Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins Rabbit Fur Coat

Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins Rabbit Fur Coat
Not satisfied with either her gig as front-woman for popular L.A. indie rock band Rilo Kiley or her sideline as backing vocalist for Ben Gibbard’s wildly successful side project the Postal Service, Jenny Lewis has struck out on her own. And one could hardly imagine a lovelier solo debut. Although Rilo Kiley’s raucous, jubilant pop rock is eminently enjoyable, Lewis has tapped into a deeper vein of iconic Americana that gives her solo record the feel of an instant classic. The timeless mélange of country, folk and gospel on Rabbit Fur Coat buoys up confidently frank lyrics that flirt with spiritual questions and hint ever so delicately at a troubled childhood packed with psychological baggage. Occasional organ and full-band arrangements lend weight to the album and balance out the acoustic tracks, but it is Lewis’s rich voice — bittersweet as burnt toffee — that both grounds the album and acts as its vulnerable emotional heart. With the Watson Twins’ shimmering harmonies woven through it like spun-gold thread, this Coat is a perfect fit.

Where did the distinct country twang on Rabbit Fur Coat come from? Lewis: People don’t associate California with country music but it’s a part of the fabric of the great state. A lot of hillbilly swing originated there and a lot of people came to California with the influences that they learned growing up. For me I’m just kind of getting back to the first records that I listened to, my mother’s records, which really spoke to me as a young girl. It’s comfortable for me to write in that realm.

Would you agree that these songs are more lyrically personal than Rilo Kiley’s songs? The subject matter isn’t necessarily more personal, but I think because it’s more stripped down it feels more immediate. There’s a lot of storytelling and character-driven stuff on this record. It doesn’t all necessarily reflect me, but I think maybe that’s the perception because the vocals are so present.

Does this solo record satisfy you in ways your work with Rilo Kiley doesn’t? Sure, it’s nice just to be out there on my own, to know that I can go anywhere with my acoustic guitar and play shows. I don’t necessarily need a band. And that’s a great thing, to know that I don’t have to depend on people all the time. I prefer to, and it makes for a more enjoyable, less lonely traveling experience but it’s nice to know that you can just take your songs with you. (Rune Grammofon)