Eilen Jewell – Get Behind the Wheel
This young vocalist & song stylist occupies a respectful seat beside the likes of Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith & Patty Griffin. Her songwriting is Lucinda Williams dominating. “Alive,” opens with a guitar gritty splash of early morning autumn rain. Characteristic of the music of the plains rather than say a rural town in the South.
Eilen Jewell (vocals/harmonica/acoustic guitar/organ) is an individualist. Original as much in her vocalizing as in her songwriting. When both are put together it’s like a salty potato chip with dark chocolate & a kaiser roll. She’s a delight.
Songs like “Crooked River,” are steeped in a vintage country thicket (so is the Patsy Cline-type balladry of “You Were a Friend of Mine”). It possesses an organic grace & vintage scented. Beautiful stuff. Her voice is like a cold sip of cola on a humid day or a shot of Old Crow on a back porch — eyes closed in a rocking chair.
The 11-cut Get Behind the Wheel (Drops May 5–Signature Sounds Recordings) was produced by Eilen & her band & by Will Kimbrough. Loaded with story songs Eilen doesn’t recycle song ideas written & performed countless times before. She goes deeper, digs for the motherlode & reaches for something lesser songwriters don’t seem to grasp (“Outsiders”).
Her word clever choices are colorful & imaginative. She relies more on her storytelling instincts than just adding carbonation to her musical oeuvre. The instrumentation is somewhat laid back but not production-wise – more for atmosphere. Her voice has clarity as evidenced in both “Come Home Soon,” & “Winnemucca.”
What’s obvious is the quality of the storytelling. The care taken to shape each song musically, lyrically & then when the time is right, the application of the committed voice. The performance, the sell.
A peculiar cover song I grinned through was Van Morrison’s “Could You Would You,” — a remarkable time capsule with rich 60s guitar structures. Similar in nature to vocalists like Skeeter Davis, Diane Renay, Sue Thompson, Robin Ward & Gale Garnett. The snow-cone tasty arrangement. It just conjures another era for me with its 60s guitar chimes. A beauty.
The charm also comes with Ms. Jewell’s exuberant voice — how she possesses & applies generous ounces of retro musical identity & yet manages with expertise to personify it all with sinewy strength. She doesn’t sound dated. Never. Evident in a cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Breakaway” with its Owen Bradley-style production.
Highlights –“Alive,” “Crooked River,” “Lethal Love,” “Come Home Soon,” “Winnemucca,” “Could You Would You,” “Breakaway,” “You Were a Friend of Mine” & “Outsiders.”
Musicians – Jason Beek (drums/vocals/percussion), Steve Fulton (Wurlitzer/vocals/organ), Fats Kaplin (pedal steel guitar), Jerry Miller (electric guitar), Matt Murphy (upright bass), Will Kimbrough (electric, acoustic & baritone guitar/mandolin/keys/percussion/vocals/baritone guitar),
CD cover image courtesy of Beth Herzhaft. The 41-minute CD @ Bandcamp + https://www.eilenjewell.com/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Eilen Jewell’s “Gypsy” is Common Sense Poignancy