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Hot licks - you're speaking my language

If there's one thing Keanu Reeves has taught us, it's this: actors don't rock. Someone, though, should explain that to Juliette Lewis who, despite a career that once earned her an Oscar nod, might just be the baddest chick to hit rock since Chrissie Hynde.

With the Licks, she's produced an album (You're Speaking My Language) so archaic in its desire to pound chests and leap from stages that it surpasses trivial and crosses right back into Damn-That's-The-Way-Rock's-Supposed-To-Sound Land. Jason Morris' drums are percussive manifestations of the singer's impossible energy, pushing her and guitarists Todd Morse and Kemble Walters's riffs harder as she sneers, "I know you think you know me better than that" on the title track and denounces corporate whitey on "American Boy."

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Yet, as classically punk as her assaults on the Upper Class are, it's the moments when she and the Licks take a breather that really stand out, like "This I Know," which sounds a helluva lot like a song wrongfully cut from the Rent soundtrack. In fact, such experiments with rock are what separate Lewis from her influences. There's an almost out-of-control creativity here that's completely unexpected. Take "By the Heat of Your Light," on which Lewis's epistolary lyrics are sung over a spoken-word track of the same lyrics, creating a contrast between her voice and the painful words directed at a man who walked out without so much as an explanation. As a listener, you'll find yourself squirming with uncomfortable guilt as if you're the bastard in question.

You're speaking my language
Juliette Lewis
(Fiddler Records)
The album's undeniable highlight, however, is "Long Road Home," sung from the POV of a dying friend. The perspective twist creates a unique combo of sadness and peace, accompanied by spacious instrumentation that gives the painful goodbye the room it needs as the soul vanishes from the body. Consequently, every track has its own flavor, sans the typical polish that reduces so many rock albums to frivolous pop. For an actor, Lewis rocks the way rock used to. Maybe she should let Russell Crowe in on her secret before he grunts out another album.

- Cole Haddon


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