Jewel Shares Laughs, New Music at the Bluebird Cafe
Before she was a country star, or even a multi-platinum pop sensation, Jewel was a teenager busking on street corners and singing in bars. Nashville's singer-songwriter mecca, the Bluebird Café, isn't exactly your average bar ... but for Jewel, who on Wednesday (Apr. 28) played back-to-back shows there, it must have conjured up a feeling of déjà vu. This time, however, she wasn't performing to inattentive, beer-swilling patrons of some out of the way, smoke-filled honky-tonk. Guests at both Bluebird shows were there to support Jewel's Project Clean Water, which she founded in 1997. The project has since funded 35 wells in 15 countries on five continents.
Taking the stage solo, acoustic guitar in hand, the radiant singer engaged the audience immediately, asking them which songs they wanted to hear her play. The nearly 90-minute set at her later show included the familiar hits ('You Were Meant for Me,' 'Who Will Save Your Soul'), along with selections from the singer's 'Sweet and Wild' album, due out June 8 on Valory Music. The disc is her second release aimed especially at country fans, following 2008's 'Perfectly Clear.'
Jewel says that 'Sweet and Wild' is meant to showcase both sides of her personality, and those divergent sides came through all night, as tunes with a lighter, breezier tone were juxtaposed against material with darker themes. 'Fading,' a song she wrote about experiencing something of a mental breakdown years ago, quickly springs to mind as one of the darker things she's ever recorded, especially at this juncture in her career -- and after singing it, she related that her label was concerned because the song had both the words "Jesus" and "urine" in it. That song and 'Satisfied,' which closes the album -- and for which producer Nathan Chapman (Taylor Swift) joined her on stage, playing guitar -- couldn't be further apart in a number of ways, but Jewel makes such eclectic material fit well on record and certainly in a live-concert setting as well.
Also from the new album is '10.' The singer told the crowd that the upbeat and cleverly-written tune was inspired by a fight with her husband, Ty Murray. (The song could be Jewel's major country radio breakthrough, so we secretly hope they'll have more disagreements this inspiring!) '10' was co-written by Dave Berg, who joined Jewel in its performance.
A born storyteller, Jewel's songs are full of vivid, if sometimes confounding, imagery and her flexible voice can often in the same song (to borrow from her upcoming album's title) range from sweetly seductive to wildly guttural. And no matter the musical genre, she's obviously engaging fans on a deeply emotional level -- especially on a newer song she'd written about her late grandmother, which had audience members scrambling for tissues to dab their eyes or reaching for the hand of a loved one seated next to them. But she also had the audience roaring with laughter at anecdotes about touring with Bob Dylan and her TV debut with Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford.
As an encore, Jewel followed a pair of her biggest hits, 'You Were Meant for Me' and 'Foolish Games,' with 'Chime Bells,' complete with rapid-fire yodeling. While she made it seem entirely effortless, the finale nevertheless left the audience, if not the artist herself, completely breathless.
Jewel's acoustic Star Light Café tour begins June 1, in Fargo, N.D.