One late August night Mark Jewett stumbled upon an enigmatic vision while heading home from a show in Port Huron.
That vision illuminated the night sky while its reflection danced on the water and beckoned Jewett to stop and observe.
“As I drove south out of Port Huron on Military Street, which runs close and parallel to the St. Clair River, I looked out my side window, and I could see the Canadian shoreline, south of Sarnia,” Jewett said. “I saw a spectacle that lit up like something from a sci-fi movie. All I could think was, ‘What was that?’ I was stunned.”
Jewett turned his car around, drove up to the river’s shoreline and saw the “industrial monstrosity” known as “Chemical Valley,” which is home to more than 60 refineries and chemical plants in Sarnia, Ontario.
“The vibe I got standing alone on a dark river bank in very peaceful quiet was very calming,” said Jewett, a Plymouth-based Americana singer-songwriter. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, in spite of this hideous pollution-spewing industrial megaplex in very close proximity to a population of people, everything will be all right.’”
Jewett captured that peaceful, nocturnal moment in his latest single, “Saint Clair’s Promise,” a twangy, torchy ode to beauty, mystery, faith and hope that’s available via Bandcamp. Billy Harrington (drums, percussion), Michael Harrington (pedal steel, electric guitar), Ken Pesick (bass) and Dale Grisa (piano) accompany Hewett on the track.
The track features a driving bassline and a mellow slide guitar beautifully intertwined with Jewett’s Johnny Cash-inspired vocals while Amy Petty provides soothing harmonies – “It might have been the water/It might have been the light/It might have been a silent voice calling out to me that night.”
“Saint Clair’s Promise” is one of two new tracks that will be featured on Jewett’s untitled third album, which will drop in spring 2020 and serve as the follow-up to 2016’s “Tending the Fire.” Produced by Billy Harrington, Jewett’s new album will sonically immerse listeners in personal tales about different moods, feelings and experiences.
“When Billy heard my demos, he said he could imagine taking these tunes down a sonic road similar to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ ‘Raising Sand,’” Jewett said. “Ironically, I see my sound growing by getting simpler. With exceptions, I feel like music that I write for a conscious purpose needs room to breathe.”
The Lucky One
Jewett provides additional breathing room on his other new track, “The Lucky One,” which also is available via Bandcamp and emphasizes gratitude as a spiritual experience. It also features Billy Harrington, Michael Harrington, Pesick, Grisa and Petty.
With an emotional folky flavor, “The Lucky One” includes a peaceful acoustic guitar meshed with pedal steel and soft percussion as well as vibrant mandolin from Jason Dennie – “You have friends it seems since you’ve known since you were born/You’re lucky cause you know they will be there in the morn/You’re a lucky one.”
Initially, Jewett sought inspiration for the track after playing a songwriters round with Rochelle Clark and Scott Fab on Cinco de Mayo in 2018. “After we broke everything down, but before we loaded it into our cars, we paused to reflect for a minute. That’s when Rochelle said, ‘I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this,’” Jewett said. “It had been a fantastic night with a great audience, and I said, ‘I feel like the lucky one.’”
A few weeks later, a track verse and chorus fell into place after Jewett let his dog Max outside at 4 a.m. and allowed him to reflect on the power of gratitude.
“He was 11 years old at the time and his health was declining due to kidney disease, but as I stood there on the porch waiting for him to come back in, I thought about how great those 11 years had been and how lucky we were to have a little guy with such a huge, kind and wonderful personality,” Jewett said. “He came back in, and I grabbed a notepad and sat down and essentially finished the song in about 40 minutes.”
Mark Jewett Then and Now
For Jewett, “The Lucky One” has become one of his most meaningful songs since re-entering the metro Detroit singer-songwriter scene a decade ago. The former Whitewater bassist put music aside in the early ‘80s for a career in program management, but was inspired to revisit music after watching Nolan Mendenhall and Grievous Angel perform every Thursday at the South Lyon Hotel.
By 2011, Jewett released his four-song debut EP, “Love Has No Heart of Its Own,” which features a raw folky sound and was produced by Mendenhall. Over the next five years, Jewett honed his singing and songwriting skills to craft 11 beautiful tracks for “Tending the Fire,” a mix of folk, rock, pop, country and blues intermingled with stories about cheap mascara, broken coffee mugs, slate-colored skies, “creepicana” murder ballads and life changes.
As for the untitled third album, Jewett continues to work with Harrington and his band as well as Geoff Michael at Big Sky Recording in Ann Arbor. He’s also partnered with Jim Kissling to master his new tracks.
“We have two tracks complete, a good start on four more with two others ready to start,” Jewett said. “I have faith that I will finish writing two more soon for a total of 10 new ones. There might also be a couple of bonus tracks that are acoustic rearrangements of some earlier tunes.”
Outside of recording, Jewett and Petty will open for Canadian alt folk singer-songwriter Jon Brooks Friday night at Trinity House Theatre in Livonia. Their set will include solo classics as well as new tracks, including the newly penned “Sophia” in honor of Jewett’s new granddaughter.
“Amy brings her rich, gifted voice to everything she does. When we perform together, she brings a beautiful dimension that I can feel, and I can tell you, it lifts me up,” said Jewett about his collaborator. “I feel both at ease and driven to be better when we share the stage. She brings great charisma, which audiences love.”
Following Friday’s Trinity House show, Jewett will perform at a Nov. 24 house concert with Petty in Ferndale and feature a full-band performance Jan. 5 at Ann Arbor’s Old Town Tavern. He’ll also perform solo at Zou Zou’s in Chelsea Jan. 11.
“I want my music to establish moods, feelings and images that you can immerse yourself in when you listen closely,” Jewett said. “Don’t worry, I’ll still have a few goofy tunes, too.”
8 p.m. Friday
Trinity House Theatre, 38840 6 Mile Road in Livonia