hasn't Jenny Lewis, lead singer of L.A. pop rockers Rilo Kiley (here
stepping out for her first solo album), ever had to face attacks on her
genuineness like Gillian Welch has? She's straight Los Feliz hipster
trying to pass herself off as Dusty in Memphis (a singer she claims as
a childhood favorite). Her gospel/country crooner persona is a hard
sell. That's probably why Rilo's best songs - "Portions for Foxes," "Pictures of Success," "It Just Is" - have been straight-ahead, Liz Phair-in-her-prime rockers.
And Lewis, a former child actress (she was in The Wizard with
Fred Savage, among playing a whole host of other roles) is smoking hot.
It's not hard to believe that a lot of the sadness in Welch's bluesy,
backwoods dirges probably comes from the boys never asking her to the
dance. But it is hard to believe that Lewis's love life could be as
conflicted as the lyrics on Rabbit Fur Coat sometimes
make it out to be. It's like trying to swallow those romantic comedies
in which we're supposed to accept that leading ladies such as Heather
Graham and Cameron Diaz struggle to find dates.
Maybe a better title for the album would have been Faux Rabbit Fur Coat, because Lewis starts faking things from the get-go. "Run Devil Run" has her showing up quite a few years late for the O Brother, Where art Thou?
soundtrack tryouts. Being flanked by the Watson Twins (Leigh and
Chandra) isn't going to help Lewis's Nashville street cred, especially
when they're pictured on the album's back cover wearing Paris
Hilton-sized sunglasses and chain-smoking by a hotel pool. Sure, they
add nice harmonies to tracks such as the waltzing "Born Secular," but
after repeated exposures, the Twins wear out their welcome. That's not
to say their voices aren't great. In fact, they distract from Lewis's
own, which has always been the strongpoint of her artistry.
seems to have developed a new fascination on this album with the man
upstairs. Most songs alternate between trying to find redemption in the
pews and trying to find it in the bars. On "Rise up With Fists!!" (yep,
that's two exclamation points), Lewis and the Twins keep repeating,
"There, but for the grace of God, go I." But it's never made clear
where exactly "there" is - a Silverlake dive joint, perhaps?
cover of Traveling Wilbury's "Handle with Care," with help from friends
Ben Gibbard, Conor Oberst and M. Ward, is a good choice, given that
much of the rest of the album sounds like Blood on the Tracks-era
Dylan. (Bob's beard even gets a shout out on "The Charging Sky.") And
emo kids will have fun playing "name the vocalist": Is it Oberst?
keep conceding to Jenny Lewis's voice any day. It's amazing. It could
bring the rafters of any church down. But the material it takes up on Rabbit Fur Coat is boring. It seems affected. Artificial. All surface, like her pretty face.
"Melt Your Heart" MP3
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