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Byron Shire
April 20, 2024

Music from a Ghost Town

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In Eilen Jewell’s new album Sundown Over Ghost Town she takes us to the haunting place of her childhood. 

‘I grew up in Boise, Idaho, the capital of the state, that was where I was born and raised, but on the weekends we would go to this little town in the mountains called Idaho City. It used to be the capital of the northwest but now it has a population 400 – it’s the ghost town of the title of my album. When I was growing up it was like my second home town. My family has had land there for generations; we go as far back as the Europeans go in that area, so it’s really home to me.’

It’s the romance of these places, the magic that exists in the shadows that Jewell traverses with that voice. That effortless voice that carries the hint of Loretta Lyn.

Jewell loves these places. They speak to her.

‘I feel ghost towns and sundowns are very iconic western images,’ she says.

‘You find ghost towns where there was a gold rush. There is this ongoing love affair with the west, and specifically with that particular town. When I moved back home in 2012 I wanted to capture as many images as I could about that place and what it means to move back home. I wanted to explore what is home, and what is the west, and what is going on. It’s also very personal, it’s a very poignant and specific place for me, and I was trying to capture all of those things in my new album.’

It’s the stories that cling to Jewell, that find a place in her deeply haunting melancholy repertoire.

‘There’s definitely a feeling of haunting, and that’s why they call it a ghost town; it’s not empty because there are little glimpses of what used to be that you run into. It’s a very interesting thing to be in a place like that. In the US it’s a very specifically western phenomenon. By giving that title I was trying to place that album in a particular setting; I am not coming home to just anywhere – this is a specific place.’

So what does it mean to go home? For Jewell it was part of her destiny – the place of her birth called her back almost as soon as she’d left.

‘I just knew that some day the time would be right to return home and I was waiting for that. It took getting pretty well into my music career before my husband and I felt it made sense to make that move. We were on the road so much it didn’t matter where our address was – and we wanted to be able to afford to buy a house. We knew we couldn’t afford anything in the Boston area so we moved across the country; and it’s practical – for the same amount we were paying in rent in the Boston area we are now paying our mortgage. It was good timing we weren’t planning it. A year later we got pregnant with our little girl…’

Like her ghost town, since becoming a parent things have changed for Jewell.

‘It’s much harder in a way [with a child] because you used to be able to make these decisions to go on the road and it would just be us. We could do an 8-hour drive and play a show right after. You just can’t do that to a little girl – she’s about two and a half – she’s in the van for about four hours, her maximum. It’s shrunk our touring in a way; we fly more, but we kind of had to reinvent touring for ourselves. She doesn’t sleep all that well; in spite of all of that I just love it and I feel like it’s better now then it used to be. We have to be so focused – everything we do is more intentional. I don’t party like I used to; that makes things easier. I don’t have to worry about taking it too far in the party department…’

The album Sundown over Ghost Town echoed some of the sentiment that Jewell felt stepping into motherhood. The feeling that something was finished and that another life was taking shape.

‘I felt like something was over. I was so happy to have her but I also had a sense of sadness – now I know what it is to truly love. There was a lot of that melancholy and even, at the same time with that, great joy, and a feeling of profound loss. A part of it was mourning how things used to be but mostly a feeling of just that we are here temporarily and everything is ephemeral and fleeting, and even my little girl won’t be permanent on the earth. I think a ghost town reflects what was, nothing really endures…’

Don’t miss the beautiful music of Eilen Jewell at Mullum Music Festival, 17–20 November.

Opening Night now SOLD OUT. For tickets and program information go to mullummusicfestival.com.

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