Last week, by chance, I caught the new Hallmark cozy mystery movie, Framed for Murder: A Fixer-Upper Mystery. If you are a reader of this blog, it's no surprise that I love cozy mystery books and movies; the surprise here is that the film stars Jewel--an artist I had long left to the past.
Even when Jewel was at her peak success, it was not cool to enjoy her music. She possessed a self-seriousness that some listeners found off-putting, but I adored her early albums and have returned to them from time to time. (I am especially a fan of 2001's This Way, which I have long considered her best record.) I followed her for most of my adolescence--through dance pop and soft rock--but as I entered adulthood, Jewel turned to country music and I left her behind.
Yet, as things often do, Jewel came back--albeit in a new medium. Because of her new movie, I bought her most recent record, and here I am again: a Jewel fan. Isn't it interesting that we are always returning to our roots and rediscovering ourselves?
Jewel's most recent album, Picking Up the Pieces (2015), finds her returning to folk music. Old fans will notice the album's callback to her debut, Pieces of You, and though this album shares DNA with that record, Picking Up is a folk record by a stronger, smarter artist.
One could argue that Jewel moved between genres to chase chart success, and some critics often make such points with disdain (as if musicians don't have bills to pay). However, it's clear Jewel has gained lots of smarts as an interpreter, songwriter, and producer from those adventures. Picking Up bests her previous records in that it returns the artist to the genre in which she excels most, while showing her maturity.
I should also note that Jewel produced the record herself, and she creates the perfect settings for these tunes. The songs have subtle, low-key arrangements, but none feel spartan or ragged. Some tunes even have unexpected flourishes, like the sitar on "His Pleasure Is My Pain" and the vocal filter on "Plain Jane."
I want to take a minute to zero in on "Everything Breaks," my favorite song on the new album. Jewel has performed this tune on tour for a long time, but it has never made its way onto a record. Perhaps this is because Jewel swiftly moved on from the naive folk of Pieces of You with her second record, Spirit (a glossy pop album).
However, it may be for the best that she waited to record the tune. Like old hits "You Were Meant for Me" and "Foolish Games," "Everything Breaks" explores love and heartbreak, but it's a more delicate tune than those early singles. Jewel's older and bolder voice suits the song. Had she recorded it as a teenager, it would have simply been a cutesy ballad about puppy love. but now it's a tune about life's disappointments. Her vocal has more weight, and "Everything Breaks" succeeds because of that gorgeous voice
In A Fixer-Upper Mystery, Jewel performs "Shape of You" (a track from her most recent record) in a funeral scene. She only performs for a minute, but she sings live with just her guitar. Her voice works effortlessly over the lyrics about missing a loved one, and watching the scene I fell for Jewel's music all over again. I remembered being the adolescent boy waiting for her videos to pop on VH1--the boy who walked up to the stage during one of her concerts, and she called him "honey" as she signed his program. It was nice to remember him and, for a few moments at least, to be him again.