Boston-based singer/songwriter Eilen Jewell could be the poster child for the saying, "Big things come in small packages." There's a Blythe-doll quality to the slight, soft-spoken Idaho native: a sweetness with an edge. Jewell and her music shouldn't be mistaken for mild.
Pop in her new CD, Queen of the Minor Key (Signature Sounds), and you may need to take a step back. "Radio City," a twangy guitar and horn instrumental evokes images of a '60s basement full of slightly stoned kids doing the Twist while the record player is stuck on repeat. And the album never lets up. Even on quieter tracks "I Remember You" and "Only One," listening to Jewell's bluesy, airy lilt is like running into a pile of bricks wrapped in goose-feather pillows: it's soft and has some give, but there's something seriously strong at the base of it.
Queen of the Minor Key shifts effortlessly between rock, rockabilly, Americana and country, a skill Jewell has always had in her wheelhouse and has always used to the greatest benefit. Brushes dance across drums, shakers rattle through harmonies and slide guitar oils up long, slow melodies while lyrically, metaphorical melancholy refrains dare a listener not to reflect on love long gone.
In "Only One," a gospel/blues-inflected tune, Jewell sings, "Wish I was holding you / my arms enfolding you / making you high as the summer sun / you're my only one / Baby, why am I missing you / when I ought to be kissing you / tell me our love has just begun / You're my only one."
"Bang Bang Bang" is a track that would tempt out some two-stepping, but is also about watching your heart--in this case, being careful around Cupid and the pitfalls of love: "That little cupid, he's a real sharp shooter / I don't believe he's got an arrow and bow. / People all think he just couldn't be cuter / but I saw him down at the gun show."
Though only in her 30s, Jewell has the chops--musically and lyrically--of someone twice her age. Queen of the Minor Key though Jewell may be, if country/American music is your thing, this album is a major accomplishment.