Jenny Lewis

At this point, it's pretty hard to make music about the tension between sin and redemption without sounding hokey. That whole church thing had already been reinvented a zillion times (see: Cash, Cave, Kanye) before Jenny Lewis took a dusty side trip from Rilo Kiley on 2006's Rabbit Fur Coat, a set of God-focused songs spiked with clever modern hiccups.

Now, on Acid Tongue, she's once again got one foot in a holy-water font and the other in a hell-hole, howling for a savior and/or drug dealer. Thing is, she's really good at that stuff—better than she is at cooing in falsetto through the pair of down-tempo flimsies that start the record. The real fun starts with "The Next Messiah," a thrilling, eight-minute-plus revival-style rave-up electrified by guitar work from her boyfriend, Johnathan Rice. Lewis has help in other places too: "Carpetbaggers," a tune about ruthless temptresses, is a catchy duet with newfound fan Elvis Costello; sister Leslie Lewis sings on the live favorite "See Fernando"; and singer/actor Zooey Deschanel offers sensitive She and Him backing vocals on the oh-so-'70s love ballad "Tryin' My Best to Love You." And on the hymn-like title track and centerpiece, Jenny's very own boy choir (including Rice and the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson) adds gorgeous harmonies to a confessional chorus.

Lewis is definitely a chosen one in the talent department, but she doesn't really let on.

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Christina Black