Album Review: Eilen Jewell Finds New Inspirations on 'Gypsy'
It's been four years since Eilen Jewell released her last album of original material, 2015's Sundown Over Ghost Town. A lot of things have changed, both personally for Jewell, and globally since that time and now the Americana vocalist dubbed “The Queen of the Minor Key” is back with Gypsy, out Aug. 16 on Signature Sounds, a wide-ranging album that tackles politics, wanderlust, motherhood, and a host of other topics with the wit and sharp turns of phrase fans have come to expect.
Gypsy comes roaring out of the gate at full throttle with its most rock-oriented song as the opening track. “Crawl” is a driving country-rocker in the Johnny Cash “steady as a train” style. Lyrically, “Crawl” paints the picture of a person caught in a tug of war between a life of adventure and the desire to find a place to call home. Over a driving bass and drum beat, as well as some strong rockabilly guitar work, Jewel croons “I want solitude, don't want to be alone. Want to put down roots, wanna be a rolling stone. Hey, hey, daddy, I got those shakedown blues.”
While Jewell has never been a political singer, an incident where a critique of the President's policies elicited the virulent social media reaction led her to pen her first protest song, and far and away the album's best. “79 Cents (The Meow Song)” kicks off with a reminder that “whether she's rich or toiling in a ditch, no matter the color of her collar, the heart of your home works her fingers to the bone for 79 cents to your dollar.” But, Jewell warns (possibly from personal experience), “don't you dare to complain or they'll call you pinko left wing swine.” From there she takes on toxic masculinity, the “love it or leave it” mentality and, giving the song its parenthetical subtitle, the Chief Executive himself, singing “Ladies think twice if you think Uncle Sam seems nice. He doesn't mean it now. But Mr. Status Quo, oh don't you know, he's grabbin' us right in the “meow.” The lyrics are smart throughout but the thing that puts “79 Cents” over the top is its presentation as a boozy sing-along, perfect for a night at the pub, where the chorus is a group sing of the verse's final line, along with a snarky “hey, hey,, alright it's ok.”
The album's sole cover, Pinto Bennett's “You Cared Enough to Lie” will scratch the itch of any Jewell fan who wants a callback to her Loretta Lynn tribute album Butcher Holler. An unabashed throwback to '60s honky tonk, the song features heaping helpings of steel guitar and fiddle and classic country lines like “the time I spent with you, I swear I never been so high. And if you never really loved me, you cared enough to lie.”
While those songs are the album's highlights, there is plenty more to recommend. “Witness” is a soaring celebration of the mundane, inspired by Jewell experiencing things like a sunset or a blue jay for the first time again through the eyes of her child. “Fear” is a call to reject the people and things that take your joy. In it, she warns of hucksters advertising false happiness, “buy this potion and your skin will shine. Take this pill and you'll feel just fine.” “Beat the Drum” is a rolling blues rocker, a lifeline to those who feel hopelessness.
Let's hope it isn't another four years before Eilen Jewell chooses to grace us with another original album. In a world that is often confusing, confounding, and senselessly cruel, I can't think of anyone better than the “Queen of the Minor Key” to lead us to the light.
Eilen Jewell's 2019 World Tour is spending most of August out West and, after a quick trip to Nashville to perform at the Americana Music Festival, jumps the pond for shows all across Europe. You can find her full slate of tour dates here.