With Rilo Kiley on hiatus and last year’s spotty Under the Blacklight our last, lingering taste of the band for a while, we’re left chasing its members through their other projects. Guitarist Blake Sennett and drummer Jason Boesel still have the Elected, and bassist Pierre de Reeder is about to unveil a solo album, but all eyes remain on front woman Jenny Lewis, whose gorgeously strong singing defines Rilo Kiley.
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On Lewis’ second album under her own name—the first being 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat, an understated collaboration with the Watson Twins—she embraces the commercial sheen of Blacklight while maintaining the quiet confidence and joyous gospel influence of Rabbit. The resulting Acid Tongue is more grown-up, but also feels like a jukebox, steadily shuffling through moods and genres.
Opener “Black Sand” shows off Lewis’ vocals, which are airier than usual, but lasts a bit too long. “The Next Messiah” is a bum take on Chris Isaak. “Fernando” is cheesy, but “Badman’s World” fares better, and the title track features Lewis’ best singing. The unabashedly country gem “Carpetbaggers” would be great even if it weren’t a duet with a revitalized Elvis Costello. That and the quirky, girl-group-y murder ballad “Jack Killed Mom” make up for the schmaltzy torch song “Trying My Best to Love You.”
The sad, spiritual “Sing a Song for Them” brings it all home, closing a high-profile album packed with guests, from M. Ward and the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson to Zooey Deschanel and Lewis’ squeeze, Johnathan Rice. But the analog charms aren’t enough make Acid Tongue anywhere near as solid and loveable as Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous, still the high-water mark for Lewis and co.