Rickie Lee Jones
Musically, Rickie Lee Jones has always cut her own path -- from beat poet, she has turned to jazz-pop, synth-based pop, art styled pop and even covered jazz standards. But, even with that history, it can be argued that with The Evening Of My Best Day she has made her most personal statement. Cut loose from any label contract, Jones paid for the recording of the album, selected the musicians and producers to fit her exact vision and then shopped the completed work.
I guess when it is your money it pays to choose the best so Jones employed Bill Frisell, Alex Acuna, Grant Lee Phillips, Ben Harper, Syd Straw, Greg Phillinganes, David Hildalgo and Rob Wasserman among others. It paid off, as musically this is a mature work of mixed jazz and blues filtered through pop. The opening cut, "Ugly Man," starts with Neil Larson on piano, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollensen on drums laying down a deep groove that sounds like a track off a Mark Isham jazz album, a feeling that is heightened later in the song when a horn section opens into a flugelhorn solo. Frisell then adds a tight, tuneful solo that removes all doubt about jazz as the basis of the album. "Bitchenostrophy", a later track, also uses Frisell to great effect and features a swinging flute solo, which is always a good thing. Lap Dog, with Jones on dulcimer and David Kalish on dobro, uses a midnight blues vibe to sketch out a tale of control and mind manipulation while "Mink Coat At The Bus Stop" cycles from a blues strut to soul and back again. "Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act)" adds even more variety as it employs organ and a gospel choir to beat out its message. The remaining tunes are more conventional Jones, which is to say a smooth, intelligent mix of jazz and pop and utter unlike anyone else.
Lyrically, Jones open new territory as she tackles overtly political topics with, at times, unexpected directness. "Ugly Man," for example, is about George W. Bush and his father and leaves no room for doubt about Jones position, while "Tell Somebody" is a call to action that includes the line, "the depth of our democracy is only as good as the voices of protest she protects, voices of protest -- rise!". Little Mysteries sounds like a meditation on life until you look close and see that it is outlining political murders and election fraud. In other places Jones is more subtle, such as in "Second Chance," a breezy tune that sounds like a description of the Boho life, until you come across this line, "they are very rich, those boys uptown, they got so much now they wanna let it trickle down". Even "Mink Coat," in asking for understanding of the poor doubles as an attack on a jobless economy. The remaining songs cover more familiar Jones topics -- love, connection, family and sorrow -- with eloquence not seem since Flying Cowboys in 1989.
As for the sonics, with the exception of a very slight tendency to bleach some textures, this is a state of the art production with layering, delicacy and beauty.
In all, this is the most complete Rickie Lee Jones album as she combines beautiful song structures with intricate arrangements and immaculate but soulful playing. The lyrics are, at turns demanding, introspective and disarming. Regardless of political viewpoint, this is a must have album for any Jones fan, or indeed, for any fan of intelligent pop-jazz.