Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Eilen Jewell has had a great career, so far. This is Eilen’s ninth studio album (including one EP). This album is a heaping helping of the blues. While Eilen’s prior albums used to stay pretty close to the classic country and vocalist territories, this is the deepest dive into the blues for Jewell, and it is great.
Not only is the music played with technical proficiency, it is authentic. She is serving up some legitimate blues. Obviously, Jewell and the band have a deep, deep understanding of this genre. This is one style of music where going through the motions doesn’t cut it. It has to come across as genuine. It has to have real feeling and a sense that the singer has experienced whatever he/she is singing about. Ms. Jewell does this like a true blues player.
This is smokey, dimly lit, with a baby grand piano blues. You know what I’m talking about. Those clubs are so vintage that they only appear in black and white. This has such an old timey feel to it, it takes me back to a time before both Eilen and I were born. How she was able to capture the true essence of the blues is totally impressive.
Walking With Frankie (Track 7) is the exception to the straight blues rule as this song could also double as a country number. It is a very swinging, up tempo ditty that could bring the house down. It is similar in arrangement to the Frankie Lee Sims original from 1957. This version is a bit bluesy, but adds a good bit of country and some rockabilly as well. Eilen’s vocals are sweet as honey. The lead guitar work also stands out on this track. It has plenty o’twang, much to my approval.
If straight up electric blues is your thing, I’m A Little Mixed Up (Track 5), is for you. This is as traditional as electric blues get. Eilen and the band are still able to put their own flair on it. The original was recorded on 1961 by Betty James and has been covered by the likes of Diana Krall and Koko Taylor. This version is defined by some blistering lead guitar work that makes this song as hot as magma. Yes, magma.
I don’t usually get too excited about cover albums, but these are not your garden variety blues covers. Eilen dug deep in the blues and R&B song book. These covers are not widely known but, they smoke like green wood. Artists that are covered include: Charles Sheffield, Willie Dixon, Albert Washington, Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith, and Moonshine Kate. Down Hearted Blues definitely deserves your undivided attention.