Johnathan Rice has worked with girlfriend Jenny Lewis on her solo albums, but in Jenny and Johnny he gets equal billing, and rightfully so. Lewis will overshadow just about any partner with her aching vocals and star power, but Rice holds his own on this set of jangly roots rock. They split the lead vocals and, as the title declares, revel in seemingly lighthearted songs. But the bright West Coast country-rock underpinnings disguise the jaded sentiments, and the mean-spiritedness sometimes undermines the fun. "Just Like Zeus," "My Pet Snakes" and "Switchblade" take jabs at soured friendships and/or celebrity hypocrisies, and "Big Wave" and "Animal" are bitter political ditties. The duo performs Sept. 12 at Cedar Cultural Center.
STEVE KLINGE, Philadelphia Inquirer
Heart, "Red Velvet Car" (Legacy)
Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the new Heart album -- one of only two the group has released over the past 15 years -- is as strong as it is. Outlasting expectations comes naturally to Ann and Nancy Wilson, who in the mid-'80s transformed Heart from the lean hard-rock act of "Barracuda" to the slick power-ballad factory of "These Dreams." Still, rare is the band doing work this good at such an advanced age; rarer still is the band doing it without employing a sober return-to-roots approach.
The best tunes here are as fun -- and as delightfully trashy -- as anything in the Heart songbook: In "WTF," Ann flexes her powerful She-Ra vocals over Nancy's killer fuzz-grunge riff. "Death Valley" earns its title with some gorgeous evil-angel harmony singing. The CD also emphasizes Heart's mystical-folkie side on the slow-burning title track and "Sand," first performed with the Wilsons' acoustic side project, the Lovemongers. But even there you can hear a joy and a sense of humor in the music that distinguishes it from the grim output of many heritage acts.
MIKAEL WOOD, LOS ANGELES TIMES