Reviews

Eilen Jewell’s Down Hearted Blues


By Brian Rock

“Queen of the Minor Key,” Eilen Jewell, ventures further into the blue range of the musical spectrum with her latest album, Down Hearted Blues, a tribute to early Blues pioneers like Willie Dixon, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, and others. An accomplished songwriter, Eilen sets aside her pen on this volume to give voice to some of the great blues composers of the past. Eilen doesn’t just give a museum quality reproduction of the earlier recordings, she reinterprets them in a vibrant, new way. Much like the British Invasion bands of the 60s covering Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters, when you hear Eilen Jewell cover Bessie Smith and Big Maybelle Smith, it is as if one is hearing these songs for the first time. Her voice conveys an effortless, Dean Martin level of coolness. Her Peggy Lee meets Patsy Cline sultriness turns these Blues wails into seductive moans.

“It’s Your Voodoo Working,” features Jewell’s trademark jazzy rockabill as she plays guitar and sings, “I fell in love with you, body and soul. My hands are sticky and my head’s ice cold. My sugar tastes sour, my salt tastes sweet… It’s your voodoo working and I can’t get enough.” Unlike the straight Blues of the Charles Sheffield original, or the haunted fun-house arrangement popularized by Imelda May, Eilen’s phrasing transforms this song of surrender and resignation to one of joy and gratitude.

Jewell works the same voodoo magic on the Willie Dixon classic, “You’ll Be Mine.” The aggressive overtones of the original (and the popular Stevie Ray Vaughn version) are once again converted into notes of hopefulness, changing the song from a threatening promise to an open invitation. Similarly, she reinvents songs like, “Crazy Mixed Up World,” “Walking With Frankie,” “You Know My Love,” and “Down Hearted Blues.” Each one is transformed by her deft, delicate touch.

Eilen Jewell finds a way to soften the rough edges of all the Blues classics on the album and hone them till they gleam. Like a fine jeweler converting a stone to a gem, she makes great blues songs of the past, sparkle and shine in a whole new light.

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