Things just keep getting better and better in Mifflinburg. The Rusty Rail has exploded on the scene, thanks to a significant investment and a whole lotta’ heart from owners and proprietors Paul and Eric John.
Great Centre County bands like Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats and the Raven and the Wren play gigs there, along with nationally touring acts like Willie Watson and Jim Lauderdale, and now another well know name on the touring scene is making her way to the heady Mifflinburg brewery: Eilen Jewell, who will perform at the Rusty Rail on Oct. 6.
Jewell is from Boise, Idaho, and has played all over the world. The current tour is enabling her to give exposure to her newest set of songs, a 12-track album entitled “Down Hearted Blues,” which is a solid collection of tunes delivered with a characteristically easy feel. It also retains just enough grit to lift it to a different zone altogether, often accomplished by Jewell’s lilting vocals and the playing of Jerry Miller, her slick lead guitar player.
“It’s an album of mostly darker and rare blues covers that I have always loved, along with some that I came across just in the past couple of years,” Jewell said. “We’re rotating a number of the new songs into our live sets along with a healthy sampling of songs from my previous albums.”
Jewell describes her sound as “hillbilly rock ’n’ roll noir.”
“It’s a blend of the darker side of country, folk, blues, ’60s garage, surf and rockabilly,” she said.
Jewell started playing music when she was 7 years old. After hearing Beethoven playing on the tape deck in the family station wagon during a family road trip from Alaska to Idaho, she decided she wanted to play just like him.
“I continued to study the piano through high school and still consider the instrument to be my first musical love,” Jewell said. “I picked up the guitar when I was 15, as a way of accompanying myself and my best friend while we sang our favorite tunes after school.”
Though Jewell wrote songs as a child, she said she was terrified of the stage.
“I didn’t write anything that I would willingly perform for an audience until my early 20s,” she said. “I attended St. John’s College in Santa Fe, N.M., where I first started performing music and busking at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. After college, I also spent some time busking on Venice Beach in Los Angeles. ... It was through my experience as a street performer that I was finally able to face my fear and perform on a stage — at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, Mass., in 2003.”
Jewell’s career is clearly moving in a positive direction, with momentum both from touring and her newest album, but her hopes and dreams about her future have to do with something else, or, more accurately, somebody else.
“These days they mostly revolve around my little daughter, who is 3 years old.,” Jewell said. “I hope I can raise her to be confident, compassionate, healthy and well-adjusted. So far so good. She’s truly amazing.”
With her daughter in her heart and her guitar in hand, Jewell lives her artistry, and — as Bob Dylan would put it — she tells it and thinks it and speaks it and breathes it, and reflects it from the mountain so all souls can see it.
“Once in a while, not all the time, when a show is going well and the sound is good and the audience is with me, I just kind of go somewhere else,” Jewell said. “I can only describe it as transcendent. I’m not aware of it while it’s happening, but afterward I look back and think, ‘Where was I a second ago?’ Everything disappears. I think about nothing at all. That’s a big part of what draws me to performing, why I keep at it ... for that chance to go someplace else.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail .com.
IF YOU GO
- What: Eilen Jewell
- When: 9 p.m. Oct. 6
- Where: Rusty Rail Brewing Company, 5 N. Eighth St., Suite 1, Mifflinburg
- Info: www.rustyrail brewing.com