Oh, Jenny Lewis is lovely. Lovely to look at and lovely to listen to. A sweet, smiling girl with flowers in her lovely auburn hair and on her pretty little mind... Wait a minute... Acid Tongue ? With song titles like 'Bad Man's World' and 'Jack Killed Mom'? Whatever can this mean?
Oh, yeah, the gloves are off with this prime slice of Lewis meat. There's a nasty streak in this former child actress a mile wide, and she's displaying it proudly on her second solo record - solo, at least, from Rilo Kiley, Lewis' long-term musical home.
With Rilo Kiley, front-woman Lewis nurtured a definite country sound - all harmonious licks and sweetly drawled narratives in her Nevada accent. Progressively over the band's five records, they have veered from those gentle beginnings into more downbeat indie rock territory, but is is still always underpinned by that exquisitely sweet Lewis delivery.
On 2006's solo Rabbit Fur Coat - recorded with The Watson Twins and with appearances from Conor Oberst and M. Ward - the soulful mix of country and gospel made the record a deliciously rockabilly jaunt, skilled and delightful on 'The Big Guns' and heartbreakingly guileless on 'You Are What You Love'.
But here on Acid Tongue, Lewis' introspective bystander is long gone, and she's replaced it with more of the darkness which featured on Rilo Kiley's own 2007 Under The Backlight record, released in the interim period between her solo exploits.
Opening with the gentle 'Black Sand', the sound gets grittier, and quickly finds its rock feet on the black 'The Next Messiah', where even Lewis' trademark nightingale-sweet voice has gotten darker, and the whole eight-minute extravaganza drips noir like a Fritz Lang movie.
Acid Tongue is a bit of an incestuous affair as far as the music biz goes, with duet and backing vocal duties taken on by as varied - and exciting - a guest-list as Elvis Costello, M. Ward, Jonathan Rice (the current Mr. Lewis, FYI) and Zooey Deschanel (actress, and She & Him chanteuse). But every one of the artists brings something different and exciting to the table, and it speaks highly of Lewis that they have clamored to be invited to the event.
As far as album highlight goes, it's tough to choose between Costello's appearance - and both vocalists' obvious enjoyment - on the raucous duet 'Carpetbaggers' or the way Lewis' voice breaks in 'Trying My Best To Love You', but it's clear that there's no shortage of talent and ingenuity throughout.
With more sides than a Rubik's Cube, Jenny Lewis is one of the truly Great American Singer/Songwriters. She's been there and done that, but her music is still infused with a charming naivety and, even when she rocks it up, sweetness which even her own Acid Tongue can't burn out.