Jewel – This Way

Jewel - This WayLove her or hate her, Jewel is back. I admit to liking quite a bit – but not all – of Jewel’s past work, but I can also see where there’s a bit of pop culture backlash against her trying-almost-too-hard-to-be-earnest style. And to some degree, wisely, she sheds some – but not all – of that style in her latest album.

“Standing Still”, which also led the album as its first single, starts things off with a burst of raw energy which carries Jewel firmly out of the wanna-be folkster category and into rock ‘n’ roll territory. Some might be a bit dubious about this transition, but she actually carries it off well – her voice is capable of pulling it off respectably.

Other standout tracks include L”ove Me, Just Leave Me Alone”, “Serve The Ego”, and “Everybody Needs Someone Sometime”, all of which feature something of the same rocky feel as “Standing Still” to varying degrees. On other tracks, such as “Break Me”, Jewel retains her signature style, proving for the doubters that perhaps she hasn’t changed as much as you might think.

Overall, there’s actually a pretty good balance of new Jewel and old Jewel, stylistically speaking, and there are even a few live tracks thrown in at the end of the album just to mix things up even more. Still, there’s something missing – the ballads don’t come close to reaching the eloquence of “Amen” or “Deep Water”, and the rockier numbers somehow aren’t on the same plateau as, say, “Down So Long” or “Who Will Save Your Soul”. It’s just possible that Jewel has run out of inspiration and is falling back on old tricks to fill things out. The 3 out of 4press material for This Way made a point of telling us that Jewel had been burned out on touring and promotions during the publicity trail for her second album, and retreated from performing for a while to recoup her energies; This Way, while certainly listenable in places, comes across as a bit hollow both musically and lyrically. Maybe Jewel wasn’t quite ready to come back.

Order this CD

  1. Standing Still (4:29)
  2. Jesus Loves You (4:20)
  3. Everybody Needs Someone Sometime (4:08)
  4. Break Me (4:03)
  5. Do You Want To Play? (2:55)
  6. Till We Run Out Of Road (4:45)
  7. Serve The Ego (4:57)
  8. This Way (4:16)
  9. Cleveland (4:09)
  10. I Won’t Walk Away (4:46)
  11. Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone (3:47)
  12. The New Wild West (5:05)
  13. Grey Matter (4:40)
  14. Sometimes It Be That Way (4:21)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 59:41

Lynne Me Your Ears: Tribute To The Music Of Jeff Lynne

Lynne Me Your EarsThe premise of this double-disc compilation is simple: various modern pop artists, most of them enjoying cult indie label status (and a few of them refugees from major labels too), revisit the songs of one of their musical heroes, ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Colorado’s own Not Lame Records has been teasing the heck out of this release for months, only to watch it be bogged down by politics (the father/son duo of Randy and Tal Bachman, each of whom were originally slated to contribute a song, pulled out) and delays (a printing error in the first run of liner notes booklets which caused the collection to slip well past its original pre-Christmas 2001 release date). And now that it’s here, was it worth the lengthy wait?

The answer is, in most cases, absolutely. The covers (which don’t limit themselves to ELO material but also cover Lynne’s contributions to the Traveling Wilburys, a 1960s U.K. group known as the Idle Race, and his solitary solo album) vary wildly, ranging from faithful homages to reinterpretations in a completely new style.

Some of the better “near-beer” covers include former R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter’s collaboration with Bobby Sutliff on the first ELO single, “10538 Overture”; Michael Carpenter’s near-carbon-copy of Lynne’s solo single “Every Little Thing”; Jason Falkner’s raw cover of “Do Ya”, a stripped-down, Buddy Holly-ized cover of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King” by Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings, and an accurate-down-to-the-overmodulation-distortion copy of the Idle Race’s “Morning Sunshine” by Jeremy.

The real triumphs of Lynne Me Your Ears, however, are those artists who took extensive liberties and created something completely new – Ross Rice’s hip-hop-ified cover of “Evil Woman” is both funky and up-to-date, and Tony Visconti (former Move and Moody Blues producer) turns in a tasty new take on “Mr. Blue Sky”, starting out as a rap and then tumbling through every style in the book by the end of the song’s lengthy instrumental coda. Prairie Sons and Daughters transform the eloquence of “One Summer Dream” into a spiky, guitar-drenched masterpiece that also takes a detour into “In Old England Town” from ELO’s second album. That multiple-song-tributes-in-a-single-track trick is repeated masterfully by Rick Altizer, who leaps from the soulful opening guitar solo of “Laredo Tornado” into a thundering modernized version of “Boy Blue”. Former Move vocalist Carl Wayne, ironically, takes the stage-musical feel of “Steppin’ Out” to its logical, grandiose conclusion (it was Wayne who stepped out of the Move in 1970, a departure that made way for Jeff Lynne to join the group). The Shazam squeezes the synths out of “Twilight” and turns it into a wonderful wash of electric guitar work (but keeps the harmonies intact), and “Turn To Stone” gets a similar treatment from Roger Klug. Sparkle*Jets UK turn the dreamy “Above The Clouds” into a cheerful, rockin’ power pop number.

