HAVING only recently been introduced to the sound of Eilen Jewell by a good friend, I was certainly excited to hear her and the band perform live at Cleere’s.
From what I had heard the sound was a mix of whisky-sinking blues vocals and gun-slinging guitar solos but there is clearly more to Jewell than meets the ear. Eilen Jewell’s latest album, Queen of the Minor Key, indeed does not disappoint with the good ol’ country and blues however, the soulful and thought provoking lyrics are steeped in gospel influences.
As I made my way through to where the Boston-based four-piece were playing, it was not long before I was through the door, when -
“A-one-a-two, a-one-two-three-FOUR” called the voice of upright bass player, Johnny Sciascia. He spun the instrument around and bang on time, the band began.
Born in the ‘Gem State’, that is Idaho, Eilen Jewell sings and her voice is caught up close to the microphone, enhancing the already mood-drenched aura, a smoky mix that reminded me of a cross between Billie Holiday and Neko Case. An all-rounder, an entertainer and musician, as she plays her acoustic guitar, the odd bit of percussion and the occasional harmonica solo.
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. It’s clear that her understanding of rock n’ roll, gospel, folk, country and rockabilly has a profound depth.
The band also make-up one half (the better half, Jewell joked) of The Sacred Shakers, country and blues influenced gospel music. This venture is the brain-child of her husband and drummer, Jason Beek and his soft, melodic backing vocals complemented Jewell’s voice beautifully.
With such numbers like, “If you catch me stealing”, that has an astounding upright bass solo and “Bang, bang, bang”, a song about a not-so-cute Cupid, who ditches the bow and arrow for a six- gauge shotgun, the band never failed to keep the audience engaged.
During a very brief break between songs the band beamed, as a barman came to the side of stage wielding a tray of four full whisky glasses.
“Slainte!” the band exclaimed to the crowd and were answered by cheers and whistles.
Playing continuously throughout the show, I was impressed by the band’s energy and most of all, to that of the guitarist, Jerry Miller, whose debut solo career has branched from the success of the band. His performance in the enthralling, “Dusty Boxcar Wall” was mesmerising. A song which takes some of the lyrics from The Animals classic, “House of the Rising Sun” maybe deemed as plagiarism to some, or unimaginative but surely every good artist pilfers here and there? That’s certainly what I remind myself of now and again and to be honest, rather than a blatant cover, it was refreshing to hear the odd line cleverly entwined with the prolific singer-songwriter’s own material.
When the same scenario occurred in another song, a tribute to the late great yodelling maestro, Jimmie Rodgers that was the answer! It was not theft at all but a tribute, a way of giving thanks to her musical heroes, through her own music, in her own style and was certainly highly commendable in my view.
Currently on tour through Europe, I feel privileged to have caught Eilen Jewell in Kilkenny and to have discovered this hidden gem, who really is the Queen of the minor key.