I looked away and lost a JEWEL
by Norman Warwick
I didn´t know any of what I am about to share with you until Larry Yaskiel´s coincidental reference to another song, Quarantine Blues by Steve Poltz (left) ..On the you tube Larry directed me to I heard a lady´s name fall out in conversation,….and, hey, look what I found.
Jewel was raised near Homer, Alaska, where she grew up singing and yodeling as a duo with her father, a local musician. At age fifteen, she received a partial scholarship at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where she studied operatic voice, of which there was much evidence in Who Will Save Your Soul, that song I fell in love.
After graduating, Jewel (right) began writing and performing at clubs and coffeehouses in San Diego, California. Based on local media attention, she was offered a recording contract with Atlantic Records, which released her debut album, Pieces of You, in 1995; it went on to become one of the best-selling debut albums of all time, going 12-times platinum. That debut single from the album, Who Will Save Your Soul, peaked at just beneath the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100; two others, You Were Meant For Me and Foolish Games, reached number two on the Hot 100, and were listed on Billboard‘s 1997 year-end singles chart, as well as Billboard’s 1998 year-end singles chart, though by then I had already, for some reason, let her music slip away from me.
Her subsequent album, Spirit, was released in 1998, followed by This Way two years later. In 2003, she released 0304, which marked a departure from her previous folk-oriented records, and instead featured electronic arrangements and elements of dance-pop. In 2008, she released Perfectly Clear, her first country album; it debuted atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and featured three singles, Stronger Woman, I Do, and Til It Feels Like Cheating. Jewel subsequently released her first independent album, Lullaby, in 2009.
Jewel has also had endeavours in writing and acting; in 1998 she released a collection of poetry, and the following year appeared in a supporting role in Ang Lee‘s Western film Ride With The Devil (1999) which earned her critical acclaim.
Born in May 23 of 1974, in Payson, Utah, Jewel was the second child of Attila Kuno “Atz” Kilcher and Lenedra Kilcher. At the time of her birth, her parents had been living in Utah with her elder brother, Shane; where her father was attending Brigham Young University. Jewel is a cousin of actress Q’orianka Kilcher.
After her parents’ divorce in 1981, Jewel lived with her father near Homer, Alaska. The house she grew up in lacked indoor plumbing and had only a simple outhouse. The Kilcher family is featured on the Discovery Channel show Alaska: The Last Frontier, which chronicles their day-to-day struggles living in the Alaskan wilderness.
Recalling her upbringing, Jewel has said:
´We lived far from town. We had to walk 2 miles just to get to the saddle barn I was raised in… No running water, no heat—we had a coal stove and an outhouse and we mainly lived off of what we could kill or can. We picked berries and made jam. We caught fish to freeze and had gardens and cattle to live on. I rode horses every day in the summer beneath the Alaskan midnight sun. I loved it there´.
The first song she learned to sing, she recalls, was Saint Louis Blues. In her youth, Kilcher and her father sometimes earned a living by performing music in roadhouses and taverns as a father-daughter duo; they also often sang at hotels in Anchorage, including the Hotel Captain Cook and the Hilton Anchorage. It was during this time that Kilcher was taught by her father how to yodel. She would later credit the time she spent in bars as integral to her formative years:
´I saw women who would compromise themselves for compliments, for flattery; or men who would run away from themselves by drinking until they ultimately killed themselves´.
After accepting a partial scholarship at the age of fifteen to study and train her operatic voice Jewel left college and lived in her car while traveling around the country doing street performances and small gigs, mainly in Southern California. She gained recognition by singing at The Inner Change Cafe and Java Joe’s in San Diego; she would later make her debut record at Java Joe’s when it was in Poway, where she had worked as a barista. She had become friends by then with Steve Poltz and his band, The Rugburns, who played the same venues. She later collaborated with Poltz on some of her songs, including You Were Meant for Me. (He also appeared in the song’s second, better-known video.) The Rugburns opened for Jewel on her Tiny Lights tour in 1997 and Poltz appeared in Jewel’s band on the Spirit World Tour 1999 playing guitar.
