It’s a long flight from Boise Idaho to Melbourne but American singer songwriter Eilen Jewell has made the journey twice in 6 months having found her people here, as evidenced in her latest run of sold out shows around the country in support of her latest album ‘Down Hearted Blues’. The album is a wonderful celebration of her favourite blues songs that she discovered in a hidden corner of the attic in her family home as a teenager in the form her father’s record collection. The way she told the story to the packed house at the recently re-located Caravan Club, it was a discovery that was unexpected; like uncovering secret treasure, confessing that if the records had been foisted upon her at that impressionable age she probably would have run a mile from them and missed out on the joys of artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Bessie Smith until way later in life.
Opening the night were a band of kindred spirits in Georgia State Line, the 5-piece vehicle for up and coming local songwriter Georgia Delves. Having spent most of her life in regional Victorian, her brand of country sounded like it was born out of East Nashville rather than Bendigo. With a distinctive Southern twang both vocally and instrumentally, Georgia State Line delivered a fine set of original material, the highlights being Bluebird and Lessons in addition to a fine cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?’ They were an unexpected bonus for the very appreciative audience who were lapping up all this young band had to offer and I’m sure they collected some fans for life tonight.
When Eilen Jewell took her place on the stage along with her husband Jason Beek on drums and vocals, Shawn Supra on upright bass and Jerry Miller picking up a storm on the Gretsch, it was as if we had all been transported to another time and place. Opening with the Charles Sheffield song ‘It’s Your Voodoo Working’, it may sound clichéd but it was if she really did cast some kind of spell over the crowd from that moment on. You see it was not your typical gig; it was more like an old friend inviting you over to spin a few yarns and play you her favourite songs. Each song was woven effortlessly into the next with a humorous tale, usually self-deprecating stories of how the song came to be when introducing her original songs or what made a particular choice of cover special to her. Whether it be bringing to life Loretta Lynn via ‘You Wanna Give Me A Lift?’ or the sassiness of a woman who doesn’t take any shit in ‘High Shelf Booze’.
With a voice as smooth as a hot knife through butter and a band that rocked the socks off all who were gathered, the Eilen Jewell train was rolling effortlessly tonight through honky tonk hills of heartache and back again. She proudly attested her love of Donovan, a fact that was not lost on Jerry Miller when during the encore and final song of the night ‘Shakin’ All Over’, he launched into the melody of ‘Sunshine Superman’ – a cool touch and a testament to their rapport on stage. We heard of her rejection from joining the library given her lack of an address, (although she insisted she wasn’t homeless) when all she wanted to do was borrow the Carter Family book before launching into ‘Rich Man’s World’, which was one of the first songs she wrote. We were also treated to one of the newest songs she’s written which Jewell confessed to feeling like a phoney if she chickened out on it considering she had promised an interviewer in the lead up to the show that she would play a new song tonight. Eilen Jewell is clearly a woman of her word.
It wasn’t all talk and banter though; it was an evening of amazing music first and foremost. I always have the upmost admiration for people who can write with the best of them but who can also interpret and cover a song and make it all their own. Eilen Jewell is one of these performers in that she knows the currency and worth of a great song. It sets the bench mark for writing them and she is certainly hitting the mark with original tunes such as the highlights of the set ‘Santa Fe’ from her 2014 album ‘Queen of the Minor Key’, ‘Dusty Boxcar Wall’ from 2007’s ‘Letters to Sinners and Strangers’, and ‘Songbird’ the song she wrote about her now 4 year old daughter Mavis, named after Mavis Staples, naturally. She acknowledged her musical journey from Idaho to the subways of Boston right through to the very room we were gathered in at The Caravan in Melbourne and seemed genuinely heartened and thankful that people had come to see her. After seeing this show I’m sure all in attendance were in agreement thinking how could they not?