Jenny Lewis, everyone’s favorite indie rock princess, can do it all. She started out as a precocious Hollywood kid, appearing in such gems as “Troop Beverly Hills” and “Pleasantville”. Trading saccharine for sincere one fateful day in 1998, she formed Rilo Kiley with guitarist-vocalist Blake Sennett, bassist Pierre de Reeder and drummer Dave Rock (later replaced by ex-Lassie Foundation member Jason Boesel) and conquered the alternative rock scene with 2002’s effusive standout, “The Execution of All Things.” But not to be outshined by the boys, Lewis releases her first solo endeavor this week, “Rabbit Fur Coat.”
Here we see Lewis slightly broadening her range, as she abandons the pop sensibilities of Rilo Kiley and experiments instead with a more soulful sound. While this “Rabbit” could hardly be called a full-length album, by the end of the record’s succinct 38 minutes, Lewis leaves the listener insatiably craving more.
She begins with the highly memorable “Run Devil Run”. The song’s one lyric is repeated over and over again, but rather than sound tiresome, she invigorates and builds each repetition with growing punches. On another of the album’s standouts, “Rise Up With Fists!!!”, Lewis’ buttery voice is so wonderfully smooth and soulful that it is easy to get lost in the undulations of the song. Throughout the album, Lewis is backed up by the Watson twins, two Kentucky-born girls whose lyrical harmonies are as haunting as they are striking.
Lewis also delivers superbly with “The Charging Sky,” a track about coming face-to-face with God that remarkably strips the abstract of all complexity, giving it a beautifully simple country twang. Switching gears on “Melt Your Heart,” Lewis slows the disc at just the right moment, making the listener swoon with wistful yearning.
The record’s title track and its emotionally cathartic peak, “Rabbit Fur Coat,” presents a rags-to-riches story that serves as the album’s uniting theme. Lewis’ nostalgic and dreamy crooning — backed up by a simple guitar — is nothing but inviting; it’s a pleasure to empathize with her unraveling fable. On her cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care,” Lewis elicits the help of gurus M. Ward, Ben Gibbard and the head of her record label, Conor Oberst. Although the style and tone of each singer differ greatly, all of their harmonies combine marvelously; it sounds as if they all had a blast recording this should-be single.
Lewis’ undertaking is not without its faults. Released into the proverbial wild, this “Rabbit” is still no match for any Rilo Kiley release. Although she certainly does explore a more folksy sound, Lewis tends to overuse the same melodies and instrumental compositions — a shame when she clearly has the ability (and abundant CD space) to chart more ambitious territory. In this sense, it is only half an experiment. Still, Jenny Lewis delivers a beautifully reflective record, complete with poignant lyrics, aching vocals and enchanting instrumentals. However statically consistent Lewis may be, as least she’s consistently great.