Jewell returns to Boston behind rootsy ‘Blues’ album
Modern blues albums usually lean heavily on guitar heroes or moanin’-and-wailin’ vocals (think Joe Bonamassa or Gregg Allman). Eilen Jewell’s contribution to the genre does neither.
Jewell’s new album, “Down Hearted Blues,” features her amazing vocals and some great guitar, thanks to Boston ace Jerry Miller. But the record values subtlety over flash — check out the title track to hear her roll sweet and easy through the 1920s gem.
“The showboat, big-guitar-solo approach is not where I’m coming from,” Jewell said ahead of her Tuesday concert at Laugh Boston. “Most blues stuff is associated with the showboat sound, but it didn’t start that way. It predates the electric guitar, and it’s that early stuff I like.”
If you’re a fan of Jewell, her deep dive into acoustic blues isn’t a surprise. The Idaho-based singer, who spent a decade in the Boston Americana scene, has always penned old-at-heart songs that fit snuggly on a shelf with your nicked Kitty Wells, Wanda Jackson and Carter Family vinyl records.
“I like the roots of the blues, which makes sense because, well, I tend to like the roots of everything,” she said with a laugh.
“Down Hearted Blues” features a dozen nuggets from well-known and obscure artists: Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, Betty James and more. Jewell culled the songs from lists she’s been making since she was a kid.
“I keep a running list of songs I’d like to cover. I’ll lose it for a year, find it, add songs, and lose it again,” she said. “Recently, I stumbled across a folder from high school with lyrics I’d written out to songs I loved.”
For the album, Jewell mixed songs with a handful of tunes she discovered while listening to John Funke’s Backwoods program on WMBR. She has been back in Boise for five years, but she still tunes into the Cambridge show weekly for a fix of roots music.
If you like Jewell, or Americana, or the blues (even showboat blues, because Miller does get loud on a few cuts), you’ll like the new album. But digging the LP probably won’t keep you from wanting a fresh collection of originals from Jewell. Sadly, she hasn’t had the time to stockpile her own material.
“I am afraid I haven’t been writing much, we’ve just been touring so much this year, which has been great, but I can’t do both at once,” she said.
Jewell isn’t strung out from the road in the traditional rock star sense, but she doesn’t have a ton of extra energy to compose. She is busy playing and being a mother. With help from family, Jewell and her husband tour with their toddler. Yup, even during this fall’s three-week tour of Europe, the kid will be in tow.
“We were going to do a December run of shows, but I put a stop to it,” she said. “If I am going to write a new album, I need to start carving out time this winter.”
Eilen Jewell, at Laugh Boston, Tuesday. Tickets: $20-$25; laughboston.com