She’s known primarily for her country and folk albums but Eilen Jewell has always had a love for the blues. On Down Hearted Blues she’s finally taken the plunge and delved deep into the history of blues music with a collection of covers from the genre that stands as a key cornerstone of all popular modern music.
Not wanting to merely play a role and take on a blues singer personae, Jewell has instead taken the songs, interpreted and imbued them with her own personality and musicality, keeping them stripped fairly bare with a tight quartet that includes her husband/drummer/co-producer Jason Beek.
The rhythm section is the spine and muscle of the music while the guitars, banjo and mandolin dance and create hot-blooded riffs and light-fingered melodies. The only criticism is that the sound of the album is a tad too clean and clinical, devoid of the dirt and grit that is so integral to the raw earthiness of the style.
Jewell has an inherently melancholic sound in her voice – that sometimes weary, sometimes sultry ache that is crucial to conveying the exultations, despair and playfulness that populates blues songs. With a track-listing that draws from Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, Charles Sheffield, Little Walter, Betty James, Frankie Lee Sims and others, Jewell and band have produced a respectful and soulful modern covers record.