CD Review: Eilen Jewell’s ‘Queen of the Minor Key’
Reprinted from the June 2011 issue of Modern Acoustic magazine (Click HERE
Eilen Jewell’s “Queen of the Minor Key”
It’s a little bit of bad luck that Eilen Jewell’s captivating “Queen of the Minor Key” was released the same day as Gillian Welch’s new album (not to mention Beyonce’s new CD!). While it may initially be overlooked in all the hoopla of Gillian’s first album in eight years, “Queen of the Minor Key” is one not to be missed.
Coming on the heels of her amazing late ’60s-era-sounding “Sea of Tears” (a comparatively short two years ago), “Queen” deftly melds the genres she’s explored on her past albums – the folk and blues phrasings of “Boundary County,” the country swing of “Letters From Sinners & Strangers,” and the electricity of Sea of Tears” -– into a cohesive and unique sound that Eilen Jewell and her band can now claim as their own.
The fact that the album opens with an instrumental, “Radio City,” complete with honking baritone saxophone and no vocals from the headliner, underscores just how comfortable the band is and how willing they are to take chances. Some new voices are added to some songs to lend some depth and color -– Seattle’s Zoe Muth adds sweet backing to a few tunes including “Over Again” and Big Sandy (from Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys) drops in to duet on “Long Road.” “I Remember You,’’ a slinky, slow-burning number, exemplifies the “minor key” of the title as it scorns an ex-flame about times past: “I remember you/You were locked in a padded room/I tried to teach you solitaire/You just hollered at the moon/I remember you.”
But just because the keys remain minor doesn’t mean the songs’ moods stay dark. The title song brings guitarist-extraordinaire Jerry Miller to the forefront with some swampy Creedence-esque lines atop the country-rock beat of bassist Johnny Sciascia and drummer Jason Beek.
“Santa Fe,” with its wandering pedal steel, is a favorite here. I especially love the imagery in the opening line – “You picked up a broken bottle/In case anyone gave us any trouble/And we walked all the way back to Cortez” -– a beautiful descriptive kind of songwriting we hope to hear more of from Eilen.
Other great tunes include “Warning Signs” and the funky and fun 1-minute-and-45-second Cupid-as-hit-man “Bang Bang Bang,” both play great dirty sax riffs against Miller’s razor-sharp guitar, while the fiddle-driven “Reckless” rides along the country line. “Only One” is a nice Patsy Cline-esque torch song. The album ends with the short surf-rock-like tune “Kalimotxo,” which you wish would never end.