Captain Beefheart was known to playfully admonish fans shouting out requests at his shows by saying, "You know I'm gonna do exactly what I want. " No one has documented Rickie Lee Jones saying the same thing, but in the course of a recording career that's just entered its fourth decade, she's made it clear that she shares the same philosophy, and she's bravely followed her muse wherever it chooses to go, rather than rehashing the sound and style of Rickie Lee Jones and Pirates, the acclaimed early recordings which made her a star. Jones certainly hasn't lost her love for the blues and jazz flavors that dominated her best-known work, but on 2009's Balm in Gilead (the title is drawn from a traditional spiritual), there's significantly less flash and swagger in her music; instead, these performances speak of an intimacy and warmth that befits the lyrics, which concern themselves with love, family, friendship, and the stuff that makes up everyday lives (something of a switch after the broadsides of The Evening of My Best Day and the spiritual mysteries of The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard).
When she started work on this album, Rickie Lee Jones was faced with the problem of how to progress from her last, The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard, a highly praised collection in which she reinterpreted Jesus's words. Her solution was to go back to old songs she had never quite finished, such as 1989's Wildgirl. Joined by Ben Harper, Vic Chesnutt and Alison Krauss, Jones opts for an enchanted, breathy delivery that hovers between country and jazz.
Wild girl returns with headphone album “It’s hard to be older and poor, I don’t dig it that much anymore,” Rickie Lee Jones sings on “Wild Girl,” the opening track of her 13th album. Although she’s in character, it’s odd to hear her sing that line; 30 years into an unpredictable career, she still sounds like the wild girl she once was. The largely self-produced Balm in Gilead plies a folksy yet soulful jazz-country sound that showcases both her inimitable voice—with its playful meter and peculiar grain—and her studio prowess.
Balm in Gilead opens with a song called “Wild Girl”. Combining massed harmony vocals, doo-wop finger snaps, and skeletal jazz guitar chords, Rickie Lee Jones propels the song’s unconventional structure with her unique, airy voice, building to a stirring yet understated climax. It’s a hell of a way to begin an album, but the effect is diminished somewhat by the next song, “Old Enough”.