wears the trousers magazine


jewel: lullaby (2009)
July 8, 2009, 9:34 am
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,

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Jewel
Lullaby ••½
Fisher Price

Looking at the cover of Alaskan singer-songwriter Jewel Kilcher’s latest album is unlikely to entice even the most open-minded music fan. With its sickly typeface, the ominous title Lullaby, and – perhaps most dreaded of all – a big Fisher Price logo tacked onto the top-right corner, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is one to avoid. Fortunately, it’s a case of don’t judge a book by its cover, as it’s actually a nice, well-crafted record with some genuinely beautiful vocals. There’s no denying, however, that Kilcher seems to have lost her way somewhat in the last decade. After an opening trio of solid studio albums, she produced a one-off dance-pop record in 2003 and has since been jumping from one style to another without any obvious artistic progression. Her increasingly niche appeal hasn’t done wonders for her, either critically or commercially, and Lullaby (perhaps as one might expect) limped to #117 on the US album charts in May. Within the children’s music market, at which Lullaby appears squarely aimed, it’s a different story and the album crowned the Top Kid Audio listings on Billboard.

To its credit, none of this means that Lullaby cannot be enjoyed by adults. A clarity and nostalgic prettiness pervades the album. From the very beginning, Kilcher determinedly crafts an attractively stripped down atmosphere with her acoustic guitar-dominated arrangements and pure, crystalline voice. ‘Raven’ is an immediate highlight with Kilcher’s clear, high tones gliding over a classic, nostalgic melodic structure as she sings, “Fly like a raven, black honey into the night / soft like the air beneath, a swan in her flight.” ‘All The Animals’ continues in the same vein, but this time with lyrics more obviously aimed at children. Some of the vocal mannerisms here may come across as quite self-consciously cutesy, but it’s nonetheless a pleasant song. ‘Sweet Dreams For You’ keeps the recurring theme of sleep and dreams intact, but this time incorporates a subtly different acoustic arrangement in a waltz style.

Several songs on Lullaby break away from the almost relentless soft and slow approach; ‘Circle Song’ brings a welcome change of pace from slow to, well, less slow, and thematically it’s more ambiguous this time as to whether Kilcher is addressing a child or a lover (“So come closer, my love, to me / you live in my heart, that’s where you’ll always be”). ‘Dreamer’ finds her exploring her deeper range, while ‘Forever & A Day’ and ‘Gloria’ substitute the pleasant acoustic guitar arrangements for piano-based ones, complemented by the presence of violins and cellos. She even slips into Swedish for the haunting, hymn-like ‘Sov Gott (Sleep Well)’ and Latin for the overlong ‘Gloria’. There’s a strong country music accent to some of the material, as befits an artist who only released a country-themed album a year earlier (or indeed last month for us Brits). On ‘The Cowboy’s Lament’, she even shows off those famous yodelling skills.

Elsewhere, ‘Day Dream Land’ is clearly indebted to The Seekers’ ‘Morningtown Ride’, which is no bad thing, but at times it almost sounds like a Seekers cover rather than a Jewel original. As far as cover versions go, Lullaby features a stately, harp-accented ‘Simple Gifts’, an elegant ‘Brahms Lullaby’, a version of her own ‘Angel Standing By’ from her debut Pieces Of You, a surprisingly decent ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, and ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, which begins with a minute-long a cappella introduction. Another version of this standard is perhaps unnecessary, but thematically it fits. Lyrically, Lullaby is not the twee mess you might expect from an album of supposedly “children’s music”, but some songs, such as ‘Forever & A Day’, do feature their fair share of cringe-making couplets (“My love is as true as the oceans are blue”). Fortunately, Kilcher’s ear for melody and vocals are enough to limit the damage.

It’s hard to imagine just who will listen to Lullaby over and over again. It doesn’t have much broad appeal, and while it is aimed at kids, it’s not really a traditional children’s album either. That said, it’s not a bad album. Despite its premise and off-putting sleeve, it’s an unfailingly pleasant listen with tasteful self-production that focuses attention on Kilcher’s tender voice – something that has been lacking amid the high gloss of her recent output. It is perhaps overlong and samey, but that’s sort of the point – and as a lullaby, it shines.

Matt Barton
Available on import only; www.myspace.com/jeweljk

 

‘Raven’ [live]

‘Angel Standing By’ [live]


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2 Comments so far
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hate this girl and this album, totally commercial.

Comment by Alias

[…] Barton 2/7] 37 Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy [Charlotte Richardson Andrews 1/7] 38 Jewel – Lullaby [Matt Barton 8/7] 39 Joan As Police Woman – COVER [Ryan Child 21/9] 40 Diane Birch – Bible Belt […]

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