Jewel has been something of a chameleon since releasing her debut album, Pieces of You, nearly 20 years ago. The singer-songwriter, who started off as a struggling artist living out of her van in Southern California, gained tremendous notoriety for her hit 1995 debut, which was a mixture of folksy confessionals, emotive ballads and pop ditties, some of which were surprisingly political.
She continued in the same vein for a while, releasing a strings-heavy, sentimental sophomore effort Spirit, in 1998. A new millennium brought out a sparkly new Jewel, and after hinting at her penchant for dance music on 2001's This Way, the singer released a fully fledged dance album 0304, in 2003, which saw her teaming up with producers who had worked with dance music queens Madonna and Shakira.
A few years later, she had a country music makeover, releasing Perfectly Clear, which seemed to suit her better than her dance diva persona, and garnered her some enthusiastic country fans.
Now Jewel has announced she's releasing a companion album to her 12-times platinum debut. "What I've been making myself do is forget everything I know and not think about genres," Jewel told Billboard when discussing the new album. "I don't want to think about singles and don't want to do anything that's smart business. I want to forget it all and make a record that is really pure and is me. I'm just going to make what's in my soul. I'm in a position to do that, so I'd be an idiot not to do that."
Recording at Neil Young's Northern California ranch and at a studio in Nashville, Jewel is using an approach similar to the one she used on Pieces of You, which mixed live and studio recordings. She's even planning to lay down some tracks in front of a live audience. "I've just always sung better live," Jewel says. "There's certain songs that, when I do them in front of an audience it brings out an emotion in me that I don't get just sitting in a studio."
She also likened the new and old album's relationship to one another to Young's famous companion albums, Harvest and Harvest Moon. While it's always dangerous to compare your work to highly regarded classics, it's possible that Jewel's longtime fans will appreciate the analogy and embrace the new work as a return to form.
Jewel has certainly come a long way from the naïve young girl she was two decades ago when recording her debut – she has openly admitted that she knew nothing about the music business at the time. Since then she's become older and wiser, honed her singing chops and exudes mature confidence as a performer. She's currently "sifting through" nearly 40 tracks for the album, some of which she has already performed live, like "My Father's Daughter," an emotive acoustic ballad she wrote for her father and grandmother.
Now approaching her 40th birthday, Jewel has the experience, wisdom, connections and likely the finances to make the album she really wants to make. She has turned down record label offers and plans to release the record herself, and even launched a crowdfunding campaign to support it. Here's hoping she makes good on her promise to put out a record that is "really pure and me," and that this will be Jewel's time to shine.