Eilen Jewell and the Duo Snakefarm
Diamonds in the Rough
by Andy Bargerstock
Eilen Jewell is known for her clear, haunting vocals.
From the outer edges of the music scene come talented contemporary songwriters Eilen Jewell and Anna Domino (a.k.a. Snakefarm).
Originally from Boise, Idaho, Eilen Jewell splashed upon the national stage with her first CD in 2006. But her 2011 masterpiece CD, Queen in the Minor Key, shows how far she has come since playing farmers’ markets in Santa Fe, NM, during her college days. Her website suggests that the listener may be taking an unusual journey:
Minor Key draws on everything from classic country (the fiddle-driven “Reckless”) to early R&B (the shuffling “Hooked”), with an emphasis on sounds from the seamier side of the tracks. With dirty sax riffs and low-slung guitars, the instrumentals that bookend the album—“Radio City” and “Kalimotxo”—evoke the bump-and-grind exotica of vintage Southern California suburban saloons.
But for me, two tracks, “I Remember You” and “That’s Where I am Going,” sink deeply into the listener’s psyche by revealing Eilen’s indigenous roots in gospel, Americana, blues, and rock. Eilen composes with the best of them, reminding us of the genius of Gillian Welch and Sarah Jarosz. On “I Remember You” she tells the story of a Bonnie-and-Clyde type couple while remembering the good times before his incarceration: “You told the stories of your scars. We kept each other’s secrets. And slept in empty cars.” Start with Queen in the Minor Key and then work back in time.
For another satisfying musical experience, take a ride with Anna Virginia Taylor, known as Anna Domino. Her name is an amusing variation on the American sugar brand Anno Domini. She was born in Tokyo and raised in various locales around the world following her father’s shifting military assignments. Anna ended up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then New York City as a fashion designer before starting her music career. Her four early CDs where recorded in Belgium, where she became known as a trip-hop composer who did work with various bands, including The The. When Anna met her future husband and creative collaborator Michel Delory, her musical creativity soared.
Under the name of Snakefarm, the duo released their seminal 1999 CD, Songs for My Funeral. On this CD, the duo splendidly reinterprets folk and traditional American songs from the 1920s to the 1960s with unique downtempo, electro-acoustic flavors. Michel’s mastery of guitar and synthesizer effects blends well with Anna’s unique vocal delivery. Recommended tracks are “St. James,” “Banks of the Ohio,” and “Rising Son.” Although the themes frequently revolve around twisted love lost and subsequent violence, the end result is so satisfying. Let the lyrics slide by and enjoy the sonic seasoning.
It took 12 years for the release of Snakefarm’s sophomore album, My Halo at Half-Light. But what a delightful surprise when almost everyone thought it would never happen. The music recounts America’s dark and violent past. Yet no other artist has breathed so much dignity into these pieces. Enjoy these splendidly arranged and performed tracks:
• “Darlin’ Corey” begins with jangling banjo that melds into an electric guitar and synthesizer wash as Anna tells the story of the revenue agents coming to tear down Corey’s still and the subsequent ceremony at her “lonesome graveyard ground.”
• “Stagerlee” tells the tale of a woman who shot her lover down.
• “Omie Wise” was an 1808 American murder victim.
Bet you will want to explore the rest of the CD, too.
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