By Thom Jennings
Niagara Gazette — Jewel Kilcher’s debut album “Pieces of You,” appeared on the scene in 1995 when the singer was just 21 years old, and within two years the album sold an impressive 12 million copies in the United States alone. To put that into perspective, that is more than Taylor Swift’s first two albums combined total, and Swift’s bestselling album only sold half of what Jewel’s debut did.
The singer-songwriter will be coming to the Seneca Niagara Casino is support of her recently released “Greatest Hits” album. Unlike many artists, Jewel will not be working with a standard set list; instead she will be taking requests from the audience.
“I like to read the crowd, that’s what fun about being a musician; I have written over 500 songs and my fans know them all. They like to shout out unusual ones, but I make sure I get through all the hits,” Jewel said during a recent phone interview.
Each show is unique and is recorded and available for purchase after the performance.
Jewel’s “Greatest Hits” showcases the evolution of one of popular music’s greatest songwriters. In the years since her debut, Jewel has amassed a diverse body of work in styles as varied as folk, pop, country and children’s lullabies.
“The songs are sequenced chronologically to show my body of work and the progression and evolution as an artist. It starts with the first song I wrote, ‘Who Will Save Your Soul,’ which I wrote when I was 16, and ends with the last song I wrote, “Two Hearts Breaking,” which I wrote when I was releasing the record,” she noted.
One of the many highlights on the album is a duet of “Foolish Games” with Kelly Clarkson. The vocal performances from both artists are fantastic.
“It was great to work with Kelly Clarkson and it was sweet to hear that I had been one of her influences. She told me she performed ‘Foolish Games’ at a bunch of talent shows when she was growing up.”
That led me to ask Jewel about her major influences, especially Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
“Bob Dylan and Neil Young infused kind of a punk rock attitude on me, they said forget everything else and focus on the music.
“They told me to do it the old fashioned way by touring and building a fan base. That was important because with my first record being so popular there could be pressure to follow it up or I could be wise with my money and never have to write a hit again. I chose the latter and it was liberating I followed my musical heart and didn’t have to be put in a box.”
With Jewel being one of the most successful female singer-songwriters of all time, I wondered what she thought of Taylor Swift’s penchant for writing about her old boyfriends.
“I met Taylor early on, casually. Her mom told me she used to listen to ‘Pieces of You,’ which was sweet. Taylor is super talented and if I have a daughter I hope she is inspired to write about her relationships, and not hitchhiking to Mexico like I did. We had very different lives, she came from a stable home, my mom left when I was 8, my dad and I had a volatile relationship, I was supporting myself by 15, moved out when I was 16 and was homeless by 18.”
And what inspires Jewel?
“Life has always inspired me; I don’t have to be unhappy to write. I see why Taylor is writing about her relationships, they are important in people’s lives. They are a big part of your life in your early twenties and forever. My poetry, songwriting and storytelling have always been driven by fascination with people and the quest to find happiness and peace, and all the things that work against that. I find the epic struggle to be fascinating and the human spirit to be endlessly courageous. It’s something I will always want to write about because there are so many facets to that.”
Jewel appears at the Seneca Niagara Casino Showroom at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets starting at $30 are available through Ticketmaster and at the casino box office.
Thom Jennings is covering the music scene for Night & Day