July 12, 2013
I must confess I’ve never been a big fan of Rickie Lee Jones. I bought her first two albums largely on the strength of her radio hits — Chuck E’s in Love, Easy Money, Lucky Guy — and my interest in Tom Waits, Jones’ erstwhile lover. I haven’t played those early albums in years, although I remember them fondly. Jones’ sophomore effort, Pirates (1981) is one of the great ‘break-up’ albums of the era. She probably didn’t deserve to fall off my musical radar, but she did until I found myself at a loose end one evening in Amsterdam a few months back. I discovered that Jones would be playing the Paradiso, an intimate, atmospheric and somewhat legendary venue located very close to my hotel. It seemed churlish to pass up an opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Ms. Jones’ music.
Things began badly. Jones fumbled her way through her opening song, a solo acoustic version of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. Her guitar was barely audible, and the sound engineer couldn’t find a pleasing balance between her vocal and guitar. I don’t think Satan would have approved, but I certainly felt sympathy for Jones who looked so lost and vulnerable on stage. Happily, things gradually improved, especially when Jones’ skeletal band took the stage. The combination of drums, bass and electric organ fleshed out the sound (Jones is a competent guitarist at best — she’s primarily a pianist, and she sang her solo piano songs with confidence). The band mostly played a supporting role, but occasionally kicked out the jams, and demonstrated their considerable virtuosity — these guys had soulful jazz chops.
Not being a fan meant that I was unfamiliar with a lot of Jones’ repertoire, but she never lost my attention after her inauspicious start. She’s appears to be a somewhat modest, self-deprecating woman, and her stage patter reflects this impression. Her voice is jazzy, and still drips with a sassy blend of melancholy and street smarts.
Rickie Lee Jones lives for music, a fact plainly evident in the passion and commitment she brings to her songs, many written so long ago when she was a much younger person. I found something wistful and poignant in her renditions of the old love songs, which took on a new meaning by being delivered by an older incarnation of the artist.
The audience loved Rickie, and she fully deserved the ovations she received. After delivering her first encore solo, she invited the band to join her. I suspect the guys went out for a puff of a jazz cigarette, and missed Ms. Jones’ request (they were in Amsterdam, after all). When they finally did appear, they launched into very laid-back version of Chuck E’s in Love, Jones quipped ‘this is the sad version’. Long may you run, Rickie.