Rickie Lee Jones
"It's a simple, surprising record,” says Rickie Lee Jones of her new album, The Devil You Know.
Though she’s one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of our time, interpretive singing has long been part of Jones’s musical tapestry as well. Such previous collections as Girl at Her Volcano (1983), Pop Pop (1991), and It’s Like This (2000) have illustrated the fresh and inimitable feel that she has for classic American compositions; she won a Grammy for her sly duet with Dr. John on the naughty-but-nice standard “Makin’ Whoopee” and was nominated for another for her performance of "Autumn Leaves" with bassist Rob Wasserman.
With The Devil You Know, Jones turns her focus to the rock & roll canon that shaped a generation. She tackles the work of such giants as Neil Young (“Only Love Can Break Your Heart”), The Band (“The Weight”), and Van Morrison (“Comfort You”). Though these songs are burned deeply into our brains, Jones finds her own unique way in, peeling them back with spare, intimate arrangements, and uncovering layers and emotions that feel both familiar and new.
Her version of “Sympathy for the Devil,” which she first performed at a Rolling Stones tribute concert at Carnegie Hall, perhaps best represents her approach. “It’s voodoo,” she says. “It's a woman embodying a man embodying the devil—or is it the other way around?"
Jones created the album with the assistance of another Grammy winner, acclaimed folk-soul-rocker Ben Harper, who produced and plays on nearly every track, and contributed the album’s lone new song, “Masterpiece,” a ballad he could picture only Jones singing. Harper, who appeared on Jones's last album, Balm in Gilead.
While some singers might be intimidated by the enormity of this material, Rickie Lee Jones has made a career of fearlessly experimenting with her sound and her persona. Her unforgettable 1979 debut landed her two Rolling Stone covers in two years, and elements of her image were absorbed into the culture, from the Chuck E. Cheese pizza chain to the interest in jazz and signature costume (fingerless gloves, spandex, hat) from so many female pop singers who followed.
Never content with one style or identity, though, she went on to create such masterworks as Pirates and The Magazine, and to delve into such daring projects as the pioneering electronic accompaniment of 1997’s Ghostyhead and her impressionistic representations of the words of Jesus Christ on The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard in 2007. Now she brings this exploratory bravery to The Devil You Know—to the desolation of the New Orleans lament “St. James Infirmary” and the solace of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe.”
"This cover record took me to a new place in my work," says Jones. "I found another voice—it's a quieter one, older perhaps, but more likely younger than I have ever been. With Ben, I felt safe, recording these songs with care and impulse. They deserve that.”