Her babysitter was a female Elvis impersonator.
Yeah, Jenny Lewis is from here.
But the glamorously bohemian singer-songwriter wasn’t just born in Las Vegas, she was born of Las Vegas.
Her parents met while auditioning for the same lounge band back in the ’70s, her mother a singer, her father a musician.
They’d perform at the Sands, the Sahara and the Tropicana together.
So show business was pretty much Lewis’ birthright, as if she was swaddled in lamé upon departing the womb.
Though she hasn’t lived in these parts since she was a little girl, these parts still live in her — right down to the glam-tastic blue-and-gold gown that Lewis sports on the sleeve of her latest album, “On the Line,” one of 2019’s most acclaimed records.
“When I’m in Las Vegas, I still feel the connection to my earliest memories,” says Lewis, 43. “I’m always sort of referencing that, and I don’t realize it. Like, the outfit I’m wearing on the cover of ‘On the Line’ is something almost identical to what my mother wore onstage.
“She somehow finagled Bob Mackie to make their costumes,” she continues. “I don’t know if Mackie made costumes for just anyone, but my mom convinced him. I pick out this outfit, shoot it, it ends up on the cover, it’s like this magical thing, and I’m thinking back to my mother’s costumes. And she had the same exact birthmark. So it’s a deep homage to my mother.”
The same could be said of “On the Line” itself — at least in places.
Catharsis you can move to
Lewis has described the album as a rebound record for two reasons: First, it was written in the wake of her breakup with her boyfriend of 12 years, fellow musician Johnathan Rice. Then there was the passing of her mother, Linda, who died from liver cancer in October 2017.
Both heavily inform the heavy emotions that power “Line,” the latter addressed poignantly on “Little White Dove,” a starkly funky number partially set in the hospital room where her mother spent the last days of her life.
“I’m your blood, I want more / The water from my eyes fell to the floor,” Lewis sings over drips of reverbed guitar, her voice slinky then sonorous as she works her way to the chorus of a song where sonics and sentiment seem at odds with one another.
“ ‘Little White Dove’ is so interesting, because it’s about this really heavy thing, but Beck, who produced it, brought this groove and feel,” Lewis says. “So it’s the danciest song in the set, and it’s so sad, yet hopeful. I love these juxtapositions where there’s catharsis, but you can also move to it.”
This duality defines much of “On the Line,” from the slo-mo disco of “Do Si Do” to the sprightly piano lines and chiming bells of “Party Clown,” a blown kiss to her wastrel ways of the past.
The tone is set by album opener “Heads Gonna Roll,” a beatific, mildly biting breakup song posited more on what was gained from the relationship as opposed to what was lost when it ended.
“Even though we were just friends, I think of us as bookends,” Lewis sings, dropping her voice into a husky purr. “And I’m gonna love you till I die.”
You will be clearing that lump from your throat shortly thereafter.
On the road, to resolution
Upon splitting with Rice, Lewis played vagabond for a time, traveling the country, staying with friends, figuring things out.
Eventually, these songs came to her, a process that ultimately spanned five years since the release of Lewis’ last album, 2014’s punchy, confident “The Voyager.”
“I’m always writing, and so I don’t always know what an album is until I get four songs in and then it makes sense to me,” Lewis says. “Once I wrote, ‘Heads Gonna Roll,’ which was early in the process, I knew that was the beginning of the story. Then the story unfolded in real life. The music reflected that.”
So Lewis chose to do so much emotional bloodletting in song.
Except that it wasn’t a choice, really.
“I think music pursued me. I didn’t pursue music,” says Lewis, a former child actress. “Music was a constant. My family, this is how we communicate.
“This is the only healthy way we know how to communicate,” she adds. “So I think music was just inevitable.”
Who: Jenny Lewis
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Tickets: $25 and up (702-632-7600)