CD Reviews: Jenny Lewis, Mark Erelli, the Sacred Shakers, Catie Curtis
JENNY LEWIS – “Acid Tongue’’ For those eagerly awaiting the sequel to “Rabbit Fur Coat,’’ Jenny Lewis’ critically acclaimed 2006 twangy solo album with the Watson Twins, “Acid Tongue’’ might not completely do it for you. Her new release, while having tinges of her country side, is just as much related to her rocking Rilo Kiley side.
No matter what you think of the new album, you have to admit two things: 1) She’s got one of the sweetest voices, country or rock; and 2) She’s not resting on any laurels from her past. Lewis takes this album many directions: opener “Black Sand” harkens back to the acoustic “Rabbit Fur Coat.’’ But soon she’s blowing you way with the almost 9-minute, multi-part “The Next Messiah,’’ which hits you with electric guitar (even a little Beatles-esque “For You Blue’’ riff) to a country stomp then back again. “Bad Man’s World” is a tasty, slinky ride augmented with cello and violin.
Guests on the album are many: Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes joins Lewis for some sweet harmony on the title cut. Others who appear are longtime friend M. Ward (on “Pretty Bird”) and Zooey Deschanel (on “Trying My Best to Love You” and “Jack Killed Mom”), and the ever-present Elvis Costello, adding some toughness to the sturdy, country rocker “Carpetbaggers.”
Mood swings are frequent on “Acid Tongue,” but the constant is Lewis’ voice, which is equally triumphant cooing in “Godspeed’’ and rocking it hard on “See Fernando.’’ “Jack Killed Mom,’’ about a typical Jenny sinner/outcast, is one of the most fun songs on the album, with a big sing-along chorus that eerily plays against the songs lyrics.
MARK ERELLI – “Delivered” Mark Erelli has built a steady and sturdy reputation as both a songwriter and guitarist (he backed Lori McKenna on her recent major-label tour). On “Delivered,’’ he continues to grow his own sound. His songs continue to be passionate looks at the world around him. Album opener “Hope Dies Last” sound dire in its lyrics: “Another suicide bomb at a market in the Middle East/the authorities estimate 28 dead at least.’’ But he ends each chorus, “But all that comes to pass/hope dies last.’’ On “Volunteers,’’ Mark tells the story of a National Guardsman who sees his life and his job change after 9/11, and how he reconciles it. It’s an antiwar song, but not from the typical angle.
Mark has also added more diversity to the sound of his folk songs. “Shadowland” is a flat-out rocker, with heavy electric guitar lines. “Unraveled” brings harmonica and a Dylan-esque vocal. “Abraham’’ has a Josh Ritter-ish sound, with its organ intro and its introspective lyrics. If you hear it as well, it may be because Zack Hickman, bassist for Josh, produced the album and many of the musicians, including drummer Liam Hurley, pianist Sam Kassirer and guitarist Austin Nevins, provide the solid backing to Mark’s tunes.
THE SACRED SHAKERS – “The Sacred Shakers” For those familiar with Eilen Jewell and her band (and if you’re not, you should be), you will recognize most of this band if not the sound. That’s because Jewell and band plus a few more of Boston’s best ramblers strip down and dress up traditional gospel tunes in the fun and funky country twang of banjo, fiddle, and upright bass. Each song has its own unique sound as lead vocals gets passed around like a good jug of moonshine. Songs such as “Jordan Is a Hard Road to Travel’’ and “Straighten ’Em” make you want to cry out “Halleluyah!”
CATIE CURTIS – “Sweet Life” Catie Curtis must be in a pretty good place right now. We know Curtis best for her song “Do Unto Others,’’ about a mentally abusive relationship. So this album is quite an uplifting turn. Listening to “Sweet Life,” with such songs titles as “Happy,” “Everything Wanting to Grow,’’ “Lovely” and “Sing,” well, you just somehow get the feeling life is on the upswing for her. The tunes, too, are upbeat – acoustic guitars and soaring organ – even when the lyrics might delve into tougher themes. In a time when many folk singers are mining darker corners of their mind, Catie’s album is a breath of fresh air.