[HOT TRACK]This gem hasn't lost any luster

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[HOT TRACK]This gem hasn't lost any luster

The singer-songwriter Jewel is not a pop star with your garden-variety background. Born of country-music-performing parents and raised in a placed called Homer, Alaska, Jewel wound her way down to San Diego by age 18, where, almost broke, she slept in her Volkswagen van and started singing at a local coffee shop. Soon enough, her enchanting voice created a following, and record execs took notice. A debut album and fame ensued, and now, at 27, she is the girlfriend of the champion rodeo rider Ty Murray, arguably the world's most famous cowboy. That diverse life, and recent optimism, is reflected in her third album, "This Way," which contains elements of country, ethereal, and rock music, all buoyed by her spellbinding voice.

It took more than a year of touring and promotional appearances before Jewel's first album, 1995's "Pieces of You," started selling big. Many fans liked her candid, if pessimistic lyrics, and the fey aura she projected. Critics dismissed her as cloyingly winsome.

Jewel cut another disk in 1998, "Spirit," then branched out, releasing a book of poems and acting in the 1999 Civil War movie "Ride With the Devil."

Before starting on "This Way," Jewel decided to take full control, and wound up writing and producing the disk's 14 songs. "This time, I really wanted it to have a much rawer feel," she said. Though it seems she enjoyed making the album, it doesn't seem as deep and real as her earlier work.

The album opens with a jumpy track, "Standing Still," before bouncing between the misty and the hard-edged. Lyrically, Jewel seems to take a step back and select her words more consciously. Left out, it seems, are the explicit, honest details that made "Pieces of You" so engaging. Still, she retains her lexical gift, exemplified in lines like "Sweet sorrow - He said call tomorrow." In a cut written for the rodeo guy, aptly titled "Break Me," she sings, "I will meet you in some place where the light lends itself to soft repose."

The catchiest tracks are the rockers "Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone," which would do the Black Crowes proud, and the macho but measured "Serve the Ego." Other highlights include "This Way," a simple but moving love song, and "Cleveland," a hip version of a cowpoke country ditty.

Though the shifts in styles may seem disconcerting, the variety inherent in "This Way" provides a pleasant aural ride; you never know just how this gem is going to glitter and where it's going to take you.

by Chun Su-jin

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