Jenny Lewis has matured considerably as a musician since her band Rilo Kiley debuted with Take-Offs and Landings in 2001. Unlike her stylistic counterpart, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie (with whom she collaborated on the Postal Service project), she has proven herself capable of more than bleeding-heart ballads and twee indie rock.
Like Rilo Kiley's breakthrough release, More Adventurous, Rabbit Fur Coat finds Lewis mining her roots in '70s California rock, with its beguiling (and occasionally shallow) blend of country, roots-rock, folk, bebop and torch jazz. She effortlessly evokes all of those disparate genres. For example, "Rise Up with Fists!" easy-rocks with a lovely charm worthy of the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt in their prime.
Lewis' solo debut with Kentucky gospel singers and sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson features an all-star cast of backing musicians, including the rest of Rilo Kiley, Oberst, Gibbard, M. Ward, various members of Maroon 5, and many others. But Rabbit Fur Coat's meridian is Lewis' lyrics, which she communicates through a sweet, sometimes twangy voice. "It's a surefire bet that I'll die/So I'm taking up praying on Sunday nights/It's not that I believe in your almighty/But I might as well/As insurance or bail," she sings on "The Charging Sky."
Occasionally, Lewis is too clever by half -- the title track, for example, stumbles along a (fictional?) analogy between an expensive jacket, her privileged childhood, and the disconnect she has with her mother. The other major fault with Rabbit Fur Coat is that it lacks great and memorable songs despite Lewis' commercial sensibilities.
With Lewis' work, one tends to be more impressed by her performances and the conceptual strengths she lends to her music than the music itself. But as talented as she is, making a mainstream hit record is probably just a hook and chorus away.
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