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Eilen Jewell Queen of the Minor Key Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Her understanding of rock'n'roll, gospel, folk and country has a profound depth.

Martin Longley 2011

Firstly, this disc is blessed with an evocative title, and its song of the same name delivers the sounds to match. Where do we place Jewell, this country miss who also sounds like a darkly mysterious rock'n'roller, a blues-gal, a purveyor of garage exotica? She appears to be quite naturally gravitating toward several scenes simultaneously, well-versed in the manners of each form. Jewell sings and plays acoustic guitar, also taking the occasional harmonica solo.

Closely identified with Los Angeles, though born in Boise, Idaho, Jewell currently lives in Boston. Her songs sound like they haven't reared up out of any of these cities. Nashville noir, maybe? Lower East Side hillbilly? Her right hand man is Jerry Miller, who slides from electric guitar to pedal steel, by way of an acoustic axe. Jewell's four-piece combo is augmented by guests: it’s saxophonist David Sholl and organist Tom West who provide much of the period atmosphere, when it comes to stepping outside the country music parameters. Californian rockabilly king Big Sandy turns up without his Fly-Rite Boys, providing guest vocals. He and Jewell have already been gigging together.

Short instrumentals open and close the album, full of twangy guitar, ghost organ and burred saxophone. Jewell shuffles a range of slowies and trotters, well-pacing these 14 short numbers. The whole album is a mere 38 minutes, a length that lately seems to be grabbing back some favour. Her voice is caught up close to the microphone, enhancing the already mood-drenched aura. She invariably builds up a lonely melancholy tone, a nostalgic yearning. The title-cut has a rockabilly slap-back, the lurching continuing with the next track. Jewell’s words are substantial and loaded with archetypal imagery. Every song is a micro-tale. To ensure her credentials as a country artist, she includes a healthy ratio of decelerated weepies, including Reckless, with its fiddling solo from Rich Dubois. Their character recalls the work of Gillian Welch, or even Lucinda Williams. Not surprisingly, Bang Bang Bang sounds just like its title, loaded with hulking horn-jabs.

In a recorded career that only began in 2005, Jewell has already been marinated by a variety of styles for each of her album projects. Now, she's refining her songwriting into an individualist composite of myriad genres, crafting works which resonate with her own personality. It's clear that she's no dilettante, and that her understanding of rock'n'roll, gospel, folk, country and rockabilly has a profound depth.

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