Jewel will never be Sheryl Crow; Crow’s critical record is unmatched and most anything she touches turns to Grammy gold. Jewel, on the other hand, has only a batch of fine-tuned pop songs and a fierce legion of teenage girls behind her. While decidedly harder tracks like the new “Love Me Just Leave Me Alone” seem to invoke Crow, Jewel’s third album aims to reclaim the singer’s fanbase with straight-up folk-pop. Jewel’s last release, 1998’s Spirit, was at once haughty and noble, daring to mix pop with candid spirituality; This Way trades in the pulpit for more organic fare tailormade for the everygirl.
In a time when a single in the vein of “Hands” might be expected—and more than apropos—Jewel delivers “Standing Still.” She’s back to basics with a simple and lovelorn tale of yearning (“Do you need me/Like I need you?” she sings earnestly over acoustic guitar and quiet programming). The lovely “I Won’t Walk Away” and the lighthearted title track, another undeniable pop/rock gem a la “You Were Meant for Me,” should please fans who have been there since Jewel’s grassroots start. Veering off into more arty folk territory, “Serve the Ego” blurs the spiritual with the materialistic: “Feathered hair and lamé heels/What turns me on is so surreal.” The track mixes electric guitars, Middle Eastern tones and an impressive chant by the singer, while “Break Me” opts for a more stripped down folk approach. Like her debut, the track’s spare arrangement consists of only acoustic guitar and a restrained vocal.
Never one to shy away from politics, Jewel takes on our culture’s latest fetishes on the dramatic “The New Wild West” and the sardonic “Jesus Loves You” (“They say that money breaks you/Well, I wanna see/They say that you’re only half alive/Till you give extra whitening a try”). She gets extra earthy with the Americana twang of “Everybody Needs Someone Sometime” and “Till We Run Out of Road”; sacrificed, however, is the immaculate production and classic songwriting approach of Patrick Leonard, the man responsible for Spirit‘s divine elegance. This Way is not nearly as challenging but it might just be what America ordered.