Personal & political ingredients were added to Eilen Jewell’s 8th LP Gypsy (Signature Sounds) – her first of original songs 4 years – release: August 16th. But, it’s like salt added to pasta – it may be there but it’s hard to tell.
Unlike the protest atmosphere in early ’60s folk music, today’s environment is a more radical, intense, incendiary & less tolerant one. To consider singing a protest song today encourages the volatile & it’s risky. You don’t want to alienate your audience.
Eilen walks a clever tightrope — a political wire that provides a rallying cry to support & maintain hope in the face of adversity. So, maybe, instead of protesting the old-world way Ms. Jewell is stimulating common sense. Can’t argue with that.
Ms. Jewell’s an honest writer who composes songs steeped with real-life experience, sentiments, & poignancy. The reigning Queen of the Minor Key – as Ms. Jewell is referred, offers consistently beautiful melodies which run across the rim of a cup that includes rollicking country rock, classic dark country, a bit of folk, all stirred attractive & memorable.
“Crawl,” opens with a steady drum (Jason Beek), gypsy fiddle (Katrina Nicolayeff) & creepy guitars (Eilen on guitar, & Jerry Miller) seethes with a Los Lobos, Tito & Tarantula & Blasters atmospheric arrangements. It also reminds one to segue into New Zealand’s country singer Donna Dean (“Rain Fall on Me”).
A beautiful ballad follows with “Miles to Go,” — the entire song’s played proficiently — however, it’s Ms. Jewell’s vocals that sparkle most.
Not a big fan of old-fashioned twangy country heavy on pedal steel. It’s obviously good for some – the instrumentation is definitely sharp. It’s just not my cup of tea in this century. The LP’s only cover – written by Idaho legend Pinto Bennett & Mark Alan Webb the tune is indeed charming. I will say this: if Patsy Cline was alive, “You Cared Enough to Lie,” would’ve been ideal for her. It’s well-written & does have weight as an old-fashioned song.
The band: Shawn Supra (upright bass), Kevan Ash (trombone), Mavis Beek, Michael P Waite (vocals), Steve Fulton (electric piano), Joe Johnson (trumpet), Dave Manion (lap & pedal steel), Matthew Patterson (sax), Alison Ward (musical saw & vocals), Guthrie, Ruben & Travis Ward (vocals).
Brass is sprinkled refreshingly over (“79 Cents,”) & an electrifying sawing fiddle on (“Beat the Drum”) keeps these songs interesting. Again, despite excellent music, Eilen Jewell’s vocals are the sparkplug. “Gypsy,” starts ethereal & Ms. Jewell’s voice with its surreal country tone is lovely. Tympani-like drums set the mood & atmosphere as they accompany ghostly notes from Eilen’s guitar.
Old-fashioned likeability — “These Blues,” reminds me of the late Jim Reeves. “Working Hard for Your Love,” is durable & could be soulful. “Who Else but You,” has phrasing & tone similar to the late Judee Sill (“Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” “The Kiss”), & even sounds as if it could’ve been written by her. I like this – poignant, sad, sincere & beautiful in that Judee Sill way – performed brilliantly & written by Eilen Jewel.
Bluesy, jazzy “Witness,” shows diversity & Eilen’s brass adds sugar to the punch. It’s invigorating & punctuates – warmly. “Hard Times,” & “Fear,” come with a deep jazzy Madeleine Peyroux tone (“Walkin’ After Midnight,”), — a touch of Peggy Lee phrasing (“Why Don’t You Do Right”). Delicious.
Every track is a stand-alone pastry filled with cream & powdered sugar.
The 12-track, 37-minute LP: Produced by Eilen Jewell & Jason Beek: http://www.eilenjewell.com/