Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins, Acid Tongue

James McNair

By James McNair

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Acid Tongue

Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins

For all her major-label success with indie-rockers Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis has long had an appetite for more traditional-sounding music. You could hear it on RK's early country-tinged albums, and you could certainly here it on Lewis's 2006, Watson Twins-assisted solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat. Pleasingly, Acid Tongue finds the gal Entertainment Weekly called "the Emmylou Harris of the Silverlake set" raising her game further still. Recorded on all-analogue equipment over three weeks in Van Nuys, California, it's a spare, strings-and-seasoned- backing-vocals-appointed album that creaks in the right places. This, one can imagine Lewis proudly thinking, is how Loretta Lynn would have done it way back when.

A proudly retro country-rock album that creaks in the right places.

The album's decidedly hands-off production is split three ways, between songwriter/current Lewis squeeze Jonathan Rice, Beachwood Sparks 'Dave Scher and Under The Blacklight knob-twiddler Jason Lader. Several songs — "Black Sand," "Bad Man's World," the tender, affecting ballad "Godspeed" — rely predominately on drums, piano and bass guitar for ballast, Lewis's voice exposed and intimate.

There's no synthesizer here and no loops; everything happens in "live take" real time as Lewis and co. ignore music technology's advances post-1975. Clearly in thrall to classic country and soul, "Acid Tongue" sounds vibrant, never studied. "Trying My Best To Love You," replete with backing vocals from Lewis's sister Leslie, is camped in the very heart of Motown, while "Jack Killed Mom" has a Johnny Cash-esque parlando section that segues to a rousing gospel / rockabilly knees-up. Best of all, perhaps, is "The Next Messiah," its second section possessed of an itch-scratching guitar riff that would have James Brown on the good foot were he still with us. With Elvis Costello duetting on the kinetic strum-along "Carpetbaggers," the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson adding top-end silver to the title track, and Lewis's father Eddie Gordon contributing bass harmonica, Acid Tongue packs personality and bloodline solidarity in equal measure.