Just got back from the Eilen Jewell show at the Iron Horse. John Doe of X once told me "I gotta work tonight." I said, "Oh, you have a job too?" He scowled and said "I'm working at the Whiskey at 10!" Eilen and her stellar band punch the clock punctually for every show, skip their lunch break and stay late if necessary. They don't need to impress the boss. But they do. Before we know it, ten years will have passed and she'll be among the canon of artists who take the ingredients of a great tradition and create a new one. The good ole' days of tomorrow are available for the price of admission today. Why did Carly Simon just pop into my head?
Every Eilen show I've seen along the way is a fully realized work of honky-tonk art. The country of it all is solid, but they bring so much of their own voice to the songs that country is just an ornate frame around their creations. Billy Holiday's voice comes through Eilen as she covers a song she's not even sure was a Billy original. Probably not. "I keep meaning to look that up sometime...it might as well be hers because she makes any song she sings her own." As did Eilen, leaving anyone with an appreciation for "the real thing" well aware that this is after all no mere job for this bunch. It's a calling. A blessing? A curse? Is there a difference? They're in it for the long haul, and not reaching for validation like so many others. Like the love who gives you their best but doesn't need you to survive.
The last time I saw the Eilen Jewell Band it was opening for Loretta Lynn, a bill that was meant to be, given Eilen's spin-off project, Butcher Holler, a Lynn cover band (named after Loretta's Kentucky hometown) who have played a few notorious gigs around Boston. In May, the band proper is off to the Netherlands, Spain, and Ireland, where American roots music has always found a home away from home. And as they go I feel lucky to know that once in a while I can walk up the street from my apartment in Northampton and have a musical experience that ranks among the best I've ever had. -Jim Neill