Jewel, Royal Festival Hall, London

Take the tough with the smooth
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The Independent Culture

Jewel has come on considerably since she first toured here five years ago, supporting Johnny Cash and doing her country-minstrel act. But she wasn't really very country then, and so she did a lot of yodelling. Her new album, This Way, is Nashville-made, much more in the mode and, when it's not Twain-style MOR, actually very good indeed.

There's no denying Ms Kilcher, now 27, can write a darned good lyric; her much-publicised poverty years (raised by wolves in an Alaskan igloo, or something of that ilk, then living in a van with kidney disease) have given her insight into the human condition, and her songs are touching short stories – wise, benevolent and not all about herself. Yet it's still hard to get her number. Is she a spiritual New Age earth babe, or lash-battingly calculating? Or a happy amalgam of the two?

She takes the stage for her opening solo acoustic hour looking almost too beautiful, in spike heels and off-the-shoulder top. Her voice is something, too, swooping from eerie Shirley Temple (that top note could paralyse) to sultry Eartha Kitt. She also screws up her face when she sings in an appealingly genuine manner, looking like a squinty Ellen Barkin, though she's not happy about the photographers capturing it.

She's quite a showman. When someone yells a request, she can't remember the song; a Dutch fan leaps up, bald and blushing, holding the lyrics of everything she's ever produced, and she charmingly has him stand beside her on stage while she sings the thing. He, of course, is beside himself.

After a break, she's back with her band. There are lip-quivering, romantic numbers, there is sultry stuff, but the rockers are the most fun: "Love me, Just Leave Me Alone" is all snarling swagger, while "New Wild West" is her best ever, with its darkly shiversome slide guitar. "Who Will Save Your Soul" turns into sweaty, accomplished scat.

Then there's the single, "Standing Still". This has done well in the US and it's straightforward pop, so it should work here, too. But, as Jewel explains, "That's the song Radio 1 and Radio 2 won't play. If I'd only put in a fucking dance routine, I might get somewhere, like Destiny's Child. Or... anybody see the Brit awards? OK," she puts a hand on her bottom and leers moronically, "who am I?"

An accurate indictment of stripogram Kylie. Except that then Jewel says, "You'd think my record company could get that single on the radio, wouldn't you? Maybe they should hire some new guys."

Jewel's fans may like to think they're reflections of her decked out in Inuit moccasins and lace. But Jewel is tough as old boots. And at least she remains in touch with worthy causes. For the encore, she pads to the front for some opera and yodelling. Not a dry eye in the house.

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