Jenny Lewis "The Voyager"

Jenny Lewis turns personal tragedy and self-examination into shiny pop songs. 

You’ve heard the adage that claims art is derived from pain; Jenny Lewis’ new album fits the criteria, coming as it does on the heels of the break-up of her band Rilo Kiley, the death of her estranged father, and a crippling case of insomnia. However, art/pain can also be a revelatory experience leading to a deeper understanding of oneself. Lewis’ latest offering seems to fit that bill, too.

During her years with the Los Angeles-based band Rilo Kiley, and on her solo albums, Jenny Lewis built a reputation as a gifted songwriter.  With a minimum of words she is capable of exacting the maximum amount of damage thanks to a sharp, unflinching wit. No wonder her last release was titled Acid Tongue. The Voyager is another matter. Lewis’ sharp edges are eroded by the awful truths that lead to wisdom, but she still maintains a healthy level of mocking ironies.

The Voyager opens with the ominously titled “Head Underwater” a contemplation of mortality that bounces happily on a melody that sounds like 1980s Fleetwood Mac. There are a number of places on the album that sound like 1970 and ’80 pop rock. The music is so breezy that it’s easy to miss the tumult that inspired the songs. “She Isn’t Me” could trick you into thinking that the song is a slight reproach to an ex-boyfriend, but the reproach is directed inward as Lewis admits to cheating on her ex. Perhaps the most brilliant use of Lewis’ wicked wit comes on the single “Just One of the Guys” a clever self-evaluation of a woman in her prime years. “When I look at myself all I can see, I'm just another lady without a BABY” she admits. “You Can’t Outrun “Em” throws a bit of western twang into the production. The record continues with an inventory of dark themes matched by glittering melodies.

Lewis is joined by a great supporting cast, starting with producers Ryan Adams and Beck Hansen, who produced “One of the Guys.” The Watson Twins, who joined Lewis on her Rabbit Fur Coat album, reprise their role as backing vocalist. Another set of sisters, Klara and Johanna Soderberg, aka, First Aid Kit, also offer backing vocals. Another Rilo Kiley alumni, Jonathan Rice, Bright Eyes member Nathaniel Walcott kick in to help, as do Mike Elizondo, Dave Scher, Lou Barlow, Benmont Tench, and Blake Mills.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)