Rabbit Fur Coat

Band: Jenny Lewis
Album: Rabbitt Fur Coat
Best song: “You Are What You Love” is great. “The Big Guns” is awesome.
Worst song: “Happy” is pretty mediocre.

The fourth record reviewed on this little site was that of Jenny Lewis’ band Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous. Jenny Lewis’ voice, though not really rangy, is a lovely instrument.

Lewis’ first solo record — though, technically, it is Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins — is just that: a non-too-rangey exploration of a lovely instrument. Lewis prefers a soft, indie country genre that doesn’t branch out and doesn’t actually exist much. Supposedly, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst asked Lewis to record the album for his label, Team Love, and Lewis agreed, putting out what she’s called a “soul record.”

I don’t know. The album’s a little soft for that genre and the strings/guitar combination file the album distinctly in the country drawer.

“Born Secular” ends with typical Lewis repetition and theatrics, but sounds more like a Loretta Lynne record than anything else. “It Wasn’t Me” is a soft, (electric) guitar-and-voice lament. The quick chords and easy picking — layered over one another — of “The Big Guns” are among Lewis’ higlights, all before the song’s drums kick in. HEr cover of the Traveling Wilburys “Handle with Care” (assisted, vocally, by M. Ward, Oberst and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard) is nice, as well.

Lewis’ lyrical ability is showed in the album more than any Rilo Kiley record. “Rabbit Fur Coat” is a sad tale of class envy, with the titular overcoat as a symbol of lost hope. “Rise Up With Fists” tells a more anti-authoritarian lament, as Lewis takes down preachers, business heads and community leaders in an almost Puritan fashion.

Of course, Lewis’ lack of religiosity is a major theme of the record. “Born Secular” has Lewish saying that God goes “where he wants” and that he is “not in me.” “The Charging Sky” takes down the idea of a merciful God (“Still they’re dying on the dark continent/It’s been happening long enough to mention it”) and the institutions of church (“And it blinds you into fear and consuming and fight”), even asking “What if God’s not there?” And, of course, “The Big Guns” has one of my favorite opening verses ever in a song:

Well you praise him
Then you thank him
Til you reach the by-and-by
And I’ve won hundreds at the track
But I’m not betting on the afterlife

I love this. For someone claiming to make a “soul” record, Lewis flys in the face of one of the key themes of the genres she claims and is playing (soul and country).

The album’s best song, though, is a love song. Like Rilo Kiley’s “Portions For Foxes,” “You Are What You Love” is a long song gone awry. Lewis sings of being “a coward who paints a bullshit canvas” and wants not to be “a symbol or a monument, your rite of passage to fufillment.” Beginning the song with the falsely confident proclamation “This is no great illusion, when I’m with you I’m looking for a ghost,” Lewis puts her commonly screwed up love in full view.

And, again, like “Portions For Foxes,” the chorus takes a portion of the previous and adds to it. In the final chorus — indeed, final lyric — of “You Are What You Love,” Lewis calls back to the initial lines, rhyming the common chorus lines “You are what you love, not what loves you back” with the magic reference, singing:

And I’m in love with illusions
So saw me in half
I’m in love with tricks
So pull another rabbit out of your hat

Lewis’ voice is bathed in a simple stutter drumbeat, backing vocals by the Watson Twins, a gorgeous harp, a moving bass line and some easy guitar. It’s a crafted song, with Lewis’ instrument rising above the rest.

I would be remiss in mentioning Jenny Lewis without mentioning her personal style and looks. She was, after all, a child actress and is, not unlike Neko Case, something of an indie rock sex symbol. Quoting myself:

Case is a certain type of indie rock persona, the “hot chick with a kickass voice.” I’d suggest she’s like Feist or Joanna Newsom in that case, but I find neither of those two artists to be particularly attractive.

Jenny Lewis is that, only actually good-looking. She’s a lovely girl, though absolutely not my type. She’s small and lithe, with shockingly red hair in a little-girl-meets-hipster style. It’s moreso her personal style — including that hairstyle — that confounds me.

One minute, she dresses like a normal — albeit hipstery — young woman (personal favorite here). But, most of the time dresses like someone in a bad , or at some weird rodeo thing . Some of her weirder outfits are shown here.

She’s a lovely woman, but, man, does she dress oddly.

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