Jenny Lewis' last two releases—her solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, and Rilo Kiley's Under The Blacklight—have earned her the most attention of her career, and also the most scrutiny from longtime Rilo Kiley fans wary of the new directions the band's frontwoman has been exploring. Unfortunately for those still hoping for an old-school Rilo Kiley redux, Lewis' new Acid Tongue is the sonic midpoint of those two releases, matching Blacklight's freewheeling, schizophrenic vibe with Fur Coat's alt-country foundations. For those ready to move with Lewis down those paths, however, the new one is a confident amalgam of tracks that sparkle, stew, and storm.
The element binding sparse, prettily forlorn tracks ("Bad Man's World," "Pretty Bird") with rollicking, gospel-tinged larks like "Jack Killed Mom" is the live-tracked, all-analog recording, which gives the album the warm, communal appeal of a no-pressure, see-what-sticks jam session. And Lewis invites plenty of friends into the studio with her, including Elvis Costello on the bouncy duet "Carpetbaggers" and Johnathan Rice on the nine-minute "The Next Messiah," which makes up for its indulgent three-part medley with chugging acoustic guitar and a barnburner of a chorus. Lewis' explorations don't always gel, though, particularly when she dabbles in falsetto chirping on the forgettable "Trying My Best To Love You" and the lackluster "Black Sand." Acid Tongue is at its best—as on the standout title track—when Lewis keeps her voice and songwriting as unforced and natural as the recording, grounding the album's many digressions with the heartfelt enthusiasm of a singer who's exactly where she wants to be.