The moment Eilen Jewell’s majestic voice filled the Lobero, I was in love-and I’m not the only one captivated by her particular blend of crossover magic. Since her debut CD was released in 2005, Jewell has been praised throughout the country for her live show, and her Sings Like Hell appearance on Saturday was no exception.
Although a chill evening for Santa Barbarans, the Boise-born, Boston-based Jewell raved about the winter warmth during her endearing between-song chatter, particularly before launching into “Too Hot to Sleep,” which she deemed apropos for the warm-for-her weather. And while her engaging personality radiated warmth, it was her songs-one after another rockabilly meets alt-country meets ’40s swing tunes-that had the crowd dancing in the side aisles and screaming for encores.
You could almost taste the longing for something brighter in the bluesy “High Shelf Blues.” And in “Boundary County” we heard her looking for something just beyond the horizon in a voice that was both melancholy and hopeful. Throughout her set, Jewell frequently motioned toward her stellar band, praising the talents of Jerry Miller on electric and steel guitars, Johnny Sciascia playing a mind-blowing upright bass, and Jason Beek covering the rhythm end on drums.
Jewell put on such an amazing act that there was a danger of her talent overshadowing the night’s headliner, but such was not the case when Tom Russell took the stage. Russell has been cited as one of the inspirations for the long-standing Sings Like Hell series, and fitting inspiration he is. Russell’s smoky cowboy voice belted out poignant lyrics in a set that contained a mix of songs from his latest album, Love and Fear, along with older faves, newer tunes, and an impressive Leonard Cohen cover. He was accompanied by Michael Martin on guitar and mandolin, who worked acoustic magic. Their set was another dancing-in-the-aisle, clapping in unison, encore-rich series of folk country tunes that made everyone present want to stay in the theater all night-or at least until the next Sings Like Hell offering.