Eilen Jewell: Sea of Tears
Eilen Jewell is finally back with her much anticipated third album, Sea of Tears. This Boise-born singer has made a big splash over the last few years bringing her western affinity for open roads and lonely drifters to the Boston folk and country scene. This new record marks a slight departure and a big risk for Eilen as she reins in some of her country flare and takes some tentative steps into the realm of classic rock.
Musically, the album credits Elvis, Buddy Holly, and the Animals as inspiration, mining that rich period in the ’50s and early ’60s when rock, R&B, and country were conjoined triplets. The album’s opening lick is vintage British invasion and the intro to her version of “I’m Gonna Dress in Black” gives a nod to “House of the Rising Sun.” In order to build this sound, Eilen and her band made some decisions that might ruffle the feathers of some of her country fans. Most notably, they dropped the fiddle entirely and replaced it (brilliantly in my opinion) with a Hammond B3 organ. (Full Disclosure: Any time I praise the Hammond B3, it should be taken with a grain of salt. I have an unabashed love affair with the B3 and I rejoice at even the slightest mitigation of the instrument’s sad, slow decline from its zenith in 1976).
But for all the change, the most important aspect of Eilen’s music remains: her ghostly delivery of blunt, hardscrabble lyrics. In the age of American Idol, Eilen’s no-nonsense approach to vocals has been referred to as “lazy,” but a better term is understated. She comes at you straight, because her lyrics are straight. In all the time I’ve spent listening to Eilen, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her use a metaphor. The stories she tells are blunt and universal. You broke my heart and left me in this little nothing of a town so now I’m sitting on your back porch with a very old, very loaded gun. Her voice is perfect for this kind of music. She sounds legitimately heartbroken 80 percent of the time and the other 20 percent she’s quietly smoldering with rage.
All around, Sea of Tears is an incredibly strong album of music that no one else is making these days. It’s possibly the best thing to come out of the Signature Sounds label this year and should have a strong showing at the Boston Music Awards. Check out the samples below. The title track is a great example of the band’s new direction while “Codeine Arms” is a heartbreaking ballad that makes the most of Eilen’s detached moodiness.
Albums available at Signature Sounds.