On her new album, Down Hearted Blues, Idaho singer and songwriter Eilen Jewell steps into the wayback machine to bring us collection of 12 vintage gems. They're all songs written or made famous by musicians both renowned and obscure, from Willie Dixon and Memphis Minnie to Charles Sheffield and Betty James.
The result is a rootsy, rocking record-collectors' love affair of old songs that Jewell and her husband and bandmate, drummer Jason Beek, have a fondness for. "We really love to uncover the past. It's almost like digging for buried treasure," Jewell says about the new album, out on September 22 on Signature Sounds.
One of the album's highlights is Jewell's take on "It's Your Voodoo Working," originally recorded by Charles Sheffield.
About the song, Jewell tells us:
Sheffield wrote this tune and had a regional hit with it back in 1961. He was from Lake Charles, Los Angeles, which is famous for its zydeco sound. I can't say as though I hear a whole lot of zydeco in this tune, but it definitely has a swampy, Southern edge to it. The subject matter is Louisiana at its finest, in my humble opinion. Sheffield and this song never saw the bright spotlight they deserve. I would like to do what I can to change that. I think that's why I gravitate towards the B-sides, the alternate takes and the obscure, hidden gems. The big hits have seen their days of glory. But there are so many great songs and great artists who haven't had a fraction of the fame they deserve. So they need folks like me to keep carrying that torch. Or, rather, we need them. To remind us that there's so much more to it than we realize. Just when we think we've heard all the great blues songs, along comes Charles Sheffield to remind us that our musical education has only just begun. There's always more to hear.
Jewell says she first heard this song about eight years ago, and "it was love at first listen."
"I instantly said to myself, 'I'm going to record that tune someday,'" she says — and now, that day has come. "I've just been waiting for the right time, the right album, the right year of my life. Finally, the stars have aligned just so."
Her cover of "It's Your Voodoo Working" has plenty of sultry shimmy and shake, propelled by guitarist Jerry Miller's powerful surf-twang lead playing. About the video, Jewell says:
We wanted a low-key video that reflected the dark and creepy vibe of the tune, combined with the electricity of Jerry's guitar and the excitement of the performance overall. We turned to a fellow Boise resident, Jason Sievers. He was recommended by several trusted sources to conjure up the right sort of juju for this piece. We really like his work with live-action figures, and dig his approach to the song.
Watch the video below, and hear the original version by Charles Sheffield.
Charles Sheffield's original version: