Rickie Lee Jones, the ‘legend’ as it says on the plastic paste-on to her 2003 release
‘The Evening Of My Best Day,’ visited the Stephen Talkhouse for the first time on the
first full day of summer, June 21 2008. She used to be gay and cool, actually gave
herself the title ‘Duchess of Coolsville’ for her triple Rhino CD compilation, but this
nite she was very diva. Very strict. Someone talked in the front row and she commented on
it in the middle of one of her songs very acidly. That was in the middle of the show.
When she was at the piano playing a song she said she seldom does in concert ‘Pirates’ some
bobo’s cellphone went off several times in a row. She didn’t say anything because she
was too into singing lyrics like “I’m just tryin to have some fun/until the Pirates come/and
take me//and I won’t need a pilot/got a pirate who might sail/somewhere I heard far away/
you answer me/so I’m holding on/to your rainbow sleeves//well, goodbye boys, oh my buddy
boys/oh my sad-eyed Sinatras/it’s a a cold globe around the sea/you keep the shirt that I
bought ya/and I know you’ll get the chance to make it/and nothin’s gonna stop you/you just
reach out and take it/You say – So Long, Lonely Avenue/So Long, Lonely Avenue.”
(Rickie Lee probably loved and repeatedly listened to David ‘Fathead’ Newman’s great jazz
version of ‘Lonely Avenue’ released in 1972, of which its composer, Doc Pomus, said
“‘Lonely Avenue’ has been recorded many many times, but I can’t think of a version that
I find more satisfying.” ‘Pirates’ is actually the title cut of Ms. Jones’ 1981 Warner Bros.
Yes! The Duchess, the legend, expects to be treated appropriate to her talent, which is immense and amazing. Thaint no one on this Earth that can sing, or would sing like Rickie Lee. She can purr and raise her voice to the rafters and still hit every note. She does this continuous sustaining of her voice, especially near the end of songs, where other bands might be doing an electric guitar or maybe a flute solo. On one song she used the pocket and curve and flexion and opening of her right hand to change the flow of her vocal sounds to the microphone.
This was an experience of a lifetime to see where she has progressed to in the
performance and composition of her music. Especially sitting about nine feet away from
her, in the fantastic Talkhouse, where I’ve been lucky enough to see musicians from
Buddy Guy to Diblo Dibala to Jesse Colin Young to a super-hot Los Lobos one magic
night several years ago.
Ms. Jones’ music can be very jazzy, innocent, rocky (as in rock and roll), feminine,
slinky, sunny, funky, full of the grandeur of falling in love, or the pain of a life
lived for celebration, but sometimes falling into deep holes. She says in her latest
release (2006) liner notes that the inspiration for its songs came from a book
called ‘The Words’ by Lee Cantelon, which she states is “a modern rendering of the
words of Christ.” She did the song ‘Nobody Know My Name’ from that CD amidst a very
clean guitar framework, building and stalwart, around her incredible vocal. When
you heard a song start this night, the beat, the rhythm, the melody, might seem
one way, but then, when Rickie Lee came in…who knew it could go in this direction that
she was taking it. By the way, the CD, the latest one, is called ‘The Sermon On
Exposition Boulevard.’ Just checking it out actually, but all the vocals are
Rickie Lee was telling us that these last eight years have been terrible. She went to
say how you couldn’t write straight plain songs about the Bush administration’s
mal-doings because then you might not be able to get a job. But, with a devilish smile,
she revealed that she had created ‘Ugly Man,’ obviously about our current and
worst president evah. It’s a sort of jazzy sad tune, where she does mention his father.
It’s the first cut on her 2003 CD, by the way, where she also has a tune
called ‘Tell Somebody (Repeal The Patriot Act)’ so don’t think Rickie Lee has
gone totally inner and indulgent in her middle age.
And her guitar playing led the way, including a very unique wah-wah solo on a song
called ‘Scary Chinese Movie’ which sounded totally different from her recorded version,
and at least a thousand times more interesting and rocky and searing.
Seeing her in person again, and understanding the lyrics, allowed some songs to be
appreciated in a different way. Here, I would give you ‘The Horses’ as one example,
where she is singing about her daughter going through heroin problems, as she had,
but she can listen, hoping her daughter will talk to her about it all, and she’d
‘Pick You Up, Pick You Up, Pick You Up….if you fall.’ Of course, that verse is
what stands out when you listen to ‘The Horses.’ But, with different listenings
different words can be heard, as when we were present this night at the Talkhouse.
But basically she is trying to be there for her daughter and singing to us “Don’t
you worry ’bout a thing little girl/Because I was young myself not so long ago/
And when I was young/And when I was young, oh I was a wild, wild one.”
(‘The Horses’ is from a 1989 release ‘Flying Cowboys.’)
Rickie Lee sang one of her more haunting ballads, probably one every Rickie Lee
Jones fan loves: ‘The Last Chance Texaco’ off her 1979 self-titled first vinyl album.
It has California based/placed lyrics like “A long stretch of headlights/Bends into
I-9/Tiptoe into truck stops/And sleepy diesel eyes/Volcanoes rumble in the taxi/
And glow in the dark/Camels in the driver’s seat/A slow, easy mark…Well, he
tried to be Standard/He tried to be Mobil/He tried living in a World/And in a
Shell/There was this block-busted blonde/He lover her – - free parts and
labor/But she broke down and died/And threw all the rods he gave her/But
this one ain’t fuel-injected/Her plug’s disconnected/She gets scared and she
stalls/She just needs a man, that’s all.”
That was her solution back then, when she was young and bouncy and beautiful
and wild and crazy. Her audience has aged with her. It is always interesting to
see the crowd any performer draws into the Talkhouse. This one was semi-hippie,
not too many folk under 40, everyone very respectful, except for a few talkers that
Rickie reprimanded. But then they must’ve been a bit dipsy-doodled too, as the one
feller who called out in request “Play Last Chance Texaco” about five songs after
she had already done it. Many of us reminded him how out of it he was, though,
it should be said that most songs were performed in unusual styles and arrangements
as compared to their recorded, commonly expected versions.
For her first encore Rickie Lee happily did ‘Chuck E.’s In Love’ which was very
popular for her back in 1979. That was the very first cut on side one (vinyl albums
have two sides for you too young to know) of ‘Rickie Lee Jones.’ The lyrics are
very jivey, like: “He sure has acquired a cool and inspired sorta jazz when he
walk/Where’s his jacket and his old blue jeans?/If this ain’t healthy it is some kinda
clean?…I think that Chuck E.’s in love/Chuck E.’s in love/With the little girl who’s
singin’ this song….”
There’s a lot of joy and mischief and poetry in Ms. Jones’ music. Lately, add religion
to the mix, or maybe spirituality. She’s not had it easy with problems with cocaine and
heroin and who knows what else. But she still can sing and perform with the
best of our living musicians today. I am very grateful to have seen her again, in
still top form and irascible as she is. By the way, she did apologize to the audience
as she finally walked off the stage saying “I hope I didn’t scare you too much.”
Rickie Lee…Rickie Lee….