Jewel had been ´discovered´ by Inga Vainshtein in August 1993 when John Hogan, lead singer from the local San Diego band Rust, whom Vainshtein was managing, called to tell her about a girl surfer who sang at a local coffee shop on Thursdays. Vainshtein drove to The Inner Change with a representative of Atlantic Records, and after the show called Danny Goldberg, the head of Atlantic Record’s West Coast operations, and asked him to pay for her demo, since at the time she was living in a van and lacked the means to record any of her own music. Vainshtein, who at the time was working as a Vice President of Productions at Paramount, went on to become her manager and was instrumental in creating a major bidding war that led to her deal with Atlantic Records. She continued to manage Jewel until the end of the first album cycle and shaped the path of the first five years of Jewel’s career.
Jewel’s debut album Pieces of You was released under the eponym of Jewel, in 1995 when she was 21 years old. ]Recorded in a studio owned by singer Neil Young (left) and located on his ranch. The album included Young’s backing band, The Stray Gators, who played on his Harvest and Harvest Moon albums. Part of the album was recorded live at The Inner Change Cafe in San Diego, where she had risen to local fame. The album stayed on the Billboard 200 for two years, reaching number four at its peak and eventually sold over 12 million copies in the United States alone.
In the late 1990s, Mike Connell created an electronic mailing list for fans, known as Everyday Angels. Although Jewel herself does not subscribe to this mailing list, she maintained communication with her EA fans. On July 18 and 19, 1996, she gave a two-day concert known as JewelStock at the Bearsville Theatre. Jewel allowed the concert to be taped, and fans circulated the concert without profit.
On May 19, 1998, she published a book of poetry titled A Night Without Armor. Although it sold over 1 million copies and was a New York Times best-seller, it received mixed reviews. During an MTV interview in 1998, Kurt Loder pointed out the incorrect usage, in her book of poetry, of the word “casualty” (instead of the intended “casualness”) to which Jewel responded, “You’re a smartass for pointing that out. Next topic´ In the fall of 1998, the poet Beau Sia composed a book-length response to A Night Without Armor that he titled A Night Without Armor II: The Revenge. The reviewer Edna Gundersen, writing in USA Today, noted, ´Hers is flowery and sensitive. His is wry and absurd.´
Jewel’s second studio album, which she titled Spirit, was released on November 17, 1998. The album debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200 with 368,000 copies sold in its first week. It eventually sold 3.7 million units in the United States. Its lead single, Hands, peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Other singles followed, including a new version of Jupiter (Swallow The Moon), and What’s Simple Is True, which she meant to be the theme song to her upcoming movie, and the charity single Life Uncommon. Shortly after the release of Spirit, Jewel made her acting debut playing the character Sue Lee Shelley in Ang Lee‘s (right) Western film Ride with the Devil (1999), opposite Tobey Maguire. The film received mixed-positive reviews, though critic Roger Ebert, frequnetlñy mentioned on these pages, praised her performance, writing: ´Jewel deserves praise for, quite simply, performing her character in a convincing and unmannered way. She is an actress here, not a pop star trying out a new hobby´.
A couple of less commercially successful albums followed, the second of which produced a cover of Joy To The World as a single.
In 2000, she completed an autobiography (left) titled Chasing Down the Dawn, a collection of diary entries and musings detailing her life growing up in Alaska, her struggle to learn her craft, and life on the road. In November 2001, her fourth studio album, This Way, was released. The album peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 1.5 million copies in the U.S. A song from the album Standing Still hit the Top 30. Other singles released were Break Me This Way, and Serve the Ego; this last gave Jewel her first number one club hit.
The two albums that followed between 2003 and 2006 received very mixed reviews from the critics. with Jewel admitting her writing was in response to American involvement in wars of the time. The second of these albums, Goodbye Alice In Wonderland she decribed as being an autobiography of a girl growing up.
CMT music critic Timothy Duggan praised the Goodbye Alice in Wonderland, writing: ´This album showcases Jewel’s unique talent as a lyricist, alongside a definite growth in her musicianship. It is what Pieces of You might have been had Jewel had the musical knowledge then that she has now. A very satisfying work, all in all.´
Rolling Stone, however, called the album ´overdone and undercooked´ with a rating of 2 stars out of 5.
