Skip to main content

99. Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat (2006)

Attention female singers! Do you desire critical acclaim and a rabid fan base comprised almost exclusively of music geeks? If so, make a country soul record, and watch your dreams come true before your very eyes!

Jenny Lewis has been with us for awhile - first as a child actor, then as singer for Rilo Kiley - but she made the scene in a big way in 2004, both with Rilo Kiley's third album More Adventurous and her participation in Ben Gibbard's Postal Service project. She's sexy in a cute way, she writes her own songs, and she's a little more than likely to break your heart. She's the darling of indie boys and girls, and her debut solo album will likely cement that status.

It begins with a bit of strummed guitar and then an a capella burst of harmony, courtesy of the bill-sharing Watson Twins. The introductory piece is called Run Devil Run, and it's the first of many refrences to spirituality. The Big Guns mentions the afterlife, begs for mercy and asks "what have we done?". Rise Up With Fists!! gives us the chorus: "There but for the grace of God go I." In The Charging Sky Lewis says she's "taking up praying on Sunday nights" and wonders "but what if God's not there?" Born Secular includes multiple shout-outs to the man upstairs. Is Ms. Lewis reassessing her life?

Maybe, but it's also possible she feels guilty about something. The final song is called It Wasn't Me, and it's a sort of kin to Billy Joel's An Innocent Man. That is to say, they are both songs where the narrator sounds more interested in covincing themselves than anyone else.

Lewis also uses the record to tackle other issues. She revisits the quagmire of a fucked-up relationship in You Are What You Love. Like Portions For Foxes before it, we get some tart couplets about not being able to extricate yourself from a hairy situation, such as "I'm in love with illusion, so saw me in half / I'm in love with the trick, so pull another rabbit out your hat."

The other issue is her mother, who is the subject of the twisty title song. I'll let you interpret for yourself, but I'll just say I wouldn't want this song written about me, for a multitude of reasons. And even as personal and brutal as the song is, you also get a sense of understanding from Lewis, as though she dislikes in her mother the same things she dislikes in herself. Happy backs that up, when she sings "my mother never warned me about my own destructive tendencies." I guess that means the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

As for the sound of the songs, it's catchy and soulful, with a twangy aftertaste. The sticker on the front of the packaging compares the record to Dusty Springfield and Loretta Lynn. I've also heard Lucinda Williams as a reference point, but Lewis' songs are more catchy and less gritty than that, at least for the most part (Happy is one of the least happy songs I've ever heard). And because I am such a fan of harmony, I want to mention it one more time. It's just lovely. In fact, the "ahhh-ahhh" coda of Born Secular could go on about 5 minutes longer than it does and I wouldn't really mind.

The bottom line about this album is this: Jenny Lewis better have a disguise ready if she plans on making any visits to independant record stores. It will be for her own good.

Grade: A
Fave Song: Born Secular


sparkylulu said…
Its a nice world where a 70 something country and western artist can put out one of the most listenable albums I've ever heard and within 21 months a 20 something indie/alt girl can put out a fresh version of, what basically amounts, to the same kind of album. Replete with the bleakness of a Silverlake youth.
Oh, did I mention that I loathe country? But between Van lear Rose, Rabbit Fur Coat and Georgia Hard, I may be converting.

Popular posts from this blog

18. Donnie Iris - 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection

I was going to review the new Eagles compilation, The Very Best Of, but realized that I didn't have much to say beyond praising the prowess of their early singles, griping about the placement of Hotel California, commenting on Don Henley's sometimes retreaded lyrical territory, and giving the album an A-.

Instead, I thought I'd give some space to a guy who hasn't had a millionth of the success of The Eagles. I came across Donnie Iris recently, two times. The first was when I was researching my eighties compilations and the charts listed a minor 1980 hit called Ah Leah! The second mention was a recent Fountains Of Wayne interview in which one of the members joked that they were planning a tour with Donnie. The interviewer went on to explain that Iris was an early '80s nerd-rocker.

Well, this got my attention. All you have to do is put the words nerd and rock together and you've got me. If that seems odd, think about the nerd success rate in pop music: Buddy …

Radio, Radio: A Scientific Study of Cities 97

To start, I want to make it clear that I'm not going to write a comprehensive screed about the state of modern radio. Whatever problems radio has, it's had them for many years, and there are people who are much more informed and insightful on the topic than I am. Of course, you may wish to apply the conclusions drawn below more broadly, but that's out of my hands.

Instead, this piece is a scientific experiment of sorts, a detailed analysis of Twin Cities station Cities 97 (KTCZ-FM), a Clear Channel joint.

Why, you may ask, if I didn't not have a theory to prove about the state of radio, did I decided to perform this experiment? Well, basically it comes out of 10 years of tumultuous Twin Cities radio. When I first moved here in 1999, there were a few good choices for hearing new pop and alternative music. There was 104.1 The Point. It didn't last long and soon became an '80s station called Mix 104. Now it's 104.1 Jack FM. The 105.3 signal was Zone 105 when I m…

262. Broken Bells: Broken Bells (2010)

Broken Bells is a collaboration between Shins frontman James Mercer and producer extraordinaire Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton. The latter has already had great success as half of a super-duo, teaming with Cee-Lo to become Gnarls Barkley.

And though it contains no breakout hit on the level of Crazy, Broken Bells' debut album is an enjoyable piece of work.

However, that assessment is mostly dependent on you holding Mercer in high regard, since his voice and sensibility stand at the center of the record. In fact, it's easy to view Broken Bells as a James Mercer solo album with production by Danger Mouse. Sure, Burton cowrites every song and brings an experimental spirit with him (especially in the diverse instrumentation), but this is Mercer's show.

In fact, those hoping for something that doesn't sound mostly like The Shins will only have one song to latch onto. That'd be The Ghost Inside, which is the strange amalgam of indie rock and futuristic R & B that …