With each of her recent albums, Eilen Jewell has meandered ever closer to a style that emulates archival blues, providing a sturdy and assured delivery that also taps her rich Americana authenticity. With Down Hearted Blues, Jewell remains true to that muse, offering up a dozen songs culled from classic sources. Only a few of the names are readily recognizable — Willie Dixon, Maybelle Smith and Alberta Hunter being the best known — but each of these covers finds Jewell investing a level of credibility and conviction that does justice to each of the original renditions. She takes no liberties with the source material, instead doling them out with a true diva-like delivery.
It’s not that Jewell is any stranger to the practice of offering homage to others. Her 2010 release Butcher Holler paid tribute to Loretta Lynn, while other albums have freely blended a diverse array of styles and sources. However this time around, she wholly immerses herself in the material, whether she’s playing the part of a sultry diva on “Another Night To Cry,” mixing things up with both swagger and sway on “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” or belting out some boogie via “Don’t Leave Poor Me.” Granted, Billy Holliday she’s not, but at very least, Jewell proves that she’s capable of giving these blustery blues songs the spit and sass that they call for, without coming across as a poser in the process.
For the uninitiated or at least those who don’t consider themselves true blues aficionados, Down Hearted Blues likely won’t equate to a life-changing experience or even measure up as an especially memorable encounter. The most authentic blues tends to vary little from the template and measure its success based on the singer and not the song. In that regard, Jewell does well with the task at hand, and if the title Down Hearted Blues implies a despondent disposition, Jewell’s execution suggests her’s is anything but.