Rickie Lee Jones’ new album is Pieces of Treasure and the first impression is one of warmth and comfortable familiarity. She sounds like she is inhabiting Billie Holiday to the point she is present in both flesh and spirit.
Celebrated producer Russ Titelman is behind the sound desk. He was there from the start of Jones’ career, with first two albums Rickie Lee Jones (1979) and Pirates (1980). Of course, the new album’s title is an allusion back to forty-three years ago.
Jones’ voice is a little deeper and husky in tone nowadays. She started with a bohemian beat poet lush persona. Like Tom Waits who she was romantically involved with. They were both close friends of singer-songwriter Charles Edward Weiss. From there came her great first hit Chuck E’s in Love.
At that time, she was crowned the Duchess of Coolsville
The genesis of this album was her friendship with Titelman, which endured from those first two albums. His wish was to produce an album of jazz standards with her. And so, it has come to pass. Reaching for the classic American songbook of writers.
Pop Pop (1991) was an album of covers, from jazz to Jimi Hendrix to Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane founder). I must mention the great cover of Bowie’s Rebel, Rebel from around the same time.
They Can’t Take That Away From Me (George and Ira Gershwin). Warm, intimate and soulful jazz singing. The vocals are brought to the fore and remain stark and naked. Rick Rubin in nature and what he was able to achieve with Johnny Cash and Donovan late in their careers.
There Will Never Be Another You (Harry Warren and Mack Gordon), and here she slurs and phrases like Holiday. She sounds tipsy and narcotized when she sings, I may dream a million dreams. The piano is subtle and understated.
The band chosen by Titelman are great jazz musicians chosen for their ability to frame the voice with minimal playing. Rob Mounsey piano, Russell Malone guitar, David Wong bass and Mark McLean drums.
All in the Game (Charles Dawes and Carl Sigman). Closer to gospel soul in emotion. Careful phrasing and stepping around a minefield of hurt. Soon he will be there at your side/ Your heart will fly away. It ends with a genuine choke and a sob.
Many of these short stories or vignettes ache and drip with pain. The voice is smoky and deeper than her younger than yesterday time. You can’t tell whether she triumphs or succumbs to misery.
September Song (Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson) is all Tennessee Williams drama in just over three minutes.
On the Sunny Side of the Street (Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields) begins with some nice flamenco guitar. After that the singer is slow and languid in tempo. A bar late at night even though she sings of gold dust at our feet.
The lightest moment probably comes with the vibraphone or xylophone on Just in Time (Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green).
The album ends on a mix of emotions with Nature Boy (Eden Ahbez). Beautiful flamenco guitar opening leading into Middle Eastern tones. A little Malaguena time. Jones matches this with a high lament which sounds Eastern European. Then a tall tale with a witchy element follows. A very strange, enchanted boy.
What made Russ Titelman cry on the first demos back in 1979 is what Rickie Lee Jones has brought to fruition on Pieces of Treasure.
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