Eilen Jewell plays old country, old blues, and something new | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Eilen Jewell plays old country, old blues, and something new

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Boise native Eilen Jewell has been recording Americana and roots music for close to 15 years, and she continues to find new material and new approaches; in concert, she's as likely to launch into a rousing Loretta Lynn cover as a down-and-dirty blues jam. Her most recent album, 2017's Down Hearted Blues (Signature), focuses on the latter. In a strolling version of "Down Hearted Blues," Jewell's stripped-down washboard and banjo arrangement and her nasal near yodel make the tune sound more like Jimmie Rodgers than Bessie Smith, who made it famous with her 1923 recording. Though Jewell’s takes on songs written by other artists are appealing, her best work is on her own compositions. "Half-Broke Horse," from 2015's Sundown Over Ghost Town, has an easy-rolling groove that Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson might appreciate and lyrics about freedom and having nothing left to lose: "On both sides of these bars / We're one and the same / Too wild for this world / Too tame for mustangs." The pedal-steel-heavy "Some Things Weren't Meant to Be”—a painterly accretion of details surrounding a lost love the singer doesn't want to confront—may be even better. Country, blues, singer-songwriter . . . Jewell's a worthy heir to all of her roots.   v

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