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Jewel

Picking Up the Pieces – 2015 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Kate Everson

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"The worst crime a person can commit is to be boring," sings Jewel in "Plain Jane," a track on "Picking Up the Pieces," her 12th album. Thanks to her origin story, no jury could ever convict her of such an atrocity.

In her childhood, Jewel Kilcher's father brought her with him to perform in bars. By 15, she was living on her own in a cabin and riding a horse to multiple jobs. A year later, she busked her way across the country, into Mexico and back as she wrote the song that would make her famous: "Who's Going to Save Your Soul."

Talk about a story worthy of cinema, complete with Oscar-shoe-in leading star - Jennifer Lawrence, anyone? - gritty direction and snappy screenplay. But as hungry as Hollywood should be for Jewel's tale, her new album tones down the glitz to tell a very honest, painful story that might just be too deep for the award-mongering film producers out there to wrap their cameras around.

And that's okay.

"Picking Up the Pieces" is Jewel's return to her non-listening roots. It starts with the poetic, but somewhat repetitive "Love Used to Be" that slices deep with its first line, "Love used to be the ruler from which you measured all" and continues cutting down to the bone until climaxing with "Love used to be my compass, but now I'm alone and I'm adrift and I'm lost at sea," sung in only the emotional way Jewel could belt it out.

Like much of Jewel's music, her vocal talent is strong, but the writing outranks it. The album's strength is in its lyrical beauty, with songs like "Family Tree" painting a death portrait of the history she inherited and has tried to improve upon. Collaborations with Rodney Crowell and Dolly Parton dot the album, but aren't the highlight by a long shot.

This album isn't by the same bubbly country singer judging "The Sing-Off," kissing Rob Lowe in the short-lived "Lyons Den" or singing at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, with Bob Dylan on tour or opposite BB King in England. Her past work might not allude to as deep a well from which she draws much of "Picking Up the Pieces," but her past certainly does - and what a way to hook new listeners and remind old fans of why they love her.