Eilen Jewell proves she’s the Queen of the ‘Down Hearted Blues’

She borrows songs from some of blues’ greatest artists while making the tunes her own.

In “Down Hearted Blues,” Eilen Jewell borrows songs from some of blues’ greatest artists: Lonnie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Little Walter and Otis Rush, among others.

In “Down Hearted Blues,” Eilen Jewell borrows songs from some of blues’ greatest artists: Lonnie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Little Walter and Otis Rush, among others.

By Ron, Everett Public Library staff

One of my favorite albums of 2017 is, surprisingly, made up entirely of old blues covers. Typically, I’m attracted to artists who produce original music. However, as a performer, I love creating exciting arrangements of other people’s songs. If a cover is simply a faithful reproduction of the original, it holds little interest for me. But if it provides a new take, a different feel, startling insights… wellsir, that can make for some mighty fine music.

Eilen Jewell, who created this album, is an amazing singer, with a sultry voice reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan or Madeline Peyroux. Her music is typically categorized as country, although it contains a variety of other influences. For her 2017 release, Down Hearted Blues, Jewell borrows songs from some of blues’ greatest artists: Lonnie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Little Walter and Otis Rush, among others. The result is both an enjoyable listen and a delightful lesson in music history.

The album opens with Charles Sheffield’s It’s Your Voodoo Working, a song that defies any attempts at listener immobility. This tune is a perfect match for Jewell’s seductive vocalizations. Not to be outdone, the instrumentalists provide some of the finest chops this side of Chesapeake Bay.

Alberta Hunter’s Down Hearted Blues is transformed into a Hank Williams Sr. soundalike, oozing those white country blues in treacly globules of gratification. Here the band is at its finest, making a seamless transition from blues to country. Of all the songs on the album, this title track is the least similar to the original.

Next up is Clarence Johnson and Betty James’ I’m a Little Mixed Up, here delivered as a mixture of bottleneck blues, rockabilly Travis-style picking and a Texas two-step. The original, performed by Betty James in 1961, sets up more of an early R&B feel, but this updating of the song is equally delicious.

For a different beast altogether, look no further than Don’t Leave Poor Me, originally sung by Big Maybelle in 1955. Here we find Latin-tinged percussion, strong vocals and killer distorted guitar. The band is once again impeccable, demonstrating a keen agility to move convincingly between styles.

Finally on today’s whirlwind tour, The Poor Girl’s Story is a song that was recorded by Moonshine Kate, one of the first female country performers to be recorded, in the early 1930s. Jewell and her band take this tune on an authentic old-timey acoustic ramble through America’s musical heartland, complete with unwashed men riding the rails and folks heading west to escape poverty and dust.

In short, Down Hearted Blues is one of the finest albums of 2017. Whether you like blues, country, folk or simply fine musicianship, this one is worth a spin. And don’t forget to check out the originals as well. Jewell said of this album, “We really love to uncover the past. It’s almost like digging for buried treasure.” And here she has already done the grunt work for you. So sit back and enjoy this treasure.

Visit the Everett Public Library blog for more reviews and news of all things happening at the library.

Talk to us

More in Life

Patterns of nature and mythology, by a Northwest master

See new works by Alfredo Arreguín, an originator of the Pattern and Decoration style, in Langley.

Doug Fahl will play Flan Kittregdge in Red Curtain’s live-stream performance of “Six Degrees of Separation.”
Stymied by virus, Red Curtain offers live-streamed theater

The Marysville troupe plans Zoom performances of “Something Rotten!” and “Six Degrees of Separation.”

The mask of an employee who returned to the office during the normalization period after corona virus quarantine, stands in front of the keyboard. Top view. Turkey.
What seniors can expect as new normal in a post-vaccine world

Here’s a preview of post-vaccine life for older Americans, from medical care to grocery shopping.

COVID-19 updates for parents and guardians

Public Health Essentials! A blog by the Snohomish Health District.

The trick to 1892 East’s crispy French toast is a combination of cornflakes and buttery palmiers, which add great crunch and rich flavor. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Is your bread stale? Don’t throw it away; make this treat

Cornflake French toast might seem a bit of a gimmick, but the added crunch is a marvel.

The Washington State Wine Commission is using August, known for decades as Washington Wine Month, to promote the Drink For WA campaign. The commission estimates it will generate 12 million impressions through advertising and social media channels. (Photo courtesy Washington State Wine Commission)
Washington wine commission rolls out Drink for WA campaign

Share an image of your special occasion along with tags of #DrinkForWA and #EatForWA.

It only takes a small amount of cash to build a homemade swamp cooler to make your home comfortable this summer. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Can a do-it-yourself swamp cooler beat the August heat?

Instead of spending $400 for an air conditioner, purchase $25 of simple parts and assemble one yourself.

Fried green tomatoes stand in fro fresh red tomatoes in this BLT sandwich. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Make a fried green tomato BLT when you can’t wait for ripe

Firmer than red tomatoes, with a zingy, slightly sour taste, unripe tomatoes hold their shape.

Talking to stuffed animals and other lessons of COVID-19

Teddy bears are a source of comfort and can be a sounding board for something we are trying to express.

Most Read