Jenny Lewis, "The Voyager" (Warner)
Though she's best known for her stint in the pop-rock band Rilo Kiley, Lewis has done her best work as a solo artist, and "The Voyager" continues the trend. Her third solo release, and first since "Acid Tongue" in 2008, is a collection of breezy songs about tumultuous events.
The vibe is unabashedly '70s California — the confessional songs and country-tinged melodies of the Laurel Canyon era merged with Fleetwood Mac's gleaming but tortured pop-rock. Lewis' pristine, at times deceptively childlike voice channels a series of life-shaking events. "Head Underwater" chronicles a breakdown in a bouncy tune supported by wordless backing vocals. "She's Not Me" is equally transparent about a breakup: "Remember the night I destroyed it all/ When I told you I cheated/ And you punched through the drywall."
Recorded with Beck, the Watson Twins and Benmont Tench, and largely produced by Ryan Adams, the songs balance lush textures with organic arrangements that put Lewis' voice and the melody at the forefront. Behind the sometimes off-putting yacht-rock smoothness, heavy psychoanalysis lurks in "The New You" and "You Can't Outrun 'Em," which flirts with the occult. Lewis contemplates a life that has so far left her childless in "Just One of the Guys" and muses in the vacation-from-hell tale "Aloha & the Three Johns" whether "this [is] the beginning of middle aging" or "the end of civilization." No matter how dark things get, the music carries that weight with a redemptive grace.
Lewis performs Sunday at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
NRBQ, "Brass Tacks" (Clang)
It was a nervy move by founding keyboardist Terry Adams to take the NRBQ name for his own group a few years ago. The 'Q had built up a loyal following and cherished legacy over more than four decades of smart and freewheeling music-making. This new iteration, however, manages to retain a lot of the old NRBQ flavor. Adams still exudes a shaggy charm as he blends pop classicism and virtuosic musicianship with an offbeat lyrical perspective, while also taking the occasional detour into jazzy meditations ("Places Far Away") or the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook ("Getting to Know You"). Guitarist Scott Ligon also has a sure touch for effervescent pop, as he shows right out of the box with the opener, "Waitin' on My Sweetie Pie," and new bassist Casey McDonough provides a bracing slab of twang-fueled country with "Fightin' Back."
What's missing is the boisterous bar-band side of the 'Q. (That aspect was best personified by guitarist Al Anderson, who left more than 20 years ago.) But when this version gets down to "Brass Tacks," there's still a lot to like.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer