Jenny Lewis Stands Out With 'Voyager'

All Songs Considered features "The Voyager," the new album from Jenny Lewis, a singer known for complicated, emotional lyrics and vivid storytelling. It's part of NPR Music's "First Listen" series.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

NPR music hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton get thousands of records each month. They listen to as many as they can and when they find one that stands out, it's always exciting, of course. This month, it's a new record from Jenny Lewis - the singer known for complicated and emotional lyrics, plus vivid storytelling. Her new album is "The Voyager."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAD UNDERWATER")

BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Hello, Mr. Hilton.

ROBIN HILTON, BYLINE: Hey, Bob.

BOILEN: So Jenny Lewis - we've been following her career for a long time. We've watched her, basically, grow up. First band, Rilo Kiley - we put on the early days of All Songs Considered, back in the 2000s. Great singer, three solo albums - this is number three "The Voyager." A little poppier than most, but it's been really been a joy to see her talent grow.

HILTON: It has been. And in this opening cut to "The Voyager" record, the song's called "Head Underwater." She says, I never thought I'd ever be here looking out on my life, as if there was no there, there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAD UNDERWATER")

JENNY LEWIS: (Singing) I put my head underwater, baby. I throw my clothes away in the trash. I stood barefoot on the blazing concrete. I was waiting for the good...

HILTON: So on this record, "The Voyager," Jenny Lewis sort of works through her life - even starting and looking back at her childhood.

BOILEN: And her childhood was an interesting one. She grew up a child actress. She was raised in Las Vegas. Her parents both had a vaudeville act. Her babysitter was a female Elvis impersonator named Ellis (ph). And so as you listen to this record, "the Voyager," you are on a voyage with her. She's growing up on this record. Here on the song, "Late Bloomer," she talks about being 16 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LATE BLOOMER")

LEWIS: (Singing) When I turned 16, I was furious and restless - got a chancy girl haircut and a plane ticket to Paris.

BOILEN: Story after story on this record. You know, I talked to Jenny Lewis recently. And one of the most surprising things she said is that her biggest influence is hip-hop. Now, you don't hear that directly on this record. But she loves wordplay. She loves crazy rhymes. She likes to cram as many lyrics into a song as possible. And story after story unfolds here. A little later on the record, she does the song called "Just One Of The Guys." And she's kind of like right about where she is now in life.

HILTON: And where she is, is at the midpoint of her life and she's found that a lot of the assumptions she made about where she would be aren't coming true. The band that she was in for more than a decade, Rilo Kiley, broke up. Her estranged father died. And she suffered with horrible insomnia. Often going, she said, days without sleep. And on this record, she works through this difficult period in her life and coming to terms with these failed expectations. On this song, called "Just One Of The Guys," she says when I look at myself, all I can see is just another lady without a baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST ONE OF THE GUYS")

LEWIS: (Singing) No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys, there's a little something inside that won't let me.

BOILEN: So this song is produced by Beck, but the person she worked with most on this record is Ryan Adams. Ryan Adams' philosophy in making a record is try to do it in one take. Don't look back. And so there is a lot of spark and inspiration. It's a very shiny, poppy record in a lot of ways. But it's also - feels right from the heart.

LEWIS: And that's sort of what the theme of this record is - it's, life is just one take. It's not a dress rehearsal. You've got to look ahead and, ultimately, be hopeful. And that's how she closes out the record. She's got a song called "Love You Forever." She says, we're going to drink ourselves some Burgundy wine, talk about how we've saved the date. I can't believe I'm getting married in May. I could love you forever. I could love you until all the Polaroids fade.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE YOU FOREVER")

LEWIS: (Singing) I could love you forever.

MONTAGNE: Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton are the co-hosts of NPR's All Songs Considered. You can hear this entire album from Jenny Lewis on our website. Go to npr.org org/music.

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