Jewel’s latest album, Spirit, reveals her musical growth

At a naive 19 years old, Jewel skyrocketed to stardom.

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Her sweet, sugar-coated voice was a contrast to the anguished sounds of female rockers Alanis Morissette and Ani DiFranco. Although her debut album, Pieces of You , received worldwide acclaim, it lacked something. On the debut album, the songs showcased Jewel – her voice, her skill on guitar, her song writing. Critics of the album condemned her for being narcissistic and callow, yet her musical talent was obvious.

At 24 years old, a more mature, experienced Jewel returns to the music scene. Her latest album, Spirit (Atlantic), proves wisdom grows with age. With 13 tracks, Spirit contains trademark Jewel folk songs as well as riskier pieces. The singer allows her gentle voice – the perfect fit for her cherubic face – to soar, creating eloquent music.

The first release from the album, “Hands” is the only song on Spirit Jewel did not write. Although the song has received accolades from listeners, it pales compared to other tracks. The song accentuates Jewel’s folk style, which dominates the album, making it the obvious choice for the first single. Nonetheless, the highlights of Spirit are songs that combine standard Jewel with adventurous undertakings.

“Down So Long” features stronger percussion, a nice supplement to the distinct acoustic guitar. The two instruments simultaneously compete and blend with one another to produce a deeply textured song. With an optimistic feel, “Life Uncommon” distinguishes itself from other tracks. Jewel begins the song a cappella. A few counts later, an acoustic guitar joins the song and finally, keyboards and drums weave their sounds into the musical flow. The gradual progression creates a climatic moment when all of the elements unite. In the chorus, Jude Cole harmonizes with Jewel. His deep voice perfectly resonates against Jewel’s soprano.

“Enter from the East” and “Kiss the Flame” are beautifully crafted tunes. The songs systematically overlap instrumentals with vocals. The two elements complement each other, never competing for the spotlight. In “Kiss the Flame,” Jewel takes a softer approach to song. On high notes, her voice sounds more airy and innocent. At these moments, the background music fades to nearly inaudible, producing an ethereal song.

The final track on the album, “Absence of Fear,” fulfills the expectations for a final track. After sticking with the album, the listener expects to be rewarded by the last song – “Absence of Fear” tackles this challenge. With a slow rhythm and rich vocals, the track resembles a lullaby, comforting the listener like a mother would pacify her crying baby.

“Jupiter” stands out as the track on Spirit with the most poetic lyrics: “Love is a flame neither timid nor tame/Take these stars from my crown/Let the years fall down/Lay me out in firelight/Let my skin feel the night/Fasten me to your side/Say it will be soon/You make me so crazy, baby.” With Jewel’s sultry voice setting the tone, the passionate lyrics beckon listeners into the magical love song. Despite the maturity of the lyrics, “Jupiter” falters with the inclusion of sophomoric “ohs.” The trite word detracts from the depth of the song.

Lyrics continue to be an obstacle for Jewel. In her musical evolution and growth, she fails to transcend childish lyrics. Too often, she uses words in order to create a rhyme sequence, resulting in inane lyrics. Jewel’s best songs touch thought-provoking topics and avoid the sing-song patterns of rhyme, allowing the listener to enjoy her music for more than the beauty of her voice.

“Fat Boy” epitomizes Jewel’s difficulties with lyrics. The serious, deliberate instrumentals contradict the childishness of the words: “Fat boy goes about his day/Trying to think of funny things to say/Like, `This is just a game I play’/And `I like me this way.'” Although she conveys her idea, Jewel spoon-feeds her messages through nursery-school rhyme schemes.

On Spirit, Jewel takes a bolder approach. She expands her repertoire by taking risks and removing the self-imposed limits that discredited her first album. Despite the immature lyrics, Jewel’s musical maturation permeates the album, and her melodious voice radiates throughout Spirit.

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