Rickie Lee Jones – The Other Side of Desire

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When Uncut last caught up with Rickie Lee Jones in
2012, she cheerfully admitted to suffering from writer’s block. “That’s
why I keep recording albums of cover versions!” she breezily announced,
seemingly unbothered by not having written any new material since 2003’s
The Evening Of My Best Day, and gamely plugging The Devil You Know,
her second covers collection of the millennium. Since then, she’s moved
to New Orleans and kicking back in the Big Easy has set the creative
juices flowing again. She now lives on the street made famous by
Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire – an address celebrated in
the title of her first LP of new songs in a dozen years.

The scuffed up honesty and humanity of post-Katrina New Orleans (she
calls it “a city of people who do not try to escape the gravity”) has
also permeated the songs. “Singing is acting,” she told Uncut three
years ago. But on the 11 new compositions here there is no sense that
she is playing a part; the ‘beret and badass bravado’ have gone and
she’s singing from the heart. “New Orleans has washed
out any affectation,” she blogged while recording the album. “It’s
streaming through my own filters, I am not dressing it ‘in the style
of’; there is no pretence here in the Crescent City.”

Working on a limited, crowd-funded budget in what Jones calls “an
outrageously optimistic amount of time to create a record” represents
another break with the past for an artist who was notorious for taking
months in the studio (she spent $250,000 recording 1981’s Pirates, an
eye-watering sum at the time, even if not quite in the league of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk).

Jones has always been something of an auteur, but for the first time
in her career, confesses to feeling she was “not in charge” during the
recording of The Other Side Of Desire, trusting producers John Porter
(Roxy Music) and Daniel Lanois’ longtime amanuensis Mark Howard to
mould and shape a compelling set of ripe and mature songs into an
arrestingly ambitious musical journey, rich in sonic adventure and
detail. The opener “Jimmy Choos” is a classic Jones
narrative about an expensively dressed woman sitting on a rooftop and
throwing bottles at the cops below. “You don’t have to tell me about
giving up… someone loves you tonight,” she sings with palpable warmth
and compassion over a simmering rhythm that calls to mind another great
revenant New Orleans album, Dylan’s Oh Mercy.

The country two-step shuffle “Valtz De Mon Père
could have fitted on Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, another
Lanois/Howard landmark production. “J’ai Connais Pas”, a Waits-like tale
of low-life set in a bar, taps deep into the city’s musical history,
sung over a walking Fats Domino piano riff. “Blinded By The Hunt” is a
slinky slice of secular Southern gospel, a sister song, perhaps, to
Matthew E White’s “Will You Love Me”, and sung in a
voice that evokes Brittany Howard. “Infinity” floats on a Blue
Nile-style chimerical gauze as Jones describes a metaphysical dream
riding “a wave through space”. “I Wasn’t Here” changes the mood again, Wizard Of Oz
cuteness filtered via a Cerys Matthews pop-charm as Jones’
multi-tracked little-girl vocals dance seductively over an exquisite
string arrangement. “Christmas In New Orleans” is a Southern answer to “Fairytale Of New York”,
with which it shares a melody to an extent that might excite the
interest of Shane MacGowan’s lawyers. “Feet On The Ground” is an
achingly beautiful minor-key meditation on damage and loss, but leavened
by a heavenly Philly-soul chorus. The album ends enigmatically but
exquisitely with a half-sung, half-spoken poem, “A Spider In The Circus
Of The Falling Star”, Jones’ voice eerily multi-tracked over a haunting sousaphone.It’s not only Jones’ most absorbing album since 1997’s beats-drenched Ghostyhead, but a record that crowns her career, not as an end but as a culmination.

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