I am listening (as I often do) to an album by Rickie Lee Jones. It’s called It’s Like This – and it is my favourite album of hers. She’s a great singer and I have followed her career right through from her debut eponymous album. I have – at one point – owned everything she has done. I may have lost interest in some of her records over the years. I probably need to revisit a few of them in fact but I will always return to this one. Funny thing about me thinking it’s her best – it is an album of covers. And my rationale for preferring this to her own compositions is not that I think she’s a great singer and an average writer, because that’s actually not true. I like most of the songs that Jones has penned – very much so in fact. I think that Coolsville and On Saturday Afternoons In 1963 are among her finest compositions and I’m not afraid to say that I still like the song Chuck E’s In Love – sure it’s the most obvious. But it is still a cool song. So Rickie can definitely write.
But she can also – definitely – sing. And she effortlessly straddles genres even though she’s sure she’s a jazz singer. She actually has a great feel for modern folk, for somber pop and for blues. And on her own albums of her own songs she doesn’t always get the switch right – it can seem a little odd leaping around (actually, in terms of her own albums of her own songs, my favourite is Traffic From Paradise) but here with a covers collection the voice just soars – leaping with authority, with tenderness, with conviction, with kindness, with passion, with gentle assurance, with subtlety, with strength, with occasional vulnerability from verse to chorus, to coda, to refrain – from songs by Steely Dan to Marvin Gaye, to The Beatles…and to a song by Charlie Chaplin.
Yes, Charlie Chaplin, the silent-era guy also wrote songs. He wrote one of the most beautiful, most covered songs of all time, Smile. A song that even Michael Jackson had a go at.
Rickie Lee’s version is exquisite. But then so is her take on Paul McCartney’s For No One. I guess, mostly, what I like about this album is that it’s a singer serving the songs, but it’s also a set of songs that celebrates the singer. A perfect marriage then – as Rickie Lee Jones brings so much of herself to these tunes, taking just enough to bend them around and form new sounds, almost making new songs but still adhering to the tradition within each piece.
Do yourself a favour – check this album out if you haven’t already.