What can I tell you about Jenny Lewis that you don’t already know? Let’s see. She was first a child actress prominently starring in the 1989 cult fave, Troop Beverly Hills. Duh. Years later, she went a different direction and was crowned Indie Rock Princess after forming the band Rilo Kiley with fellow child star, Blake Sennett (of Salute Your Shorts fame). Yup. Three years ago, she went temporarily solo (well, solo plus The Watson Twins) with the critically beloved, Hee Haw-fabulous Rabbit Fur Coat. But, you already knew that, right?
Well, knowing is only half the battle.
Despite the common knowledge that’s been incessantly hashed and rehashed about Lewis in the media, one fact remains: her music courts an infinite number of devout fans. No amount of pop culture references can convey what her music does for their souls.
The spiritual journey began via Rabbit Fur Coat, an album of eleven immaculate tracks. From beginning to end, Lewis explores her personal faith while simultaneously waxing soapbox about the glory and power of retro-country, gospel-tinged music. The album begins with gorgeous a cappella harmonies by Lewis and The Watson Twins on “Run Devil Run” and goes on to address The Big Questions with respectful skepticism throughout. In “Rise Up With Fists!!” she muses, “It’s hard to believe your prophets / When they’re asking you to change things / But with their suspect lives we look the other way.” In “The Charging Sky,” she sings, “But what if God’s not there? / But his name is on your dollar bill / Which just became cab fare.”
Lewis states: “These are the questions that we all ask ourselves. We ask if there’s a God or there isn’t a God, if we’re going to fall in love or get sick or follow our dreams or fail or succeed.” It’s a triumph to attack such dense yet universal material in a way that speaks so truthfully and personally to fans.
However, Lewis put out her sophomore solo effort, Acid Tongue, last September, and it was clear that she was ready to explore alternative terrain. The songs branch out from the focused country vibe and head west into California rock, careful to include all of the “unlucky in love” stories that unfold along the way. The lyrics on Rabbit Fur Coat are purely narrative poetry, spinning tales of life’s pleasures and absurdities. However, on Acid Tongue, Lewis experiments with repetition. The same line sung repeatedly triggers consecutive emotional pangs, each different in impact. Lewis can pack a one-two-three punch with lyrics that really get inside your head and make themselves at home.
So, to truly know Jenny Lewis is to move beyond the boxes of Girl Scout cookies from her formative years and her current indie rock royalty status. She’s a poetess with the voice of an angel (who questions said angel’s existence). She’s a new school Loretta Lynn strumming her guitar on the beach. She’s an observer of life who understands that three is the magic number.
But…maybe you already knew all that.
She said it: “I’m always jotting things down on little scraps of paper that I sometimes lose, but if I’ve written something down that’s noteworthy I’ll remember it. Some of the ones that I don’t need to remember I’ll end up losing. Like…we played at the Ryman in Nashville, and I reached in my pocket and I had a movie stub from Pineapple Express, which I had seen weeks earlier, and I borrowed a pen from the night security guard at the backdoor of the Ryman and wrote down some bullshit and lost it, luckily.”