Jenny Lewis (photo by Autumn de Wilde, PR)
On The Line
On the road to her new album, On the Line, singer and songwriter Jenny Lewis faced a great deal of emotional turmoil. However, to simply say that she turned her hurt into an artistic statement would be selling this riveting new collection short. On The Line is more than just a study in sorrow and heartbreak: it's a roadmap towards recovery.
On The Line is the fourth solo album from Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kiley and the short-lived duo Jenny and Johnny, with her now ex-boyfriend Johnathan Rice. As she worked on this follow-up to 2014's The Voyager, Lewis was also at the end of her 12-year relationship with Rice. She was also in the midst of a reconciliation with her estranged mother, Linda Lewis, who died of liver cancer in 2017. Facing such extreme and difficult times, Lewis poured her heart into this new record and On The Line is a grand work packed with outstanding songwriting.
Lewis is a master of extracting lyrics from bits of pieces of various life experiences. A fine example of this is “Heads Gonna Roll” which is bursting with references to “a narcoleptic poet from Duluth,” “nuns of Harlem,” and “sycophants in Marrakesh.”
She reflects on her mother's drug addiction on "Wasted Youth" and on “Party Clown,” Lewis sings: “I met the devil down in Austin/He gave me a Fuji apple/I took a bite and went out of my head.” On “Dogwood,” Lewis poignantly addresses the end of her relationship with Rice. “I was determined to work it out," she laments. "The neighbors heard us scream and shout.”
The funk of “Little White Dove” gets heavier due to the fact that the song deals with one of Lewis’ visits to the hospital to see her dying mother. The shimmering “Do Si Do" is one of the tunes featuring Beck and it contains humorous exclamations like, “You ain’t no pharaoh, Flo.” On the Line's tempos vary from the driving rock of “Red Bull & Hennessy," the piano ballad “Taffy,” and the easy pop of “Rabbit Hole.”
Recorded at the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood, Lewis had a very impressive group of musicians contributing to On The Line. The legendary Jim Keltner plays drums on all but one song on the album. Also pounding the skins was none other than Ringo Starr. Starr joined Keltner on “Red Bull & Hennessy” and took over on “Heads Gonna Roll.” Don Was plays bass on most of the album’s tracks, with Jason Falkner (formerly of the Three O’Clock and Jellyfish) stepping in to cover the rest. Falkner also played some guitar, as did Smokey Hormel. Keyboards are handled by both Benmont Tench (formerly of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and Beck, who also contributes backing vocals, guitar and co-produces some tracks on the album. The bulk of the co-production fell to Ryan Adams (his contributions to On the Line were completed before the recent sexual misconduct allegations against him were made).
All songs were written by Lewis, who co-produces most of On The Line and plays piano and guitar. (To add to the weight of the album’s sessions, Tench was participating despite the recent death of Petty, his bandmate and friend.)
On The Line doesn't shy from dwelling on very personal pain, loss and mortality, but there's definitely hope here too, and a reconnection with oneself in the aftermath of heartache. The album is a dazzling showcase for Lewis's prowess as not only a vocal powerhouse, but a gifted lyricist. And in this era of female empowerment, in which women's voices have never been more important, Lewis has released On The Line at exactly the right time.