Despite its appearance on more than one best of 2014 list, you could be forgiven for thinking Jenny Lewis' new album, The Voyager, came straight out of the 1970s; just take one listen to "She's Not Me" and you'll be breaking out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes and searching for the nearest disco. A significant proportion of the media coverage upon the album's release was taken up with name-dropping its celebrity producers (Ryan Adams and Beck) and video guest stars for the first single, "Just One of the Guys" (Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart). The album's true attractions for me, however, lie in Lewis' lyrics and vocals. Indeed, this is what has drawn me to all of her projects, particularly her beloved former band Rilo Kiley. One of my favorite aspects of Lewis' songwriting is her penchant for matching dark or bleak lyrics with sunny, poppy-sounding musical accompaniment, for instance on the songs "Head Underwater" and "The New You." Several of the songs on The Voyager are exemplars of one of her other musical habits, which is telling great stories through lyrics. "Aloha and the Three Johns" chronicles a vacation from hell that she and her band had in Hawaii at the end of a previous tour. "Late Bloomer" is a full-scale singer-songwriter ballad and (perhaps autobiographical) coming-of-age story about a teenage girl's transformative few months spent bumming around Europe.
Anyone who appreciates strong, engaging lyrics, a folk/country rock sound, and gorgeous vocals should check this one out. If you haven't heard Lewis before, also look into her other work, including her two previous solo albums, Acid Tongue and Rabbit Fur Coat; the final album with former band Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight; and the side-project album, I'm Having Fun Now, made under the name Jenny and Johnny with her musical and romantic partner Johnathan Rice. Perhaps unexpectedly, Lewis also contributed the very charming and catchy tune "Barking at the Moon" to the soundtrack for the Disney film, Bolt.