The story line on Rabbit Fur Coat is this: for her first venture outside of celebrated indie sensations Rilo Kiley, singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis has made a "white soul" album, along the lines of Dusty Springfield or Laura Nyro. Which is why, of course, she brought in Kentucky duo the Watson Twins to provide bluegrass harmonies for the entire record. Which is to say that Rabbit Fur Coat doesn't quite live up to its billing -- especially when compared to The Greatest, Cat Power's genuine white-soul album that hit the stores the week after Lewis' solo affair. What Rabbit Fur Coat brings to mind is not Laura Nyro but, perhaps inevitably, Neko Case and the stark, arty Americana intimacy of her breakthrough, Furnace Room Lullaby. Not that Lewis has Case's throaty voice or commanding presence -- she can growl and slide into notes, but at her core she has a small, fragile voice, one that lends this muted set of songs intimacy, even if it also brings them to the verge of cutsiness. And that's not a word that should be associated with Rabbit Fur Coat, an album that's designed to be a comforting late-night confessional, from rousing stompers like "The Big Guns" through the bluesy crawl of "Rise Up With Fists" to bittersweet ruminations like the seemingly autobiographical title track and the cheerful, gangs-all-here singalong to the Traveling Wilburys "Handle With Care." Musically, this hits the mark -- not only does it return Lewis to the country leanings of Rilo Kiley's first album, it feels suspended in time and space, the perfect soundtrack to 2 A.M. But the spareness of its sound also puts undue emphasis on her writing, and while she can structure a song, she tends to overwork her lyrics, cramming too many words into a phrase and moralizing like a college sophomore ("Still they're dying on the dark continent/it's been happening long enough to mention it" or "Are you really that pure sir?/I thought I saw you in Vegas/it was not pretty/but she was," where the Watson Twins helpfully respond with "not your wife"). At her best, her songs have a grace and flow that obscure these flaws -- such as on "Happy," whose melody and attitude are not all that far removed from her most prominent booster in rock's old guard, Elvis Costello -- and -- even if they're still quite prominent upon any close listen. And since Rabbit Fur Coat is an album that's designed for close listening, that's a bit of a problem, but as a pure sonic experience, it's a moody, atmospheric listen that never gets quite as melancholy as it suggests and holds together better than any Rilo Kiley album to date.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine