It was about five p.m. on a freezing cold Thursday and I was
all set to snuggle in for the night. That was when someone told me that they
had a ticket for me to go see Eilen (pronounced Ee-len) Jewell. I had never
seen her before and I didn’t know anything about her, but I decided to bundle
up and go to the show. Man, am I glad I did!
Eilen Jewell was a little firecracker! She had an easy
flowing, sultry voice – reminiscent of Patty Griffin. She’s a terrific
songwriter -- poetry and painting woven by a musical loom. She takes a concept
and unfurls the feeling in a melody and lyrics with wonderful vocal intonation
and remarkably satisfying arrangements – they just couldn’t be better! For
example, “Bang bang bang” was her hilarious tribute to Cupid, a li’l feller at
the firing range, aimlessly shooting guns instead of a bow and arrows. She had
maracas that she shook with comic timing during certain songs.
“Warning Signs” had an irresistible melody and great lyrics
about a girl duped by a bad boy:
“We wove a sticky web in a dirty little game
And I was hypnotized
All your bad juju and all your weird voodoo
Made me go blind”
Overall she had a passionate and playful stage presence, yet
insightful and imbued with heart -- sorta like a Buddhist monk gone cowgirl --
the songs spiraling into the night, like prayer beads from a sagebrush mala. I
was riveted and enthralled.
The band was terrific! The stupendous, finger-flying bass
player with the slicked back hair and the short-sleeved shirt was named Johnny
(of course he was!) Sciascia (pronounced Sha-sha.) The enthusiastic drummer,
Jason Beek, who resembled Han Solo a bit, was all hush-brush and smash-em-up
Glenn Miller was unequivocally one of the best guitarists I’ve ever heard. Man,
could that guy play! Maybe having the same name as Glenn Miller added to
the cachet of his musical genius. Jerry had finesse coming out the wazoo. He
was a master – he knew every inflection, wah wah, chorus effect, and melodic
rock riff a guitarist could possibly know. The notes pumped out of his bright
orange guitar, splaying like the strutting feathers of a glorious bird. Wearing
a cowboy hat and sunglasses, he was as laid back as a guy flipping steaks at a backyard
barbecue. The audience was eating it
up, howling with excitement at the solos and all the unexpected fun.
One song that really knocked me out was their cover of Eric
Anderson’s “Dusty Boxcar Wall.” I felt like I was in the boxcar, waiting for my
turn to swig the rot-gut pint. The band loves Loretta Lynn too, and covered a
couple of her songs. If Jerry Lee Lewis heard their version of “Shakin’ All
Over” he’d want to give up, and relinquish the copyright. I’d love to hear them
cover, “Love Potion Number Nine.”
They were shakin’ all over, honky-tonk heartbreakin’,
conjuring up images of freight trains and small western towns, and the kind of
love songs you hear in smoky barrooms. Take the Ventures, the theme from Secret Agent Man, the feeling of
old James Bond movies, mix it with smoke and dust clouds, and you get the
I plan to see them again at every future opportunity. It was
such a delightful surprise to see a band for the first time that was so good,
so good, so good! Five Stars, Blue Ribbons, Gold Medals, Grammies, whatever you
got, they deserve it. Check out her website at eilenjewell.com.
Eilen Jewell photo by Jennifer Lucey-Brzoza
For music lovers visiting Portland, Maine, I highly recommend
One Longfellow Square ~ "Portland's Premier Arts Venue"
Check them out at onelongfellowsquare.com.