Eilen Jewell

Letters from Sinners & Strangers

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There's an off-the-cuff manner to the opening songs of Eilen Jewell's Letters from Sinners & Strangers that makes the album easy to like. She builds "Rich Man's World" around bits and pieces of older folk songs, leaving the listener with the impression that she might have heard the song -- somewhere -- before. She follows with Eric Andersen's "Dusty Boxcar Walls," a song that likewise echoed Andersen's folk influences. Jewell's lazy Southern delivery on Letters from Sinners & Strangers, backed by full-band arrangements, reminds one of a mellower version of the Tarbox Ramblers' self-titled release. Like the Ramblers, Jewell delivers her version of traditional folk without slavishly replicating the old music in a familiar way, pulling the music into a more relevant present; unlike the Ramblers, she mixes oldies with originals and, arrangement-wise, is capable of replicating everything from Western swing crossed with rock ("Heartache Boulevard") to jazzy blues ("High Shelf Booze"). Jerry Miller's electric guitar spices up the texture of songs like "Where They Never Say Your Name," while Daniel Kellar's violin underpins the emotional depth of songs like "In the End." Jewell delivers a mellow version of Dylan's "Walking Down the Line" before closing with the sassy, upbeat "Blue Highway." Jewell's low-key, off-the-cuff strategy works well from beginning to end on Letters from Sinners & Strangers, delivering a fine contemporary folk album.

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