis so effortlessly conveys. Yet, in contrast, the polish of the record detracts from its earnest disposition. Ironically, the album was consciously recorded in an all-analog, no Pro-Tools manner with the intention to avoid the overproduced sound that it has nonetheless created.

Touring with the Watson Twins over the past two years, Lewis has road-tested much of Acid Tongue. The album includes studio contributions from Rilo Kiley member Jason Boesel, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward of She & Him, Jonathan Rice, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, her loyal Watsons, and even Elvis Costello adding a whining verse on "Carpetbaggers." Comparatively speaking, Acid Tongue packs less punch than Lewis' Rilo Kiley material and never quite reaches the same level of soul as her debut solo album. If Rabbit Fur Coat was angsty and world-weary, Acid Tongue is submissive and ill-fated.

Arguably, Lewis' strength lies in storytelling. Her twangy anthems of distrust carry the spirit and integrity of her former work. Lewis tries on a few personas: with her wounded vocals on "Badman's World," a victim; the gospel feel of "Tryin' My Best," a desperate lover; a tired wanderer of the noteworthy title track. "Jack Killed Mom," a second-hand account of murder, is told like an old town legend and could very well be. With credit to Lewis, her songwriting takes risks and generally escapes sounding hokey.

With a voice so piercingly clear, it would be unfair to call Lewis "girlish." Yet in "Sing a Song," the clean hopefulness translates a bit syrupy sweet. Thankfully balancing the sugary ballad are the high-powered show-stoppers "See Fernando" and "Jack Killed Mom"; these obvious throwbacks to the country entertainers of yesteryear are engaging with their full, celebratory sound, jammy breakdowns and energied whooping.

It should be noted that Lewis' experimentation with different styles and sounds works for her probably more so than any other artist attempting to cross similar musical boundaries. That said, Acid Tongue has more hits than misses. However, Lewis doesn't realize her full potential on this LP. Her minimalist approach ("Godspeed," "Black Sand") allows her to bring out some brilliant vocals but otherwise, falls short of memorable. The album's shortcomings are not a result of poor execution; technically, the musicianship is excellent. What's lacking is excitement, something she has been able to deliver in the past; Lewis has the capacity and the talent to create something bigger than this.

Reviewed by Lara Longo
Lara Longo is a writer and photographer from Brooklyn, NY. In 1989, Lara received her first CD player and album, Appetite for Destruction; ever since, music is something she has fawned over, hated on, and played loudly. Her work has also appeared in Relix and New York Cool. Lara’s interests include sharks, European television, and the Hammond B3 organ.

See other reviews by Lara Longo



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