A sparkling Jewell brightens the crepuscular gloom of the East Brunswick Club


The Eilen Jewell Band's first tour of Australia has by all accounts been a resounding success and no wonder; the show at the East Brunswick Club demonstrated just how engaging Eilen Jewell can be.

The diminutive blonde hails originally from Boise Idaho and has been playing music with her excellent band for over four years and has released three CDs, the most recent being Sea Of Tears (2009), a fabulous musical feast that encompasses old time rock n roll, swing and country blues, enhanced by Eilen Jewell's distinctive and attractive voice and the wonderful guitar licks of Jerry Miller.

The sold out show at East Brunswick Club was the second last for her tour and she gave generously of her time with a sparkling set that lasted for well over two hours.

But before expanding on the Eilen Jewell set, the support act of Suzannah Espie and the Last Word deserves a mention.

Suzannah and band began their set shortly after 9.00 pm and warmed up the crowd with a hard rocking, soulful session encompassing songs from Suzannah's two solo records. She started with Disappointment (My Old Friend) and moved on to When You're Gone and City Station before dismissing the band and welcoming to the stage, fellow Melbourne singer songwriter, Liz Stringer. The two of them performed a brace of slower and sweeter songs, Heart Beating and Rosedale, with Liz Stringer playing tasteful guitar and singing harmony vocals.

Suzannah Espie of course is well known from the days when she was a part of the girl group Git and currently performs with that other super girl group, The Junes with Sarah Carroll and Glenny Rae Virus. In her solo career she has developed into a striking performer using her rich soulful voice to great effect.

We were literally stuck like glue, held spellbound from the first song of Eilen Jewell's set. Stuck like glue because the carpet was so sticky it adhered to the shoes like Velcro. Now I know where Patrick Donovan got the title for his regular column in the The Age's Entertainment Guide...

But that is beside the point and even a sticky carpet couldn't detract from the gem of a show presented by the totally delightful Eilen Jewell Band.

Eilen started her set with songs from her 2009 album Sea of Tears, the opening track Rain Roll In, then the title track Sea of Tears. She then performed a song by one her admitted heroines Loretta Lynne, The Darkest Day.

At this point someone in the audience yelled out a request for High Shelf Booze, which drew Eilen to remark dryly "Well, if you want to start out the night like that…" She did however oblige, but not before performing one of her own selections Heartache Boulevard.

On stage Eilen presents as a friendly, humorous sort of person with a wayward charm and a daft whimsicality that won her audience over, heart and soul. Her innocent looks belie her choice of songs, which are generally all about hard drinking, mean men and desperate situations. Her voice has a sort of world weary quality that is very engaging and really suits her type of music, which is a really interesting mix of old time rock n roll, blues, country and folk.

As well as Loretta Lynne, Eilen expressed her appreciation for past female artists Bessie Smith and Billy Holliday, performing covers of their work, in Billy Holliday's case she sang a splendid version of Fine And Mellow and ended her main set with a medley of Bessie Smith songs called collectively If You Catch Me Stealing. Her guitar is embellished with signatures by female artists Loretta Lynne, Lucinda Williams and Mavis Staples.

Other covers included the Eric Anderson composition Dusty Box Car Wall, I'm Gonna Dress In Black credited to Van Morrison and the Charlie Rich song Thanks A Lot.

Eilen Jewell's own compositions blend beautifully with the covers. Codeine Arms, which Eilen claims is the saddest song she has written is a personal favourite of mine on her Sea Of Tears CD, and reminds me of a similar drug addict song, My Morphine by Gillian Welch. Both songs are sung in a slow, dreamy style, though expressed quite differently by each artist.

Mention must also be made of the band. Eilen remarked at the outset, that she wasn't bothered by the audience applauding Jerry Miller's guitar solos, which they did intermittently through the show. Miller's guitar style, played on an old Gretsch electric guitar, has a wonderful old time rock n roll sensibility and is ornate and beautiful.

Percussionist, Jason Beek, Eilen's partner in life and also in a side project called Sacred Shakers - a group who sing and record old time gospel - shared singing credits on a song from their Sacred Shakers recording - a gospel number written by George Jones, Tagging Along With Jesus.

Bass player John Sciacia complemented the quartet with his skill on that instrument and appeared to be enjoying himself enormously.

After nineteen songs, drawn from all three of her recordings, plus a few new covers, Eilen called it a night, though was drawn back for a two song encore of a Shirelle's cover Putty In Your Hands and the aforementioned Codeine Arms.

Eilen Jewell is to be commended for her patience with the chattering class at the back of the band room, and though her witty exhortations to them to shake their bodies when singing the much requested, Shakin' All Over may have shamed them to silence, it was only for short while. It makes you wonder why they bother to hand out money for a show they are not enough interested in to pay attention. It is also very disrespectful to the artist.

Wrenching my feet from the carpet to leave, I felt that the evening's entertainment was one of the best I have ever witnessed and well worth the pain of standing for four and half hours. An Eilen Jewell concert has a magic that makes you forget your discomfort, and surrender with pleasure to the leading lady's seductive charms.

Eilen herself didn't appear to be bothered by the venue, as she whimsically averred that she'd offer Lance, the sound technician a job, being impressed with his handling of the sound board. Certainly the sound was perfect even if the East Brunswick Club has its drawbacks in other areas.

Let's hope it will not be too long before she visits Melbourne again. I for one will be lining up for tickets and would even go to the East Brunswick Club again to see her.

Review and photos by Anne Sydenham

Set List
1. Rain Roll In
2. Sea of Tears
3. The Darkest Day (Loretta Lynne)
4. Heartache Boulevard
5. High Shelf Booze
6. Fine and Mellow (Billy Holliday)
7. Where They Never Say Your Name
8. Tagging Along With Jesus (George Jones)
9. Everywhere I Go
10. Dusty Boxcar Wall (Eric Anderson)
11. Thanks A Lot (Charlie Rich)
12. Too Hot To Sleep
13. Fist City (Loretta Lynne)
14. I'm Gonna Dress In Black (Van Morrison)
15. Mess Around
16. Rich Man's World
17. Sweet Rose
18. Shakin' All Over (Johnny Kidd)
19. If You Catch Me Stealing (Bessie Smith)
1. Putty In Your Hands (Shirelles)
2. Codeine Arms

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