Jenny Lewis’ musical career is the second act in her working life. She first achieved fame as a child star, appearing in commercials then movies like The Wizard and Troop Beverly Hills. She largely quit acting in the mid-1990s to focus on music, forming Rilo Kiley with Blake Sennett.
Lewis released her debut album, Rabbit Fur Coat, while still a member of Rilo Kiley. Her solo career is anchored in 1970s soft-rock, but she’s taken in different influences on the way, touching on Americana and pop/rock, and each of her solo albums has its own identity. She’s respected enough to feature famous guests like Elvis Costello and Ringo Starr on her records. With the release of her fifth album, Joy’all, it’s an opportune time to look back on her catalogue.
Jenny Lewis Albums Ranked
The advance signs were promising for Lewis’s fifth album. There’s a great cover, which evokes the Solid Gold Hits compilations of the 1970s. And the singles are strong – ‘Puppy and a Truck’, ‘Psychos’, and ‘Cherry Baby’ suggest a stronger album than the one that eventuated. Too much of the rest of the album is unremarkable country and soft-rock, echoes of earlier and better work.
#4 Acid Tongue
Acid Tongue originated from jams held at the home of Laurel Canyon-based producer Jonathan Wilson. These songs largely sound like they originated from jams – they’re less focused than usual. It sounds great, with hints of psychedelia and musicians like M Ward, Blake Mills, and The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. But the songs aren’t as striking as usual, with notable exceptions like the lovely harmonies on the stripped-down title track, and a spirited duet with Elvis Costello on ‘Carpetbaggers’.
#3 The Voyager
If Lewis had released The Voyager in 1977, she’d probably be a household name. Even in 2014, it made the top ten on Billboard – it’s her slickest, most radio-friendly album, and deserved success. Disgraced producer Ryan Adams used unusual methods, forcing Lewis to listen to Creed at ear-splitting volume. The catchy songs at the front of the record are particularly deserving – ‘She’s Not Me’ echoes Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin”, while ‘Head Underwater’ is pretty and uplifting. The Voyager isn’t Lewis’s most substantial album, but it’s her most pleasant.
#2 On The Line
Lewis had some major life events to dissect on her fourth album. Her mother passed away, while she broke up with her long-time boyfriend, singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice. Lewis uses both as inspiration – on ‘Little White Dove’ she sings of reconciling with her mother shortly before her death. “A mother and child/Emergency behind a yellow curtain.” Lewis is supported by a classy cast of backup musicians, including Ringo Starr, Ryan Adams, Beck, and Jim Keltner. Tom Petty sideman Benmont Tench plays a classy organ solo on the opening track, ‘Heads Gonna Roll’.
#1 Rabbit Fur Coat
Lewis was still a member of Rilo Kiley when she recorded her debut album. She works with The Watson Twins, who provide bluegrass-style harmonies. Lewis describes Rabbit Fur Coat as a “sort of soul record”, but the simple arrangements are closer to Americana. Male singer-songwriters Conor Oberst, M Ward, and Ben Gibbard drop in for a fun cover of The Travelling Wilburys ‘Handle With Care’, but it’s Lewis’s originals that stand out. She’s never delivered such a consistent set of solo songs, spearheaded by the single ‘Rise Up With Fists’ and the wise and tender ‘Melt Your Heart’.
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