Saturday, 18 February 2006

Album Review: Rabbit Fur Coat

Taking time out from her band, Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis shuffles out of the indie-darling spotlight and into the softer shade of a Memphis back porch for the release of her debut solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat.

The disc’s dozen tracks were in gestation for two years, with songs written in the Rilo Kiley tour van, rehearsed around sound-checks, and finally recorded in 2005 in the San Fernando Valley and Portland, Oregan. Ostensibly a solo affair, Lewis gives equal billing to Kentucky-born twins Chandra and Leigh Watson, but while their cooing southern belle harmonies add a sprinkling of charm, it’s Lewis’ own confessional poetry that’s the album’s focus.

Right from the gorgeous, haunting accapella of opening track, Run Devil Run, you know you’re in for a treat. It’s well known that Lewis has a most wonderful voice, but she excels herself here with a song of almost immeasurable beauty. Elsewhere, Lewis runs along the bumpy road of inter-band relationships on You Are What You Love and Melt Your Heart, and adopts a near perfect Lucinda Williams’ drawl on Rise Up With Fists!!, before unleashing the full-on gospel of Born Secular.

At the centre of the album lies the title track, which has Lewis completely alone with her acoustic guitar, telling the true story of her absent mother and her rabbit fur coat. The tone of Lewis’ voice makes the mood hard to pin down; it’s not one of happiness, but nor is it one of sadness, rather a weary acceptance of her mother’s peculiar obsession with her coat. Rabbit Fur Coat is immediately followed by a sparkling cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ Handle With Care. While Lewis handles George Harrison’s lines, she invites M Ward, Conor Oberst and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard to share the vocals on the ever-convincing tale of the perils of stardom.

Lewis has tapped into a fifty-year-old Americana and found that moment at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll where folk, country, gospel and vocal pop all fused together. Acoustic guitars tumble their melodies over brushed snares with an occasional slide guitar brought to the fore, and Lewis achieves all this without the album ever sounding dated. Such is the alchemy of greatness.

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