Rickie Lee Jones
The Devil You Know (Concord)
By Brian Arsenault
If Tim Hardin were still alive, he’d say that someone finally had wrung out all the pain in “Reason to Believe” and not made pop trivia a la Rod Stewart. (The devil knows, Rod, and he remembers.)
It seems to me that Rickie Lee Jones “covers” album The Devil You Know gets better and better as it goes along but maybe it’s just that you enter her world. And get to know the devil a bit better?
True artists have a way of doing that, bringing one into their worlds. You can walk the streets of Dublin with Joyce or hear of the perils of hell as only a Jesuit of 1904 can scare adolescents with same.
I hesitated to use the word “covers” in association with this album, though you well know many, maybe all, of the songs. Rickie Lee Jones doesn’t cover them. She infuses them with her particular mournful, painful sensibility.
When I hear her rendition of “The Weight,” a chill rises like it never did with The Band’s original, great as their version is.
On Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” you know that it’s her heart that’s been broken. The song is so soft and sad you feel it might come apart in your hands. Play it in the dark. But only when you’re feeling strong.
As to the later songs on the album, well. . . Greatness awaits. In no small measure, I suspect, because of the caring production of Ben Harper.
She does “St. James Infirmary” as if it were written for her. A two minute wake for the one loved most.
“Seems Like A Long Time” reminds me of when my friend Jeff said the problem isn’t that life’s so short but that it is so long. And fraught with peril and pain.
The closing “Catch the Wind,” done originally by Donovan, seemed a regretful young man’s song that he can’t reach his true love. Here, in Ricky Lee’s hands, it is a regret of all the comfort, all the warmth you sometimes can’t find in life.
The devil runs throughout the album which begins after all with the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” But Rickie Lee’s devil isn’t as mocking as Jagger’s. It’s a devil who feels the pain she has wrought. And after all, what must have been the pain of being cast down from Heaven.
Still, Ricky Lee admonishes us that there is only one devil and not to be afraid of oneself. So let me loose my one little demon.
There are times with Ricky Lee, even on this album which I think is superb, when I say to myself: “She is just so odd, so strange.” There are places where I find her almost unmusical, when I think her vocals put the emphasis in odd places. I even occasionally think her voice drones.
Some of that may be true and some of that may just be that I’ve been infected by the incessant requirement of American popular music that you must be able to hum along.
Anyway, Rickie Lee Jones, as you sing in “Masterpiece”:
“I love you for who you are.”
And I’m glad you are still working. And so is Ben Harper.
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– Rickie Lee Jones photo by Tony Gieske.