Rickie Lee Jones
News The Musical Life by Hilton Als
Rickie Lee Jones and Four Guys In A Studio, by Hilton Als

Rickie Lee Jones, the magnetic singing star, was in town recently, recording a bunch of old songs for a new album of covers that she's planning to release sometime this summer. Jones, who is in her forties now, still has the little-hipster swagger and the big yet intimate sound that embedded itself in America's popular-music consciousness a little over twenty years ago, when she first hit with songs like "Coolsville" and the definitive version of "Lush Life."

When Jones started out, she was known for wearing battered stiletto heels and a beret and (sometimes) a spandex bodysuit. With a guitar slung over her shoulder, her slurred pronunciation of certain distinctive phrases, such as "livin'it up," part of her distinctive singing syntax, Jones was like no one anyone had ever seen before; a funky runaway who had managed to keep her innocence even as she lived, as she put it, "on the jazz side of life." That life included liaisons with her various cohorts in hip - Walter Becker, Tom Waits, Dr. John - performances in various dives, and a lot of hitchhiking.

Now, as the single mother of one (she has an eleven-year-old daughter named Charlotte Rose) who lives quietly in Tacoma, Washington, with an English bulldog and some sound equipment, Jones still dresses with care, but maybe a little less flirt. She wore a gray T-shirt, a black skirt with a black lace hem, and black work boots to one of her sessions. Her long, sandy-colored hair hung loose around her face, making her resemble a somewhat more knowing Guinevere. Her smile was shy and seductive. As Jones presided over her session musicians - a guitarist, a bass player, a drummer, and a pianist - she smiled patiently, never backing down when they tried to resist some of her arrangements.

"Rickie, I don't hear what you want in the context of what you're singing," the bass man said after Jones asked him to use a bow on one intro, instead of plucking it.

"I do," Jones said. "I can hear it. Just try it. I know it's weird. Trust me." Then she turned to a visitor and said, "I think it's the testosterone. They don't want to hear anything unless I've said it three or four times at least. Yep, definitely testosterone. I'm on some other frequency. I've been repeating myself to guys for years.

" Rickie Lee Jones has seen a lot of musical motifs come and go, like disco and heavy metal and Lilith Fair. She was dropped form her previous record label, Mercury. But, like a number of her contemporaries - James Taylor, Neil Young, Sting - she has begun to co-produce her own studio sessions, and several record companies have lately been in a bidding war to distribute Jones and her new album.

The engineer asked Jones if she wanted to listen to a couple of playbacks. She said, "I can't listen to it now. I wouldn't know what I'd be listening to." After she left the room, the instrumentalists gathered around the electronic panel, where so many songs were stored, including Jones's slow-moving renditions of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" and Vernon and Gershwin's "I Can't Get Started." When the bass player heard his bowed solo, he closed his eyes and nodded. He said, "She was right. It's good. I'm glad I didn't mess up." When the playback was over, Jones came back into the studio. She had thrown a maroon work shirt over her shoulders. Everyone congratulated her on the arrangements. Rickie Lee Jones smiled and didn't say a word. She walked into her recording booth and asked the engineer if he was rolling tape, and got back to work.


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