Jenny Lewis has an odd sort of fame; it’s sometimes tangential (her child-actress past is a constant touchstone in the music press), but also pervasive (at a Manhattan restaurant, a nearby table interrupts to say they’ve seen her in a magazine spread). Now, having spent roughly two-thirds of her 30 years at various wattages of celebrity — first in TV and film, and later as rock’s leading indie sweetheart with Rilo Kiley and electro-pop phenom the Postal Service — she’s stepping out on her own.
Sort of. Lewis, who insists she ”hates being put at the forefront,” has packed her solo debut, the plaintive, country-tinged Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love), with friends, including her Postal Service collaborator, Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard, as well as Conor Oberst, a.k.a. Bright Eyes (who also happens to own the Team Love label), and two Kentucky-bred singing sisters known as the Watson Twins, who harmonize throughout and get second billing on the album’s cover.
After flying in frequent Rilo and Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis (who splits duties with M. Ward) and his 2-year-old daughter from Omaha to her L.A. home, she says, ”We found the cheapest tape studio available, and we spent six days there. We made breakfast every morning. It was just a really freeing experience, because it was not thought-out at all.”
The resulting album, which falls somewhere between gospel, twang, and torchy lullaby, is, she says, inspired almost entirely by ”the records I grew up listening to on Sundays in the Valley,” like Laura Nyro’s ’70s obscure-but-beloved Gonna Take a Miracle. Lewis describes the relaxed, organic recording process as ”kind of spontaneous and old-school.” And not unlike the playfully reworked vintage wardrobe she’s become known for, Coat fits her to a tee.