It’s okay to occasionally steal away talent from the rest of the country. New England should be happy to have Boise-transplant Eilen Jewell filling our snowy mountaintop juke joints with songs of dusty Midwestern highways and rail yards. On the strength of her summer release Letters from Sinners and Strangers she’s made a big splash in the Americana and country music scenes, appearing on a handful of “Best of ’07” lists across the country.
It’s easy to see why she is so well received. Eilen’s sultry, world weary sound brings a much needed sense of sincerity to the land of steel guitars and cowboy boots. Country has suffered more than any other genre since the mass industrialization of music.
The glitz and glamour of modern Nashville stars have rendered the old archetypal themes contrived and dishonest. When I hear one of these twenty-first century “cowboys” with their spotless Stetsons, tailored denims, and pure clear tenors singing about the poverty of small town farms or their gritty life on the road, I have to stifle a laugh. But when Eilen laments her lot as a simple ramblin’ girl in a rich man’s world, I nod along. Her songs, inspired by the likes of Bessie Smith and Billy Holiday, seem to travel on a downward trajectory rooting herself and her listeners firmly in the ground. She invokes a sense of restlessness and uncertainty that will resonate with all of us who are kicking around the lower brackets of the tax scale.
Her recent EP Heartache Boulevard is a bit of a tease (but what EP isn’t?). Released to keep her buzz alive during the long gap between full albums, this disc contains five songs, only three of which were previously unreleased. Her new material (including Katrina protest song “The Flood”) is good, but provides little sustenance for those starving for her next album.
If you have yet to hear Eilen, I suggest you pick up Sinners and Strangers rather than Heartache. Die-hard fans will likely find the EP worth owning, but you may just want to save your money for a ticket to one of the three MA shows she has scheduled for February.
Albums are available at Signature Sounds.