Queen of the Minor Key
On the title track of this album Eilen Jewell dubs herself the queen of melancholy, which could be true, as there's a clutch of slow-burning tales of heartache and passion on Queen Of The Minor Key which really show off what she does best. But musically, her penchant for rock 'n' roll, and even rockabilly, persistently peeps through, making for an interesting combination.
The instrumental opener “Radio City”, featuring dirty sax and Duane Eddy-style guitar, makes you wonder exactly what's in store. The title track also is taken at a rockabilly pace - which belies the lyrics - and “Warning Signs” has a touch of the girl groups of the 50s and 60s about it.
Although currently based in Boston, Jewell went to college in Santa Fe, which is where she first started playing. The town clearly has a special place in her heart, and it gives its name to the lovely standout track on the album, in which she lets her regret at leaving the town intertwine with regret at leaving her lover. It's filled with a wonderful dark melancholy which permeates the best songs on the album, and is one of those songs that you can listen to repeatedly and never grow tired of. Almost as good are “I Remember You”, looking back on an intense relationship, and “Over You”, a sultry late-night torch ballad with organ undercurrents.
Jewell's three-piece live band comprises a guitarist who doubles up on pedal steel, an upright bass player and a drummer. But for the album she supplements this with sax, organ, fiddle, and a couple of well-chosen guest vocalists including Zoe Muth. The comparison with Muth's own music is interesting, since Muth has a much more straight-ahead country approach, and largely sticks to what she does best, while Jewell is really intent on mixing things up a bit more. Though, as if to prove she can do straight country when she wants, “Reckless” has effective fiddle and pedal steel interplay, and “Long Road” is an old-fashioned country duet with that curious 50s-style guitar again.
The album closer “Kalimoxto” takes the listener back to the start, the single-worded not-quite-instrumental echoing the album's opener. All in all it's an interesting ride, not always successful, but showing a healthy willingness to mix and match.