PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Americana's Eilen Jewell Celebrates the 'Gypsy' Life

Photo: Joanna Chattman / Conqueroo

Eilen Jewell's music provides a way for us to sonically amble through the daily grind without being weighed down by it. We can all be gypsies for the length of a song, even when lamenting our restricted existence.

Eilen Jewell

Signature Sounds

16 August 2019

On Eilen Jewell's latest release, Gypsy, she musically wanders all over the Americana map. Sometimes she travels down the Kitty Wells/Loretta Lynn honky-tonk highway. On other songs, she snakes over a more rockabilly beat or a Western movie soundtrack cadence. And there are other sui generis cuts when she does things like use psychedelic steel guitar and fiddle sounds to open a track or sing over a polished brass accompaniment. Drumbeats can propel her forward on one cut and then disappear as she drifts nomadically on the next.

Jewell sings songs of heartbreak and those of joy, of personal obsessions and others of public concerns. The important point is that her roving presence is ever-present. She may be a gypsy, but she's not lost. Jewell understands the journey itself is the destination of life.

The songs can be seriously funny. Therefore Jewell's music can easily be misunderstood: is she serious, or is she funny? She is both—but not all the time—which adds to the confusion in a good way. One has to listen beyond the surface pleasures of the music, not just to the lyrics, but to how the instrumentation presents itself as well.

Jewell plays electric guitar for the first time on her recordings. She displays more interest in setting a mood and creating an atmosphere than showing off her chops. Her restraint reveals the depth of mixed emotions the songs convey. What's not played frequently says more than what is.

And she is funny, sometimes obviously so on such songs as "79 Cents", subtitled as "The Meow Song", as she cites President Trump's infamous zinger about where he grabs a woman. Jewell drolly protests the unequal treatment of women and different racial groups in the workplace and the larger society. Even when Jewell sings "These Blues", she does so with a smirk and a smile about those who spill wine and talk trash. She expresses her pain while she seduces her partner and wonders about it all. The irony is self-evident and adds to the complexity of the situation as who is really hurting whom becomes less clear as the song goes on. Jewell's ambiguity is purposeful. She knows there are no simple answers, but that doesn't mean there are no simple pleasures.

"Like (listening to) the blue jay in the garden if you just stop to hear it," as Jewell notes in "Witness". Jewell herself may not have a conventionally beautiful tone. Her voice's greatest asset lies in its natural plainness. That adds intimacy and a touch of sensuality to the material. And just as with the blue jay, her expressions can be derisive and imitative. It all depends on the song.

Jewell's description of the "Gypsy" from the title track celebrates flying above it all. She croons about not having one's feet touch the ground, having no chains, and being free. The implication is that we are chained to the Earth and the ties that bind. Sometimes we even have to "Crawl" to get by, as she notes on the opening track. That's life. Jewell's music itself provides a way for us to sonically amble through the daily grind without being weighed down by it. We can all be gypsies for the length of a song, even when lamenting our restricted existence.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.