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Jewel Makes A Country Move

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She’s sold 30 million albums and scored a batch of pop hits. But in the country music world, Jewel is happy to be a new artist. The singer-songwriter —born Jewel Kilcher — is happily in the midst of a genre crossover this year. Her first country album, “Perfectly Clear,” comes out on June 3. Its first single, “Stronger Woman,” peaked at No. 13 on Billboard magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart, and she’s booked a summer tour opening for Brad Paisley.

“Everything so far has been really positive,” reports Jewel, 33, who lives on a Texas ranch with longtime boyfriend, bull-riding champ Ty Murray. “You know, I’ve been ingrained in that (country) community. I made five of my seven records in Nashville. I’ve made a lot of friends there. Merle Haggard took me under his wing...

“I just feel like a lot of people in (country) are familiar with me. There are a lot who aren’t, too; I think some of the radio programmers are scratching their heads, but they’ve been very open-minded in letting me come in and talk to them and introduce myself and show I have a serious commitment to the format.”

Jewel, who performs at 8 tonight at the 2008 Downtown Hoedown, estimates she’s been visiting radio stations in 20 cities every week for the past month and a half. By the end of the “tour” she’ll hit more than 200 markets — more promotional work than she’s had to do since hits such as “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant For Me” established her in the pop world during the mid-’90s.

“I really look at this as a building kind of thing,” she explains. “I want to show that I’m serious about this (country) thing, and I’m willing to pay my dues.”

That’s not going unnoticed by her peers, either.

“Jewel is more of a folk singer to me than a pop singer, so it makes sense there would be an audience for that” according to Jewel’s new labelmate, veteran country star Trisha Yearwood. “Most country fans grew up like I did, with Bob Seger and the Eagles. That music transcends the genres, and so does Jewel’s.”

Jewel is quick to point out she’s no country-come-lately. Born in Utah, she was raised on a rustic ranch near Homer, Alaska, by a father who was “a cowboy listening to very traditional country music.” Her own songwriting, she says, hewed to that tradition, although some of it was lost as she migrated — first to Michigan on a two-year scholarship to the Interlochen Center for the Arts, then to San Diego where she was discovered as a beachfront troubadour.

Nevertheless, Jewel says that on her previous, pop-oriented albums “a lot of times producers took the twang out of my song arrangements or melodic structures. I have a lot of songs I thought would’ve been great on country radio, especially as country radio has opened up as a format and pop has narrowed.

“I thought ‘You Were Meant For Me’ would’ve been great for country, ‘Foolish Games,’ ‘Hands,’ ‘Fragile Heart’ ... ’Standing Still’ had a few (country) stations asking to play it. I was just signed to a label that didn’t want to take them that way.”

In fact, the title track on “Perfectly Clear” dates back to when Jewel was 18. And she recut “2 Become 1” from her 2003 album “0304” for the new set, which was produced in Nashville by Big & Rich’s John Rich.

“I just feel like (country) is a great continuation for me,” explains Jewel, who’s also published two books and has acted and modeled in fashion campaigns. “I don’t really feel like it’s a musical switch, like it’s the end of something and the beginning of something new. I’ve been here all my life; now I’m just getting a chance to really do it. I’m excited about that.”

The 2008 Downtown Hoedown takes place Friday through Sunday (May 9-11) at Hart Plaza in Detroit. Headliners include Trisha Yearwood, Josh Gracin, Little Big Town, Gretchen Wilson, Jewel, Billy Currington and Lonestar. Hours are 1:30-11:20 p.m. today, noon-11:30 p.m. Saturday and noon-10:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. A full schedule and other information can be found at www.wycd.com.

Web Site: www.wycd.com

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