The Lexington near Kings Cross in North London has great appeal in the current heat wave as it has one of the best air conditioning systems on the London gig circuit and it proved its worth tonight as we were treated to an expansive set from Eilen Jewell and her slick band delivering some 25 songs during an almost two hour set. A Boise, Idaho native Jewell has absorbed and interpreted a wide range of influences and she darted across various styles tonight with a mid-set blues-focussed section to promote her latest album ‘Down Hearted Blues’ with her well established and highly accomplished soulful crew of Jerry Miller on electric guitar, Shawn Supra on upright bass and bass guitar and drummer Jason Beek.
She kicked off with the album opener, Charles Sheffield’s ‘It’s Your Voodoo Working’, the voodoo in the title hinting at the New Orleans vibe running through the track which showcased her silky powerful vocals. Next up was the timely ‘Too Hot to Sleep’, an exhortation to carry on carousing whilst the temperature rules out sleep as an option. The first dozen tracks were concise, as if an early 1960s producer had forbidden anything to head past the 3 minute mark. Jewell is a consummate presence on stage with brief but apt intros to the songs and she clearly enjoyed the crowd’s buzzing reception with many long term fans calling out requests for her back catalogue. Several tracks in the first half of the set had a Shadows-like guitar riff pulsing through them and lead guitarist Jerry Miller was throughout a dynamic presence. There was a Loretta Lyn cover, ‘You Wanna Give Me A Lift’, the country blues sound of ‘Warning Signs’, a song she said was about what she called ‘ a creepy guy’ and ‘Rich Man’s World’, another fast paced cut from her early career. The influences or shared styles of Jewell’s self-penned songs are numerous. Some recall a slightly less radical Lindi Ortega or Margo Price. ‘In The End’ has a strong melody reminiscent of Emmylou Harris in Red Dirt Girl mode whilst ‘Back to Dallas’, from her debut album, 2006’s ‘Boundary County’ was cast from a rockier mould. ‘Santa Fe’ had a slower tempo to place the poignant lyrics more centrally.
There was then a marked shift in style as Jewell offered a swathe of blues numbers. She chose some classic standards which are relatively placeless and timeless, lyrically Spartan and focusing on the most basic feelings and moods, in contrast to her own lyrics which tend to have more detailed narratives and specific places to locate them. She described her ‘life lessons’ learned from Bessie Smith’s purity of lyrical message and how she unearthed Willie Dixon via her father’s extensive LP collection (Dixon’s ‘You’ll Be Mine’ and ‘You Know My Love’ were both featured, the latter the most expansive track of the night showcasing the talent of each member at the close the set). Other blues standards included Big Maybelle’s ‘Don’t Leave Poor Me’, Lonnie Johnson’s stripped back ‘Another Night to Cry’, Memphis Minnie’s ‘Nothing in Rambling’ – one of the earliest known tracks played on electric guitar – and Bessie Smith’s ‘High Shelf Blues’; the high shelf being where the alcohol is kept! There was a stark contrast in the first encore of ‘Songbird’, played solo as a tender country folk song and the first time she really opened up about her current life offstage as it was dedicated to her four year old daughter Mavis who accompanies her on the tours.
The support act was Michele Stodart, a prolific performer in London often cropping up without The Magic Numbers, the group which brought her to prominence. She showcased her solo album ‘Pieces’ with the highlight the melodic genre-crossing ballad ‘Something about You’.