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Eilen Jewell wears her musical hats well

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., January 28, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Eilen Jewell wears a lot of musical hats. The Idaho native, who now lives in Boston, fronts the Eilen (ee-lin) Jewell Band, a pretty much traditional country band. She's a member the Sacred Shakers, an octet doing gospel country with a country beat. And she has yet another project, Butcher Holler, covering Loretta Lynn songs.

Jewell brought all of her talents to the fore in a stellar outing in the first of two sold-out nights at the venerable folk-based club.

A few key ingredients made the 100-minute show the powerhouse that it was. For starters, there was Jewell, of course, because she's the driving force. Jewell was in final vocal form with her voice mixed nice and high. It was powerful, but not overwhelming whether on faster-paced, twangy numbers or ballads, showcasing different musical sides of the band. That was evident from the opening Rain Roll In from last year's "Sea of Tears" CD to the closing cover of Them's I'm Gonna Dress in Black.

Jewell also was quick with the comment and wit. She was an engaging performer, easily interacting with the audience in introducing every song with something interesting to say to personalize the songs just a bit more. In introducing Codeine Arms, Jewell "blamed" Sciascia for encouraging her to write "the saddest song I could do. There will probably be more on the next album because they keep me happy."

Notice that this was an Eilen Jewell Band performance, not just Eilen Jewell. That should have been the tip-off that this was not only about Jewell. Jerry Miller stood out time and time again on lead guitar. He tended towards the twangy with sharp, short runs, never overpowering the music. The guy was simply on target throughout. Drummer Jason Beek provided a steady beat, while bassist Johnny Sciascia was deft on the stand-up.

While tending more towards a traditional country sound, Jewell injected a bluesy element as well with If You Catch Me Stealin', a Bessie Smith medley, with Jewell displaying a su-ple voice and Sciascia and Miller letting loose.

Jewell may wear many hats, but they also seemed to fit just fine on this night.