Marcy Levy is a legend. Throughout the 70s and 80s, she put in some seriously hard yards as a session vocalist and touring singer, working with Eric Clapton, Bee Gees, Alice Cooper, Belinda Carlisle and many others. Clapton’s mellow blues ‘Better Make It Through Today’ aside, Marcy’s contributions to the guitarist’s 1975 album ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ are the record’s highlight, and on recordings from the 1977 tour for ‘Slowhand’, she and second guitarist George Terry can be heard doing some seriously heavy lifting as the heart of the best band EC ever had. In the late 80s, Levy became famous as Marcella Detroit, one half of sophisticated pop duo Shakespears Sister; her unmistakable vocal gymnastics turned ‘You’re History’ from a good pop track into a great one, and she will be forever associated with their 1991 mega-hit ‘Stay’. Never one to be stuck in a musical rut, Marcella’s career powered forth and in the mid 90s, her second solo album, 1994’s ‘Jewel’ was a massive success.

Looking back, it’s easy to hear why. The best material offers more sophisticated pop, but the songwriting also shows off a maturity. The lead single ‘I Believe’, in particular, sounds like a perfect example for Marcy’s bid to conquer the world of adult radio, contrasting thoughtful lyrics concerning the state of the world and a call for peace with a light musical touch that blends electronic beats with a more organic guitar and vocal combo. The perfect vehicle for Detroit, this self penned number captures both a vulnerable melody and incredibly powerful voice. The sheer volume of the chorus shows off a fantastic performance with professional ease, and the lead into the instrumental break gives fans another chance to hear Marcy hitting one of her truly impressive wails – a high note to rival a similar moment during ‘Stay’, or the indelible intro from ‘You’re History’.

Another of the record’s highlights, the slightly rocky ‘Cool People’ sounds like a throwback to Shakespears Sister’s ‘Sacred Heart’ album with its increased use of chopping rhythm guitars and fiery lead break. Despite a harder edge, it retains a great pop heart, with Marcy really selling a simple chorus hook and using her voice to fill a lot of the verse’s spaces with a strong flow. Even better, the title cut blends a rocky guitar with an airy melody that sounds like a call back to the late 60s, fusing disparate styles in a way that feels wholly natural. On this track’s grander moments, the listener even gets to hear Marcy in a more soulful frame of mind, but in many ways, it’s the musical arrangement that wins out here. The fleeting moments of guitar lend an almost European flavour, before a huge multi-layered solo sounds like a strange blend of Boston in their 70s pomp and 80s Queen. If any of the album tracks could be held up as a signifier of a record with some grand ideas, this certainly could – it’s only fitting that it would eventually give this release its name.

Keeping with the grander arrangements, ‘Art of Melancholy’ shares a light, airy vocal atop a harpsichord sound, before branching off into a world of string-influenced pop. Detroit has plenty of room to share a very distinctive performance that makes a few rather wordy phrases feel like the easiest of melodies. It isn’t necessarily one of ‘Jewel’s most immediate tunes, and although a few very high notes placed against a brilliantly arranged oboe actually promises more than it delivers, a few plays shows how the choice to hold back here is perfect for the tune as a whole. With a laconic groove and warm bassline, the semi-funky ‘Detroit’ mixes solid pop with one of the album’s best vocals. The way Marcy curls her higher registers around a low end musical arrangement sets a superb contrast in place from the off, and with a really catchy hook, the track quickly shows off a great vocalist and session band working in tandem. For those hoping to find something even slicker, ‘I’m No Angel’ shines with a huge pop chorus where Marcy hits upon a tone that calls back to her work on Clapton’s 1985 LP ‘Behind The Sun’, sounding flawless with the help of a couple of string-based fills and a huge drum sound. In terms of radio friendliness, it’s easy to hear why this was chosen as the album’s third single, breaking the UK top 40.

In a worthy attempt to create a record that plays like a broad history of Marcy’s vocal talents, ‘Jewel’ even finds a place for a little light opera (‘Prima Donna’), mechanical soul-pop that sounds like a Prince jam from the ‘Batman’ sessions (‘Perfect World’), and a cover of a soul classic (a solid rendition of Marvin & Tammi’s ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’, pairing Detroit with Sir Elton John). That duet is, perhaps, the only element of ‘Jewel’ that feels a little out of place. It’s easy to hear why it made the cut – it’s a tune familiar to millions, and having Elt on your album has to be a boon – but it’s a more natural fit among the tracks on Elton’s own ‘Duets’ album from around the same time. As great as ‘Jewel’ is, it would potentially be better with ‘Shadow’ (originally a b-side on the ‘I Believe’ CD single) in place of the duet.