Jewel released a video for Quest for Love, the lead single from the movie Arthur and the Invisibles, recorded in 2006; the song is only available on the soundtrack for the film, which was released in January 2007.
In an interview later that year with The Boston Globe, Jewel stated that she was no longer affiliated with a record label, confirming rumours that Atlantic Records had failed to renew her contract after the lacklustre sales of her then-latest album. She also hinted that she would like to do a country album next.
She worked with John Rich of Big & Rich fame, who said that she was ´probably one of the greatest American singer-songwriters we have had´. He also said that ´every label in Nashville´ was talking to her at the time.
Subsequently, In November 2007, Jewel was signed to Valory Records, a newly formed division of the independent Big Machine Records label. Her first country album, Perfectly Clear, was released on June 3, 2008, selling 48,000 units in its first week. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Album Chart and No. 8 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart. In its second week on the charts, the album dropped to No. 25 on the Billboard 200 and No. 5 on the Country Albums chart, with estimated second week sales of 75,000 units Jewel made her second film appearance in a cameo, appearing as herself in the comedy film Walk Hard, released in December 2007.
In early 2009 it was announced that Jewel would release a new studio album titled Lullaby, a collection of lullabies which she described as ´not just for children, but also adults´. Its lead single was Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
In June 2012, Jewel was cast in the lead role as June Carter Cash in the Lifetime original movie Ring of Fire, opposite Matt Ross. Brian Lowry of Variety commended Jewel’s live singing in the film, and noted: ´Jewel and Ross (right) are convincing as the central couple, playing them over an extended span.´
On October 16, 2012, Jewel announced via Twitter a “Greatest Hits” album would be released in 2013. The album features new duets from Kelly Clarkson (left) and the Pistol Annies. Jewel and Clarkson recorded a fresh rendition of Jewel’s song Foolish Games while Jewel and the Pistol Annies recut You Were Meant for Me– The Greatest Hits album was eventually released February 5, 2013.
In February 2014, Jewel began work on another album and confirmed that it would not be released by a major record label, and that she was producing it herself. In April 2015, she appeared as a guest musician on Blues Traveller‘s album Blow Up the Moon, co-writing the song Hearts Still Awake. On June 28, she revealed in a Q&A on Facebook that her upcoming album would be released in the second week of September of that year, and would feature a folk sound recorded with a live band. On July 21, Jewel confirmed the title as Picking Up the Pieces and it was released on September 11, 2015. Four days later, on September 15, she released her third book, a new memoir entitled Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story.
Jewel then founded Jewel Inc., in 2016, which is a platform for her work in music, TV, and film as well as her entrepreneurial endeavors, in particular regarding mindfulness. Among its ventures was co-creating, in partnership with Trevor Drinkwater, the Wellness Your Way, Music and Wellness Festival, held originally in 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Around this time she also returned to acting, appearing in two television mystery films on the Hallmark Channel: Framed for Murder: A Fixer Upper Mystery, and Concrete Evidence: A Fixer Upper Mystery, both in which she plays the character Shannon Hughes, a contractor and investigator.
Towards the end of 2019, Jewel released a new song No More Tears, which was written and recorded for Lost in America, a documentary about youth homelessness in America by Rotimi Rainwater. In an interview with American Songwriter, Jewel explained that, in addition to being an executive producer on the documentary, she was inspired to write the track because she was moved by the stories of the individuals featured in the film and related those to her own experiences of being homeless when she was eighteen. In the same interview, it was confirmed that No More Tears would also be the first track released from her upcoming album which she hopes to release sometime in 2020.
So, when I turned my head for just a few moments and twenty six years Jewel had crafted for herself a laudable career and achieved a great deal of admirable charity work. From new evidence I have discovered, since her name fell out in conversation with Larry Yaskiel, she has also maintained that youthful friendship with songwriter Steve Poltz who earlier this covid-year released his song Quarantine Blues as a single. From that link I saw You Tube shows of Jewel and Steve in recent performances at Salmonfest that proved she has become a wonderful raconteur over the years and has great comic timing. Watch this space for more about Jewel and Steve at Salmonfest.