Jewel/Freewheelin’ Woman/Words Matter Media
3.5 Out of Five Stars
Well removed from the image of the innocent waif she established herself as early on, Jewel reinvents herself as a worldly diva whose sound is inspired by the soulful stylings of an earlier era. While she makes a nod toward contemporary pop and hip-hop, those leanings are dwarfed by the earlier influences of Aretha, Ella, and Patty LaBelle in terms of both drama and delivery.
With Freewheelin’ Woman, her first new album in seven years, attitude and ambition find common ground, whether it’s through the relentless wail of “Long Way Around” and “No More Tears,” the steady stride of “Dancing Slow,” or the hip-hop-like groove of “Alibis.” Still, in tackling ballads like “Grateful,” “When You Loved Me” and “Half Life,” she shares a sincerity that brings everything into focus.
This isn’t of course the first time Jewel has reset her template. Her earliest efforts brought her to the top of the charts and helped her carve a niche as a folkie princess primed to reap the affection of all those longing for a return to the patchwork and patchouli of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Nevertheless, subsequent offerings found her delving into dance music and contemporary country. To her credit, her vocals accommodated each transformation, assuring her credibility and conviction remained intact.
Her liberated stance aside, Freewheelin’ Woman does offer some homage to her initial outings, especially with the emotive moan of “Almost.” Nevertheless, it’s quickly countered by the celebratory set-up of “Dance Sing Laugh Love,” a song that seems to establish the mantra for the entire album. Jewel herself has noted that the goal in making the album was to remind herself and anyone who wanted to listen that no matter how difficult the destination, obstacles can be overcome when pursuing the path forward.
That might not be entirely evident, although the soulful sway that accompanies “Living With Your Memory” and the two love-centric songs that end the album—the beat-heavy “Love Wins” and the decisive thrust and soaring refrain of “Nothing But Love”—keep the hopeful attitude intact, even if in a somewhat roundabout way. Regardless, Freewheelin’ Woman could be considered Jewel’s most confident outing yet, one that shows she won’t be confined or contained, regardless of any outside expectations.
Photo by Dana Trippe