Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 17: Jewel, "Pieces Of You"

Artist: Jewel
Album: Pieces Of You
Year: 1995
Label: East West

All artists, whether writers, singers, or visual artists are products of their upbringing, taking a majority of their sound, style, and substance from the environment in which they were raised. From Utah to Alaska to Michigan to California, Jewel Kilcher cultivated her sound all over the United States, and this plays a large part in why her sound and lyrics are so universally relatable. Since her appearance on the music scene nearly fifteen years ago, Jewel has released albums with content ranging from "girl and guitar" to a dance record to her most recent, a country-western album. At the core of each different style remains the pure and honest voice and lyrics of one of the most talented musicians to ever pick up a guitar. While her sound has matured over time, Jewel's 1995 debut album, Pieces Of You, presents a picture of pure musical honesty and innocence.

Though born in Utah, she was raised primarily in Alaska, where she performed alongside her father beginning at the age of six. With Pieces Of You, Jewel burst onto the scene, with the album staying in the Billboard charts for well over two years, and selling well over 12 million copies in the U.S. alone. However, Pieces Of You is perhaps best known for its trio of chart-topping singles, “Who Will Save Your Soul,” “You Were Meant For Me,” and “Foolish Games.” The first single delivered Jewel her first number one hit, yet it wasn’t released until over a year after the album had been released. “You Were Meant For Me,” co-written by Steve Poltz, introduced the world to the relentlessly honest introspection that would become a trademark of Jewel’s music. Few songs have captured the true essence of breaking up and "moving on" as well as is found within the lyrics to "You Were Meant For Me." The latter of these singles held the Guinness record for longest chat run of a single after 65 weeks on the charts (it would be topped by LeAnn Rimes), and has also been featured in the movie Batman & Robin, as well as being heard briefly at the opening of Fastball’s, “The Way.” Pulling from her varied upbringing, the three singles that powered Pieces Of You to success show the range and depth both musically and stylistically that makes Jewel such an amazing performer.

Much of the beauty behind the music on Pieces Of You lies in the simplicity of the melodies. Often times, nothing more than Kilcher and her acoustic guitar, yet even when bass and piano are incorporated, the music always remains beautifully straightforward. Another reason for the minimal instrumentation on Pieces Of You is the fact that many of the songs are taken from live recordings. These live recordings were done at Neil Young's studio, and many of the additional musicians were, in fact, members of Young's backing band, The Stray Gators. Though the singles were re-recorded for release, the songs on the album that are live bring a wonderfully intimate mood, and it furthers the amazing overall feel throughout Pieces Of You. Along with Jewel's perfectly toned acoustic guitar, there are beautiful additions of pianos, keyboards, and string sections that gracefully weave in and out of Jewel's vocals. Poltz also lends a second guitar at times, including an unplanned, yet delightful quick fill following the first chorus of "You Were Meant For Me." Truthfully though, none of these other instruments are necessary, the uncluttered sound of Jewel and her guitar are more than enough to convey the soul of each and every song on Pieces Of You.

At the end of the day, Pieces Of You is all about Jewel’s stunning voice and her pure, honest lyrics. Jewel’s “normal” singing voice is as sweet and beautiful as you’ll find anywhere in music history. Soft, yet strong, she brings the classic “folk” feel and her voice never fails to move you on each listening. The other aspect that sets Jewel’s singing apart from others is when she infuses her unexpected ability to yodel. A talent she honed whilst performing with her father as a child, the manner in which it expands her vocal range truly puts her in a class all by herself. The true scope and power of Jewel's breathtaking voice take center stage on the gorgeous, hypnotic song, "Angel Standing By." Jewel’s lyrics go beyond the terms “honest” and “insightful,” and remain some of the most brilliant words of her generation. The title track is a pointed attack on a number of prejudices within society, while a majority of the remainder of Pieces Of You is a brave, soul-bearing affair, with Jewel singing lyrics to which anyone can relate. The songs of heartbreak and heartache are genuinely moving and the more cheerful songs are simply an irresistible joy to experience time and time again.

Since her debut, Jewel has given the world a wide range of fantastic songs, showing her talents in nearly every musical style that she has attempted. From big-band inspired albums to topping the country charts, the combination of her immense talent and equal drive make her one of the most dynamic musicians of the last twenty years. Yet, her finest music always comes when she keeps things simple, just her and a guitar. With a truly angelic voice and lyrics that rival any written in the long history of music, the success of Jewel Kilcher was almost guaranteed. Her sweet, soft voice draws in listeners and her candid, yet extraordinary lyrics make her songs truly mesmerizing. Presenting a perfect snapshot of where Jewel was in her own life, as well as the state of the world in general, her 1995 debut album, Pieces Of You, remains treasured in countless hearts and is one of the greatest albums of the era, as well as in the entire history of recorded music.

Standout tracks: "Foolish Games," "Morning Song," and "You Were Meant For Me."

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