Jenny Lewis Celebrates the Ride

Dave Hause on the world weary, detached cool of On The Line.

I opted not to meet her.

My friend Jake works for giant rock and roll bands, and he came through town with The Postal Service a few years back. We ended up standing in the backstage of the Santa Barbara Bowl, and Jenny Lewis was hanging around, doing her thing. Granted, the main songwriter in the Postal Service is extraordinary, but it was Jenny that I got awkward around. I’m sure she would’ve been nice to chat with, and for sure would’ve loved to meet my wife, who is great in those situations, but what was I going to talk about with her? Songs? Lyrics? I left well enough alone.

It’s a weird thing I sometimes do with certain songwriters when I have the chance to meet them; the ones who I’m really in awe of, the ones who I think conjure the most magic. Despite knowing that we ultimately do the same job, and likely struggle with the same stuff, and that these are ultimately just people, I shy away and opt not to meet them. When you write songs for a living, the people who really do it at the highest level seem all the more incredible.

I don’t review records. I’m not going to spend time trying to contextualize this album within the greater framework of modern music, or what it means for Jenny’s career. I’m sure there are multiple reviews and articles that have already done just that. I’ll give you my thoughts on the songs the way I would with a fellow music nerd — I presume if you’re reading this, that’s likely what we have in common.

The mix is phenomenal, that kick drum in particular on “Heads Gonna Roll” and “Red Bull & Hennessy,” holy mackerel. It’s a great blend of classic tones with a modern spin, the mid-range is toned down and the lows are punchy, leaving a great little pocket for her vocals to bring the lyrics right to the front. Shawn Everett mixed it, and his production on Alabama Shakes, The War On Drugs, and Benjamin Booker’s records sounds great to me, but most of all I love the work he did on Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour. I felt like Kacey was conjuring some Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis vibes on that record, so it’s a real treat to get to hear him work with Jenny.

The lyrics are masterful. Since her last record, her mother passed away and she broke up with her long term boyfriend, so there’s a melancholy to most of these songs. She defuses that melancholy with a world weary, detached cool, and a witty style that is really specific to her. It’s one of my favorite things about her voice. In the end, we all know that break ups, deaths, and all kinds of other unpleasantness will occur, and when Jenny Lewis is our story teller, she is capable of showing all of that melancholy while still making you laugh. We knew we weren’t going to get out of here alive, we knew things were going to go bad at points, and yet, we took the ride. She celebrates that ride, and all of the booze, drugs, laughs, fun, and sex we get to have along the way, all the while knowing that “heads gonna roll…”  and that “after all is said and done, we’ll all be skulls.” Listening, I took comfort in that.

My wife just had twins, so the last few months have been a wild, joyful, sleepless blur.  One thing I’ve been trying to do with them is play them various favorite records of mine, knowing these are the first records their little ears are ever going to hear. We’ve listened to Full Moon Fever (and a ton of other Petty records) at least a dozen times, and Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, The Beatles, The Police, Neko Case, Aretha Franklin, Patty Griffin, Green Day, and Wilco have all been in rotation. So when I got the opportunity to review Jenny’s new record, it was in the midst of playing my favorite, and some of the most celebrated albums of all time.

The first thing I noticed while listening to the record is how well it fit amongst those classic albums. When I initially got the record and the lyrics, I was blown away by how natural the playing felt, so it made perfect sense later when I learned that Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner, Benmont Tench, Ryan Adams, Beck, and Don Was all played on the album. Most of those players I had been listening to with my tiny sons in the weeks prior on these iconic, culture defining albums.  It’s hard to make a bad record with that cast, but the most remarkable thing they do so well here is that they serve the songs. They stay out of the way of the melodies and lyrics that she brings to the table. Hearing these within the context of all of these classic records I’ve been listening to makes sense; she’s playing with folks who played on these records because her craft is that great.

So that’s my hot take. Jenny Lewis made a classic record with some of the finest players in rock and roll history because her songs are so special, so magical, so well crafted, that they should all be so lucky to get to play on it.  Maybe that’s why I opted not to meet her, but I sure do welcome her beautiful songs any time I get the chance to listen.

Kick, acclaimed Philadelphia-raised singer-songwriter Dave Hause’s fourth solo outing, finds the seasoned musician carrying on in the voice and tradition of classic American songwriters, tackling topics of hope, depression, global warming, a crumbling democracy, and growing old. These complex notions weave together with a joyous sing-along cadence that creates a soundtrack for the broken American dream.

The album doesn’t sugarcoat either the personal problems or the global challenges at its center. At the core of this record, there remains a vivid humanity and a hope that things can — and will — get better, even if it seems like the odds are stacked against us. When the only alternative is to drown, the first step towards survival is to kick.

Dave Hause will be touring North America starting this week and throughout April in support of Kick.

(Photo Credit: Kyle London)