Boundary County, Eilen Jewell's resonant 2006 release set the bar so high one could rightfully wonder if she would ever again attain and hold that singular level of artistry.
Somehow, just from listening and seeing one show, I never doubted she would.
And she does. Sounding like a hand picked playlist from Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour, Letters From Sinners & Strangers, Jewell's national debut, is a rousing and confident tour de force.
It has become redundantly fashionable to pontificate that such and such an artist has gone back to their roots, exposes their roots, or is firmly rooted in rootsy roots music, blah, blah, blah. But Eilen Jewell and her merry band—drummer Jason Beek, guitarist Jerry Miller, and upright bassist Johnny Sciascia—don't just go back to the roots. They rub up and caress the deep seated tap root and never shy away.
From the opening good timey whump of Rich Man's World; a shuffling, resigned take on Eric Andersen's Dusty Boxcar Wall; and a bluesy and affirming High Shelf Booze, we are extremely fortunate to listen as an important new artist continues her emergence, sweeping us along in her and the band's rustic exuberance. Though comparisons mean nothing to a talent so obvious, relish as Jewell luxuriates and ruminates Lucinda-like on Charlie Rich's timeless Thanks a Lot and her own In the End.
Not only is there a single track you'd want to skip over, there's not a bad note or clumsy arrangement within a thousand mile radius. Producer Mark Thayer makes it all sound so real and live, like there's no production at all. Jerry Miller's ringing and reverberant surf/twang guitar finds and holds its space as the rhythm section, so understated, sets the swaying pace. Sparse yet colorful swashes of violin, clarinet and harmonica shade and filigree Jewell's deft and honeyed soprano as her trusty acoustic conjures many a broken back road and lonely heart.
In the beautiful end, Letters From Sinners & Strangers is so gratefully and wonderfully old school that it brings you back to the days you'd get so excited by an album that you couldn't wait to tell family, friends, and foe. So here it goes. "Hey! You gotta hear this!" "You gotta check this one out!" "Oh-oh listen to this song, now this one, now this one!" "Hey man, have you heard…!"
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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