Record Of The Week # 26

September 22, 2017

Eilen Jewell – Down Hearted Blues

Eilen Jewell is one of those hard working troubadours who regularly tours all over the world and, for me, comes under the category of ‘I think I vaguely know her’. In fact in my iTunes library I found a few tracks of hers (but as I have nearly 22,000 tracks in there then I have most people).

She defies a number of pigeon holes as regards genre and floats beautifully between several. You’ll always be guaranteed to enjoy her effortless, easy paced seductive vocals, superb arrangements and the stellar guitar playing of Jerry Miller.

Her latest release of 12 tracks recorded over two days is the realisation of a dream. Inspired by her father’s blues record collection she now dips back into the catalogue of roots music and selects classics from Memphis Minnie, Willie Dixon, Lonnie Johnson and Bessie Smith amongst others. It would be fair to say that she has been this way before but never with an album devoted just to the blues.

These interpretations seldom depart from the pace and feel of the originals but they all have a contemporary feel. One of the more recent covers is of Betty James’ “I’m A Little Mixed Up”. Not least we start to understand that there is something of a Country swing about the album and that if Jewell enjoyed compiling this homage then not half as much as Jimmy Miller. She really is lucky to have his services and he has full rein to pick, strum and bend strings in the most delightful way throughout.

“Down Hearted Blues” swaps Bessie Smith’s original’s piano accompaniment for acoustic guitar and upright bass (Shawn Supra). Somehow her lilting and more optimistic tones sit very differently from Bessie’s interpretation. If you have read any of my web site then you’ll know that I once cycled to the site of the hospital where Bessie died after a car crash in Mississippi. I’m touchy about anyone covering this legend’s work. That aside then the more that Bessie gets her legacy published then the happier I will be.

In fact Jewell has acknowledged the importance of American roots artists before, not least with her Loretta Lynn, 2011, tribute album, Butcher Holler. On Down Hearted Blues then half the tracks are originally by female artists and she invites you to hear how exceptional they were in a very male dominated industry.

Through out her husband and drummer, Jason Beek, sets a danceable swinging rhythm on many tracks and not least on Willie Dixon’s “You’ll Be Mine”. Another Willie Dixon composition, “Crazy Mixed Up World” has all that dance allure with the addition of Miller’s guitar picking.

“Poor Girl’s Story” includes violin and the band gently keep the rhythm behind the pair of them as this tale of rambling the USA comes as an album closer and welcome addition to the various styles before.

This is hugely enjoyable and I’m secretly returning to this album, as it is a real grower.

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