album reviews

Somerset (2009)

Sweet Dreams: Jewel, 'Lullaby'

It might be one of the least surprising moments of her career: Jewel has recorded an album of lullabies.

This sonic choice is a logical sequel to her radio singles, most of which are love songs that sound like lullabies: her airy, lilting voice makes the melancholy "Standing Still," the desolate "You Were Meant For Me" and the yearning "Near You Always" all sound like she'd rather just curl up for a nap than tackle any of life's great problems.

In a similar vein, "Lullaby" contains no sonic surprises, but it doesn't need to: it showcases this singer tackling a style that is perfectly-suited to her vocal style. These 15 songs are slow-paced, acoustic tunes, with Jewel's voice accompanied by a softly-plucked guitar and the occasional string section.

Thankfully, the album's tracks aren't all remakes of traditional lullabies; in fact, the covers are some of the least interesting tracks here. She does twist ever so slightly the melody of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" (and includes several verses beyond the one we all know), but her other covers are more obvious and end up sounding a bit boring. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "Simple Gifts" and "Brahms' Lullaby" are all songs that one would expect Jewel to sound great singing. She does, but there's nothing to give it that extra "wow" factor.

By contrast, her original lullabies are compelling because they tell stories that we haven't heard before. "All the Animals" is a love song told with a Noah's Ark spin, "Sweet Dreams" is a hushed waltz and "The Cowboy's Lament" ends with one of the staples of her live show: yodeling. These songs sound reminiscent of the material on her debut, "Pieces of You"; the sweet love lullaby "Forever and a Day" would have fit seamlessly there.

Jewel even wrote a song in Swedish, the shimmering "Sov Gott (Sleep Well)." It's the type of song where you don't need to know its literal translation to get its meaning, and Jewel's breathy voice floats over her gentle guitar plucking.

The only thing that remains a little mysterious about "Lullaby" is her target audience: this is not exactly a children's record, but it's not all grown-up either. Jewel is releasing it independently, but she's teamed up with Fisher-Price to get physical copies into the children's and babies' sections of stores. That's a bit of a confusing marketing move for an album that Jewel intends for a broader audience, but there's no doubt that it will end up migrating into the CD collections of her adult fans.

Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis

.: Originally published: 5 May 2009.
.: Lullaby on