The first solo LP from Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis accompanied by vocal duo the Watson Twins, this is a strong attempt at an indie-country album that falls fractionally short of its initial promise. Brilliant a cappella opener, Run Devil Run, sets up the gospel overtones beautifully. The strong presence of Biblical themes that is common to the best country music is certainly present here; there are ‘devils’ and ‘mercies’ a-plenty, but sometimes they don’t seem entirely real. Lewis seems to be playing with the traditional preoccupations of the country singer. She may invoke ‘God’ and ‘the Devil’, but with far less certainty than her more orthodox predecessors. Her perspective is more liberal, more freethinking than the traditional country stance.
Regardless of whether or not Lewis is ‘playing’ at being a country singer, something she could be uncharitably accused of, her voice doesn’t quite seem capable of conveying the degree of passion and pain necessary for the topics about which she is singing. At least, this is the initial impression one gets from the album. However, repeated listens reveal subtle tones and inflections that, while subdued, work well in many of the songs to express the necessary degree conviction and heartache. Lewis is ably backed by the Watson Twins, whose fantastic gospel vocals harmonise and soar through a Southern sky where the clouds are delicately tainted with disease and death. Their voices really do bring something unearthly to the album.
The song writing is a real strong point: these broken tales of drug abuse, violence and tragedy are gently affecting, although Lewis finds it necessary to supplement her own songs with a cover: the Travelling Wilburys’ Handle With Care. The Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison roles are played by Conor Oberst, M. Ward, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie/Postal Service) and Lewis. It’s a straight cover, and reinforces the folksy, homely feeling of the project.