Eilen Jewell

Eilen Jewell


LA Daily News: Sometimes as darkly damaged as Lucinda Williams, at others as defiant and teasing as prime Peggy Lee and always authentically Americana in the Gillian Welch tradition....She's mighty good.


Once in a great while, you put on a CD by an artist you’ve never heard of before and time stops. The voice is new, yet timeless. The lyrics are original yet feel immediately familiar, lived-in, knowing. And the melodies — expertly performed by a first-rate band — carry an easy, memorable groove.

This is the story of Eilen (rhymes with feelin’) Jewell. It started after her 2005 self-released debut, Boundary Country, made its way into club-owners’ hands, onto a handful of radio shows and around the press circles of Boston, her current home base. Reaction to Eilen’s music was swift. Many compared her talents to those of Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch and June Carter Cash. The Boston Globe said, “The slow organic sway of her melodies, and the sensual way she rubs against the low end of her register, will remind some of Gillian Welch. Also like Welch, her writing is both intimate and vivid, classically framed and closely observed.�

And now begins chapter two in the story of this 27-year old Boise-born talent: the release of her national debut album LETTERS FROM SINNERS & STRANGERS on Signature Sounds.

Letters From Sinners & Strangers promises to show the rest of the world what the buzz is about. Jewell’s heart-achingly hushed style and intimate grasp of roots music’s wild graces are revealed in the CD’s provocative, melodic originals and timeless country and blues classics. Set to a swaying, irrepressible groove, the subdued emotion in her soft soprano feels like music straining beneath skin. And her band evokes classic country, folk and swing without feeling nostalgic. Nothing about roots is retro in Eilen Jewell’s universe.

In an era dominated by artfully inscrutable songwriters, Jewell’s songs come on like nakedness and thunder. "You show me the well, but you don't let me drink," she sings, and you know exactly why she's "going some place where they never say your name." And when she hisses that she's "Too Hot to Sleep," you know she ain't talking about the weather.
Eilen’s keenly visual way of articulating deep emotion is palpable on her new album. She always wants you to know how her songs feel, whether she's drowning her sorrows on "Heartache Boulevard," or yearning for the "High Shelf Booze" of the good life that always seems like it's right around the next hard corner.

Perhaps the most remarkable song on the album, "How Long," is her gripping song-setting of a Martin Luther King speech from 1965. Within her world-weary, street-beaten melody, the lyrics veer ominously between certain despair and uncertain hope.

Jewell’s band – drummer Jason Beek, Jerry Miller on electric and steel guitar, and Johnny Sciascia covering the low end on upright bass – accompany her on tour and in the studio. Together they’re always seconding, but never detracting from, Eilen’s hushed vocals.

Those same hypnotic vocal talents could lull you into thinking she's not a skilled and crafty stylist. But listen to the prolonged, yearning vowels in her version of Eric Anderson's '60s gem "Dusty Box Car Wall." Her oddly halted phrasing softly reinvents the Charlie Rich classic "Thanks a Lot," turning its bitterness into something both vulnerable and resilient. Like her vocal hero Bessie Smith, Jewell always makes you think she'll be punching back at life in the morning.

Jewell is at her most daring in her use of silence, deftly placing pauses that imply deep wells of restrained emotion. “I think space is one of the most important things in writing and performing,� she says. “I don’t know why; it’s just an aesthetic that I have. I always preferred songs that leave room, that don’t get all cluttered up. There’s so much clutter in our lives these days.�
“The fewer tricks you have going on, the fewer antics, the more bare you are,� she adds. “There’s something much more real about that, and there’s also something terrifying. But I know that’s the music that really moves me.�

Eilen Jewell’s love of music began on a 1500-mile family road trip from Anchorage, Alaska to her hometown of Boise, Idaho. Bundling his wife, daughter, week-old son, and husky dog into the family Volvo, Eilen’s father (a tree farmer from a long line of Idahoans) put on a tape of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Seven-year-old Eilen was so fascinated, she begged her parents to let her take piano lessons when they got back to Boise. The 27-year-old singer, songwriter and musician plunged headlong into anything and everything musical ever since.

At 14, Jewell dug her parents’ old records out of storage, a discovery that led her to pick up her first guitar. Her favorites, Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and a Sun Records’ Howling Wolf album, led the quiet teenager to the music of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. All remain her strongest musical influences today.

Five years later, at 19, Eilen began performing at farmer’s markets and local bars in Santa Fe (


Boundary County

Written By: Eilen Jewell


Say hello to Boundary County
If you make it up that way
I don’t get around as much
As I did in my younger days

I was raised in that country
So pure and so fair
But I took too hard to the whiskey
And I wandered away from there.

I miss the barbed wire and the sage
On that wild northern range
The giant, staring sky
Like a bright, tragic blue eye
Why I left I can’t say why
I can’t say why

Say hello to Boundary County for me
She’s prettier than dreams
If you’ve been someplace so far away
Then you’ve really seen some things

Those miles and miles of steel rails
Are a one-way track
And no matter how hard I try
I never make it back

I miss those violet hills
And the sweet smell of the fields
Reach their arms out so wide
Like heaven’s only bride
Why I left I can’t say why
I can’t say why

Every man serves his time
I know I’ve done my share
And when that old roll is called
You will find me there
In Boundary County,

if you make it up that way
I don’t get around as much
As I did in my younger days

Mess Around

Written By: Eilen Jewell


Feel like messing up, cutting my teeth
On stolen candy, chewing on something sweet
I don’t know what, what I came here for
Stumbling down these streets, trying to find your door
Take the long way ‘round, long walk across this town
If I was any good at painting, I’d paint it up and down
But I’m not, I’m just trying not to make a sound
Whistling to myself the Fourth Street Mess Around
Mess around, mess around, mess around…

Wanna tell it like it is from heaven’s point of view
But I would not have lived in vain if I could utter one thing true
Or not build this life so artificially
Not go about it all so goddam superficially
Lay myself down, quit running so ragged
Blaze me a trail just a little less jagged
But for now I’m just stuck here in this town
Singing to myself the Fourth Street Mess Around
Mess around, mess around, mess around…

Back to Dallas

Written By: Eilen Jewell


Lay around the shack all day
Bootlegging for your sorry pay
I don’t care what your mama say
You’re going back to Dallas

Ain’t worth a gunny sack of beans
Worst case a girl ‘bout ever seen
You love me like a bulldog baby just as mean
Now you’re going back to Dallas

Hello central information please
Give me all the numbers I need
I got some money for the driving fee
Cause he’s going back to Dallas

Tom cats never made so many goddam rounds
You just can’t ignore that old howling sound
Honey you done let that deal go down
Now you’re going back to Dallas


Boundary County, 2006
Independent Release

Letters From Sinners and Strangers, 2007
Signature Sounds

Set List

Setlists vary according to the engagement
A typical set includes but is not limited to originals such as:
Boundary County
Fourth Degree
Rich Man's World
Mess Around
Nowhere in No Time
Hey Hey Hey
Back to Dallas
Gotta Get Right
So Long Blues

We typically include covers such as:
Head Over Heels (trad.)
Chauffeur (Memphis Minnie)
Get Right with God (Lucinda Williams)
Catch Me Stealing (Bessie Smith)
Cuckoo (trad.)
Feeling Good (Holly Golightly)
Little Darling (Carter Family)
Dirt Road (Bob Dylan)
Jump Little Rabbit (Memphis Minnie)
Black Mtn. (Bessie Smith)
Going Down the Road (trad.)