Jenny Lewis

July 27, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

FOR much of her 20 years making music, Jenny Lewis has featured on numerous works by others. From Conor Oberst to Elvis Costello and fellow Las Vegan Brandon Flowers, they've all buoyed their own efforts with her casual charisma and sumptuous, heartbreaking vocals.

The daughter of professional musicians and in the limelight since she was in single figures – she made her TV debut aged 6 as the voice of Ruby in Charlie Brown – Lewis shimmers with star-quality.

Now she is calling the shots, assembling a crack team for On The Line, her fourth solo album out earlier this year. There's contributions from Beck, Jason Falkner, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers keyboard player Benmont Tench, super-producing bass master Don Was and Jim Keltner, the 77-year-old drummer who's played for Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder and The Beatles.

Keltner's involvement helped bring another guest: Ringo Starr, who plays on two tracks including biting lead single Red Bull & Hennessy.

“Once we collected all the other guys we reached out to Ringo,” says Lewis. “I knew I wanted to work with Jim, he's my favourite drummer and has played on songs I love.”

Lewis continues: “I think Ringo wanted to come and play with Jim. They played together at Concert For Bangladesh, double drums. To see their rapport, the power of them in the room, it was one of the coolest things ever.”

Despite all that history and stature, Keltner and Starr et al are a backing band, a high-end supporting cast to Lewis's starring role.

On The Line features some of her strongest songwriting to date, as well as vocals which veer from the proud and defiant to the fragile and desperate. On piano ballad Taffy, the only song from On The Line she is yet to play live, there's a slight catch in her otherwise pristine voice which is wrenchingly sad.

Most of the album's vocals were recorded live while she played the same piano Carole King used on 1971's Tapestry.

“You are hearing the breath, the humanness,” Lewis says. “When I'm singing and playing, tracking my vocals live, my brain is more occupied playing, so the singing is more natural.”

She adds: “As a child actor, I was trained to be perfect. Allowing myself to be imperfect in my own work has been a 20-year struggle.

“When I've played on television or something, I always want to do such a great job, to be perfect, and have been very hard on myself. Now I realise perfection is not the goal as an artist.”

Witty and sharp, Lewis's songs get you in the gut. While she's always managed to make even her most personal songs feel more a performance than confessional, profound, real-life loss hangs over this record.

Little White Dove was written in and out of hospitals visiting her terminally ill mother, while many songs are informed by her break-up with Johnathan Rice, her partner of 12 years.

With her father having passed away earlier this decade, Lewis tributes her parents via photographer Autumn de Wilde's album artwork.

“She shot a Polaroid and when it fell to the floor I knew that was the cover,” Lewis says. “The outfit is really reminiscent of something my mother would have worn in Las Vegas in the seventies.”

Despite its tough backstory, there's reasons for optimism on On The Line, she says.

“My songs have always had dark and light and I hope they're funny, at times. There's always some little nugget of hope. In Hollywood Lawn it's: 'Keep dreaming' - a basic thing to say but it's so, so true.”