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Eilen Jewell proves western sound is far from extinct

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

It's no secret that the country and western music of Dottie West, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash and others seems as obsolete as an eight-track tape player -- but Eilen Jewell may help change that.

The Boise, Idaho-bred singer has gained quite a following with her western-rooted country that twangs and shimmers just enough to reflect the western imagery she sees as she looks out her front door. Add a dollop of classic Loretta Lynn country, as she does most notably on her side project, "Butcher Holler," and you have the makings of a new breed of country musician.

"It's a combination of the things you just mentioned," said Jewell of her latest album, "Queen of the Minor Key." "For this record, I pretty much started from scratch. I didn't have a lot of ideas coming in. What I did was take 10 days and went to this little shack in the mountains of Idaho with no electricity, no running water, no distractions and just wrote for a solid week. A lot was inspired by what I was seeing and hearing at the time. When I sing the songs, it reminds me of home -- and brings about some homesickness."

Yet on the road, Jewell has something akin to home with her in the form of her band, which includes drummer Jason Beek, guitarist Jerry Miller and upright bassist Johnny Sciascia. Indeed, she credits those players and other supporters with helping her refine the songs on her latest album.

Onstage
Eilen Jewell
» Where: Jammin' Java, 227 Maple Ave. East, Vienna
» When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
» Info: $15, $20 for VIP access; 703-255-1566; jamminjava.com

Jewell credits the synergy with her band to their longtime relationship that included nonstop touring for almost seven years.

"It wasn't too tough to narrow it down," said Jewell of the songs that made the album. "Several times I told the band I would scrap a particular song because I didn't like how it was turning out, and I saw sad, disappointed looks on their faces. So we'd talk. They'd say, 'What about it is not working for you and what don't you like about it?' Then we'd try to fix it."

The result is a host of songs in the best western tradition -- think eagles soaring, not hobos hopping trains -- that has gained her critical acclaim and industry buzz.

"To me, this type of music is like the wolf. It is not extinct. It is still part of American life and hopefully always will be," she said. "It is still part of my life."

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