Reviews Metro by Ami Chen Mills
From the Oct. 26 - Nov. 2, 1995 issue of Metro
Bedroom of a Saint
Most people know Rickie Lee Jones as a strange chick from the '70s who sang a catchy tune called "Chuck E.'s in Love." But for those who have followed her, Jones is a musical saint of sorts, a poetic rapscallion--and a sultry and wise female counterpart to Van Morrison or Paul Simon. Her lyrics, like Morrison's, are often ecstatic ruminations on the nature of bliss. Her composition skills rival both men's.
We who revere Rickie Lee have watched--or heard--her change, from a sassy girlfriend to a wry, honky-tonk demi-angel with lessons to teach. It is with a sigh that she advises in "A Stranger's Car" on her 1993 Traffic From Paradise album, "If your parents kill you year by year/Here's the time to say Goodbye."
Traffic displays Jones's genius for weaving instruments into rich, moving tapestries. Her lyrics display a honed sense of human darkness--and light. In "Running from Mercy," Jones, accompanied by Lyle Lovett, both affirms an inner spirit while digging religion and government: "Little acts of kindness/And little words of love/Make our earthly home/Heaven above/And there is no sorrow/Heaven cannot heal/A fire within/No Cross/No Crown."
Rickie Lee's latest, Naked Songs, is Jones stripped, crooning old tunes like "Chuck E.," and introducing new songs like "Skeleton" and "Last Chance Texaco," a funny, sad tune that incorporates oil company names into its lyrics. Newcomers might turn off to her nasal twang and girlish lisp, which are distinct with nothing but a piano, guitar or bass in back. And the enthusiasm of the live audience might annoy. But to turn off to Jones would be a shame and a sin--get Traffic instead.
For fans, listening to Naked Songs is like sneaking into Rickie Lee's bedroom. And the bedroom of a saint, through a rarefied space, can be uncomfortable too. There's that lisp. . . but if you love Jones, the lisp grows endearing. The songs, so bare, are poignant, melodic and inventive.
For once, you'll get almost all the words. And if you wondered about "Altar Boy": Yeah, she really does say, "A monk with a hard-on. . . [then,]
a lavender robe
It's that kind of dark, musical magical-realism that makes Rickie Lee a ragtag icon for devotees.
If you're one, of course you'll get Naked Songs. You'll get it 'cause Rickie Lee's like mom with wings. And on Naked, she's like mom singing bedside. The songs are rough, oddly nude. But coming from mom, they're familiar and, finally, really, perfectly beautiful.
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