Album Review: Eilen Jewell – Butcher Holler: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn

A little over halfway through the year and already our Americana cups runneth over with stellar tribute albums featuring new takes on songs by Shel Silverstein and John Prine. Butcher Holler: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn finally gives the Coal Miner’s Daughter—one of country music’s finest, gutsiest songwriters and performers—her due. If any single roots artist is capable of tackling Lynn’s extensive body of work, it’s Eilen Jewell, whose star has been rising rapidly since her 2005 Gillian-meets-Lucinda debut Boundary County.

Eilen (rhymes with “feelin’”) Jewell has never shied away from her classic country influences; she’s always peppered her live shows with a Loretta Lynn cover or two, and last year’s country/rockabilly/blues tour de force Sea of Tears included a superb version of Lynn’s “The Darkest Day.”

With the exception of “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” Lynn’s 1960 debut single, Jewell sticks to the songs recorded during Lynn’s prime: 1966-1972. And aside from “Another Man Loved Me Last Night,” co-written with Lorene Allen, all songs were penned solely by Lynn. It would have been easy to record an album composed solely of hits, but Jewell balances Lynn’s best known songs like “Fist City” and “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” with lesser known gems like “Whispering Sea” and B-side “A Man I Hardly Know.”

Jewell’s dusky, languorous voice sounds nothing like Lynn, but her unbridled sass on “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” is unmistakably Lynnesque, as is her heartwrenching vocal turn on poignant ballad “This Haunted House,” written following the death of Patsy Cline. If there’s one slightly dim moment on the album, it’s when the Boston-based singer mimics Lynn’s Kentucky accent on the otherwise excellent “You Wanna Give Me a Lift” as she coos “I’m a little bit warm, but that don’t mean I’m on fahhhr/You wanna take me for a ride in the backseat of your car/You wanna give me a lift but this gal ain’t going that far.” Granted, it’s necessary for the rhyme to work, but it also sounds awkward, as though Jewell is forcing herself to match Lynn’s inflection.

Jewell’s top shelf three-piece band remains largely in the background while sticking pretty close to the original arrangements, although guitar whiz Jerry Miller lends some sweet rockabilly licks to gospel tune “Who Says God is Dead.” Though her adoring covers are quite similar to the original versions, Jewell’s Butcher Holler never feels boring, a testament not only to the timeless nature of Lynn’s songwriting, but also to Jewell’s skillful and respectful interpretations.

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