Two decades after Jewel exploded onto the music scene with the album “Pieces of You,” she’s made an album that brings her back to the core of who she is as a musician and a person.
“Picking Up the Pieces” follows a period in which the singer had a son, Kase (now 4), divorced her husband, Ty Murray, and decided to look back on her life, taking stock of where 40 years of living had taken her and writing a memoir that examines her life.
“I really needed this record,” Jewel, now 41, said in an April phone interview. “For me, at 40, it was really like doing a self-audit and going, ‘Do I like everything that I’ve added onto myself?’ At 40, as a human, as a woman, as an artist, what do I want to get rid of? So for me, this record really represented a shedding of pretense, getting rid of things that domesticated me and getting back in touch with my rawness or my wildness.”
Like “Pieces of You,” “Picking Up the Pieces,” presents Jewel in as elemental a setting as possible. It’s spare, almost all acoustic and centered on lyrics that are as unfiltered as any Jewel has written. Some songs relate to her divorce and ponder questions of love and loneliness (“Love Used To Be,” “Here When Gone”) and others stem from her family and life story (“Family Tree” and “My Father’s Daughter,” which features a guest vocal from Dolly Parton).
The album works nicely in tandem with the memoir, “Never Broken: The Songs Are Only Half the Story,” which was released last September – four days after “Picking Up the Pieces” – and was inspired, Jewel said, by wanting her life story to help readers examine their lives and put them on a path to happiness.
Jewel’s life makes for quite a story.
“It is true that if you drop into my life at different moments, you’d think that my life belongs to many different people, from a homestead girl to a very urban girl in the projects of Anchorage, to living in Hawaii with locals, to being homeless,” Jewel said. “It’s been a wild ride. And trying to make sense of that in a mere 300 pages was a challenge. But it was very good for me. It was a good process to sort of integrate and reflect and go ‘Holy moly, I can’t believe I made it. I went through all of this, and here I am.’ ”
The specifics Jewel mentions are true, and have been chronicled in any number of interviews with the singer.
Born in Utah and raised in Homer, Alaska, Jewel Kilcher really did grow up on a homestead that had an outhouse and no indoor plumbing. She left home at age 15, and at 16 she got a scholarship to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Mich., before moving to San Diego to pursue writing and singing music – only to end up homeless and living in a car after she was fired from a day job when she refused to have a physical relationship with the boss.
She picked herself up, began performing around town and was discovered by Atlantic Records, which signed her and released “Pieces of You” in 1995, which sold more than 12 million copies behind the hits “Who Will Save Your Soul,” “You Were Meant for Me” and “Foolish Games.”
My musical … changes have never been contrived
Jewel since then has made albums that have explored a variety of styles, including the pop of the 2003 album “0304” and the country of 2008’s “Perfectly Clear” and 2010’s “Sweet and Wild.” Her musical journey has confused some, but Jewel said every shift has been natural and honest.
“My musical, quote-unquote changes have never been contrived or for reinvention purposes,” she said. “It was strictly because it was what was interesting me and I don’t want to be bored by what I’m doing. I want to push myself and learn new things.”
That sort of honesty extended to “Picking Up The Pieces,” an album she self-produced and recorded live in the studio to help push her singing to the kind of honest and emotionally raw place she frequently reaches in concert, but says she has struggled to achieve in the sterile environment of the studio.
Now she’s bringing that same sort of approach on the road, as she performs solo on tour in support of “Picking Up The Pieces” and the “Never Broken” memoir. That tour brings her to Grass Valley on Saturday, May 14.
“I created a new set design, which has been a lot of fun to really sort of create a new (set) that’s sort of like an old-time theater vibe,” Jewel said. “I incorporate a lot of stories from my book, and I’m talking and telling more stories and then go into song and include some poetry as well. It’s been a lot of fun. I still don’t do set lists. I tend to like to talk to the audience, read the audience and take requests. So it’s very improvisational and very spontaneous.”
Jewel: Picking Up the Pieces tour
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 14
Where: Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 255 S. Auburn St., Grass Valley