Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
Mike Mantin 23/01/2006
As the singer for Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis always brought a soulful croon to their indie-pop songs, so it's understandable that her first solo album has some heavy influence from rootsier genres like soul, country and blues. As you'd expect, on the surface it's lovely stuff, Lewis' velvety voice floating gently over M. Ward's finger-pickin' guitar and The Watson Twins' backing vocals. But, as established by the near-a capella opening track, her voice is the main draw and, when coupled with a great tune like 'The Big Guns' or 'You Are What You Love', the formula's unbeatable.
Sadly, though, as the album hits the mid-point, a few songs start to veer dangerously into Norah Jones territory (though, of course, it never stoops that low) and a few lyrical weaknesses start to shine through. “It's like a valentine from your mother,” she sings on the bland 'Melt Your Heart', “it's bound to melt your heart.” Erm, wouldn't it weird you out a little? She hasn't lost her songwriting touch (see the haunting, story-like title track for evidence), but tracks like these begin to resemble humble dinner party music and you begin to wonder what the special ingredient missing is. For Rilo Kiley fans, that's obvious: it's Rilo Kiley band-mate Blake Sennett's jangly guitar. Of course, Blake's nowhere to be seen, he's currently with his own side-project, a harmonious band called The Elected, and on a select few tracks, his presence is missed.
Tellingly, the album's most enjoyable track is a cover. Lewis forms an American indie supergroup to gather round a campfire for a version of the Traveling Wilburys (appropriately)' 'Handle With Care'. It's got an impressive cast, with Lewis, Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab For Cutie and the Postal Service) and ol' Bright Eyes himself, Conor Oberst sincerely warbling over an alt-country backing. It's rather magical, and makes you wish Gibbard and Oberst could have stayed to inject some variety into the aforementioned weaker songs. There's no denying the gorgeous aesthetics on display here, but this sparkling, star-studded highlight is a perfect example that, if working with an album of consistently good songwriting, she could easily make an instant classic. This is the prototype. Here's waiting for the next Rilo Kiley hiatus.