While panning for gold…

… last week in the ever flowing musical river that is internet radio, I didn’t find single a nugget … but I did turn up a jewel — Cheryl Jewell.

OK, enough with the wordplay. Before I overreach with “a diamond in the rough” (or worse) let’s get into My Blue Heaven — yet another excellent album release from a new-to-me Fresh Face artist.

A summer of discovery…

I’m constantly amazed by the breadth of quality  artists that make up the Fresh Face class of emerging American Songbook stars. It seems that a week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear someone on the radio that sends me scrambling for a pen to jot down their name.

Just this summer it started with Luca Ellis, Anna Mjöll and Louis Prima Jr. … and of late there’s been Susan Chastain, Megan Hilty and now the round, soulful and evocative vocal stylings of Ms. Jewell.

 Though new to the Vocal Standards scene…

…Cheryl is not new to singing and performing on stage. She hit the stage for the first time at the tender age of 13 but her career began in earnest at 19 when she toured around the midwest immersing herself in the blues music and culture of Chicago and Detroit.

Judging from some of the numbers on the My Blue Heaven LP, I’m guessing CJ also spent time absorbing the Motown/R&B scene during these years as well.

With lengthy stints in country-rock and and then as a member of the chart topping, all female Christian Rock band Rachel Rachel, Cheryl has blacked out quite a few spots on her music genre bingo card.

This mashup of styles and experience can sometimes lead to a train wreck of a sanitized or over-composited “non-style”. That is certainly NOT what happened in Ms. Jewell’s case.

“…the voice of an angel”

Ms. Jewell has been compared to Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson, and I too hear those influences in her material. Like Dinah and Nancy, Cheryl’s vocal style is dexterous and powerful.

Somewhere along the line CJ fell under the tutelage of Lou Rawls (that can’t hurt); when asked about Ms. Jewell in an interview, Lou’s response was that she had “the voice of an angel” (that can’t hurt either).

I’m not sure about angelic, but CJ possess precision and substantial — even impressive — range; there’s also a depth and roundness … a soulful and sometimes playful cant she brings to the standards that I think comes from those years plying rock, R&B, gospel and the blues.

My Blue Heaven

… is a nicely produced release. The musical accompaniment is first rate with a jazz trio style laying across most of the ten numbers. The exceptions being big brass versions of “Lover, Come Back to Me” and the title track “My Blue Heaven”.

“Lover” is the rollicking, finger snapping pace number that caught my ear on TheStandardsChannel broadcast … and the title track strikes a fun, jazzy, bossa nova pose.

Both of the big brass numbers are good stuff and serve to display CJ’s vocal ability, but it’s the rest of the album — the duo/trio styled numbers — that really showcase Cheryl’s exceptional voice and genre nimble style.

You will find the full track list and ratings below, but as always there are some exceptional numbers off the LP worth highlighting.

Following the title track, Jewell takes up a classic Tony Bennett song — “When Do The Bells Ring For Me”. It’s a tough song to sing and Cheryl rolls it with just a bit of a Motown ballad style that really showcases her dexterity. In the finish you hear the Nancy Wilson influence in full measure and it’s very nice.

Cj lights the torch with a soulful edition of Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me a River”. A duo with Milo Petersen on the guitar … this is haunting showcase number for Cheryl’s jazz style … extending the typically rendered pure torch number into something more.

Jewell takes even more jazz license with Etta James signature song — “At Last” — but it works beautifully. This is a sporty, semi bossa nova revision that again serves as an excellent platform to showcase Ms Jewell’s vocal dexterity.

Maybe the best number on the LP for me is a personal favorite — “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life” (Alan & Marilyn Bergman lyrics/Michel Legrand music). Cheryl hit’s the Shirley Bassey  classic (sorry Streisand fans) out of the park with her woodwind like tones and that CJ signature range/control. Listen below at your own risk … you’ll be dropping My Blue Heaven in your shopping cart in short order!

“What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life”* – Cheryl Jewell

As if to prove her genre bending prowess…

…Ms. Jewell lands two tracks at the end of the LP that definitely source outside the standards arena. “Wayfaring Stranger” is a 19th century folk hymn that gets a very cool R&B treatment here (organ and guitar sells it). This number sets up well for Cheryl, allowing her to reach back into her genre experience and blend up and pull off a distinctive R&B/gospel edge.

My first exposure to Curtis Mayfield’s soul number — “People Get Ready” — was from Bob Marley believe it or not (“One Love” weaves in riffs of Mayfield’s number). CJ very nicely interpolates between soul, R&B and even nudges toward Marley’s reggae redemption song motif.

Cheryl Jewell is indeed a diamond, but she’s not at all rough … she’s polished and sparkles bright whether she’s singing classic standards material, or writing new songs into the margins of the Great American Songbook.

Do check out Ms. Jewell’s My Blue Heaven.

My Blue Heaven – Cheryl Jewell
(VS_Guy ratings: “+++” pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling;  “- – -” minuses are not good)

  1. MY BLUE HEAVEN (2:57) ++ brassy bossa nova-ish fun
  2. WHEN DO THE BELLS RING FOR ME? (4:37) ++++ late night jazz trio feel with cool Motown edge
  3. LOVER COME BACK TO ME (2:41) ++ brass is back for more fun
  4. CRY ME A RIVER (4:22) ++++ soft yet powerful jazzy torch number – awesome!
  5. AT LAST (4:36) ++ not Etta’s way … sporty jazz style but nice
  6. SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW (5:00) ++ straight play … another vocal showcase
  7. GET HAPPY (2:39) +++ jaunty jazz tempo … very nice bass solo
  8. WHAT ARE YOU DOING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? (3:41) ++++ Beautiful guitar, beautiful vocals, great song
  9. WAYFARING STRANGER (5:00) +++ olde tyme folk/hyme turned R&B tinged standard … wild
  10. PEOPLE GET READY (4:09) +++ soul/R&B/reggae … saul good baby!

[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.]