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Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat

Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat

Label:Team Love
Release Date:2006

By Jess Harvell | Posted 1/25/2006

Indie rock these days is either a bunch of hippies playing bongos or a farm team for a certain kind of melodic semipop. In a genre populated by damp man-children, Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis actually possesses qualities designed for mainstream success: “pretty, bright, likes men, says ‘fuck’ a lot,” as Robert Christgau put it in The Village Voice back in 2004. But when one of your singles is a four-minute tirade against the president with no chorus, you might as well have stayed in the minors.

It’s a shame, because what puts Lewis beyond her peers isn’t her gender or her pro-sex feminism or her Bush vendetta. It’s her voice. Lewis is cribbing a lot from Patsy Cline, but even with the audible debts, she can really belt one out. It’s up front on her first solo turn, Rabbit Fur Coat, an acoustic throwback to the kind of female singer/songwriter albums that disappeared around 1980, fleshed out with hired-hand “soulful” harmonies. And mostly Lewis shines, especially when she keeps it simple like the strident, gospel-tinted “Rise Up With Fists.”

Unfortunately, the one-two punch of the title track, a cringe-inducing “poetic” reading of her Hollywood childhood, and her equally wonky Indie All-Stars cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care” break the spell. “Born Secular” cements the distance between Lewis and her inspirations: “I was born secular/ And inconsolable.” It’s hard to imagine any daughter of Nashville cooing a line like that. Lewis has a gorgeous voice, and her songwriting talent is slowly expanding, but you have to push through a lot of cutesy affect on Rabbit Fur Coat to reach the viscera.

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