CD Review Review

Jenny Lewis: Hot Country

JENNY LEWIS with the WATSON TWINS
RABBIT FUR COAT
TEAM LOVE/ROUGH TRADE

WHAT THEY SAY: "FORMER CHILD STAR and SINGER OF RILO KILEY who is also A HOT GIRL makes a country record, and also she's a FORMER CHILD STAR who is a HOT GIRL. P.S. Country record."

WHAT WE SAY: Right now, there's a TV producer in Scotland planning to crucify himself to prove a point—"It's about time I did something that didn't involve cheap gags," he says, "and you might as well aim high, so I thought I'd try to find God"—and while this isn't an album either awful or honest enough to suggest crucifixion, it sounds like Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis too is trying (as she sails into 30, she's probably getting tired of rotten old dudes calling her a pretty-by-committee indie-rock wet dream) to get someplace a little more real than where she's been. Which is selling out in Omaha, she says. Here and alone on her first solo release, she's Jenny the second-guesser, holding on to the little-girl catch in her voice, playing dress-up with the cowgirl drag (though Rabbit Fur is actually pretty tasteful about putting the pedal to the steel) or the gospel drapes, decorating with religious iconography copped off the candles at the 99-cent store on Sunset ("We made love in the Tower of Babel/And it fell down . . .") and young-adult mystery-novel clichés (halls of mirrors, bellies of beasts . . .). That's the usual unsteadiness of a tiptoe-timid debut solo release, and Fur isn't a smooth album—one line falls as heavy and stupid as the Eagles' dinosaur duh-isms, even if the next is startling autobiography, typewriter percussive and typewriter precise—but under the radio-rock hooks that hold Rabbit Fur down are the first suggestions of Jenny Lewis as a real live person, a half-step toward new songs that might be great if she could keep up the courage and cut out the clichés. It's like a Valentine from your mother, she sings—that sounds like rain on your wedding day; how embarrassing. But that's the voice of Jenny the Pop Singer or Jenny the Pundit (a hypocrite who sings about the deficit, she says), and Jenny the Person? Well, gosh, we never knew: "[My mother] was waitressing on welfare and we were living in the Valley, and a lady says to my mom, 'You treat your girl as your spouse . . .'" Something rings out there and again in clear-as-a-bell moments on a song like "The Charging Sky" (after her folks' d-i-v-o-r-c-e: "My mom, she brushes her hair/And my dad starts growing Bob Dylan's beard . . ."), where the persona (the same girl who sang "I'm bad news . . ." in Rilo Kiley) drops and the person pops up. The country dressing makes stylistic sense, an arbitrary but necessary break to keep Rilo Kiley back with other youthful misdecisions, and these torchy arrangements ("Melt Your Heart," which sounds just like it sounds) suit sad Jenny very well—there used to be girls like this all over Texas trailer parks, but only one got to be Wanda Jackson. But it's not the dressing; it's the details, observed so completely they hold a poetry of their own—uneven, maybe, but at least there's something there. If there wasn't always before.

JENNY LEWIS; WATSON TWINS; RUNION; WHISPERTOWN 2000 AT THE GLASS HOUSE, 200 W. SECOND ST., POMONA, (909) 629-0377. WED., 7:30 P.M. $16.

 
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