Live Review | The Maze, Nottingham | Review by Allan Wilkinson
Just when my belief was being challenged by the abundance of poorly attended gigs in my part of the country, my faith in humankind was restored temporarily as the narrow corridor that runs between the front bar and the concert bar to the rear of The Maze in Nottingham began to fill with an assortment of characters, all eager to find a decent seat in the house as Eilen Jewell and members of her fine band sound checked up on stage. The air grew thin in the narrow cavernous corridor, the walls and ceiling of which were plastered with posters of the venue’s previous triumphs, including the likes of Diana Jones, Martin Simpson, Steve Forbert, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, Hayes Carll, Laura Veirs, Nick Harper, The Move and the list goes on; all from quite different musical backgrounds but all defined by their quality. I was particularly pleased to see such a crowd at the Maze tonight, which made the night even more exciting than it was potentially guaranteed to be. Boston-based singer-songwriter Eilen Jewell took to the stage with her regular band consisting of Jason Beek (drums), Jerry Miller (guitars) and Johnny Sciascia (upright bass) and appeared to enjoy the banter that such an audience brings with it. It was guitarist Jerry Miller’s birthday and so a party atmosphere was most definitely on the cards. With sound checks out of the way and with bums on each and every seat in the house, plus the wall of standing figures at the back, silhouetted by the lights from the bar, I saw my way through to the backstage area and was introduced to Eilen by her drummer Jason Beek, who had guided me through to the backstage area. Once in the ‘green room’ I was face to face with the young singer-songwriter and set about my routine enquiries just as a series of strange rumbling and gurgling sounds emitted from the buildings heating system, providing a curious soundtrack to the interview that followed. Tonight’s support was provided by Canadian blues singer and guitarist Rob Lutes, whose set was like a naked flame all set and ready to torch the place. His assured finger-picking blues style set a mood for the evening and judging by the amount of CDs he managed to shift during the interval, the crowd certainly seemed to approve wholeheartedly. Starting with “The Only Soul” from his current album Truth & Fiction, Lutes played a hyperactive set featuring Billy Mayhew’s 1930s classic “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” and part of Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot”, played as an introduction to Lutes own “I Knew a Girl”, which was inspired by Johnson’s peculiar ragtime tune. The tiny figure of Eilen Jewell appeared on stage shortly afterwards, equipped with her regular guitar, the one emblazoned with the slightly faded signatures of her ‘three gals’ on the front, Loretta Lynn, Lucinda Williams and Mavis Staples. “We’ve come all the way from Boston just to join you guys tonight, and we’re so glad we did” announced Eilen before the first number. “We’re so glad you did” came the first of many audience comments and heckles during the show. Starting with “Sweet Rose”, the band warmed themselves up with a handful of songs from Eilen’s latest album including the title song “Sea of Tears”, “Rain Roll In”, “Fading Memory” and “The Darkest Day”, which Eilen introduced as one of her favourite Loretta Lynn songs. Eilen has a great stage presence and finds it easy to build a rapport with her audience. At times the singer tests the water by making fun of the way we speak over here, that the British have a certain way of making a song and dance out of such a simple word as ‘no’. “You all say neeoouu” she said, seemingly out of curiosity. The audience also tested the singer by shouting out for songs that Eilen Jewell obviously doesn’t have in her repertoire, such as “Swinging Doors”. I was flabbergasted when someone retorted “it’s a George Jones song, you should know it”. Unfazed, the wide eyed singer quipped “I see, I profess my love for you and then you start being demanding”. Eilen and the band did perform an alternative George Jones song though, just to appease one or two of her more verbally animated fans, “Taggin’ Along” from Eilen’s side project, The Sacred Shakers album. Responding to several requests from the audience, the band went on to play Eric Andersen’s “Dusty Boxcar Wall” from Eilen’s second album Letters From Sinners and Strangers before launching into one of the highlights of the set. There was no attempt made to even try to imitate Billie Holiday’s vocal delivery on “Fine and Mellow”, yet Eilen managed to claim the song for herself and delivered a heart stopping-version of the old blues song whilst Jerry Miller’s guitar fills perfectly accompanied the arrangement and the band pitched a moody groove to a momentarily silent audience. Continuing to fulfil all the requests being called out from the room, the band performed “Back to Dallas” from Eilen’s first album Boundary County preceded by an apology for running out of copies of the debut album. After the song, during which guitarist Jerry Miller started to grin like a Cheshire cat, Eilen pondered “sometimes I think he’s telling himself little jokes, he’ll be playing and then he’ll start chuckling to himself, it’s the funniest thing”. “Rich Man’s World” was perfectly timed as Eilen grabbed her harmonica rack for vibrant reading of the song, which also opens her second album. Concluding with the band’s take on the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates classic “Shakin’ All Over”, the band returned for a final encore of Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You”, once again fulfilling the audience’s demand for a Williams song. I personally could have done with another Jewell original, making the most of the singer-songwriter whilst we have the pleasure of her company here.