Rickie Lee Jones

The Evening of My Best Day

V2 Records, USA

The voice is unchanged, the sonic palette a tasty smorgasbord of all Ms. Jones' many musical guises (Jazz obviously, R&B, dirty and streamlined blues, Jimmy Smith organ whizzy, a tincture of Broadway, anything that has, as Gower Champion used to say, "legs") except for the techno flavorings of 1997's GHOSTYHEAD, but something entirely different haunts the lyric sheet of THE EVENING OF MY BEST DAY, Ms. Jones' first studio recording in six years.

As she has been quoted in the press kit, what got her writing again was "the election of George Bush, the passage of the Patriot Act, the monopolies of media and their misuse of language." Some will complain, and I of course respect that, but even if you are of a different mind about the political situation (to say nothing of the events of 2001 which brought it about), Ms. Jones' crossing over into commentary on the life of the USA writ large is done with a Jonathan Swift subtlety and no small panache. A lot of pundits got out the baseball bats when Joni Mitchell began to wax topical in the 1980s and 1990s, but she telegraphed her punches: listen closely to the opening, snazzy if angry "Ugly Man," and how Ms. Jones jives, "Hey, ugly man/ what's the plan?" and George W. ("He grew up to be like his father...") suddenly becomes just another hustler trying to get credit on the great nameless avenue Ms. Jones' characters populate.

Possibly the next building over has Eddie with the crazy eye (from PIRATES' "Livin' It Up") sitting on the stoop, turning into a cartoon when a pretty girl goes by. This is how we deal with our problems using classical satire, a method going all the way back to Aristophanes. Cut them down to size, and we see they'll pass away. Some with more effort than others, I admit. Internalize the world's ills and make them your own, and you can figure out your own contribution. Gandhi's famous comment about how we must be the change we wish to see in the world comes to mind. "Tell Somebody"'s hop-bop could have been a Ten Years After hit in 1969 (that's before they used to play 20-minute versions of "I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes"), with its raunchy Alvin Lee-esque acoustic guitar and handclap chorus,"Tell somebody what's happenin' in the USA..."

You Jazz fans may wonder what this review is doing in this E-publication, but I'm thinking it fits in well because Ms. Jones and guitarist/arranger David Kalish display an easy facility with so many 1950s, 1960s and 1970s Jazz stylings, including a knockout turnaround in the trumpet solo on "Ugly Man" that'll have you hitting REPEAT repeatedly. "Bitchenostrophy" (largely in French so I miss the meaning somewhat) and "It Takes You There" also score very high on the 'hook' meter; how about a few CD singles off this recording, V2 Records? Ms.Jones places herself in her down-at-the-heels world as well as any other of her characters ("All I see/ looks back at me," from the darkly rollicking a la Bertolt Brecht "Tree on Allenford"), which I think gives her message its heft: we're all in this together, nobody's in the upper story above the Boulevard (where "they take you very hard") looking down and laughing. Except maybe the members of Steely Dan, and I have no time for their lazy cynicism any longer. Ms. Jones even namechecks Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in the whistle-ready "A Second Chance" (working off chords not too far from those of Miles Davis' "Freddie the Freeloader") in an oblique fashion: "Don't look at me, got nothin' to say, as you count down to ecstasy..."

To her credit, Ms. Jones knows it isn't effective to dissemble, as she does here as her old neighborhood falls apart, "It's all right, that's OK/ I was gonna move out of here anyway..." because, as John Lennon put it in ROLLING STONE in 1968, "There's no point dropping out, 'cos it's the same there, and it's got to change." Well, it still has to change, and kudos to Rickie Lee Jones for reminding us.

by Kenneth Egbert

More New Sounds - November 2003 CD Reviews

Back to Contents Page
Jazz Now Interactive

Copyright Jazz Now, November 2003 issue, all rights reserved