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Jewel survives life's ups and downs

Wilbur Theatre, Boston, April 18, 2016

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Jewel did not give a straightforward, traditional concert. If you were looking for the lovely voiced singer to hop on stage with acoustic guitar in hand and play career-spanning songs, that wasn't going to happen.

But what the sold-out crowd did receive was a most open window into the life of a singer who has experienced life's ups and downs and grown to survive them.

In fact, Jewel gave a personal history for a good chunk of the first 20 or so minutes, relating how she grew up in Alaska with parents who played music for tourists in Anchorage until her mother abandoned the family, resulting in father and family going to Homer, Alaska to live the rural life. That was until Jewel left for high school in Michigan and adventures such as riding the rails to Mexico and eventually finding her way to San Diego. That was where she was discovered despite being homeless.

Jewel eventually turned in a stunningly presented version of "Over the Rainbow" being backlit in pink light for great effect. She put her own spin on the classic, but more important was the meaning of the song as it fit Jewel - it's fine to dream and live your life.

Jewel proceeded to intersperse story and song with her 2015 book "Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story" serving as the backdrop. As the generous 140-minute show continued, the emphasis eventually became more on song than story.

Jewel focused on her last CD, "Picking Up the Pieces," with "My Father's Daughter" (the CD features Dolly Parton) being probably the pick of the litter.

A few songs venturing into folk territory lacked the spark of most of her material where her voice darted all over the map. Jewel is one gifted singer with a warm personality as well. The former may never have been more obvious than on the two-song encore where she did what seemed to be an operatic song sung in Italian followed by a yodeling song where she showed she had that skill checked also. By the end, she went at warp time yodeling and pulled it off.

One might think that Jewel's presentation was an effort in developing a cult of personality, but the night didn't come across that way. Jewel made it clear that she has experienced a lot of hurt and strife in her life, but by the end of the night, she also made it clear that she is quite thankful for doing what she wants to do and learning more about herself the need to survive.

Jewel may no longer be on a major label with big hits these days. Does that mean she has little to say? As this night proved, just the opposite. Resiliency counts for a lot, at least for Jewel.

JD & the Straight Shot opened with a pleasing batch of country-based songs. JD is Jim Dolan, who has released six albums, but chances are that you only have heard of him thanks to his day job - head of Cablevision and owner of the New York Knicks.

Some would quickly rush to judgment and accuse Dolan of launching a vanity project. Yes, doubtlessly he has the money to hire the musicians and record out of his own pocket, but it'd be hard to call someone that invested this much in his career guilty of that.

Dolan is a passable singer. He doesn't have a lot of range, nor a particularly muscular voice. When the sound tended to be a bit bluesier, that worked better. But his affable and honest (he complained that his label said "Better Find a Church" was well-suited for radio. It is a very good song, but Dolan jokingly asked the crowd to tell him where it was being played) stage presence worked to his favor.

So did having a strong band anchored by violinist/backing vocalist Erin Slaven and bassist Byron House.

Their strong suit was the quality of the songs with most of the recent and well-crafted "Ballyhoo!" on display. Songs such as "Perdition" made you think that the idea of a music career for someone in the business world was not so far-fetched after all.