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Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins

It's official: Indie stars have traded in their Chuck Taylors for cowboy boots. Of course, the shift is more than just artificial, with a tonal change from (insert adjective) rock to high-plains country and Western occurring in conjunction. As expected, the results are hit-and-miss.

Rabbit Fur Coat, Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis' solo debut, is tricky, because it often straddles the line between success and failure. The ingredients for success are simple and ample: Lewis and the angelic Watson Twins' sugary voices, Mike Mogis' studied country licks and catchy tune after catchy tune. The problem plaguing the album is the same as, say, suddenly changing one wardrobe for another: It seems artificial.

Lewis' cover of The Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care" is a glaring example of the album's overall disingenuousness. Hearing Lewis, Ben Gibbard, M. Ward and Conor Oberst play Harrison, Dylan and the like is pure kitsch; it's campy and fun for a few listens, but ultimately, it's vacuous. The same applies to most of the album. Although it sounds good, it lacks depth or staying power.

When clicking on all cylinders, however, Lewis and company are mesmerizing. "Rise up With Fists!" is a knockout gospel tune with the perfectly harmonized chorus of "There by the grace of God / go I." Lewis is a proven talent, and Rabbit Fur Coat is far from an awful album, but hopefully next time around, she'll look beyond the boots and into the soul.

More by Michael Petitti

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