Wednesday, May 13, 2009

High Shelf Booze

Wow, what an example of a great 4 piece combo.... Eilen Jewel... she is that .. a jewel

And here is a great review:

By Todd Lavoie

A honky-tonk angel and devil, all wrapped up in one? It appears so with Boston singer-songwriter Eilen (pronounced "EE-len") Jewell. The slow-drawling ambassador of old-timey sounds and rustic reveries offers equal measures of small-town charm and sassy backtalk on last year’s sublime Letters from Sinners and Strangers (Signature Sounds).

If you’ve ever been seduced by the potent country cocktail of twangy sweetness and “my man’s done me wrong” vinegar - think Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn for classic examples of such barstool tell-alls - then Jewell will surely get you good ‘n' drunk. See for yourself - she’ll be hootin’ it up Wednesday, June 11, at the Rickshaw Stop.

Blessed with a pristine, uncluttered production - ably handled by Jewell and her band - Letters from Sinners and Strangers approaches the sounds of pre-suburban America with reverence and genuine affection. There’s no attempt here to modernize these country/folk/blues idioms, nor is there any sort of ironic distance being created between the singer and the subject. Rather, this is quite authentic, no mucking-about stuff. Other than the contemporary fullness of production, the album feels like an artifact from yesteryear, much in the same way that the work of Jolie Holland and Gillian Welch has also defied easy decade-classification.

Jewell has made some terrific choices for cover material here, but her originals shine just as brightly - thanks to sly turns of phrase and plainspoken, emotionally direct subject matter. Everything from the references to trains and rambling to the glove-fitting colloquialisms of her nothin’-fancy confessionals comes across as incredibly real. Obviously, she has done far more than merely studied the work of her inspirations. Jewell has absorbed these influences so thoroughly that she’s actually building upon them instead of simply re-creating them. She might not be a child of the Deep South, having grown up in Boise, Idaho, and lived in Los Angeles and Santa Fe before ending up in Boston, but the listener could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, so convincing is her magnolia-and-moonshine aesthetic.

Of course, much of Jewell’s ear-grabbing mastery must be attributed to her voice. Living proof that slowness doesn’t necessarily sacrifice strength, she frequently elongates syllables and stretches out phrases in a manner befitting a steamy, sticky front-porch afternoon. Sure, it’s a more restrained form of power, but it’s evocative as hell, and often capable of hitting squarely in the poor unsuspecting heart.

If the description sounds a bit like Billie Holiday, it should: Jewell at times recalls Lady Day in her unhurried delivery, occasionally even administering a similarly lovely slur-and-purr to a word or two along the way. Still, for all of her indebtedness to the jazz singer, Jewell's vocal style is clearly her own, having also drawn from Bessie Smith and Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn but never exactly sounding like any of them in the process. It’s a tremendously affecting voice, bringing the sadness and self-reflection of jazz and blues while still giving up the spunk and spitfire of country - or is it the other way ‘round?

As much as Jewell is more than willing to share her heartaches - or, the heartaches of the unlucky-in-love characters in her songs, anyway - she counters the pain with another message entirely: you’d best not mess with me, or I’ll fix you up real good. It’s the same state of fed-up-and-not-having-it which made Lynn classics such as “Happy Birthday” and “Fist City” so energizing, and Jewell has created a few worthy additions to the kiss-off catalog. My favorite: the quick-shuffling album-closer “Blue Highway," a swinging, stinging fare-thee-well dispatched from behind the steering wheel as she leaves her ne’er-do-well in the dust. “I don’t need you to help me lose my way / I’m gonna roll, roll, roll,” she yells out the window on her way out of town while furious fiddles and rockabilly guitar provide the exit music.

“High Shelf Booze” - a playful country swing number whisked along by jazzy clarinet twirls and a thumping upright bass rhythm - revels in the freedom of being dumped by a scoundrel lover. Rather than feeling sorry for herself, Jewell decides to go with her girlfriends to celebrate - and how better to whoop it up but to hit the bar and get lit on the good stuff? No $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon specials tonight. In moments like this, only the good stuff will do. So, the high shelf booze it is, along with a few one-night stands to clear the head: “Well it’s one man on Sunday, another on Monday / two on Tuesday afternoon / Easy come, easy go / You won’t hear me sing no lonesome tune.” It’s all delivered with a deliciously defiant nonchalance, and there’s something in Jewell’s unhurried phrasing and the swishing brushed-drum tempo that gives the track a sweltering, sticky-clothes summer night feeling.

And if “High Shelf Booze” might sweat a little, then “Too Hot to Sleep” is fevered and frenzied, a reverb-guitar rumba in which she strokes her night visitor with the come-on, “It’s too hot to sleep anyway, so you might as well stay.”

Jewell’s covers are equally engrossing: her take on Eric Anderson’s “Dusty Boxcar Wall” deftly balances apology and regret with the cold disregard of having just abandoned a lover. Having convincingly settled into the character of a gambling addict who keeps others at a comfortable distance, she approaches the lyrics with a brittle-hearted false-bravado similar to that of the late great Townes Van Zandt. The Charlie Rich tune “Thanks a Lot” is given a true tear-in-your-beer makeover, combining Jewell’s on-the-brink delivery and exquisitely weepy guitar, courtesy of bandmate Jerry Miller.

Listen closely, and there’s a beautifully pregnant pause between the sigh, “No matter what you do,” and its completed statement, “I will always love you.” Pull your ears a bit closer to the mic, and surely you’ll have witnessed the exact moment when a heart slowly comes undone. But don’t you worry about Eilen - she’ll be just fine: by the time she tackles the traditional stomper “If You Catch Me Stealing,” she’s back to sass and swagger. “Have you ever seen peaches growing wild on a vine?” she asks not once but twice over a shuffling Sun Records rhythm before topping the question off with an invitation: “Well just climb in my orchard and get a taste of mine.” Hmm, whatever on earth could she possibly mean?

Itching for some country swing? Catch this clip of Eilen kickin’ it up on “Heartache Boulevard”:

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