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Jenny Lewis 

The Voyager (Warner)

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As time provides distance it becomes clearer that the most vital representation of Jenny Lewis' talent is 2006's Rabbit Fur Coat. Backed by The Watson Twins' ethereal harmonies, Lewis' clear bell of a voice, sweet but sharp, leads the way through 12 tracks that meander through the alt of country, the indie of folk, culminating in the mournful "Born Secular," in which Lewis laments, "god goes where he wants/and who knows where he is not/not in me," pulling that last syllable heartbreakingly high, up into the church rafters. It's a stunner of a song, of an album. The Voyager, Lewis' first solo LP in six years—Acid Tongue, with its "lost tracks from Badlands" feel, is strong but less beloved—feels similarly like a rebirth, though she played Kiki Dee to Ben Gibbard's Elton on the Postal Service anniversary tour just last year. The best Rilo Kiley songs—"Does He Love You?," "Pictures of Success," "The Good That Won't Come Out"—are blends of yarn and life, and Lewis has the best results with that technique here: "Late Bloomer" is a love triangle set in France, "Aloha and the Three Johns" is about a bad Hawaiian vacation (Lewis' boyfriend is named John) and "Love U Forever" presents a longtime romance that has plateaued. Produced largely by Ryan Adams, The Voyager sounds like it could've come out of Laurel Canyon in the '70s, and though the title track comes very close, it is lacking a standout, stop-everything song—there's no "Born Secular." But that's a minor complaint when the writing is this good, when the best voice we've got is singing it.

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