The last day of August is one of those days where people realize that the heat of summer is finally going to break, kids are going to be going back to school, and there’s one more long weekend before the serious business of Autumn begins. It’s the kind of day where part of us mourns the loss of summer fun, and enjoys one last long throw down.
For me, it was a day I had been looking forward to for a few weeks since I discovered that Eilen Jewell was coming to town. Until six weeks ago that wouldn’t have been a blip on my radar, I’m sad to say. I discovered her thanks to a chance listen to her on satellite radio.
While taking a scenic drive with my wife we heard a show that featured a couple of tracks from her album, Sundown Over Ghosttown. Within moments I was under her spell and found her songs to be haunting and lyrical. Then the hosts of the show went into a spiel about her upcoming album being an all blues release.
My spidey senses began to tingle as I immediately knew I would have to get a copy in order to share her work with our audience.
While checking out her tour schedule, I found out she was going to be appearing at one of my favorite places to catch a show, Richmond’s own Tin Pan. I made reservations immediately, and it’s a good thing I did, because a couple hundred of my closest friends also made plans to attend and the venue was close to overflowing.
The evening started off with a low key vibe as Jewell made her way to stage to strong but not raucous applause. She took center stage in front of her seasoned trio: Jerry Miller on guitar, husband Jason Beek on drums (and later washboard), and Johnny Sciascia on stand up bass. She welcomed the audience and opened up with Rich Man’s World.
Even though everyone was obviously here because of her, she seemed soft spoken, almost shy, while connecting with the audience. She said she wanted to go honkytonking and since it was a Thursday night, that was close enough to the weekend. That led into Honkytonk Boulevard, and fairly quickly into the great Loretta Lynn tune, Deep As Your Pocket.
There was a great deal of applause that greeted Pocket, and was a strong choice to represent the album she released as an homage to Lynn, Butcher Holler.
That quickly moved into Needle And Thread and Rio Grande, both dealing with her impressions of time spent in the American Southwest. Jewell introduced the next song, Santa Fe, as a “collection of memories that mostly happened.”
I found that description to be poetically apt, and it reminded me of how another writer of the myth and memories of the Southwest, Sam Shepherd, was often characterized.
One more song of memories, this time about her formative years in Boise, Idaho, Hallelujah Band, and then she moved into some selections from the upcoming blues album, Down Hearted Blues. While the album is scheduled for release on September 22, she had advance copies and the crowd was most enthusiastic to hear the new work.
She played one of Big Maybelle’s numbers, Don’t Leave Poor Me and followed up with Albert Washington’s You Gonna Miss Me, and ended the mini set with Lonnie Johnson’s Another Night To Cry. The audience responded with some of the most sustained applause of the night.
After taking a couple of minutes to come out of the spell she wove arounf the audience, she came back with the Jimmy Rogers inspired Where They Never Say Your Name, and closed her first hour with Sea Of Tears.
By now, pretty much everyone in the audience was enchanted by her, and the shyness was long gone. Jewell told the audience she tended to “get tired of her set list” at this point in the show and asked for requests.
Before anyone else could say anything, a voice called out for Dusty Box Car Walls, the Eric Anderson tune, and Jewell and company obliged. They followed this with great renditions of Worried Mind and Rain Roll In.
From there, she went all the way back to her first album, Boundary Walls, for the title track, then Mess Around (her version, not the Ahmet Ertegun number) and a stellar rendition of I Remember You.
Then it was back to the upcoming blues album for a rocking version of Charles Sheffield’s Is Your Voodoo Working, and a strong version of Bessie Smith’s Down Hearted Blues.
Jewell then closed the show with versions of Flatt & Scruggs’ Head Over Heels and a blistering delivery on Otis Rush’s You Know My Love.
All in all, it was among the fastest 90 minutes that I have ever spent in a show. Eilen Jewell is a strong songwriter, truly among the best working today, and she builds a rapport with her audience so well, it almost feels you’re just sitting around someone’s living room enjoying a pleasant conversation with great music and good company. If you get the chance to catch her on this tour, do it. And pick up a copy of Down Hearted Blues on September 22. You won’t be sorry.