Jenny Lewis and Elvis Costello – “Carpetbagger”

I finally got my hands on Jenny Lewis’s new solo album Acid Tongue and it’s immediately clear that as a solo performer she is much more interesting than she is with her band Rilo Kiley.

Mostly, I think because Lewis is interested in a southern musical stew throwing country, blues, gospel and rock into a pot and seeing what works. It’s obvious these are the genres of music that have influenced and moved her musical outlook.  As a solo artist she is allowed to pursue what interests her the most, with Rilo Kiley it’s almost like she is forced to reign it in for the sake of everyone else in the band.

The album has plenty of highlights and stretches what we have come to expect from Lewis.  If before this album I thought she was a capable front woman for a band or need the soulfulness of The Watson Twins as a crutch, I’m now more than curious about what her future holds.  In many ways this album has raised her ceiling – she’s like a poor woman’s Neko Case.  And I don’t mean that as an insult, but rather the highest compliment I could give a female country artist.

There are a few throw away songs on this album, not that the songs are bad per say, but that I just don’t care for them because they are uninteresting in a pedantic way (“Pretty Bird,” “Bad Man’s World” and “Black Sand” come to mind).

The best songs here have those awkward phrasings and lyrics, that while on her last album seemed to be a detriment, here it works in her favor.  It gives the album personality and a certain quirky charm.  It also helps that several songs shift genres over the course of their duration – “Jack Killed Mom,” and “Acid Tongue” are the best examples of the wildly shifting sounds at work.

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a fullblown review of Jenny’s new album.  I came to praise her duet with Elvis Costello on “Carpetbagger.”

Though I don’t think she’ll ever want to be a prototypical Nashville country star, the child-actress raised in Hollywood could be considered something of a country music carpetbagger.  Which is not to say her love of southern musical culture isn’t genuine, I think she combines those tropes better and in a more cohesive sound than many who try.

“Carpetbaggers” is an uptempo rocker and stolen from Elvis Costello.  Even at his age his voice is one for the ages – smoothed out but still nasally. It’s like he’s not even trying in this song and yet, I don’t think it would nearly work as well without him.

Knowledge bomb alert: Carpetbagger, while now considered a derisive term for any politician running for office in a district other than their own, i.e. Hillary Clinton running for Senator of New York, the term was originally given to Northerners who moved south during Reconstruction (1865-1877).  Southerners were worried that white republicans from the north (who came with their belongings in travel carpetbags) were going to loot and plunder their defeated lands.  Which is probably true, since with a coalition of freed slaves and scalawags (southerns who supporter reconstruction) they attempted to politically control confederate states.

Mp3: Jenny Lewis – “Carpetbaggers”

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