Eilen Jewell's country-blues flavored folk on Boundary County will remind listeners of many new, talented women singer/songwriters without ever seeming like a copy. Like Jolie Holland, she slurs her muffled vocals on a series of original songs and accomplishes the neat trick of evoking tradition. Like the Be Good Tanyas, Jewell relies on fairly eclectic arrangements, though she's more progressive in her marriage of electric and acoustic elements. The slow, sad "So Long Blues" ventures toward pure country with Jerry Miller's lap steel underpinning Jewell's lonesome vocal, while the spunky "Gotta Get Right" captures a more folksy feel with banjo and mandolin.
There's an off-the-cuff manner to the opening songs of Eilen Jewell's Letters from Sinners & Strangers that makes the album easy to like. She builds "Rich Man's World" around bits and pieces of older folk songs, leaving the listener with the impression that she might have heard the song – somewhere – before. She follows with Eric Andersen's "Dusty Boxcar Walls," a song that likewise echoed Andersen's folk influences. Jewell's lazy Southern delivery on Letters from Sinners & Strangers, backed by full-band arrangements, reminds one of a mellower version of the Tarbox Ramblers' self-titled release.
Released January 21, 2014 on Signature Sounds. The 14-song album was recorded live at Boston’s Lizard Lounge on January 24, 20,13. The Sacred Shakers are comprised of Eilen Jewell and her band: Jason Beek, Jerry Miller, Johnny Sciascia and rounded out by Daniel Fram, Greg Glassman, Daniel Kellar, and Eric Royer. Together, they offer new life to the gospel genre by revisiting the stripped down country and bluesy gospel material that inspires them.
There is nothing wrong with providing retro music as long as the artist does it convincingly, and singer/songwriter Eilen Jewell is quite convincing on Sea of Tears. The era that she sets out to re-create on this 2009 release is the 1960s; this is '60s-flavored roots rock with elements of '60s blues (Chess Records' electric Chicago blues is an obvious influence), '60s soul and '60s country. And not only does Sea of Tears emulate the '60s stylistically – even Jewell's production recalls that decade. But Jewell's ability to make a 2009 release sound like it could have been recorded in 1967 or 1968 wouldn't mean much if she didn't know how to get her points across emotionally; Jewell is quite expressive, which isn't to say that she is an aggressive or forceful type of vocalist.
There was never any disputing the strong country influence Eilen Jewell brought to her retro-pop-folk, so it's no surprise that she detours into this short but extremely sweet tribute to one of her obvious influences, Loretta Lynn. It's a natural side road, especially since Jewell's sumptuous voice is similar to Lynn's, as is her delivery. Jewell already recorded Lynn's "The Darkest Day" on her previous album, but the dozen selections here are not the coal miner's daughter's best-known tunes, despite the obvious resemblance of the cover art to 1968's iconic Loretta Lynn's Greatest Hits. Rather, the tracks are carefully chosen to reflect only Lynn's original compositions that highlight her often defiant, genre-expanding lyrics and diverse topics, which range from offbeat gospel ("Who Says God Is Dead") to brazen infidelity ("Another Man Loved Me Last Night.").