It took me an embarrassingly long time to make the connections between punk and country music. Not so much in musical styles – in attitude. Once it sunk in (about 18 months after the last Johnny Cash show in my neck of the woods at the time), I was hooked. You couldn’t find enough Cash, Gram Parsons, or Mike Nesmith records for me (yep, that Mike Nesmith). I’m not a fan of most Nashville, radio friendly country music. But give me some outlaw country, and I”m all over that. Punk spirit and tunes that cut straight to the heart. Harley Graves fits into this mold perfectly.
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.