It’s one of those the-world-just-ain’t-freakin’-fair questions: How does the mainstream continue to avoid Jewell’s inestimable talents? With a voice that soars and croons where few chance to sail, keen, detailed songwriting, several wildly acclaimed albums, a neighborly, almost self-effacing stage demeanor and a crack, retro/country-billy band that swings you from Twin Peaks to Butcher Holler, Eilen Jewell never fails her audience. Yet she ain’t cracking the big stages on any regular basis.
Fortunately, when she takes the stage, these small matters dissolve in the wide prairie breeze always at her back. Opening with the lyrical “Needles and Thread” from her latest, impossibly good release Sundown Over Ghost Town, Jewell, with drummer/husband Jason Beek, twang-ologist Jerry Miller on guitar and in-pocket new bassist Shawn Supra, feted the SRO Helsinki crowd to a supremely spirited run through her vivid, expanding body of work.
Among the highlights were the cinematic “Rio Grande,” “Santa Fe,” Eric Andersen’s “Dusty Box Car Wall,” the swinging country/bop “High Shelf Booze,” “Bang Bang Bang” (wherein our heroine meets Cupid at a gun show and he explains he doesn’t aim so much as he fires randomly), the ribald “If You Catch Me Stealin'” and the emotionally charged “Where They Never Say Your Name,” “I Remember You” and “Rain Rolls In.”