Eilen Jewell – Butcher Holler: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn (Signature Sounds, 2010)
On last year’s Sea of Tears, Eilen Jewell stepped up from folk and country sounds to electric twang. She dropped the fiddle and harmonica of her earlier releases and sang solo with a rockabilly-styled trio of guitar, bass and drums. That same trio format, with the thoroughly stellar Jerry Miller on guitar and pedal steel, is employed for this terrific salute to Loretta Lynn. The band plays blue and lightly rocking across a dozen covers, melding Jewell’s jazz-tipped vocals with twang-heavy guitars and tempos that turn the ballads into sorrowful two-steppers and the rest into perfectly restrained rockers. You can hear Lynn in every track, but what you won’t hear is Jewell copying the subject of her tribute.
Jewell isn’t as feisty a singer as Lynn, which keeps “Fist City” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” from delivering the originals’ heat. To be fair, Lynn wrote and sang these songs when such outspokenness, at least from a female country singer, delivered a shock and element of liberation that’s not available to a contemporary vocalist. Jewell’s cool approach works perfectly on the sly “You Wanna Give Me a Lift” as she brushes off an overly amorous suitor with the lyric “I’m a little bit warm, but that don’t mean I’m on fire.” For “Don’t Come Home A- Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” Jewell offers a promise of forgiveness in place of a half-cocked frying pan, and it works very nicely.
Lynn’s originals are filtered through Jewell’s influences, so while these new recordings pay homage to the hits, they’re distinct interpretations influenced by the blue emotions of Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Connie Francis, and the torchy styles of Big Sandy and Julie London. Jewell sings most everything solo, doubling herself on the superbly forlorn “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” and leaving Miller’s guitar to provide the second voice elsewhere. Miller’s steel playing on “A Man I Hardly Know” is superb, and the bouncy “You’re Looking at Country” closes the album on a convincing note: Jewell’s a bit jazz, a bit blues, a bit rockabilly and a whole lot country.