The 30th anniversary deluxe edition of ‘Jewel’ makes a great album even better and, perhaps, most importantly, finally allows ‘Shadow’ the place it deserves alongside the original tracks. ‘Shadow’s understated vocal is ultimately its greatest strength, which is impressive since there are moments where Marcy actually feels as if she’ll be consumed by the musical arrangement. Right from its intro, contrasting droning keys with a bluesy lead guitar, the number shares a great atmosphere. This more forthright combination is used brilliantly to underscore other sections of the song which, augmented by a blast from some very 70s keys, creates something very retro. The addition of a very 90s bass offers a superb contrast throughout, and the light, flowing vocal adds a more human feel, which actually offers an even bigger contrast at the point where the music grows to include more blues based guitar and a slightly darker tone. This multi-layered track always felt too good to be hidden away on a b-side, even if it were the b-side to Detroit’s best-selling solo single. If the double disc reissue of ‘Jewel’ introduces it to more people – whether via streaming or as part of the physical package – the release of the vastly expanded edition has immediately been worthwhile.

Equally cool, a cover of Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ gets a sultry makeover where the tempo is dropped rather dramatically and everything takes on an R&B feel that has a contemporary sound for the mid 90s, and the Clapton’s ‘Lay Down Sally’ (a Marcy co-write) gets redressed as a 90s style semi-acoustic ballad that sounds like something you might find on a Holly Palmer album with its slow pace and fretless bass. The slower approach on the latter, of course, brings out the best in Marcy’s vocal, and she gives the lyric so much more emotion than its original country shuffle ever allowed. There’s also another hat tip to Marcy’s past within the bonus materials thanks to a live rendition of ‘Stay’, which sounds absolutely gorgeous in a stripped back acoustic format, since it makes the vocal the prominent feature. There’s a purity to the performance that no amount of studio sheen could capture, and the faint acoustic guitar accompaniment reinforces the fragility of the piece. Despite ending rather abruptly – exactly at the point where Shakespears Sister’s studio take hits its peak – it’s still a great listen.

Originally the b-side to ‘I’m No Angel’, ‘You Own The Moon’ supplies more strong pop sounds when Marcy adds a soaring vocal to a busy arrangement that sounds like something inspired by David Bowie’s ‘Black Tie White Noise’ sessions, and the equally enjoyable ‘Break The Chain’ feels equally direct with a strong blend of pop and funk. Despite some rather dominant keyboard blasts, a hard edged bass and a melody that sounds like it wants to drop into ‘Louie Louie’, Detroit remains the star of her own show, moving naturally between a light vocal that sounds like a cousin to ‘I Believe’ and a more pointed style that has more in common with material from ‘Hormonally Yours’.
For some radically different takes on familiar tracks, a few remixes are on hand. Remixes aren’t everyone’s cuppa, but for the retro pop fan hankering after some extra tinkering, these could provide entertainment. The Kenny Dope remix of ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’ transforms Marvin into The Fugees; the ‘Natural Mystic’ remix of ‘I Believe’ creates a chill out loop with world music-ish overtones which works okay in its own right, but feels at odds when played against the original vocal take, and a ‘Full Cream’ mix of ‘I Feel Free’ offers a world of huge beats, transporting the listener back to a mid 90s club. The remixes are much better when the producers opt for something more sedate, as with the Youth ‘Vocal Mix’ of ‘Perfect World’, where the one time Killing Joke man and occasional Fireman boosts the track with a drum loop that’s adjacent to the baggy sounds of 1992.

The absolute essentials among the copious bonus materials are supplied by five acoustic performances. The stripped down voice and guitar arrangements are perfect for ‘I’m No Angel’ and ‘Perfect World’, their hushed approach often making Marcy’s voice the main feature. That said, the guitar playing is especially on point; on the latter, the riffs display an almost percussive quality, bringing an energy to an otherwise sedate set up. The acoustic ‘I Believe’, naturally, is really fragile. The quieter set up allows Marcy even more space within the melody, and for lovers of the track’s huge vocal moments, she does not disappoint. The pre-choruses capture a fantastic crying tone, and that massive note used as the track’s show-stopping centre piece? It’s absolutely piercing, in the best possible way. By comparison, ‘Out of My Head’ works less well due to a really high, thin sound, but that’s more than made up for by ‘You Don’t Tell Me Anything’ taking the form of a Lisa Loeb deep cut with some perfectly formed guitar lines jostling against a strong vocal.

Despite not including any of the demos that were released on CD-r in 2014, or any unreleased archive items Marcy might have pugged away in her private collection, the anniversary edition is pretty much everything you’d hope a deluxe ‘Jewel’ would be. It’s loaded with a wealth of bonus material without feeling bloated; the extra studio tracks give more context to the recording sessions without drawing too much focus away from the top tier material that made the original cut, and – in their own way – even the remixes lend a little colour from a now bygone era. Much like the Shakespear’s Sister reissues, with twenty two bonus tracks, the deluxe set represents a more than worthy upgrade for the Marcy fan…and its great to finally have all of the best material in one place. In a world of unaffordable box sets from David Bowie and others, it’s a real pleasure to be tempted by a decently priced reissue too. Simply put, the deluxe ‘Jewel’ is a double disc treat. …And as for the original ‘Jewel’ itself? It remains an album that shows Marcella Detroit to be a versatile performer and great songwriter: an album made with love, and a record that someone with so many years in the business leading up to its creation was always destined to make. If you’ve never heard it, it’s never too late to give it a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

June 2024