|Album Review: Jenny Lewis – On The Line|
On The Line
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Great storytelling not only tells it and shows it but gets an audience to live it. In the same vein, Jenny Lewis reemerges on her most passionate and nourishing collection to date, On The Line. To a degree, a listener not only takes something from the story but leaves something behind for it to be retold. For Lewis, this isn’t a comeback, she never left, keeping busy in between each release; she just came home.
Regardless of the known factors Lewis associates and models her songs from – the ending of a twelve-year romance to the weight of losing her mother after mending the estranged relationship – which has been shared on various interviews, On The Line immerses the listener into a rather hidden crevice of the artist’s life.
On Lewis’ fourth solo offering, it’s hard to separate the story from the album though. Whereas The Voyager illuminated a bright stardust project and filled with sunny riffs, On The Line doesn’t blur the line of reality, but meets it sonically, vividly, and theoretically. Pulling in the minds of Beck, Benmont Tench, Jim Keltner, Don Was and Ringo Starr, the lush and full production of the album is less riddled in pop, but cut from a classic rock cloth and soars with solos, gospel organs, and a returning wanderlust for life.
The tracklist runs a cohesive narrative and pulls in all the puzzle pieces in their respectful order. Vivid from the start, Lewis’ nostalgia nods at the ideal of being left in heartache on the receiving end of a telephone. Running with this notion and the things said, left unsaid, and everything in between, its apparent this is more than simply a well thought out concept but Lewis’ catalyst for the next stage in her life.
Awakened on this album, Lewis frames from this ideal as well, stepping into the astrological realm and even paring artwork on Spotify featuring Lewis in the traditional tarot deck. Phases of the moon are sprinkled throughout lines, whether it’s the lover lighting up the “room like a waning moon,” to not devouring the rock on the wicked and premeditated first single “Red Bull & Hennessy”, Lewis conjures her gypsy side.
The album’s opening track, and final single, “Heads Gonna Roll” is deceitful at first. Visions of Lewis and a former lover both pay the toll with talks of going to heaven and hell, which isn’t a cry of remorse from a complicated relationship but celebrates the time spent. Lewis delicately sings “and I’m gonna love you ‘til I die,” acknowledging what was, while simultaneously amending in the retrospection that we all have the same fate in the end.
“Hollywood Lawn” breathes a similar fate. The slow-tempo haze battles an inevitable conversation, “If I click my ruby slippers, would you forgive me?”, referencing Dorothy wanting to go back home but this time with a tinge of guilt. Keltner’s drumming matches Lewis and Tench on the keys and clinches for a resounding falsetto on the track’s final lines.
This isn’t the first time Lewis wanders at the notion of going home on the album. “Taffy” stirs a portrait of Lewis spinning a globe pointing back home as she recalls a specific moment in Wisconsin, and the one last call for “sexual healing” – sending nude pics without regret and drowning speculations. Daunting strings by Richard Dodd on the cello, Daphne Chen and Eric Gorfain on the violin, and Leah Katz on the viola aid to the sensuality of the track.
Striking a balance on the album due to the relatively heavy nature of each track is another noteworthy accomplishment for On The Line. “Do Si Do” glides through wistful keys and a psych-pop soundscape, lingering with the idiosyncratic details of Beck. While, “Party Clown” details an unconcerned state of mind in the past by Lewis to the extent of “getting head in the shadows.”
The album’s title track nears the end and revisits the imagery of a final phone conversation. Romanticizing in the plea to simply listen to her heartbeat through the line, the track walks across the reality of the other; being an Eastside girl and super fan named Caroline. The track’s bleak dial tone fading out would’ve closed the album if it wasn’t for Beck’s optimistic persistence on “Rabbit Hole.” Foreshadowing from Lewis’ reign of control and healing, the chimeful orchestration bursts with a shimmering shade of indie-pop alluding to a prosperous follow-up.
Standing out equally for their emotive pull and distinct build are “Little White Dove” and “Dogwood.” Both tracks touch on the personal themes of the album, love, and loss, and execute with clarity and a similar gospel chorus. “Dogwood” becomes a slow-burning ballad which is guided primarily on the piano and take rein of the changing forces in spring. Benmont Tench adds a softer caress with the mellotron and once again nods at the ‘70s era.
“Little White Dove” is baptized by Lewis’ peace and is led by a funky bass line and soulful vocal runs. Lewis jabs, “I'm the little white dove, yeah / I'm the heroine,” playing with the homophones and relaying back to her mother’s addiction which appeared earlier on “Wasted Youth.” Placed perfectly on the album, the timestamp of when serenity was found is easily felt and reassured through flavorful guitars by the likes of Beck, Jason Falker, and Smokey Hormel.
We’ve seen and heard Lewis adapt to a variety of different sounds from her work in Rilo Kiley, to her folk, Americana swing with The Watson Twins, and the supergroup cultivation in Nice As F*ck. This time around it seemed as others adapted to Lewis, conceiving and exploring her truest version.
On The Line takes on its own entity without needing much of a backstory to carry the album. It’s tender, it’s quiet, it’s loud. It’s filled with passion, but never bitter, nor passive aggressively sweet. Time was given and taken in a manner that could only be construed through forgiveness. Though it’s dedicated to the spirit of her mother, On The Line is a conversation that needed to not only be had, but heard, transcending whether you’re on or off the line.
Lewis’ mysticism stepped under the moonlight, not in regret, nor hate, but in completion. As personal as the record is, it holds dearly to its musical counterpart in the same grace that could’ve only came with time.
Lewis is set to start tour this week, be sure to catch her in your city.