Perhaps the most shocking transformation bestowed upon any of the songs here is “On The Run”, a rapid-fire techno-before-there-was-techno tune from 1979’s Discovery which is rendered here by Sixpence None The Richer as a relaxing acoustic piece with a slow, majestic gait and Leigh Nash’s always pleasant voice. It has to be heard to be believed – this may be the best example on Lynne Me Your Ears of a band taking one of the old ELO chestnuts and making it their own.

There are a small number of misses for all of those hits, however; Peter Holsapple’s cover of the Move’s “No Time” has yet to click with me – the harmonies seem to be a misfire in some places. The Heavy Blinkers’ cover of “You Took My Breath Away”, itself a Roy Orbison tribute penned by Lynne for the second Traveling Wilburys album, lacks the melancholy of the original and comes out sounding a little too sunny. And the “Sweet Is The Night” cover heard here seems to have lost a lot of what made the original so appealing.

4 out of 4Overall, however, a nice treat for ELO/Lynne fans, and hey, your mileage may even vary on which songs worked and which ones didn’t. Highly recommended – and, in the face of Sony’s recent reticence to continue the promised remastering of the entire ELO catalogue, it may be the last ELO related treat we fans get for quite a while. Soak it up slowly and enjoy.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. 10538 Overture – Bobby Sutliff & Mitch Easter (4:35)
  2. Ma Ma Ma Belle – Earl Slick (4:05)
  3. Telephone Line – Jeffrey Foskett (4:49)
  4. Do Ya – Jason Falkner (3:58)
  5. Sweet Is The Night – Ben Lee (3:28)
  6. Rockaria! – Pat Buchanan (3:49)
  7. Every Little Thing – Michael Carpenter (3:52)
  8. No Time – Peter Holsapple (3:59)
  9. Showdown – Richard Barone (4:26)
  10. Handle With Care – Jamie Hoover (3:25)
  11. Strange Magic – Mark Helm (3:54)
  12. Evil Woman – Ross Rice (4:51)
  13. Steppin’ Out – Carl Wayne (4:27)
  14. Don’t Bring Me Down – SWAG (3:13)
  15. One Summer Dream – Prairie Sons & Daughters (7:16)
  16. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head – Doug Powell (4:57)
    Disc two

  1. Twilight – The Shazam (3:11)
  2. Mr. Blue Sky – Tony Visconti (5:02)
  3. You Took My Breath Away – The Heavy Blinkers (3:07)
  4. Message From The Country – The Balls of France (4:28)
  5. The Minister – Ferenzik (4:43)
  6. Xanadu – Neilson Hubbard and Venus Hum (3:31)
  7. When Time Stood Still – Bill Lloyd (3:27)
  8. Above The Clouds – Sparkle*Jets UK (4:00)
  9. Rock And Roll Is King – Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings (3:14)
  10. Morning Sunshine – Jeremy (2:19)
  11. Boy Blue – Rick Altizer (3:45)
  12. Livin’ Thing – Pray For Rain (3:57)
  13. On The Run – Sixpence None The Richer (2:37)
  14. Bluebird Is Dead – Todd Rundgren (5:06)
  15. Turn To Stone – Ruger Klug (5:11)
  16. Eldorado – Fleming and John (6:41)

Released by: Not Lame Records
Release date: 2002
Disc one total running time: 69:04
Disc two total running time: 64:19

Jars Of Clay – Much Afraid

Jars Of Clay - Much AfraidIn an excellent follow-up to their debut album, Jars of Clay continue exploring their musical strengths, while moving their lyrics into a more mature and somewhere darker plane. The cutting “Crazy Times”, though it remains within the parameters of the band’s Christian rock obligations, also seems to be a little more judgemental than the first album’s material (“it takes more than your saline eyes / to make things right”). However, these lyrics add just a dash of realism to what could have instead been an increasingly happy and condescending tone that I sometimes find irritating in this particular genre. Jars of 4 out of 4Clay maintain their awesome gift for harmonies with songs such as “Fade To Grey”, “Overjoyed”, and “Truce”, my favorites from this album. The string section embellishments from their previous album can be heard again here, proving that this is one band that can find new approaches within the sound that made them popular. Definitely a good one.

Order this CD

  1. Overjoyed (2:59)
  2. Fade To Grey (3:34)
  3. Tea and Sympathy (4:52)
  4. Crazy Times (3:34)
  5. Frail (6:37)
  6. Five Candles (You Were There) (3:48)
  7. Weighed Down (3:39)
  8. Portrait of an Apology (5:42)
  9. Truce (3:11)
  10. Much Afraid (3:52)
  11. Hymn (3:56)

Released by: Essential
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 46:08