Rickie Lee Jones is, in her own, as bizarre an artist as Bjork. She is uncategorizable. Is she a jazz chanteuse, adding her own spin to the American Songbook? Is she a confessional singer-songwriter like Laura Nyro? She has been a neo-beat ingenue, the female answer to Tom Waits. Her music spans from jazzy, bluesy folk-rock to big band to R&B. Her albums have been all covers and at one point, trip-hop. She is an intrepid musical experimenter who willfully ignores genre classifications.
My favorite songs of her, though, are esoteric and hermetic. Her masterpiece, Pirates, closes with two weird songs, “Traces of the Western Slope” and “The Returns.” “Traces…” is a long, dark trip through an urban hell peopled with jailbait girls, gangs, junkies and the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe that seems to be a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice. The music is spooky jazz-tinged funk and has no real formal song structure. “The Returns” is an icy ballad as terrifying as anything on Nico’s The Marble Index. On the next album,The Magazine, “Deep Space: An Equestrienne in the Circus of the Falling Star” is a Satie-esque piano ballad full of metaphysical imagery (“the Lord’s face is an all-night cafe”). That album ends with a triptych of songs collectively called Rorschachs. The songs include an instrumental (an Italian classical guitar piece called “Theme for the Pope”); a spoken word piece about childhood memories (“The Unsigned Painting”) and disturbing song about being haunted by an living Id/Demon—(“The Weird Beast”).
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