For the next few weeks we catch up on some 2006 releases which caught the ear of this cat, but time did not permit a timely review. As usual, independent releases continue to rule these pages and what they all share is the Compact Capsules guarantee to not disappoint. Let’s get to it.
By virtue of her praiseworthy debut titled Boundary County, not to mention the great press the record has received, here’s predicting Eilen (pronounced “EE-lun”) Jewell will be the next big thing on the Boston singer/songwriter scene. A town where the likes of tunesmiths from Patty Griffin to Patty Larkin honed their singer/songwriter chops before moving onto national acclaim, Jewel’s Boundary County plays like one of those beyond-their-years affairs. It is a record that is just beginning starting to perk ears from coast to coast. Swaying between jazzy blues, folk and stripped-bare country, there’s a late night sultriness to Jewell’s languorous voice befitting of the material. It’s a voice that sounds as if it would be equally at home be it a Billie Holiday or Gillian Welch number. Only in her mid-twenties, Jewell sings with a comfortable confidence on each of the 13 original compositions making up Boundary County. The material touches many a nerve moving from songs of loneliness, longing, and regret to topical matters such as the hard-hitting “The Flood” on which she offers commentary on the Hurricane Katrina debacle. With a backing band featuring some of the Boston areas’s finest musicians – among the players are multi-instrumentalist Jerry Miller (The Spurs, Jack Smith’s Rockabilly Planet), upright bassist Johnny Sciascia (Tarbox Ramblers, Spurs) and drummer Jason Beek – Jewell has crafted exactly that with Boundary County. (For information about Eilen Jewell and Boundary County, check her web site at www.eilenjewell.com.)
Eilen Jewell has a number of upcoming gigs in the New England area including Cafe 9 in New Haven on February 2 and the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River on February 3 where she’ll open for Alejandro Escovedo.
Thrill Jockey Records THRILL-175
The Eilen Jewell release was one of two stellar, roots-oriented debuts from female artists during 2006 that really struck a nerve here at Compact Capsules Central. The other belonged to a young lady from North of the border named Angela Desveaux. A native of Montreal (where she once again resides after spending a chunk of time in Cape Breton while growing up), Desveaux sings country-oriented songs on her excellent debut called Wandering Eyes. Rather than the high gloss Nashville fillies, Desveaux’s music is aligned more with the alt sounds of the Lucinda Williams’, Caitlin Cary’s, and Tift Merritt’s of the world. Blame a lot of it on an upbringing by parents who dug their George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Lefty Frizzell as much as the modern country troubadours and a home where parties with jam sessions were a commonplace occurrence. After returning to Montreal with her family and singing in her brother’s rock band, she eventually discovered the music of country rock pioneers like Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as modern day alt country types like Son Volt. It all no doubt has a lot to do with the voice of experience one senses listening to the ten songs comprising Wandering Eyes, not to mention the melodic leanings. The album presents an artist with a deft songwriting touch to go with a voice that knows how to convey the emotional ups and downs of the material. The album leads off with the too pretty “Heartbeat” which combines pedal steel, gently strummed acoustic guitar and Desveaux’s hard-to-resist voice all to gorgeous proportions. It’s one of those nuggets that begs repeated listens and ups the anxiety for the rest of the disc. The remaining nine tracks do not disappoint as Desveaux moves comfortably between sleepy ballads (“If Only”, “Bury Me Deeper”, “Make Up Your Mind”), straight-up country (“Familiar Times”), and ultra-catchy pop rock (“Wandering Eyes”, “Sick of Fools”, “All the Talk”). Like Eilen Jewell, Angela Desveaux is one to keep a watchful on. (Thrill Jockey Records, P.O. Box 08038, Chicago, IL 60608 or www.thrilljockey.com)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at email@example.com.)