JENNY LEWIS & THE BELLE BRIGADE with Ray LaMontagne
8 p.m., Friday, July 11 | Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St. | orlandovenues.net | $52-$72
Like any good actress, Jenny Lewis has morphed easily from one stylistic project after another. Bit player on ’80s TV shows like The Golden Girls and Perry Mason. Child movie star in cult classics like Troop Beverly Hills and The Wizard. Indie rock goddess with Rilo Kiley. Trusted collaborator with Bright Eyes, Elvis Costello and the Postal Service. Fiercely independent solo artist. Film composer and music supervisor. Bona fide celebrity (she dated Jake Gyllenhaal for a few hot minutes).
She’s someone who’s lived her entire life in the public eye (see: Vegas lounge act parents, Gyllenhaal romance, starting Rilo Kiley with ex-boyfriend Blake Sennett, recording and touring with current boyfriend Johnathan Rice). Lewis’ career trajectory has been anything but easy, though – and that messy, brutally honest reality is best exemplified on her third solo album, The Voyager, which drops on July 29.
It took Lewis six years to follow up her last record, Acid Tongue, but that time wasn’t spent savoring success. Rilo Kiley officially called it quits. Lewis’ estranged father died. She began suffering from debilitating bouts of insomnia. She tried recording numerous times with numerous different producers, none of whom provided the inspiration she was looking for.
But touring with Ben Gibbard’s the Postal Service project in 2013 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Give Up, to which Lewis contributed, reignited her creative spirit – and reconnected her with alt-country star Ryan Adams, whose new Pax-Am analog recording studio on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip provided just the ragged, spontaneous environment The Voyager needed to come together.
Adams played guitar on the album, recruited longtime Heartbreaker Benmont Tench to play keyboards, motivated Lewis to write achingly intense songs and enforced a strict no-looking-back policy to the material they recorded. Lewis balanced that out with co-production from mellow-rock icon Beck, who put a meticulously laid-back spin on lead single “Just One of the Guys.” Yet one line (“When I look at myself, all I can see/I’m just another lady without a baby”) from that otherwise sun-dappled song has garnered intense attention since debuting in June.
“It’s a very direct line, and I think it’s speaking to a lot of women in their 30s,” she told People Magazine last month. “Women have come up to me on the street with that line in mind. I think it really struck a nerve.” Which, she told Rolling Stone, was the whole point: “[The Voyager] didn’t feel like a character-driven album of songs … just like an extension of me.”
That authenticity has already garnered effusive press from outlets as diverse as Elle, Vogue and American Songwriter – months before the album even comes out. Much of that can be chalked up to the androgynous, graffitied Gram Parsons pantsuit she rocked for The Voyager’s uber-cool cover shoot (and continues to rock on stage during recent performances). Yet she described the bold look to Rolling Stone as more than just a fashion choice: “After taking four years to make the record, I was so tired and I didn’t feel particularly feminine or sexy. I felt somewhat androgynous.”
This can be hard for anyone still enthralled with Lewis’ seductive power from Rilo Kiley to reconcile. (Give 2002’s stunning “With Arms Outstretched” a listen and say you don’t feel it.) Although she periodically injects older material into her current live show, Lewis has been adamant over the years about focusing on her future, not her past.
“I went through a long period where I was embarrassed [by my acting career],” she told People Magazine in June. “When I first started [Rilo Kiley], I didn’t want anyone to mention my past, because I felt I had really shifted careers, like I’d retired, purposefully, from acting.”
That part of Lewis’ background got a bit of a reboot on June 5, when she appeared on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! to fill absent host Reggie Watts’ shoes by singing a duet with Zach Galifianakis. Although she said she’d never done comedy before, her deadpan wit matched that of Galifianakis, demonstrating that right now might be the best time to be Jenny Lewis. As she told Rolling Stone of The Voyager, which Orlando audiences can hope to hear a lot of when Lewis opens for Ray LaMontagne on July 11, it’s a “colorful end to a kind of dark period of time.”