Jenny Lewis left the comfort of her band Rilo Kiley to create her most personal work to date. Delivering a blend of country, soul, and rock and roll, Lewis opens the door to her life in “Rabbit Fur Coat.”
The record addresses struggles with God, the devil, love, gambling, divorce and loss. It sets the mood with the a cappella three voice harmony “Run Devil Run,” sung by Lewis and the Watson Twin sisters.
The title track is by far the most autobiographical song on the album, talking about a little girl being exploited as a child star to feed her mother’s star-glazed eyes and drug addiction.
“Rabbit Fur Coat” reveals to us that she “became a 100,000 dollar kid. When I was old enough to realize/Wipe the dust from my mother’s eyes/It’s all for this rabbit fur coat.”
Throughout the album, the Louisville, Kentucky Twins accessorize Lewis’ cool airy voice with their gospel “oohs” and “aahs.” They remind you of a bright Sunday morning.
God peeks in and out of the songs on the album as Lewis questions her religion. In “The Charging Sky” she asks, “It’s just you and God/but what if God’s not there?/But his name is on your dollar bill.”
On the waltz-like “Born Secular” she sings, “God goes where he wants/and who knows where He is not/ Not in me.” The inspirational “Rise Up With Fists” teaches us to still believe in something better even if our efforts go to waste “what are you changing/who do you think you’re changing/you cant change things we’re all stuck in our ways.”
In good country fashion, Lewis serenades us with a couple of love songs for the heart broken with the airy “Melt Your Heart” and “You are What You Love.”
Both songs explore the death of love and the burden of loneliness. In “You are What You Love” Lewis sings “This is no great illusion/When I’m with you I’m looking for a ghost.”
The loss of this love makes her feel that “Nobody/Not a thousand beers/ Can keep us from feeling so all alone.”
Lewis was a child actress starring as the cute-as-button redhead in Troop Beverly Hills and holding Reese Witherspoon’s cigarette in “Pleasantville.” Not exactly Oscar winning roles. Luckily for us, she dropped the script and picked up the guitar.
On tour, Rilo Kiley has been known to cover songs by many artists including David Bowie and Robert Palmer. So it comes as no surprise that Lewis would pay homage to the 1980’s super group The Traveling Wilburys on her album.
The sing-along song “Handle With Care” softens the mood of the album. Lewis (who takes George Harrison’s part) gets a little help from her friends M. Ward and indie icon Conor Oberst to recreate the hug your neighbor and clap your hands song.
After the set of heavy lyrics, the album closes with a sigh of relief and an undertone of wishful thinking with a reprise of “Happy.”
In the end, Lewis has every reason to be happy. The album turned out to be therapeutic and a work of art filled with staying power.
And it proved that she doesn’t need to lean on Rilo Kiley (or anyone else for that matter) to make it on her own.