We knew them when…
The review is old, this I realize. However, this was a killer show and as I know Ms. Jewel and her band will be touring the US extensively this summer, I hope that this will push some of yall to go check her out when you have the chance.
Originally written for Ticketfiles
June 15, 2010
The first day summer let us know it was on its way this year, my parents came to town. They arrived on Friday night exhausted after having spent the last few weeks working on their farm in rural British Columbia. Sun-burnt and wide-eyed, they regaled The Husband and me with story after story of osprey nests, mountain runoff, and breaking new ground while deer munched on new grass in the thick. We all slept that night dreaming of wild rushing waters and coyotes howlin’ into the black.
Eilen Jewell came to town the following night. So at 9:20 on Saturday evening, my parents, The Huz, and I found ourselves elbow to elbow in a packed house full of sweaty strangers. Yup, ol’ Sam Bond’s was buzzing like the bees in the lavender. A young man took the stage. The Huz and I excitedly said to my parents: “This kid is a hellova player.” It didn’t seem like anyone in the bar noticed him as he quietly introduced himself: Brooks Robertson. His name wasn’t even on the music schedule hanging on the wall in the bathroom. Who was this guy? Before long the bar had its answer. Brooks is one of the finest guitar players in this area. A finger-stylist, there is little about Brooks that one can say to adequately describe his virtuosic playing. At 21 years old, he has already toured the world with his hero and teacher, the late Buster B. Jones, and made a mark on music junkies everywhere. He has jammed with some of the best finger-style guitarists alive. Robertson is a Eugene native and possibly the best kept secret of our fair city. Aside from being an excellent player, Brooks takes an educator’s approach to performance, explaining and demonstrating exactly what finger-style is. He is a preservationist, in a sense, hoping to incite enthusiasm, not only toward himself as an artist, but also toward the art of finger-style guitar.
Brooks played a set of about 15 tunes, some on steel string, some on nylon string. His opener “Live at Five” wove seamlessly in and out of simple meter and compound meter in 5. Next he played a Jerry Reed tune followed by his original composition “Sandy.” His set wove in and out of original and cover tunes. He continued on with a Buster B. Jones song “Waltz for Juan,” then another original from his new record “Into the Trees,” then a traditional bluegrass number. His song choices swung from genre to genre; bluesy Travis Pickin,’ Laurence Juber originals and old-time country in “Alabama Jubilee.” Brooks is an entertainer, an educator and a skilled tailor, piecing together seemingly disparate tapestries to create a soft summer quilt of wildflowers and hardwoods. At the end of his set he humbly told us that we would be “blown away” by the next act. Then he went outside to sell his records on the street where my dad, still with the coyote’s cry in his ear, bought one.
I know Eilen Jewel only through rave album reviews and MySpace visits. Saturday night she was dressed in black and pearls and said to her band “take it away boys.” She is a tiny woman with a tattoo and a voice that is weary and plaintive. When she sang Billie Holiday last Saturday night, she sang Billie Holiday. When she sang Loretta Lynn she sang Loretta Lynn. And all the while she was singing Eilen Jewell, too. She kept her stage banter to a minimum but when she spoke, she was witty and charming like the tiny bird with the sad tune and the brilliant plumage.
As a performer, Eilen seemed far, far away and yet very, very close at the same time. Saturday night she reached back into the good old days, took a firm hold, and shook a piece loose. She propped that piece up with her voice. She warmed it up with her guitar. Her band spun it into a knot. The room became dirtier and sweatier and warmer still. Eilen Jewell and her band have that je ne sais quoi that all great artists do.
Her set started in the blues tradition in which the band warms up without the headliner. Right away her long-time bandmates, guitarist Jerry Miller, drummer Jason Beek and bassist Johnny Sciascia evoked scenes of lonesome whistle stop cafes and the open range. Gin in hand Eilen walked onstage for the second tune, a gothic roots number. It was followed by “Rain Roll In.” And the evening proceeded on just like watching the rain roll in; slow and unfolding, intense yet comforting. She sang a few cover tunes, a few off of her newest album and even a few requests (refusing however, in a most delicate manner, to cover “Stand By Your Man.”) She sang Happy Birthday to a few people in the room and congratulated her brother on his graduation from the University of Oregon. Toward the end of the night she performed “Where They Never Say Your Name,” a song of hers that—much to her amusement—Ralph Lauren used recently in a fashion show. She finished out the night with a Bessie Smith medley that featured her band. They received a standing ovation by an appreciative crowd and played as an encore “Gotta Get Right,” a song from her first album “Boundary County.”
Eilen and her band have three records to their name with a fourth, a Loretta Lynn tribute album, on the way. They are in a side-project gospel group called the Sacred Shakers. She has toured the States and Europe. She has received international acclaim. Yet she is still about as down-home as my parents’ sunny cheeks and their tales from the farm. Her music is something that is far away and very close. And I bet everyone in the bar that night was glad that they got to be a part of it, if only for one sun burnt moment.
*photos from artist websites