Two bands are better than one

Jason Hall


Credit: Carl Schierhorn


Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Indie rock band Rilo Kiley is no stranger to success. Lead singer Jenny Lewis is a former child actress who starred with Fred Savage in the 1989 Nintendo-centric movie The Wizard. Guitarist Blake Sennett may be better known as Pinsky from Nickelodeon’s “Salute Your Shorts” than as a musician.

In the last seven years, the two have combined to write three critically acclaimed albums alongside bassist Pierre De Reeder and drummer Jason Boesel. Rilo Kiley’s latest, 2004’s More Adventurous, appeared on Billboard’s Top Heatseakers chart, and launched them into a nationwide tour, opening for Coldplay’s Twisted Logic Tour last year.

This year, Rilo Kiley is trying a new strategy to success: divide and conquer. Temporarily taking a break from the band, the members of Rilo Kiley are pursuing side projects and hoping for the same success to which they’ve grown accustomed.

Blake Sennett and Jason Boesel have been members of the alt-country band The Elected for a few years now, and they are hoping their sophomore effort, Sun, Sun, Sun, will be as successful as their 2004 release, Me First.

Jenny Lewis is also striking out on her own, enlisting the aid of The Watson Twins to provide back-up vocals for her solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat.

Neither Sennett nor Lewis seem to be too worried that their albums were released the same day, something many people would expect to cause friction. Sennett recorded most of his album while on tour with Rilo Kiley, and Lewis even sang back-up vocals for a few songs on Sun, Sun, Sun.

The Elected

Sun, Sun, Sun

Released on Sub Pop Records

Stater rating (out of five): ???

Sun, Sun, Sun is a nostalgic trip back in time to the era of ’70s country rock, and Sennett has admitted that he listened to The Eagles a lot while recording the album. Steel guitars and a laid back attitude are prominent components of most of the record, especially songs like “Would You Come With Me” and “Bank and Trust.” Almost any track on Sun, Sun, Sun could easily accompany a cross-country drive.

Lewis’ Rabbit Fur Coat is a much more subdued and folksy effort, more reminiscent of ’60s solo folk artists than The Eagles. On most of the tracks, there’s little more than an acoustic guitar and a voice, with The Watson Twins occasionally providing harmonies and accents. That’s not to say the album will put you to sleep, but it’s the lyrics that take the focal point on Rabbit Fur Coat, not the instrumentation.

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins

Rabbit Fur Coat

Released on Team Love Records

Stater rating (out of five): ????

There is also another little surprise on Rabbit Fur Coat: a cover of The Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care,” featuring a laundry list of Lewis’ friends, including Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, James Valentine from Maroon 5 and indie rocker M. Ward. This song alone is worth the price of the CD – it’s as if you get the rest of the songs for free.

Essentially, it’s as if the bandmates each took an aspect of Rilo Kiley’s formula and ran with it – Sennett chose the more upbeat alt-country road in his ’77 Impala, and Lewis went for the understated folk route with her ’68 Volkwagen and acoustic guitar. Lewis’ album is better-written and more poignant, but Sennett’s is more fun and uplifting.

It’s up to the listener to decide which album is “better”; both are great albums for their respective style. If you’re cruising around town with the top down, Sun, Sun, Sun should be in your CD player. If you’re sitting around the house after a long day, Rabbit Fur Coat has your name written all over it.

Contact ALL correspondent Jason Hall at [email protected].