Rock Roundup

Jenny Lewis All By Herself

Former Rilo Kiley singer is still doing great music, and will perform at Turner Hall.

By - May 18th, 2015 01:15 pm
Jenny Lewis. Photo from Facebook.

Jenny Lewis. Photo from Facebook.

Top Show: Jenny Lewis at Turner Hall Ballroom, Tuesday, May 19

Last year, while being interviewed about her third solo album, The Voyager, Jenny Lewis officially confirmed the dissolution of Rilo Kiley, the L.A. indie-rock band she helped make special with songs that were often about difficult relationships and prolonged breakups.

The band apparently had a prolonged breakup, because Lewis’s confirmation came seven years after RK’s last studio LP, Under the Blacklight, and three years after Blake Sennett, Lewis’s ex as well as bandmate, had referred to the group in the past tense.

A reader should not conclude, from all this Rilo Kiley business, that The Voyager isn’t mesmerizing on its own merits. It is Lewis’s best solo album to date, produced with rumpled flair by Americana advertisement for sobriety Ryan Adams, with Beck assisting just a little.

Her other solo albums are also pretty (and) impressive: 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat highlighted the talented Watson Twins and winsomely covered “Handle With Care,” the Traveling Wilburys hit, with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, and M. Ward; 2008’s Acid Tongue made good use of Elvis Costello and the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson.

In much of her work, Lewis has a way of seeming very close and very distant at the same time, not unlike a lover pondering all the things she might discover if she leaves the person who’s sleeping right next to her. She might be the most realistic female figure in modern pop music.

Opener Nikki Lane sounds more romantic than the headliner because her music sticks closer to the grand ol’ feeling of 1960s pop-country music. Her second album, All or Nothin’, is nearly as honest as The Voyager.


Thursday, May 21: Xavier Rudd & the United Nations at Turner Hall Ballroom

Before he went ‘round the bend and took his writerly talent along for the ride, Gore Vidal insightfully separated one intelligently political actor from the celebrities who were “weepily devoted to causes.” Xavier Rudd could be that actor’s equivalent when it comes to the environment and the aborigines of his native Australia.

Musically, Rudd plays a mean didgeridoo and has restored some honor to the one-man band. He has an honest interest in roots music ‘round the world, and his latest album, 2015’s Nanna, expands reggae across many datelines while his current band, the United Nations, features members from at least four continents.


Saturday, May 23: The Basement Tapes Revisited: Bob Dylan 74th Birthday Tribute at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn

Perhaps every Bob Dylan birthday beyond his 30th has been cause for reflection, especially by fans who are literate songwriters. You need no weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and if Bob Dylan is no longer a bellwether, he is still a benchmark. Even his 1967 sessions with the musicians who would become the Band, sessions released piecemeal in 1975 and complete last year, have the glow of legend.

To acknowledge the glow and play interpretations of The Basement Tapes, a fine local club is presenting a fine collection of local musicians, including John Sieger (of Semi-Twang, among many other projects), Peter Roller (an associate professor of music at Alverno College and a noteworthy guitarist), and Alex Ballard and Sugarfoot (a great Americana bands).

Proceeds go to the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.


Saturday, May 23: Surfer Blood at Cactus Club

In the always-online age, it has become harder for a person’s public accomplishments to overshadow his mistakes…as a horde of recent NFL scandals have made clear. A longer article can answer, better than I can, how this difficulty applies to Surfer Blood frontman John Paul Pitts.

1000 Palms, the Florida band’s third album and return to indie status, emanates foursquare, pop-rock tunefulness akin to what Smoking Popes might do with more sunshine. Pitts, of course, is eager to get on with his life and music; the current tour and promotional cycle will have to get further along before we know if everyone else will let him do so.


Saturday, May 23: Downtown Boys at Cocoon Room

Two crucial things I think have been missing from coverage of Downtown Boys: 1) wide-eyed comparisons to X-Ray Spex, a 1970s London punk band fronted by a boldly loud woman and enhanced by a saxophone; 2) a suspicion that Providence, Rhode Island might be a much wilder town than outsiders have usually imagined.

Downtown Boys’ first album, this year’s Full Communism, reignites the agitprop rage and, with lead shouter Victoria Ruiz, adds an only-in-America element of bilingualism. Two saxophones bring the total number of brassy instruments to three, and if this stuff doesn’t cause a riotous dance party in live circumstances, then Milwaukee needs to learn from Providence.

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