Eilen Jewell's National Debut 'Letters from Sinners & Strangers,' Out on Signature Sounds on July 10

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Pronouned EE-lin, Boise singer/songwriter gleans early comparison to Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch and June Carter Cash.

Once in a great while, you put on a CD by an artist you've never heard of before and time stops. The voice is new, yet timeless. The lyrics are all original yet feel immediately familiar, lived-in, knowing. And the melodies -- expertly performed by a first-rate band -- carry the easy groove.

This is the story of Eilen (rhymes with feelin') Jewell, as she prepares to release her national debut album Letters From Sinners and Strangers on Signature Sounds on July 10.

It started after her 2005 self-released debut Boundary Country CD made its way into club-owners' hands, onto a handful of radio shows and around the press circles of Boston, her current home base. Reaction to Eilen's music - 12 original songs from the Boise-born 27-year-old singer - was swift. Many compared her talents to those of Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch and June Carter Cash. The Boston Globe said, "The slow organic sway of her melodies, and the sensual way she rubs against the low end of her register, will remind some of Gillian Welch. Also like Welch, her writing is both intimate and vivid, classically framed and closely observed."

Letters From Sinners and Strangers promises to show the rest of the world what the buzz is about. Jewell's heart-achingly hushed style and intimate grasp of roots music's wild graces are revealed in the CD's provocative, melodic originals and timeless country and blues classics. Set to a swaying, irrepressible groove, the subdued emotion in her soft soprano feels like music straining beneath skin. And the band evokes classic country, folk and swing without feeling nostalgic. Nothing about roots is retro in Eilen Jewell's universe.

"Some writers are so specific, you get lost," she says. "I named the album Letters From Sinners and Strangers because it feels like every song is a different story, written by one of the characters in it. I want people to understand them, to hear it the same way I feel it."

After busking at college in Santa Fe, she spent a summer busking in Venice Beach, California. "It helped me learn to establish your boundaries as a performer, she says. "Growing up in Idaho, everyone's so friendly. It took me a while to not get too disturbed about what strangers might say or do."

She then followed the burgeoning neo-trad revival to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, where she made her stage debut at open mikes and folk clubs. But everyone told her Boston was the place to go if she wanted a folk career. It was there that she met percussionist and roots DJ Jason Beek, who anchors her band, totally in synch with the slow sway of her simmering vocals. Similarly guitarist Jerry Miller moves deftly from Western swing to hot blues to sweaty, midnight rock, always seconding, but never detracting from, the singing.

Jewell is at her most daring in her use of silence, deftly placed pauses that imply deep wells of restrained emotion. "I think space is one of the most important things in writing and performing," she says. "I don't know why; it's just an aesthetic that I have. I always preferred songs that leave room, that don't get all cluttered up. There's so much clutter in our lives these days."

"The fewer tricks you have going on, the fewer antics, the more bare you are," she adds. There's something much more real about that, and there's also something terrifying. But I know that's the music that really moves me."

Eilen Jewell on tour...

Sat Apr 14 ELLSWORTH, ME The Grand (w/ Bow Thayer)
Fri-Sun Apr 20-22 PITTSBORO, NC Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival
Mon Apr 23 NORTHAMPTON, MA Iron Horse (7 p.m.; support for Graham Parker)
Fri Apr 27 CAMBRIDGE, MA Plough and Stars
Sat Apr 28 BEDFORD, MA A New Song Coffeehouse
Sat May 12 FRANKLIN, MA Circle of Friends Coffeehouse
Fri May 18 PIERMONT, NY Turning Point
Fri Jun 1 FALL RIVER, MA Narrows Center for the Arts
Sat Jun 2 GREAT BARRINGTON, MA Club Helsinki
Sun Jun 3 SELLERSVILLE, PA Sellersville Theater (7:30 p.m.; support for Junior Brown)
Fri Jun 8 PHILADELPHIA, PA World Cafe Live (7:30 p.m.; duo supports Steve Forbert and the Sound Benders)
Sat Jun 9 BELLOWS FALLS, VT Roots on the River
Tue Jun 12 NEW YORK, NY Joe's Pub (7 p.m.; support for Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem)
Sat Jun 16 SHELBURNE FALLS, MA Memorial Hall (7:30 p.m.; support for Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem)
Thu-Fri Jun 21-22 CAMBRIDGE, MA Lizard Lounge
Sat Jun 30 WELLFLEET, MA Private Gig
Sat Jul 14 ROSENDALE, NY Rosendale Cafe
Thu Jul 19 GREENFIELD, MA Green River Festival @ Energy Park
Fri Jul 20 NEW HAVEN, CT Cafe Nine
Sun Aug 19 DELAWARE, NJ Knowlton Riverfest


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