No Emotional Nuances to Prop Up Sagging ‘Spirit’

“If I could tell the world just one thing,” Jewel warbles on “Hands,” her new single, “it would be that we’re all OK.”

Feel better now? Then you’ll probably love Jewel’s new collection, which refines the optimistic messages and airy folk-pop of her multi-platinum 1995 debut, cloaking the listener in a soothing beige tapestry of guitar, organ, pedal-steel and, of course, the earth-diva’s sweet vocals.

The 24-year-old singer-songwriter continues to display a knack for using cosmic ruminations to connect with other sensitive beings, but her points remain maddeningly simplistic (love is good, money isn’t everything, etc.). Perhaps it’s impossible, in these cynical times, to convey such positive notions without sounding like a Pollyanna, but, more seriously, “Spirit” offers little sense that the artist is coming into her own.

Though not as wide-ranging this time, Jewel’s singing remains chameleonic--sometimes ethereal, sometimes gutsy, sometimes shrill, but rarely convincing. Her lyrics frequently leave the impression that she’s more passionate about turning a phrase than conveying actual emotions. And far too often, her songwriting merely imitates her influences, which is charming enough on the Rickie Lee Jones-esque ditty “Fat Boy.” But by the third ersatz Dylan number, it seems more like cheating.



Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

Hear the Music

* Excerpts from Jewel’s “Spirit” album and other recent releases are available on The Times’ World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: