With apologies to a certain governor, Judge Christopher Kulik thinks Jewel is the hottest female in Alaska.
Who will save your soul?
Before I sat down to watch Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook, I asked myself if the singer was really past her prime. Her last three albums failed to make much of an impact, while Pieces Of You remains her only significant achievement, both critically and commercially. According to one former Verdict judge, the singer "has been around a lot longer than she's needed" and her drop in popularity could be attributed to the fact that "touchy-feely folk singers aren't in demand right now." I'll buy that, but the truth is I'd listen to Jewel any day over Avril Lavigne or Amy Winehouse; those who agree will find this 2-disc DVD set from Koch Vision a worthy alternative to those overrated crooners.
Each disc contains one concert, with the first one taken from her "Goodbye Alice In Wonderland" tour in 1996. It was filmed at the Myerson Symphony Center in Texas and contains nineteen songs:
"1000 Miles Away"
The second concert was filmed at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joilet, IL and contains twenty solo songs, along with 8 more enhanced by a live chamber orchestra:
"Near You Always"
So, the answer to the question is no. I don't think Jewel is past her prime. She retains that sweet, angelic voice, as well as those songs which you know came from the heart and not from a machine. And, yet, she's not nearly as recognized in 2008 as she was in 1995, the year that she made her smashing album debut with Pieces Of You, which has gone platinum twelve times and is now a contemporary classic of folk melodies. It's not that any of her albums since then have been failures, but the successes didn't last long. For example, she recently went country with Perfectly Clear (released in June 2008) which was a marginal hit only on the country circuit. In August, she finally married her longtime beaux, rodeo cowboy Ty Murray; yes, I wept.
Like many people, I discovered Jewel in the mid-90s. To this day, she remains in my music collection, along with other female contemporaries like Lisa Loeb, Liz Phair, and Fiona Apple; yes, I prefer singers who actually write all or most of their own material (take that, Britney!). It struck me by surprise how long it has been since I listened to Jewel, and songs like "Near You Always," "Foolish Games," "Standing Still," and, of course "Who Will Save Your Soul," still have an emotional chord to them which I couldn't escape from. This is because they feel and sound personal, rather than just simple free-style lyrics which have occasional rhymes to them.
If anything, Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook satisfied my desire to see what Jewel was like live on stage rather than endless repeats from an IPod. True, several of the songs—many of them Pieces Of You staples—are repeated, but fans will have nothing to complain about. There are many instances of Jewel stopping before going to the next song to talk about her background and experiences in the music industry. Some of the stories are fascinating (such as how she sounded like Kermit the Frog when she went in to record her first song), others take so long you just want her to get on with it and move to the next song. Plus, it is annoying to hear her ask the audience over and over again, "what do you want to hear next?" These are small nitpicks, however.
Koch Vision has done a fine job preserving these performances. Both concerts were recorded in high-definition and mixed in 5.1 Surround sound. Visually, they are presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen and the results are excellent, with no focus issues or other anomalies present anywhere. The surround track sounds as wonderful as you could imagine, and it's certainly recommended over the optional 2.0 stereo track. There are no subtitles and no closed captioning. Extras are rather paltry, with a 20-minute interview with Ms. Kilcher and a music video of "Stephenville, TX" as the only goodies; still, both are worth jumping into.
Verdict: Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
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