At this point, it’s pretty hard to make music about the tension between sin and redemption without sounding hokey. That whole church thing had already been reinvented a zillion times (see: Cash, Cave, Kanye) before Jenny Lewis took a dusty side trip from Rilo Kiley and made 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat, a set of God-focused songs spiked with clever modern hiccups. Now, on Acid Tongue, she’s once again got one foot in a holy-water fount and the other in a hell-hole, howling for a savior and/or drug dealer.
The thing is, she’s really good at that stuff—better than she is at cooing in falsetto through the pair of down-tempo flimsies that start the record. “Black Sand” and “Pretty Bird” are throwaways that should’ve been buried near the end. The real fun starts with “The Next Messiah,” a thrilling, eight-and-a-half-minute revival-style rave-up electrified by guitar work from her boyfriend, Johnathan Rice. Lewis has help in other places, too: “Carpetbaggers,” a tune about ruthless temptresses, is a catchy duet with newfound fan Elvis Costello. Her sister Leslie Lewis sings on the live favorite “See Fernando.” Singer/actor Zooey Deschanel offers sensitive backing vocals on the oh-so-’70s love ballad “Tryin’ My Best to Love You.” And on the hymn-like title track and centerpiece, Jenny’s very own boy choir (including Rice and the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson) adds gorgeous harmonies to a confessional chorus.
The whole thing was tracked live and unedited by computers, so you can hear exactly how it all went down. One minute, she’s leading her minions with total conviction; the next, her voice is cracking with nerves. Of course, subtle insecurity is part of Acid Tongue‘s charm. Jenny is a definitely a chosen one in the talent department, but she doesn’t really let on.
Jenny Lewis plays the Apollo Theatre October 4