Saturday, 19 September 2009

Rickie Lee Jones - White Girl

I've been a fan of Rickie Lee Jones for 30 years. I own most, if not all, of her records; I've seen her live three times and I'm due to see her again in November.
Like most women performers in popular music she doesn't get the respect that she deserves - certainly not compared to her male counterparts. She is often linked or compared to her ex-boyfriend Tom Waits but he has rarely if ever matched her capacity for musical reinvention and for translating intense personal experience into rich, powerful performance.
I think the public perception of her - if there is one - is that she is West Coast/Jazz-lite - probably on the strength of Chuck E's in Love which is the song for which she is best known (and which is way better than that description suggests).
She has not helped to alter her profile by releasing a number of cover albums over the course of her career - partly due to writers block, partly to satisfy record companies and partly because she loves the music . Although these albums have their strengths, what fans really hunger for are albums of new material.
Most of her work does reference jazz in some ways but often more in spirit. On Ghostyhead she blended it with trip-hop while on The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard she conjured up the beatnik roots of the Velvet Underground.
I think the Youtube performance linked here is from around the time of Ghostyhead and hopefully explodes some preconceptions.


Frank Kogan said...

I'd only heard a smattering of Ricki Lee Jones over the years, have no idea of the arc of her career, but this track actually fits right into my expectations, sort of a cross between Patti and Joni except this leans more towards the former and the surprise is how hard it rocks. I don't particularly think the word "jazz" any more than I think it with the Dead or with Janis (despite their vast differences from Ricki and from each other they all will sometimes use improv to generate moments of transcendence, "this moment is your life," as will Patti).

When I first heard Sheryl Crow I immediately thought "Ricki Lee Jones," though again it was just a vague feeling since my memory doesn't seem to contain any particular Ricki Lee Jones song. I place all this - Joni, Patti, Ricki, Stevie, Sheryl, Alanis, Tori, Sophie, maybe even Courtney - loosely in the category "Dylan-Byron romantic quest seized by women." And it's still relevant now because it's there in the ancestry of the rock confessional girls who briefly seized teenpop in the '00s: Michelle Branch, Pink, Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, the little-known Lucy Woodward (well, if she's little-known she can't be part of the seizing, but she's part of the movement), Kelly Clarkson, Ashlee Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, the little-known Brie Larson (see Woodward caveat), Aly & AJ, Taylor Swift. And I guess it's there in all the various and varied quirk girls, from Duffy to Gabriella Cilmi, who've arisen in the wake of Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen and Natasha Bedingfield. Now that's a wide swath of music there, most of which isn't drawing on someone like Ricki sonically or going for her improv-transcendence, and I wouldn't bet on all of the '00s women necessarily being able to do much beyond name recognition when it comes to Ricki (which is all that I can do, pretty much), yet I believe that Ricki is part of the stream that leads to now.

Frank Kogan said...

Er, obviously I can't remember how to spell from one paragraph to the next, so for "Ricki" read "Rickie."

Frank Kogan said...

But anyway, as the YouTube guy says, this shit rocks!

Peter Slack said...

A belated thanks for the comments Frank - I think I responded in a more timely fashion somewhere else

Frank Kogan said...

Yes, you did respond (I think over on my livejournal, though maybe it was on Freaky Trigger). In any event, greetings and salutations.