Jewel

In the mid 90’s I’d often buy a CD based on a gut feeling or based on the cover art. It wasn’t an exact science, but in early 1995 I picked up the debut album by Jewel called Pieces Of You. Hipster alert – that was a full 18 months before the album started to become a huge hit. Anyway, at the time Jewel seemed to be marketed to the Lilith Fair alternative crowd which was (and still is) something I quite like. In all honesty, I don’t think the record company had any idea what to do with her. An album full of acoustic songs that hinted at pop but bathed in ultra personal lyrics. I didn’t (and still don’t) think it was a masterpiece, but there are 7 or 8 songs from that record that I’ve played over and over throughout the last 20 years. The tracks played live or cut as b-sides during that era were also very strong, leaving open the possibility of an entire alternate album made up of non album tracks. Sad to say, but I have had a hard time relating to anything else Jewel has released in the same way as that debut album. When I happened to see something promoting her latest record as a sequel of sorts to her debut, I couldn’t help but get a tad excited to give it a spin (or shuffle, as it were). Picking Up The Pieces more than meets the high points of her debut – it just may be the finest record Jewel has released to date.

As far as sound goes, the album hues closely to the acoustic folk of her debut – with a few exceptions. The production is stronger and a few songs lean towards country music. There really isn’t any filler tracks here which makes for a cohesive listening experience. Jewel delivers some of the finest vocals of her career, showcasing power and restraint in equal measures. Love Used to Be sets the tone for the album – a dark acoustic track with haunting lyrics. “Love used to be my compass / But now I’m alone and I’m adrift and I’m lost at sea”. I first heard A Boy Needs A Bike on her MTV Unplugged session about 18 years ago. It’s always been one of my favorite Jewel songs, and I was happy to see it finally receive an official release. Time has been good to this song – the arrangements are fuller, the vocals a little more restrained. It tells a story through the perspective of a boy watching his parents get into an argument. The song is full of lyrical gems that offer up wisdom in simplicity. “That’s when he sits me down said he’s gonna teach me about life / He said a man needs a car and a boy needs a bike / I got my first taste of freedom beneath the light of the moon”. It Doesn’t Hurt Right Now is a duet with Rodney Crowell and is the most countrified song on the album. It might also be the most haunting song on the record. Lovers at crossroads with different perspectives – this is heartbreaking stuff. Jewel: “I’m sorry sounds so small / Compared to what’s true / I lied to myself / When I lied to you…I hurt right now”. Rodney: “It doesn’t hurt right now / I can hear what you had to say / I can forgive but forget…not yet”. My Father’s Daughter is the first single off the album and is a duet with Dolly Parton. It is a song seeped in genealogy and nostalgia. I find myself returning to it over and over again. This one again veers toward country music. “I am my father’s daughter / I have my Grandma’s eyes / I am the product of such sacrifice”.  Each song on this album is a winner. Curiously Everything Breaks appears as track# 3 – it also appeared on the Aussie / New Zealand version of Pieces of You released in 1995. The version here is a new (superior) recording.

There’s a lot to love here and not much to quibble about. It is a refreshing continuation of the themes explored 20 years ago, told by a woman now in her 40’s. Gone is some of the naiveté – replaced with wisdom and maybe just a hint of sadness. I’m sure I’ll be returning to this album many times over the years.

Verdict: Jewel’s Masterpiece

For Fans of: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel, Mojave 3, Feist, Sandy Denny

Tracks:

  1. Love Used To Be
  2. A Boy Needs A Bike
  3. Everything Breaks
  4. Family Tree
  5. It Doesn’t Hurt Right Now
  6. His Pleasure Is My Pain
  7. Here When Gone
  8. The Shape Of You
  9. Plain Jane
  10. Pretty Faced Fool
  11. Nicotine Love
  12. Carnivore
  13. My Father’s Daughter
  14. Mercy
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