Eilen Jewell

BOISE, Idaho — Eilen jewell laughed when she was told that her label’s president had called her a musicologist. She confirmed that she and Jason Beek, her husband, share a passion for American music. We love to discover the past. She says it’s almost like searching for hidden treasure. “That’s where I find music. I enjoy all music, as long as it has the word “early” in front. Beek and she uncovered 12 vintage gems that were written or famous by a variety of artists, including Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, Charles Sheffield, and Betty James. They then shaped them into new forms and shapes, honoring the history of each discovery while adding new life to them. Jewell is known for her “country-flavored, blues-infused version contemporary folk” (which can also include healthy doses rockabilly or surf), according to allmusic.com. Her discography also includes several albums of original material as well as one Loretta Lynn cover. Jewell also has two albums recorded with her eight-piece gospel group, the Sacred Shakers. This latest album, which she and Beek coproduced with the engineering of pianist/banjo player Steve Fulton, and Pat Storey is her first collection blues, despite the fact she credits the genre for sparking her musical curiosity. Jewell was able to make a blues album even though she had always wanted to since she first heard Howlin’ Wolf when she was a teenager in Boise, Idaho. She admits that she has always felt self-doubtful about the idea. “Like, who are I to sing the Blues?” I am a white girl from Idaho. I don’t know whether I have the right to do this.” She also remembered a friend’s advice. “Everyone has a right in this world to do what they love, regardless of their background.” This was a smart decision, especially since Jewell isn’t trying to imitate or copy any style. Instead, she makes each song her own and pays homage her favorite inspirations. It is important to note that American blues music is as diverse as its country of origin. All music evolves from the past. Jewell also records these songs in an effort to preserve the legacy of those who made and popularized them. She heard some of them while listening to Spoonful, her husband’s Radio Boise program. They also cite John Funke’s Backwoods on Cambridge’s WMBR–FM as a source for discovery. Their relationship was actually a direct result of their mutual attraction to musical obscureities. Their common interests were recognized by a friend, who introduced them and correctly predicted that they would be friends. Jewell moved to Boston nine years later after she left Boise to go to college in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She then moved to Los Angeles, and eventually to the East Coast. She began looking for a guitar and jumped into Boston’s roots music scene. Beek referred her to Jerry Miller who is a Boston legend and was known for his versatility. Since then, they have been playing together. She chose Down Hearted Blues songs, including “Crazy Mixed Up World,” which Dixon recorded, and Albert Washington’s song “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” as Miller’s showcase. His notes wrap around Miller’s dramatic, minor-key vocals. They slide in after a saxophone and bass intro. Jewell who had previously titled Queen of the Minor Key said that the album’s “scary, creepy tone” fit in well with many of their songs and felt familiar the first time she heard it. Curtis Stigers is a Boisean who was a jazz musician and had many soul hits before moving into jazz. He is a fan and pumps her music through his PA before his shows. When they are both in town, he also joins her band. Jewell and Beek moved from New York to Boise to be near her family and to start their own business. He played at a local festival with us and we loved his work so much that we asked him to come to the studio to record with us. He dropped everything he was doing, and said, “I’ll get there in fifteen minutes,”” she recalls. She marvels at how he built a horn section using overdubs — charts-free, on songs that he had never heard. Otis Rush also popularized “You Know My Love” by Dixon. Jewell’s haunting rendition of the song emphasizes its spooky message. “You think that you can get on with your lives, but there is this thing between you and it that will never end; it’s always going to come back and haunt.” She laughs and says, “I can certainly attest that it is a real thing” while Dixon’s “You’ll Be Mine” has a deeper personal connection. It was Howlin’ Wolf who she discovered while looking through her dad’s collection of albums, which she had stored in his garage. She says that she knew the song she was supposed to listen to the moment she heard him. She continued down the rabbit hole, discovering Bessie Smith represented here by the Lovie Austin- and Alberta Hunter-penned title song Smith made into a hit. Then came Memphis Minnie (“Nothing in Rambling”), and finally “Big” Maybelle Smith (“Don’t Let Poor Me”). Jewell says, “I’m always attracted to anything that women do in the musical world, especially from previous eras.” Jewell says that it was remarkable that women could accomplish so much back in those days. On the propulsive “Don’t Leave Poor Me” she practically dares her voice to leap up high and swoop down low before stepping aside for the pulsating guitar-and-percussion bridge. The smooth transition from note to note of the back-porch picker, “Nothing in Rambling”, contrasts with this style. Also, lyrics that express the hardships of life on the road (a life which now includes daughter Mavis, a world traveler at the age of 3) further highlight the dichotomy between the album and the genre. Jewell isn’t known for her whiskey-scratched vocals, but she can make a gutbucket shed some splinters or charm with silky sexiness. It’s almost as if Jewell is doing a one-woman show, changing into different characters with each song. This feat becomes even more remarkable when she tells us that these tracks were recorded live in two days and that Shawn Supra, the upright bass player, hadn’t heard any of them before. This is how spontaneous it was. It was a chance meeting that led to them booking studio time in Boise. They had so much fun performing these songs, they decided to create an album. Jewell says that it felt like a serendipitous event. It was as if what was meant to happen was actually happening. “I gave up on my dreams and allowed the universe to support me,” Jewell says. Source: www.eilenjewell.com

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