EVENING OF MY BEST DAY
the new record from Rickie Lee Jones
“I was listening. I was waiting. I was praying to be restored.
And that’s what happened. I feel powerful, now. Intact. Ready
to heal the world.”
It’s the succinct summation of a six-year absence from the art
of songwriting by an artist who has almost single-handedly redefined
the expressive potential of words and music. Telling a tale, setting
a mood, fashioning metaphoric connections that resound and reveal –
Rickie Lee Jones has made it all seem so easy.
But it’s not. Not by a long shot and the story the personal, professional
and political odyssey that resulted in the dozen new originals of The
Evening Of My Best Day, her stunning new V2 Music release takes on the
epic proportions of an authentic creative rebirth. More than simply
a return to form, The Evening Of My Best Day is a formidable leap forward
by an artist who, it turns out, has only begun to hit her stride.
Quite a contention, considering a career marked by audacious musical
leaps beginning in 1979 with her era-defining debut, Rickie Lee Jones
and continuing through such landmark recordings as Pirates (1981), The
Magazine (1984), Flying Cowboys (1989), and Ghostyhead (1997), her last
foray into original songwriting. In point of fact, however, Rickie Lee’s
recording and performing output has continued unabated in recent years
with It’s Like This, 2000’s inspired collection of cover
songs and her in-concert document Live At Red Rocks, the following year.
But it’s the composing that been conspicuous in its absence, an
absence that, from the evidence of The Evening Of My Best Day, has made
both the heart and the mind grow fonder.
“I was preoccupied with life,” explains Rickie Lee on the
subject of her songwriting sabbatical. “I was living in Washington,
mostly tending a garden and raising my daughter. I had neither impetus
nor inspiration to write. It was an empty slate and there was no sense
that anything would ever be coming again.”
It was, curiously enough, a combination of politics and professional
curiosity that prompted her tentative return to composing. “The
election of George Bush;” she recounts, “the passage of
The Patriot Act; the monopolies of media and their misuse of language.
I began to realize that someone had to speak up. There is a great tradition
of protest music, from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and I’m naive
enough to believe that a song actually can change conditions. It’s
all about power and intention and my intention is to wake people up
and shake them out of their lethargy. But you can’t do it by yelling.
You have to explain, to entertain. My constituency has always been outsiders
and I think it’s the outsiders who have a real chance of reclaiming
At the same time Rickie Lee had begun to awake from her own creative
hibernation. “I started out by just thinking about songwriting,”
she reveals, “and the fact that no one was writing great tunes
anymore. There was plenty of stuff that was deadly serious and totally
lightweight, but nothing really memorable. Nothing singable. So I set
out to study the best songwriters I knew -- Paul McCartney, Cat Stevens,
Curtis Mayfield. I began to learn the craft all over again.”
It was an endeavor, Rickie recounts, which required steadfast discipline
and the exercise of dormant musical muscles. “Every afternoon
I would sit down to meet the song I was working on,” she continues.
“The process of manifesting an emotion or a thought in a set number
of lines and notes can be very difficult, especially if you haven’t
done it for a long time. Some of this material was as much as fifteen
years, but I didn’t just want to pat some clay on it and call
it done. What was needed was patience and prayer to let the process
It was early last year, Rickie recalls, that she began “circling
around” the prospect of recording a new album. “My first
concern was whom I could get to help me,” she explains. “I
needed someone who could facilitate my return to the studio without
getting in the way.” She found the right kind of “adversarial
camaraderie,” in David Kalish, a close friend and accomplished
guitarist who had worked with the artist back on 1981’s Pirates.
“We started in a little room with his Protools. Sharing the music
with someone I trusted was the first step in sharing it with the world.”
Once the project was up and running, progress was swift and steady.
“David suggested Steve Berlin from Los Lobos,” Rickie reveals.
“And Steve brought in a bunch of musicians, assembling different
combinations. The work became increasingly joyful, especially after
I started working with Bill Frisell.” A guitarist of astonishing
range and depth, Frisell recording credits stretch from Chet Baker to
Pat Metheny; Marianne Faithful to Norah Jones and beyond. “It’s
always gratifying to collaborate with someone who instinctively understands
your musical language,” enthuses Rickie. “The first day
we got together we did four songs in five hours and ended up keeping
three of them for the album.”
As The Evening Of My Best Day continued to take shape, it became clear
that Rickie was achieving a stylistic synthesis encompassing her more
familiar ambient elements along with some surprising new influences.
“There’s jazz, of course, and a lot blues and even some
Celtic folk flavors from David Kalish. But the more I got into the intent
of the songs, the more I focused on the spirit of the Sixties. I vividly
recalled the era of the Black Power, when communities like Oakland became
bound together by their culture and some of that East Bay grease got
into the joints of this music.”
The result, a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of mix-and-match idioms, is anchored
to a sensibility that belongs wholly and exclusively to this artist.
From the unvarnished political intent of “Ugly Man,” and
“Tell Somebody,” to the funkology of “Bitchenostrophy,”
to the percolating blues of “Mink Coat At The Bus Stop,”
and the evocative lyrics of “A Second Chance” to the cinematic
sweep of “A Tree On Allenford,” The Evening Of My Best Day
that finds it’s serene center in the effusive artistry of this
“These songs are the fruit of trees planted and prayed over for
a long time,” Rickie concludes. “There are images from my
childhood, from my family and from some surpassingly sad moments. But
they can be summed up pretty simply: I am not conquered. And that’s
the most political statement a human being can make."
Evening of My Best Day" is available HERE