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Gone country 

Jewel finds new home, label with sound switch

After selling 27 million albums, most musicians might take an "if it ain't broke don't fix it approach," while a few are continuously trying to push themselves in self-discovery.

Jewel Kilcher could have settled into her folk roots and traveled the road she was on, but instead decided to take a turn into the country ... or just country, actually.

She flirted with music that was more pop on her 2003 release, 0304, but that was a one-time fling. She returned to folk in 2006 with Goodbye, Alice in Wonderland -- her only album to not reach gold certification. Her latest release, Perfectly Clear, may seem like a rough attempt at something new, but Jewel insists it's more than that. After all, this is the fourth album she's recorded in Nashville, including her debut, Pieces of You.

"For my whole career, I've always had a real love and affinity for the country genre," she says by phone before a recent taping of Nashville Star, on which she serves as a judge. "I signed a multi-record deal because I really love this. I am a fan and really want to show people that it's not just for kicks. I'd love for this to be a home for me, I'd be honored. I still have plans to do a children's album, too."

For the album, Jewel composed new songs, as well as using songs she had written when she was as young as 16, in addition to re-recording "Two Become One," which she says was essentially a country song to begin with. She points out that "Cowboy Waltz" would stick out a little too much with the yodeling for other albums, but fits in the country setting more easily.

Jewel said she knew she would make a country album, even before releasing Wonderland. She also notes, with a giggle, that, despite the low numbers, Wonderland was the only album Atlantic Records released that year which recouped the money that was put into it.

The transition may seem like an easy one, but she is on a new label (Valory), has a new band and is taking her music to a new audience on this summer's tour with Brad Paisley.

"It's been a real work-intensvie process," she says. "It's neat for me to be 13 years into a career and have the opportunity to introduce myself to new fans. How it's being received has been really nice. I think Brad and I are a good match and our fans are really similar. He's been a pleasure to tour with and it's been one of my favorite tours that I've ever been on. I also do a duet with him each night which has been really fun."

Her band is made up of a handful of players who were previously with the now defunct country duo Big & Rich. Jewel says Rich, who produced her new album, was happy to see his former bandmates land a good gig.

Her set as the opener for Paisley lasts roughly 40 minutes and covers music from her entire career. "I think my fans are bummed that I have a short set, but I'll have to come back and do a solo acoustic tour for them," she says. "I don't feel like I have to change who I am -- it's all just music. My songs sound fine together and that's what's fun for me in the live show. 'Hands' fits right in next to 'Stronger Woman.' It all sounds like me 'cause I wrote everything. I don't feel like I've changed a lot."

She says the topics she writes about are still life, love and politics, so even the songs she wrote years ago are still relevant today. She's also written about half of the songs for her next album, which will continue down the country path.

Overall, she seems surprised that people are making such a big deal of the switch. Though she does point out her music is more at home on country radio now than on pop radio.

"My old label seemed to be adverse to working me on country radio," she says. "I have songs that I think are natural for it. I always have thought that 'You Were Meant for Me' or 'Hands' would fit on country radio. I didn't think it would be this big of a deal. A lot of fans have Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash albums. People just tend to like good music and will have more than one kind of record in their collection. It's been natural, but also a lot of work."

Jewel will open for Brad Paisley, along with Julianne Hough and Chuck Wicks, on July 18 at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. Tickets range from $25 to $54.25 with lawn four-packs for $80.

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