Eilen Jewell | Letters From Sinners & Strangers

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Country: Western Swing Country: Alt-Country Moods: Mood: Upbeat
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Letters From Sinners & Strangers

by Eilen Jewell

Rootsy but not retro; melodic originals and timeless country and blues classics with a swaying, irrepressible groove.
Genre: Country: Western Swing
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Rich Man's World
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2:55 album only
2. Dusty Boxcar Wall
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2:43 album only
3. High Shelf Booze
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3:38 album only
4. Thanks a Lot
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2:48 album only
5. Heartache Boulevard
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2:41 album only
6. Too Hot to Sleep
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2:29 album only
7. Where They Never Say Your Name
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2:32 album only
8. How Long
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3:06 album only
9. In the End
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4:32 album only
10. If You Catch Me Stealing
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4:08 album only
11. Walking Down the Line
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3:37 album only
12. Blue Highway
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2:13 album only


Album Notes
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 (as a college student at St. John’s), before moving to Los Angeles, where she became a fixture in the Venice Beach street circuit. “Busking helped me learn to establish your boundaries as a performer,” she says. “Growing up in Idaho, everyone’s so friendly. It took me a while to not get too disturbed about what strangers might say or do.”

She then journeyed cross country to New England in January, 2003 and settled briefly in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, where she got her start at the legendary Club Helsinki.

Eilen would often travel to old-time music jams near Boston, where she met drummer Jason Beek and harmonica player PJ Eastman. Seeing that Boston had a lot to offer musically, Eilen moved there in late fall of 2003 and was quickly welcomed into the famous and vibrant community of folk and roots musicians. Performing with bands as well as solo, she cut her teeth first at venues like Club Passim, Plough & Stars and Johnny D’s. Eilen learned some of her first lessons about the music business from veteran bass player and then band-mate Paul Strother (Chicken Chokers). PJ Eastman provided powerful blues harmonica for Eilen while Strother and Beek laid down her rhythm section. During this time she released a live demo to sell at shows and nearly recorded a full album that, unfortunately, was lost — along with the studio where it was recorded — in a fire.

The loss of this album opened Eilen’s eyes to the need for a new musical direction. She then put her energy towards the making of the live demo Nowhere In No Time — a sparse-sounding live demo with Jason Beek on drums and Daniel Kellar on violin. It was released on a very limited basis in March, 2005. Also at this time, Eilen began a successful Saturday evening residency at Tír na nÓg pub in Somerville, Massachusetts, which lasted until 2007.

In December, 2005, with a tight band including Beek on percussion, Daniel Kellar on violin, Jerry Miller on guitars and upright bass player Johnny Sciascia, Eilen entered Chris Rival’s renovated 19th-century barn/studio to record Boundary County. That album — until now the best representation of Eilen Jewell’s music — received swift and overwhelmingly positive attention from clubs, radio programmers and the press.

Summer 2007 brings the release of Jewell’s first national release, Letters From Sinners & Strangers, recorded at the Signature Sounds studio in Pomfret, Connecticut one snowy week in March. Eilen and her band will tour nationally beginning this summer.


to write a review

David Rodgers

Letters From Sinners & Strangers
A beautiful album and a great follow up to Boundary Country. The album may have been recorded during snowy weather but now the warm weather and evenings are drawing out the music is the perfect accompiment on a warm evening with a class of chilled wine. Her lovely voice mixes with the delicate tunes, it's a record that can stand repeat playing. The mark of a great record.

Phil Richards

Letters From Sinners & Strangers
This is the best album I have bought this year bar none, absolutely faultless from start to finish. Eilen Jewell deserves to reach a far wider audience with her superb blend of Country, Folk, Blues, Roots and Americana. She writes almost classic lyrics with a contemporary relevance, and has an incredible 'feel' for her chosen genre. Great voice, great band, great talent. If you live in the real world, and have any feelings at all, you will love this album.


Ear Grabber
When my friends hear any of these songs, it's always the same reaction... "wow, who is that?"
Then an hour or so passes and my shuffle hits another, and again, same awe.
I just can't get enough... I can't quite place this music in any category other than awesome! Love it all!

Birgit Burke

rocking cd
Eilen shines. I love her imagery, and her band is killer.

Curt Nichols

Boise Weekly Review (from 9/19/07)
It’s not just the Broncos football team that’s putting Boise on the map. Eilen Jewell, a Boise native, is doing her part too.

Jewell, who’s first name rhymes with feelin’, is based in Boston now days. Now, she’s headed back to Boise. She’s performing in the “Alive After Five” concert on September 19th. Her stop here is part of a summertime tour across the nation.

In July, she released her national debut album, Letters from Sinners & Strangers. The same record label, Signature Sounds, that currently carries Crooked Still, Tracy Grammer, and Josh Ritter.

This CD has a classic sound. She wrote most of the songs, but you’d still swear they must be covers of classic songs from 30, 40, or 50 years ago. She does covers well too. A cover of “Thanks a Lot” by Charlie Rich is rich with poignant emotion.

She covers Bob Dylan too. On “Walking Down the Line”, she sings his classic line, “I’ve seen the morning light / It’s not because I’m an early riser / I didn’t get to sleep last night”. This song also highlights some of Jerry Miller’s guitar work.

Miller is a stellar guitarist from Tacoma, Washington. He’s on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “Top 100 Guitarists of All Time”. While his work with Jewell is more subtle than his earlier performances, his guitar genius is evident as he blends his instrument with her voice to make the music all that more memorable.

She can sing upbeat songs too. In “Too Hot to Sleep”, she’s enticing her lover into her arms. But, songs tinged with sadness like “Where They Never Say Your Name” seem to be her specialty. “How Long” is another lover’s lament that she sings with feeling. And, “In the End” is eerily reminiscent Lucinda Williams.

If you’re going to her concert, take a copy of this CD to get her autograph. If Miller is with her, get his too. Don’t you wish you had Jared Zebransky’s and Ian Johnson’s autographs? I predict, that’s how you’ll be feelin’ about Eilen soon. As this album shows, she’s a real jewel.

neal courtene-jones

letters from
Excellent album. Originally heard Eilen on the Bob Harries Country Show (BBC UK) and liked the tracks. Found more on CD Baby. Superb songs and individual style. Again excellent service from CD Baby. Perfect.

Polly Buckingham

Everything is Great
I think this is my favorite of her releases, but honestly, they are all fantastic, great lyrics, great voice, many moods--reminds me of what I used to love about Lucinda Williams. She's the only artist in the last number of years I've instantly bought everything of.

George Kulczewski

Eilen Jewell - LFSS
A wonderful CD! Her voice is smooth but passionate and very professional. I especially liked "Rich Man's World", "Heartache Boulevard" & "Blue Highway". Now my goal is to see and hear her in person.

Michael Selvy

Letters from Sinners and Strangers
After hearing Eilen Jewell's group live at the Royal Theatre in Danville, Indiana, while passing through the Midwest on their itinerary, I became a fan and have both albums now. Regretfully, I recently missed another appearance in Danville due to calendar conflicts. I hope Danville will again be a play date in the future. I enjoy Eilen's style and composition, it just moves along nicely as a complete package. It's tough to discover a talent who possesses her unique sound and writing ability. Eilen's work is a sultry, honest sound. She'll make a believer out of you! I eagerly await the next album. And, CD Baby's service is simply excellent, from the initial order to the follow-up email regarding my order.