Jenny LewisThe Voyager
The clock is ticking on The Voyager, California alt-pop songwriter Jenny Lewis' first solo album in six years. "When I look at myself all I can see, I'm just another lady without a baby," the 38-year-old former Rilo Kiley front woman sings on "Just One of the Guys," the album's lead single about never being able to fit into the indie-rock boys club. In "Head Underwater," she remains guarded ("I don't want to bore you with how I feel, but when the walls came down the shit got real") while hinting at anxiety attacks induced by contemplations of mortality.
That tension roils beneath the surface on The Voyager, which looks back on past travels ("Late Bloomer," about a teenage sojourn to Paris) and relationships gone wrong (the fabulous "She's Not Me," the not-so-good "The New You") and right ("Love You Forever"). With flourishes and sweet harmonies, the 10-song collection is so smoothly produced -- mostly by Ryan Adams, partly by Beck -- that you might not notice the trouble lurking. It's a far more successful move into glossy, yet substantive, grown-up pop than was Rilo Kiley's 2007 failed Fleetwood Mac move, Under the Blacklight, and it's nice to have Lewis back in action. But The Voyager is not quite the out-of-this-world comeback Lewis fans were waiting for.
--Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Old Crow Medicine Show
"Give me that old-time music, Lord make it hot," Critter Fuqua pleads on "Doc's Day." Old Crow Medicine Show delivers on that request in spades on Remedy, but the veteran septet as usual also spikes its string-band attack with some heavy doses of rock-and-roll attitude, whether it's the rambunctious humor of "Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer" or the Dylanesque bite of "Mean Enough World."
Speaking of the Bard, Dylan contributes to another fine cowrite, "Sweet Amarillo." (The first collaboration with Old Crow's Ketch Secor, "Wagon Wheel," became a country and pop hit for Darius Rucker.) The accordion-laced waltz, along with "Dearly Departed Friend" and "The Warden," points up how Old Crow is just as compelling when it slows the breakneck pace and softens the edge.
--Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer
For its second full-length album, 18 murky songs funneled into seven oddly-titled suites, Seattle's Shabazz Palaces picks up the "ancient to the future" motto that guided the Art Ensemble of Chicago and blasts further into the jazzy avant-rap stratosphere than on 2011's Black Up. That first album was exquisite, psychedelic art-hop, but the new effort from MC/singer/ex-Digable Planet Ishmael Butler and soundscaper/multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire is something expansive yet weirdly robotic, and deliciously Afrocentric -- a hip-hopera, if you will, with the fat lady in full effect.
Talking about his rap past on "Ishmael," Butler breathily intones the lines "Huey beats and Malcolm flow/ Intimacies I doubt you know," as if proudly reciting Shakespeare through Hendrix's purple ambient haze. By the time we get to the creepy blues of "They Came in Gold" and the nervous New Wave of "Solemn Swears," Butler begins to loosen and "think in terms of I," doing or dying on the former, making listeners "dance at just a glance" throughout the latter. Whether navel-gazing on the sociopolitical tip or focusing on the self, ripping sound is first and foremost on Shabazz's agenda, with a bracingly bizarre score overwhelming all they survey.
--A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer