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Jenny Lewis, Heartless Bastards

Two years ago, Rilo Kiley played a set to a sold-out Warehouse Live ballroom that left more than a few of the L.A. band's fans wishing their sardonic Saddle Creek soft-rock contained just a little more twang. The reason was Rabbit Fur Coat, RK lead singer Jenny Lewis's 2006 solo debut. Bolstered by impeccable country-soul arrangements and the Watson twins' sweet secular harmonies, Rabbit proved Lewis could mine her child-actress past (The Wizard, Troop Beverly Hills) for songs as emotionally blunt and self-lacerating as Rilo chestnuts like "Paint's Peeling" and "Portions for Foxes." Lewis's follow-up, last year's Acid Tongue, was a little more uneven, but also rocked a little harder on the strength of cuts like Elvis Costello duet "Carpetbaggers." She'll need that extra muscle Wednesday to avoid being blown off the stage by the Heartless Bastards, the Cincinnati/Austin trio whose singer Erika Wennerstrom is much throatier, but just as tortured, and whose music really can peel paint. The Bastards' latest album, The Mountain – a rough triangulation of the Band, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin — wouldn't sound out of place in 1969, but as this year approaches the halfway point, it's easily one of 2009's best.

 
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