Eilen Jewell Brings Her Blues To Raleigh
Singer-songwriter Eilen Jewell and her band rolled into Raleigh, NC, bringing her timeless brand of blues and honky-tonk to a packed room at the Stag’s Head Music Hall. Opening with “Rich Man’s World,” Jewell’s 20-song set covered material from throughout her 10+ year career, from 2006’s “Boundary County” up to material from her upcoming album of blues covers.
I’m sure you’ll be able to read reviews of the new record elsewhere, but I’ll say it is a good one. The songs she chose to cover run from the ’20s to the ’60s, and in a live setting they fit perfectly alongside her country/folk/honky-tonk sound. These days the blues has become something of a cliche of plodding 12-bar structures full of extended guitar solos, but that’s not how Jewell does it. With Jason Beek’s swinging drums and Shawn Supra on upright bass, the focus is where it should be, on the singer. Late in the set they went way back to the 1920s, playing two Bessie Smith numbers, “Down Hearted Blues” and “Black Mountain Blues,” with Beek stepping up front to play washboard and Jerry Miller playing Jewell’s acoustic guitar.
Miller, Jewell’s longtime guitar player, is a huge part of her sound. With his trusty Gretsch, he always adds the perfect flourishes and sounds without ever playing a wasted note, a master class in taste and what is often referred to as “serving the song.” On “I Remember You,” his solo was allowed to slowly build as the rest of the band simmered behind him, and many of his lead breaks were met with applause from the attentive audience.
Jewell walked off the stage as the band finished up Otis Rush’s “You Know My Love” but came back by herself to send us home with “Songbird,” a sweet ode to her young daughter.
Whether she’s singing her own songs, or performing a cover by the likes of Loretta Lynn, Otis Rush, or Bessie Smith, Eilen Jewell and her band have their own sound and a consistent quality that make their shows a must-see for any fan of the variety of styles that fall under the umbrella of Americana. Thing is, she has a problem that I’m sure many artists would love to have: Her catalog is getting so deep that fans might not get to hear their favorite song.
Opening the show with a solid set was Jeffrey Foucault accompanied by Eric Heywood on pedal steel and guitar.