Jenny Lewis, On the Line (Warner Bros.) –
Since her 1990s days with Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis has struck a precarious balance between feminist empowerment and sexuality. Her reliance here on the discredited Ryan Adams as producer shows these tensions remain unresolved (as does the cover photo of a décolletage closeup). The recording sessions were marked by the death of her mother and the end of a decade-long relationship with Johnathan Rice, so songs like “Red Bull & Hennessy” seem informed by the simultaneous desire to party and to mourn. Lewis’ frank lyrics of L.A. dissipation make this her best solo work, if listeners will suspend judgment in this era of taking offense.
Quelle Chris, Guns (Mello Music) –
It was difficult to ignore Detroit’s finest hip-hop poet after his 2018 duo end-times album with Jean Grae, Everything’s Fine
. But now, relocated to Brooklyn, Quelle Chris is back with the most powerful anti-gun and anti-privilege manifesto produced in the 21st century. It’s about time his nearly flawless work is appreciated.
Wendy Woo, The Immigrant (Wendy Woo Records) –
Northern Colorado guitarist Wendy Woo hasn’t been in the studio for a decade, but this acoustic album on origins and hard-luck stories is powerful enough to forgive her absence. Except for a superfluous cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” every track achieves the caliber of “Birthday Phone Call,” offering crisp imagery and heartbreaking tales.