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Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, the Elected

Rabbit Fur Coat|Sun, Sun, Sun

This pair of Rilo Kiley side projects seem to constitute a last small-label hurrah from each of the co-leaders of that band before allowing the WB-hemoth to market them from here to Timbuktu sometime later this year. Lyricist, chanteuse, former child star (Troop Beverly Hills, anyone?) and Rolling Stone-proclaimed "hottie" Jenny Lewis generally gets the lioness's share of the attention within the band, and the same seems to apply to the hype being heaped on her first solo CD, released on Conor Oberst's Team Love label. As in RK, Lewis's honeyed voice and striking melodic sense stand at odds with her often bitterly ironic tales of debasement and disillusion. The difference on Rabbit Fur Coat is that instead of the unabashed power pop of Rilo Kiley's 2004 More Adventurous CD, the musical landscape here is more along the lines of gospel-tinged pop-folk. Utterly engaging on a sonic level, much of this could pass for easy listening if the words weren't so off-the-cuff disturbing. This is especially true on the oblique title track, with its pointed, seemingly autobiographical tale of a "hundred-thousand-dollar kid" exploited ineptly by her mother who is last seen "living in her car...putting that stuff up her nose." Yikes! In contrast, the unironic rendition of the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care" is downright shimmering.

Lewis's somewhat lower-profile bandmate and fellow former child star Blake Sennett (Salute Your Shorts, anyone?) has been letting off steam as leader of The Elected for a couple of years now. The new Sun, Sun, Sun mixes an alt-countrypolitan sensibility with healthy doses of smart '60s-ish pop in the service of occasionally foul-mouthed and unfailingly mellifluous songwriting. On "The Bank and Trust" things get uncomfortably autobiographical-seeming once again, with an unnamed but drunken female colleague quoted as telling the song's narrator that "the only way you got as far as you did was 'cause of me / your songs suck" before passing out. Yikes again! All in all, these are two pleasantly perverse pop discs from a talented pair poised on the brink of some serious overexposure. Get 'em before they're hot!

 
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