I’ve never been against the idea of Juliette Lewis fronting a rock and roll band. Insert any of the many examples of thoroughly horrible actor-musicians here (lookin’ at you, Billy Bob), and then acknowledge that there are some exceptions.
Her contributions to the Natural Born Killers and Strange Days movie soundtracks were surprisingly listenable, and her guest spots on The Prodigy’s 2004 album were among its highlights.
I really liked Like A Bolt Of Lightning, the debut EP from Juliette And The Licks. I saw the band live at their full length album release party at the Troubadour, and she brought it. She’s a great frontwoman, with a level of physical energy only surpassed by a few bands working today.
But unfortunately, I was disappointed by that full-length- even the re-recorded versions of Lighting tracks that I loved lacked impact. And Four On The Floor, its 2006 follow-up, was even more disappointing, despite having none other than Dave Grohl provide all the drumwork.
And now I’m sorry to report that I’m similarly disappointed by Terra Incognita, the debut album from her new band, billed simply as Juliette Lewis.
Some songs sound really good on paper but just don’t realize their potential. Hard Lovin’ Woman for example, features genuinely soulful vocals, seasoned and powerful in both delivery and lyrical content. The only other sound on the track is an understated guitar, just providing some blue hues. It should work. However, clocking in at 4:54, it’s about twice as long as it needs to be.
While there really aren’t any outstanding tracks beyond the album’s halfway mark, there are surely a few highlights short of it: Opening track Noche Sin Fin sets hopes high. The title track is as good, though no better. After that, the aforementioned Hard Lovin’ Woman breaks the album’s stride, but just on the other side of that is the album’s best cut, Fantasy Bar:
As the last Licks album had Grohl, Terra Incognita has its own King Midas; it was produced by Omar Rodríguez-López of The Mars Volta. His guitar tone can be heard throughout, especially on the block of five or so tracks starting with the dismal Romeo.
Female Persecution is the most obvious- it’s basically an Omar song, with Juliette on vocals. His guitar noise landscaping is unmistakeable, but that’s really all there is to it; It just wanders around aimlessly while Juliette rambles.
Ultimately, Omar helps Terra Incognita no more than Grohl helped Four On The Floor. While we’ll still go out of our way to catch Juliette live (as should you), and will always give her music a hopeful listen or two through, this is another one that adds up to less than the sum of its parts, and somehow lacks the oomph that there seemed to be plenty of prior to 2005.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.