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Jewel Kicks It In Nashville, The Result: Not Too Bad
on November 20, 2010
Pros: Thought-provoking, reflective lyrics; Just the right amount of twang
Cons: Some weak tracks.
Bottom-Line: Jewel is to the 30 and 40-somethng what Taylor Swift is to the tween, but Jewel sounds more convincing.
It is strange aside that I have been a (on again, off again) fan of Jewel Kilcher the self-described "blond bombshell" from the nation's oft-forgotten 49th state, since she released her first album Pieces of You (1995), but this will constitute my second review of one of her offerings. In this case the album is her latest release Perfectly Clear in which Jewel strays--if only minutely--from her folk roots and tosses her lot in with a new independent label based in Nashville, TN. And she has signed a multi-album deal with the concern to turn our C&W albums; Perfectly Clear is the first in the deal.
Listen closely, and I did, and you will be hard pressed to distinguish the songs offered up on this CD and Jewel's past offerings like Pieces of You, and Goodbye Alice in Wonderland. Other than the occasional flourish of the steel guitar and the staple twang of the banjo, Perfectly Clear could be called vintage Jewel material. This is helped along by the fact that she wrote or co-wrote all but one of the tracks on the album, and her heart and soul have not strayed and neither has her material.
Out of all the artists (Bon Jovi, Joan Osborne, Darius Rucker, and most famously, or should I say notoriously, Jessica Simpson) that have made the leap to C&W over the last five years, Jewel tiny step is the most authentic. After all, she has recorded most of her album in Nashville, spends a lot of time therein, and lives with a real live cowboy in Texas! So her fans, including this one, will find her new genre easy to embrace, and C&W listeners will hopefully welcome her in like an old friend. As the last note is played I found that Perfectly Clear works pretty well both as a Jewel album and an example of contemporary country.
From the lyrical perspective what stands out is the way Jewel has tailored her songwriting to the genre's contemporary standards. The result is some of the cleanest, least personal writing of her career. Track No. 1 Stronger Woman is a perfect example of the kind of song that would feel right home on a Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood album. The track is at once vintage Jewel, but fits perfectly into the adult contemporary C&W scene.
Even if it doesn't sound more like a country album than any of her previous work, the best tracks on Perfectly Clear do show an awareness of the country genre that in fact give Jewel a more distinctive sound than many of her contemporaries on country music radio dial (think Jennifer Nettles, fellow songwriter Taylor Swift, and fellow blond bombshell Carrie Underwood).
As Jewel continues to refine her craft and perhaps works with a wider swath of producers, there is every reason to expect that she will actually record something akin to Bluegrass one day; hello Alison Krauss are you reading this?
Vocally Jewels voice is well suited to C&W, though some may differ. Her voice has always had that lilting quality and soulful tenor that lends itself to emotive riffing.
Thought not an overwhelming commercial success, overall Perfectly Clear is a mature collection of original country-inspired songs that represent an artist who now sees life through the eyes of an adult. Jewel is to the 30 and 40-somethng what Taylor Swift is to the tween, but Jewel sounds more convincing. Jewel's eyes are sometimes cynical--as are all adult eyes--but they also sparkle with hopeful beauty.