Rickie Lee Jones
Okay, it is like this: either you like Rickie Lee Jones' voice, or you do not.
Rickie's voice is most often compared to Joni Mitchell. She does indeed sound like Mitchell when she sings, but higher and sharper. If you like Joni Mitchell's delicate, youthful, almost girl-child intonations, I think you will also like Rickie's delicate and child-like intonations. On this work, Rickie only sings half the time. On half of the tunes, she talks softly and breathy. When she does, her voice is beguiling.
Rickie's 2000 release of It's Like This is only her ninth album in more than two decades. Like her 1991 album of covers, Pop Pop, Rickie offers an eclectic mix of songs from all sorts of sources. It's great and rough, good and bad. The release received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Traditional Record.
Unlike other reviewer's of It's Like This, I think her rendition of Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids" is by far the most engaging track on the disc. Which makes me think that a few big name music reviewers in the popular press don't actually listen to the recordings; they merely write their thinly veiled endorsements from the liner notes.
This happy tune opens with a tempting bass line, and Rickie's gradual build-up of the theme. The chorus of "poor people sleeping" and the rejoinder "Las Vegas, Las Vegas" is a good contrast to Rickie's high voice. She leads perfectly, not fully singing, but almost talking in a soft, breathy and sweet voice.
There is profanity on this song. The chorus sings "they don't give a f-ck about anybody else" three times. The first time is refreshing; it has literary impact. By the third time though, it proves that Jacqueline Susan was wrong with her best-selling novel. Sometimes, Rickie and Jacqueline, once is enough.
By the time you hear the third "f-ck" during polite dinner conversation with your guests, you are quite ready not just to skip that track, but to toss the entire disc out of the window. Because of this, I could not play this song for many dinnertime friends. The shame is more on them, for their intolerance, than Rickie. However, it is a shame she does not swear just the once, for its artistic impact, and then leave it at that.
On the rest of the disc, Rickie does not just interpret 11 different rock and jazz hit covers, such as Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," she re-invents them to emphasis her folksy vocal style. Her blend of hippie groovings and child-like voice breathes fresh life into them.
Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" for example, emphasis the often over-looked lyrics. Rickie's breathy-little girl child-like voice dominates throughout. When she stretches and extends, she sounds as old as a 10-year old.
On George Gershwin's "I Can't Get Started," she sounds best when she stays within her range. I bet she would be wonderful to hear in concert. Her remake of the Beatles' "For No One" is fresh and alluring.
Traffic's beguiling classic, "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys," is without the tantalizing instrumentation that makes it a fusion rock/jazz classic. Instead, Rickie's version is a slow one, almost too sedate to be dramatic or compelling, but still a great tune, nonetheless.
Gershwin's old stand-by "Someone to Watch Over Me" is smooth and newly fresh with her vocalizations.
Her mixed bag of material is redone in her folksy style and vocalizations. Rickie infuses each song with her particular taste. The result is a mix of sometimes quite lovely, seemingly unassuming and often gently soothing melodies by a capable singer of vocal distinction. If you like her popular and critically acclaimed Flying Cowboys release from the mid-80s, no doubt you will like this one too.
NOTE: My CD came with a bonus disc. It includes two beguiling live concert from her wonderful first album, "Chuck E's in Love" and "Company." Rickie's simple singing, on the bonus CD, with its guitar accompaniment, gives you an idea of her once evocative writing. But without the rhythm and bop of a full band, the songs are lighter versions of their full-bodied selves.
Rickie's three CD anthology is due spring 2002 on Rhino Records.
Sound Quality: 50