Friday, February 02, 2018

Eilen Jewel - Down Hearted Blues (2017)

On her website Eilen Jewell said it was the blues that jump-started her interest in music back when she was a teenager in Idaho but, oddly, she never believed she was allowed pursue her passion. Jewell said, “I’ve always had this sense of self-doubt about it,” she admits. “Like, who am I to sing the blues? I’m a white girl from Idaho. I don’t know if I have a right to do that.” But she also remembers an old friend's advice: "Everyone has the right to do what they love in this world, regardless of who they are and what background they come from." Therefore, Down Hearted Blues is the singer-songwriter's first album of blues covers.

Jewell recorded the album employing her usual stripped down arrangements with Jerry Miller playing outstanding electric guitar. Her husband, Jason Beek, played drums as well as washboard. The bass is an upright (unplugged, of course) and other acoustic sounds included fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. Soul-jazzman, Curtis Stigers, added some saxophone on two tracks while the artist herself played acoustic guitar and organ.

On the title track, a re-make of Bessie Smith's 1922 recording, Jewell reminds the listener of Bonnie Raitt on her outstanding, 1971, eponymous debut record, proving that you don't have to sound "Black" to sing the blues. What this means is her vocals are smoother and more restrained than those of a rabble-rouser like Susan Tedeschi who too often oversings while trying too hard to sound authentic. Jewell, like Raitt, uses her natural voice and that helps make all twelve songs a satisfying listen.

Jewell dug deep to find these tracks. In addition to three Willie Dixon songs there is Memphis Minnie’s “Nothing in Rambling," and Charles Sheffield's “It’s Your Voodoo Working.” There is also a song by a totally forgotten dude named Fiddlin' John Carson, whose career ended in 1934, who, with his daughter Moonshine Kate, recorded "The Poor Girl's Story" a long, long, time ago.

This is not the kind of music you perform unless you love it from the bottom of your heart but I don't foresee Jewell giving up her countrified, singer-songwriting career to be a full time blues queen. So, if Down Hearted Blues is a one time diversion it's a wholeheartedly welcome one because her affection for this music is immediately transferred to the listener.

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