No pulling of the reigns on this country singer |

No pulling of the reigns on this country singer

Tim Parsons

Jewel performs a solo acoustic show Saturday at MontBleu.

Jewel prefers a country lifestyle, and expect that to show more than ever in her next album.

She said the music on her next CD won’t be much of a contrast to her earlier work, with the exception of the jazzy “0304.”

“It’s not a big change,” Jewel said. “My country isn’t real different if you think of ‘Standing Still.’ For me, a lot of these songs are what songwriting has become. They’re kind of what’s the only place for a songwriter because songwriters don’t fit into pop right now. Then the only place to go for a songwriter is country.”

The big difference is nobody will be shy about calling Jewel’s music country. Her long-running contract with Atlantic Records ended last year with the release of “Goodbye Alice in Wonderland.”

“I’ve always had producers try to take the country out of my sound,” she said. “I think if the label had their way they would have had me write 12 more songs (on each CD) like ‘You Were Meant For Me’ and never change. Fortunately, I made enough money on my first record that I could continue to do what I’ve wanted. I feel like I’ve always been able to take the risks that I’ve wanted. They know how to do pop radio formats, but they really didn’t know how to go do country radio. They were definitely scared of that.”

Growing up on a ranch in Homer, Alaska, would explain Jewel’s country roots. And don’t be fooled by her good looks: Jewel is country tough. There was no plumbing on the ranch. She has hitchhiked throughout Mexico. And she lived out of her van for years, singing in anything from dive bars to coffee shops before releasing “Pieces of You” in 1995.

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Bay Area resident Mike Wolcott remembers first becoming fond of Jewel after seeing her play at a Bob Dylan concert in Los Angeles.

“Jewel walks out with her guitar to open the show and some guy yells ‘Like A Rolling Stone!’ And she flips the guy off and everybody laughs,” Wolcott said.

Jewel received advice from the best songwriters this country has produced: Dylan, Neil Young and the Rugburns’ Steve Poltz, who took notice of Jewel when she was a teenager.

“I grew up singing a lot of standards,” she said. “In bars we did a lot of covers. I had a fairly good education in great classic songs but I had never heard Elvis sing ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ or the Eagles sing ‘Hotel California.’ Steve would sing and play records.

“Steve had a great enthusiasm, natural creative ability. He was never fussy or uptight about it. It was always just fun.”

After “Pieces of You” was released, Jewel toured with Dylan and Young.

“They kind of took me under their wing when I was young. My record wasn’t doing that well when it first came out. You know, it had been nine months and it was really failing and my single wasn’t working, and Dylan took me out on the road. He’s famous for never watching the opening act and I didn’t expect him to. But he did catch my show and every night after his show he’d bring me down and we would just talk and he would pick up books that he was reading and that I was reading.

“He turned me onto Jimmy Rogers. I really hadn’t heard yodeling before. And he was great. He just encouraged me. We’d talk about lyrics.”

Young was more blunt in his advice.

“I told him ‘I have this song that could work but I think it’s kind of dorky,'” Jewel said. “And he’s like ‘F— that. Just keep doing what you do and tour a lot.’ He really encouraged me to be myself and just stick with it. And that came at a time when I really needed it.”

After becoming successful, Jewel avoided the temptation of Hollywood in order to stay true to herself and her songwriting

“For me it had more to do with staying away from L.A. – not that L.A.’s inherently bad, but I try to stay out of the industry, honestly. When I have a record I go out and try to promote it but otherwise I don’t go to parties. I’m not in the tabloids. I live out in Texas on this giant ranch.

“My life has nothing to do with being a celebrity and I made that choice. As a writer you have to stay curious, you have to stay open. You can’t get cynical. You can’t get cold. You can’t get too calloused because information stops coming in, and if information stops coming in, words stop coming out.”

Considering all that, Jewel’s recent L.A. appearance on “Punk’d” was an aberration, a prank concocted by her rodeo-star boyfriend Ty Murray, who she lives with on the ranch. Texas no doubt is an inspirational place for writing country songs.

“I love Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard,” she said. “I grew up on that stuff, but I also love Joni Mitchell and Dylan, so I guess it’s a real hodgepodge of styles mixed into me. But I’ve never seen a need to differentiate. I’ve never understood genres. To me the best of Loretta Lynn is the best of Joni Mitchell. They’re talking about women’s liberation in two really different cultures.”

Jewel, who was outspoken in her criticism of President Bush’s goal of drilling for oil in an Alaska wildlife refuge, isn’t concerned about getting a Dixie Chicks-like treatment from conservative country fans.

“I think it’s a misconception that people who live in the country aren’t environmentally worried,” she said. “I think the sides don’t always understand each other. You get weird extremes between liberals and conservatives; they’re usually the loudest. I’m probably more of a redneck and I’ve always been called a hippie. I think the sides are closer than you think.

“Like Ty,” she said. “All he ever was was a cowboy and a bull rider and he cares more about animals than anyone. There’s just misconceptions on each side.”