Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

the-voyager-1404940221Rating: ★★★½☆

Jenny Lewis, long time indie star, has been making a lot of waves recently with this new album, yes, but with her star-studded music video for “Just One Of The Guys.” Regardless, this lady has put in a lot of time and effort into her musical career and many projects she’s worked on and all the buzz around the Voyager is well deserved, as it’s a joy to listen to from start to finish.

Last time around on her solo effort on Acid Tongue, Lewis got mixed reviews when it came to the reception, but 2008 is long ago and a lot can happen in six years, as this album is a testament to. Her songwriting takes center stage, and each track is either a story from the past or a commentary on the changing times; of love and lost and what exactly it means to be in Jenny Lewis’ shoes. The first track that grabs you just so happens to be the opener, but what reaches out to me is the guitar riff and not the songwriting. “Head Underwater,” though not devoid of witty and reflective lyrics, seems a little bland until about halfway through the track where this precision guitar riff and some backing “oohs” pulls you in to this gypsy folk funk-twisted rock. The beat of this track is quick and Lewis’ voice is all power and commands the song in all its hops and skips. Next up you get a little deeper into this groovy take on bluesy rock with “She’s Not Me, ”which is one of my favorites from the record, complete with a string breakdown and guitar solo outro.

As the album progresses you begin to focus more and more on the songwriting and therein the storytelling that is to be found here. Deeper tracks like “Late Bloomer” and the title track,” The Voyager,” both give you full stories to reflect in and on. The first of these two tracks delves into the past of the narrator, recounting and retelling when she was sixteen. It’s obvious that Lewis has a vast amount of experience to draw on and spin into tales of intrigue. “The Voyager” closes the album by starting off with some epic string arrangements only to scale it back to just Lewis’ vocals and some acoustic guitar. You can here the simplistic brilliance in the songwriting through the choral tag:  “If you wanna get to heaven get out of this world–” she takes simple life instances and turns them into deeper reflections.

My criticism of this album is that it feels a little too easy to listen to. While that may seem to be a ridiculous critique to you, dear reader, there’s a small part of me that worries the ease of listening may detract from the overall longevity of the record, as I’ve yet to really live with this album for a while. Time will tell if The Voyager can withstand its own voyages.

Jenny and Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now

Rating: ★★★★☆

What can we expect when our favorite artists fall in love and write music together?  It didn’t work for Yoko and John, but would it work for Rilo Kiley songstress Jenny Lewis and her beau, Johnathan Rice?  Well, I’m Having Fun Now, the first album under the Jenny and Johnny moniker, really sums up the attitude of the duo, as that spirit, at least musically, embodies everything about the album.  Honestly, you’ll probably be having a lot of fun as well listening to this record.

When Johnathan Rice‘s voice kicks in on “Scissor Runner,” it’s a warm entry, and you begin to wonder when Jenny will show up.  Seconds later she greets her man with her distinguished vocals, sounding a little bit more like the Jenny Lewis of yesteryear.  Beginning at this point launches the record in the perfect direction, exhibiting a duo completely comfortable with one another, both in and out of the studio.  They even stop to incorporate some of the current California jangle pop with “My Pet Snake,” the first track that really features Jenny.  Her voice hasn’t sounded this great and confident in years, which may surprise some, as Rice helped her produce the much lauded Acid Tongue.  So far, so good.

“Big Wave” is another one of the record’s great tracks, and it’s one of those tracks that really takes you back.  Jenny sounds a lot fresher with her vocal performance, and while many love her country-fied leanings, she can still carry a solid pop tune.  It’s not the most incredibly innovative songwriting, but the casualness on display suits the duo perfectly; it’s like they were both born to write I’m Having Fun Now.  Even Johnathan sounds great when he takes the lead role, such as on tracks like “Animal.”  There’s a hint of devil-may-care in his delivery, yet there is a certain sense of confidence, perhaps from knowing his lover/best friend is by his side, as Lewis really brings her powers to the chorus here.

An edgier Jenny Lewis, who still writes her lyrics in much the same fashion as she always has, is on exhibit with songs like “Straight Edge of the Blade,” transporting listeners back to the days where she seemed so care-free.  This is perhaps the best accomplishment of Jenny and Johnny, bringing the best out in each other, supporting each other and uniting in strength. “New York Cartoon,” much like parts of “Scissor Runner,” uses vocals from both parts singing in unison.  It’s the perfect accompaniment, and you can clearly see why they’re such a match. These touches of balance and harmony lie in wait for listeners throughout the album.

In conclusion, you couldn’t really ask form more from the two songwriters here.  There’s hints of both their passion in these songs, sometimes edgy, sometimes mellow and warm.  Perhaps you won’t find the music the most innovative out there, but occasionally its those groups who clearly know each other so well that they bring the best out of one another that really hit home for us.  Jenny and Johnny have shown us just that with their organization of I’m Having Fun Now; the record shows the two having fun playing together, which leads to fun for us.  The ball is in your court Ben and Zooey.


Download: Jenny and Johnny – Scissor Runner [MP3]

Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue

Rating: ★★★½☆

The question with the latest Jenny Lewis album, Acid Tongue, really lies in the listener. Are you, as a listener and fan, willing to forgive some of the lackluster perfomances on this album in order to enjoy some of its finest pieces?

Opener “Black Sand” is the perfect song for Jenny. It’s gentle soundscape relies entirely upon her vocals, which is precisely where she excels. When she pushes her voice during the chorus, you know exactly why you love Jenny Lewis. There is something to her strength as an artist and a fox that both male and female are drawn towards.

Then we Jenny go further in the direction of country/folk, which most of us will say is where we think she belongs, or where she has been all along, but this is untrue. Sure, Rilo Kiley has gravitated towards that, and away from that; yes, her debut solo album bore that influence, but the greatest Rilo album’s were the early ones where she maintained her pop sensibility. The backing of acoustic guitars did nothing other than provide a stage for her voice.

You see, that is where the problem lies in this album. Jenny waivers back and forth between folk and classic R&B girl groups, but she never lands on that precisely pop moment where she truly shines. The title track, “Acid Tongue” does head back into the past, and even with its country undertones, you can still hear the pop star in Jenny Lewis ready to crawl out of her shell. This is the one song where it’s hard to differentiate between the Jenny we love, and the Jenny we are now witnessing. She stands firmly between both worlds.

“Fernando” is full of sexual appeal, which is where I place the blame for the faults of new era Jenny. She’s lost the innocence that made her so spectacular, instead forging ahead into sexual innuendo, associated with a bravado that is very unbecoming. But then, she jumps in with a song like “Godspeed” that makes you fall in love with her all over again. If only she could carry the power of this song throughout an entire album.

Therein lies the final conclusion. Jenny Lewis has a phenomenal voice, unlike most other female musicians these days. Her range is ridiculous, but in an effort to fully explore the vast expanse of her vocal landscape, she leaves herself stretched too thin, leaving faults in songs that could have been perfected. I’m still holding onto hope that one day she finishes it off right, either solo or with Rilo Kiley.

And don’t forget to check her out at ACL this weekend because if there is one woman that commands a stage, it’s this one.