Concert Review Published in City Monthly Magazine November 2003

Rickie Lee Jones - Juke Joint Jezebel

Last Saturday evening, Santa Monica’s Temple Bar was transformed into a scorching Louisiana juke joint, as Rickie Lee Jones and her freshly recruited band burned through her new album for a handful of the sweat drenched and devoted. Poised on a wooden chair, in the center of a tiny stage encircled by eight potent and worldly musicians, Rickie in her worn blue jeans and dark t-shirt bobbed and grooved as if she was on her own back porch with her close friends, jamming into the night.

But when the lady opens her mouth, this unearthly, captivating sound emerges, a childlike voice with the age of the ancients, and we were suddenly in the presence of a grand worldy spirit, gazing into an chasm of endless heartbreak and hard-earned wisdom. All at once. Rickie’s unique sound is often not for the faint of heart or weak of knee, but the journey to appreciation is well worth the investment.

This was the band’s first public gig, and the fresh rush of adrenaline made the chaotic affair all the more exciting; given that something could go awry, and occasionally did, the room was spell bound with anticipation. The powerful and eclectic band, featuring Jones veterans Neil Larsen, David Kalisch and Sal Bernardi, was astoundingly intense, and the performance simply breathtaking. Throughout, Rickie’s unbridaled intensity and playful charisma carried the show. On the riveting "Sailor Song" her mournful wail, verging on cracking but never quite, pierced a swath of awed silence through the chattery club.

The event marked the release of her first album of original material since 1997's guitar oriented, experimental departure "Ghostyhead." 2000's jazzy covers album, "It’s Like This" includes a supple take on the Beatles' nugget "For No One" and a funky cover of Steely Dan’s "Show Biz Kids." Following the "Live at Red Rocks" release in 2001, Rickie took a few years peaceful sabbatical in Washington to raise her daughter, but as an innate artist, the thoughts and musical phrases refused to abate. Provoked by political events such as the election of George Bush and the passage of the Patriot Act, she began laying the groundwork for her new material.

To get back into the swing, she studied the best musicians she knew – Paul McCartney, Cat Stevens, Curtis Mayfield, and began to hone her craft all over again. The result is a creative rebirth, the dramatic, "The Evening of my Best Day," a work that at once recalls her eclectic career and influences and marks a potent step forward. Jones' work implies an introspective painter who for several years has quietly packed away small sketches and swatches of colours and then in a great burst of creative enthusiasm, assembles them into a profound and meaningful work.

The exceptional characters from her first two albums remain vivid over twenty years later - Chuck E. Weiss from the hit "Chuck E’s in Love" down at the Pantages, Cecil the bartender from "Danny’s All Star Joint", or the shady street dudes from the rollicking "Easy Money" - Jones' first taste of success when covered by Lowell George of Little Feat in 1978. The new album (out Tuesday) is another spellbinding journey into the eclectic and mysterious world of Rickie Lee Jones, at times reminiscent of each of her previous albums. Backstage after Saturday’s show, Rickie agreed, "it’s almost an amalgamation of my career."

"Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act)" is the album’s strongest policital statement, a gospel chugger which evokes the spirit of the Sixties and the era of the Black Power, while a musical kin to the classic "Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train" from her own "Pirates" album.

Rickie’s musical influences are richly evident - hints of works by Van Morrison, Chet Baker, Donovan and Joni Mitchell abound. The detached jazz rock fusion of Steely Dan is often invoked, acknowledged in the album's "A Second Chance," wherein she cites the classic 1973 Dan album "Countdown to Ecstasy." Twice. A track which might easlily have come from her 1989"”Flying Cowboys" album, incidentally produced by Walter Becker of Steely Dan.

"It Takes You there", written with Mike Watt yet perversely channelling Carole King or Laura Nyro, is the soaring spiritual centerpiece of the album, a glorious pop song, recalling "It Must be Love" from her 1984 Magazine album. "Little Mysteries", is a bluesy Tom Waits influenced drama featuring vocals by Ben Harper, almost a sequel to the cinematic "Young Blood" from her Grammy winning 1979 debut.

Joined by a luminous cast of supporting musicians including vocalists Syd Straw, Eric Benet and Grant Lee Phillips, guitarists Bill Frisell and Nels Cline, jazz bassist Rob Wasserman and Attractions drummer Pete Best, the album was co-produced by close friend and accomplished guitarist David Kalish (who worked on 1981’s stunning Pirates) and Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Faith No More, Ozomatli).

Rickie Lee Jones is on tour through the end of the year, and performs at the Wiltern Theatre November 25, 2003

Rod Reynolds

October 2003 ©2003 The Art Dept LA

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