Folk music is just that… music for, by, and of folks. It tells the stories of a people in both real time and hindsight, so that we might remember the lessons, losses, and legacies of our individual and collective histories. Blues music fills the same role. So it’s no wonder that bluesy folk artist Eilen Jewell would bravely set this particular moment in time to music on her new release.
Though she has rarely delved into protest music in the past, after an initial foray resulted in a major backlash, Jewell steps to and kicks off the set with “79 Cents (The Meow Song),” in which she takes pay inequality, the patriarchy, and presidential misogyny to task from an intersectional feminist perspective. There’s a notable playfulness — and a solid twang — to her spin on the matter, but neither takes away from the dead seriousness of her point.
Jewell follows that immediately up with the slightly more anthemic “Beat the Drum.” Over a slinky bass and bongo groove, she dives into why we must take every opportunity to resist AND persist, lest we see democracy fade right before our very eyes.
From there, Jewell moves back into more personal terrain with the bluesy swagger of “Crawl,” the folky slog of “Hard Times,” the smooth meander of “Miles to Go,” the hypnotic sway of “Who Else But You,” and the edgy grit of “Working Hard for Your Love.” In true Eilen Jewell fashion, there’s no stylistic rock left unturned on this album.
In the middle of all that, she takes on the push-pull that is inherent in being a human with the gentle quiet of “Fear.” Here, she tenderly admonishes us to not give into that most powerful of forces that is fear while acknowledging the various other opposing tensions at work in and around us. That mesmerizing mood continues with the title track which, while gorgeous, employs a word that has deeply problematic roots as a racist slur against Romani people, though Westerners aren’t nearly as familiar with its history as we should be.
Eilen Jewell is a gem of an artist, both on tape and on stage, and this new album brings together so many of the things that make her so.