Eilen Jewell, The Half-Broke Horse Of Idaho, Returns Home

May 27, 2015
Originally published on May 27, 2015 6:54 am

When Eilen Jewell was growing up in Boise, she says she had a sense of wanderlust.

"I always felt like I wanted to leave," Jewell says. "And I remember when I learned the word 'wanderlust,' I felt like I finally had a word to describe myself."

Jewell did wander. She went to college in New Mexico and busked on the streets of Venice Beach. She even went back to Boise — that didn't work out. Next, she tried Boston.

"I remember hearing, when I was working in a very urban coffee shop in the Boston area, on the radio, suddenly out of nowhere, was Loretta Lynn, and she was singing 'Honky Tonk Girl,'" Jewell says. "The song and the twang in her voice and the simplicity of the music and the space between the notes made me think of Idaho. Eventually, it slowly dawned on me that home was Idaho, and that's where I wanted to come back to."

Back in Idaho, Eilen Jewell headed to the mountains north of Boise to Idaho City, a former mining center during the Gold Rush. It was there that she wrote what would become her new album, Sundown Over Ghost Town.

"It's a ghost town, essentially," she says. "I mean, that's how it's listed on the map. It's about as Western as it gets."

Jewell's family has a place in Idaho City.

"It's a funny bit of land, because it's really mostly rocks," Jewell says, laughing. "So its beauty is not very pedestrian. It's not something a lot of people would appreciate. But I think that's part of why we love it so much."

Jewell's dad farms trees on that land. He also keeps a horse, a mustang named Pyro.

"Pryo was partly broke, meaning that he's still partly a wild horse," Jewell says. "If you go to the corral where he's kept, he'll trot over to you, but then if you hold your hand out to try to pat him or something, he'll try to bite you. I see him as being a very kindred spirit to a lot of folks around these parts. I often feel that tug-of-war myself between my mustang and my tame side."

With her wanderlust behind her, at least for now, Eilen Jewell lives in Boise with her husband. They own a house and have a new daughter, Mavis.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is one of the great American story lines - the hero leaves home only to be drawn back. Let's hear some music about one singer's return home to Idaho. Musician Eilen Jewell has a new album out this week called "Sundown Over Ghost Town," and she spoke to NPR's Leah Scarpelli.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORRIED MIND")

EILEN JEWELL: (Singing) Been all around this world just to come back to you.

LEAH SCARPELLI, BYLINE: When Eilen Jewell was growing up in Boise, she says she had a sense of wanderlust.

JEWELL: I always felt like I wanted to leave, and I remember when I learned the word wanderlust I felt like I finally had a word to describe myself.

SCARPELLI: Jewell did wander - to go to college in New Mexico, to busk on the streets of Venice Beach. She even went back to Boise. That didn't work out. Next, she tried Boston.

JEWELL: I remember hearing, when I was working in a very urban coffee shop, on the radio, suddenly out of nowhere, was Loretta Lynn, and she was singing "Honky Tonk Girl."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONKY TONK GIRL")

LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) We once were happy. My heart was in a whirl, but now I'm a honky tonk girl.

JEWELL: This song and the twang in her voice and the simplicity of the music and the space between the notes made me think of Idaho.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONKY TONK GIRL")

LYNN: (Singing) And fill my glass up while I cry.

JEWELL: Eventually, it just slowly dawned on me that home was Idaho and that's where I wanted to come back to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HOMETOWN")

JEWELL: (Singing) If sweetness had a sound it would sound like my hometown.

SCARPELLI: Back in Idaho, Eilen Jewell headed to the mountains north of Boise to Idaho City, a former mining center during the Gold Rush. It was there that she wrote what would become her new album.

JEWELL: It's a ghost town, essentially. I mean, that's how it's listed on the map. It's about as Western as it gets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEEDLE AND THREAD")

JEWELL: (Singing) Just one horse shy of a one-horse town.

SCARPELLI: Jewell's family has a place in Idaho City.

JEWELL: It's a funny bit of land because it's really mostly rocks (laughter) so its beauty is not very pedestrian. It's not something that a lot of people would appreciate, but I think that's part of why we love it so much.

SCARPELLI: Her dad farms trees on that land. He also keeps a horse, a mustang named Pyro.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALF-BROKE HORSE")

JEWELL: (Singing) Stolen from the desert in the lost part of the state.

Pyro was partly broke, meaning that he's still partly a wild horse. If you go over to the corral where he's kept, he'll trot over to you, but then if you hold your hand out to pat him or something he'll try to bite you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALF-BROKE HORSE")

JEWELL: (Singing) He watches on the edge, dirty coat, shaggy mane; too wild for this world, too tame for mustangs.

I see him as being a very kindred spirit to a lot of folks around these parts. I often feel that tug of war myself between my mustang and my tame side.

SCARPELLI: With her wanderlust behind her, at least for now, Eilen Jewell lives in Boise with her husband. They own a house and they have a new daughter, Mavis. Eilen Jewell's new album, "Sundown Over Ghost Town," is out this week. Leah Scarpelli, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALF-BROKE HORSE")

JEWELL: (Singing) They'll have to come and take us with the force of 10 trains 'cause it's no life worth living if we don't hold the reins. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.