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Dan Grunebaum, "Rickie Lee Jones Gets Political"

Anonymous Comrade writes:

"Rickie Lee Jones Gets Political"

Dan Grunebaum, Japan Today

There's a point not too far into American singer Rickie Lee
Jones's new album — in the first verse of the first song in
fact — that makes one do a double take. Could this be the
insouciant piano girl that brought us 1979's gently mocking,
"Chuck E's in Love?"

The song, "Ugly Man," doesn't pull any punches. As soon as
Jones lilts into her first verse, we get a strong hint as to
who the target is: "He's an ugly man/he always was an ugly
man/he grew up to be like his father/an ugly man." And just
in case we had our doubts, she soon puts them to rest,
delivering in deadpan style the lyric, "Revolution/now it's
finally going to come/everywhere that you're not
looking/Revolution."In a brief email interview from Los Angeles, Jones is equally
pointed. Passing over a number of queries about her music
technique and style, she responds forcefully to a question
about the several political songs on "The Evening of My Best

"I am worried about political change and what is happening in
this country," she begins. "I am involved because I think G W
Bush and Ashcroft and the lot are very, very bad for this

"To be silent now would be like being silent when the Nazis
took over."

In addition to "Ugly Man," she takes on Republican trickle-
down economics in "Second Chance," the controversial 2000
election in "Little Mysteries," and the post-9/11 Patriot Act
in "Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act)."

Jones says that she could no longer remain silent in the face
of what she calls the terrible polarization of the U.S., the
loss of its allies - symptoms, she says, of a deadly force
that has taken over the country.

"I am not a protest singer," she notes. "I used to be adamant
that politics did not belong with my music, because music is
a spiritual movement, meant to reach all people."

Yet the fact that things are not business as usual, she says,
forced her to speak out. "These times are not like any
other," she writes. "To be silent now would be like being
silent when the Nazis took over."

Fighting words for a woman whose best-known work is her
rather personal self-titled debut, and its 1981 follow- up,
"Pirates," which charted the inner evolution of someone
coming to terms with change and death.

But fortunately, Jones' message is delivered in a joyous
musical stealth missile that leads to the aforementioned
double take. In the company of such stellar sidemen as
guitarists Bill Frisell and David Kalish, and backing
vocalists like Ben Harper, she offers a sublime riposte to
younger, jazz-influenced pop singers of the moment such as
Norah Jones.

"Little Mysteries" and the equally deadly "Mink Coat at the
Bus Stop" are lowdown, greasy jazz-blues numbers that won't
take no for an answer, while "Second Chance" wraps its barbed
study of a sex offender in breezy grooves that recall the
best of Steely Dan.

"I can definitely understand political songs being tedious,"
Jones says. "Luckily, mine are not. I would not want to hear
songs about what is going on today unless they were rather
humorous and smart and musical."

Best work in decades

Amen to that. Released in Japan on Richard Branson's V2, "The
Evening of My Best Day" has been widely acclaimed since it
hit the stores in October, with many critics praising it as
her best work in decades. It also marks the pinnacle of a
comeback from a creative drought that Jones, now 49, suffered
in the '80s after struggling with alcoholism and then giving
birth to her daughter.

The Chicago-born Jones was never anything less than
unconventional. The daughter of a horn player who was himself
the son of a Vaudevillian, Jones grew up in a variety of
western locales before being expelled from school, leaving
home and drifting up and down the West Coast, apparently
developing a booze habit in the process.

Settling in L.A., she lived in the Tropicana Hotel with Chuck
E Weiss and Tom Waits, working as a waitress while perfecting
her Beat poet-influenced, spoken-word vocal style. After
Jones came to the attention of former Little Feat frontman
Lowell George, it wasn't long before her demo made its way to
Warner Brothers, which signed her for her smash debut.

Jones' background may very well have influenced her choice of
a cover shot for the album, which depicts a small girl on a
blanket who Jones reveals is homeless.

"I saw a photo shoot in the L.A. Times about families who
live next to freeways, and there was just something about
this particular family. I got in touch with the photographer
and we had him shoot some pictures for the album as well."

Looking back on more than two decades in the business, Jones
reflected on the many changes that have affected music, some
positive, some negative. "When I started, the music business
was an extension of music, of musicians... That died," she

"It was taken over by non-musician businessmen. Now they have
run it into the ground, and then the Internet and great minds
stole the music out from under these greedy bastards. I like
the idea of the Internet, but I also like the idea from back
then of a large package, album size, with great art. It was
fun. I miss it."