RICKIE LEE JONES: Pieces Of Treasure (BMG Modern)

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For better or worse, Rickie Lee Jones will forever be remembered for her infectious 1979 hit, ‘Chuck E’s In Love’. Her legions of fans know, of course, that there’s much more to the Chicago born songstress than that. Indeed, they’ll tell you that  Ms Jones has a plethora of acclaimed albums to her credit and a  clutch of Grammy awards too. They’ll also tell you that the singer has always had a penchant for covers. Indeed David Bowie was loud in his praise for her take on ‘Rebel, Rebel’ while her mini album ‘Girl At Her Volcano’ and   the full LP ‘Pop, Pop’ boasted Ms Jones’ take on a selection of jazz standards. Now,  as she nears the end of her 60th decade, she’s taken the plunge and recorded a  whole album of jazz classics, handpicked from the Great American Songbook. The logic behind it, she says, is that the “album is as much about being human, the view of surviving—which means aging, and loving relentlessly—as it is about anything.”

If we accept that as a sort of a mission statement then we could argue that the focus track amongst the ten selections is  a version of Kurt Weill, and Maxwell Anderson’s emotion-tugging ‘September Song’, here delivered with a huge poignancy. Most  of the other selections are a little more joyous and though things like ‘Just In Time’, ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’ and ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ have a jaunty air, the world-weary vocals strike a thoughtful note.

Those very particular, world weary vocals (in places reminiscent of the wonderful Jimmy Scott) are especially effective on the wonderful ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’ ( has there been a sadder song?) and ‘It’s All In The Game’. Award for the most imaginative  track goes to a version of ‘Nature Boy’. This comes with a mysterious, enigmatic Eastern flavoured introduction that only adds to the mystery and intrigue inherent in the song.

The production on that one and indeed the whole album is down to Russ Titelman who was at the desk for Ms J’s first two long players. He convinced the singer to try to record the album in just  five days using the same players –  Rob Mounsey on piano, guitarist Russell Malone, bassist David Wong and drummer Mark McLean. Their sympathetic performance and  the short recording time span give the album a significant coherence. But Rickie Lee Jones’ unique voice is the star of the show. Titelman  says: “This American Songbook recording shows Rickie’s artistry in full bloom. Her voice has always sounded a bit younger than it ought to (that may be a function of her ability to inhabit the character who is singing the song so masterfully that you believe every word) but on this recording the aging voice sounds even better to me than the youthful one. There’s a resonance and warmth in her lower register that wasn’t there before. I adore the young Rickie Lee but I love even more the Old Dame.”

(BB) 4/5