Rickie Lee Jones: My First Pop Crush and Her New CD

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“’Whatever it is Christ said doesn’t get a fair shake,’ Rickie Lee Jones said. On a rainy December day, she was sniffling and coughing, fighting a bad cold and losing.”

Thus begins an New York Times article of Rickie Lee Jones that focuses on her new album The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, which was recently released by Jones’ new label:  New West Records.  In the words of the interviewee, “The project is an attempt to explore the words and ideas of Jesus in a contemporary context.”   To read the full article, click here.

Now I have been a Rickie Lee Jones fan since she first appeared on the national music scene in 1979.  One listen to the cool guitar riff at the beginning of “Chuckie’s In Love,” made me immediately head to the Record Store to discover who this woman was.  You see, to my my college-aged mind, she was so cool, and I was so not cool.  I have stayed with Rickie Lee all these years.  I have most of her albums/cds.  Even when Jones moved away from her own material and began to sing standards, I remained faithful to her. But with the release of her last two original albums, Jones has moved back to recording her own material, and I couldn’t be happier.  Sermon is a very good album, in which Jones tries to come to grips with the words and teachings of Jesus.  As the article in the New York Times states:

Her approach is varied, sometimes obscure. The song “Where I Like It Best” is an attempt to interpret the Lord’s Prayer “in a new way, in my own language, how it would happen now.” For “Falling Up,” Ms. Jones sings from the perspective of a villager in the crowd during the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s unlikely territory for a woman who shot to fame in 1979 as a beret-topped inheritor of the Beat tradition — the “Duchess of Coolsville,” as she titled a 2005 anthology. Ms. Jones, 52, is also active in liberal politics, maintaining an issues-oriented Web site, furnitureforthepeople.com, in addition to her own site, rickieleejones.com. But she says her beliefs are precisely what fueled “Exposition Boulevard.”

For me, Where I Like It Best is the emotional center of the cd and my favorite track.  Some of the lyrics of this song are as follows:

I wanted to pray
I wanted to let you go on your way . . .
I wanted to know why they laid there
dying in the streets
next to the restaurant
where people were eating and yes
I wanted to pray

“How do you pray in a world like this?

when you pray
pray alone by yourself
in the secret room of your heart

but I say, God, but I say this
you are the prayer
your eyes are the prayer
your hand on your cheek
you are the prayer
those words you want to speak
they are the prayer
that dance you make
when you’re by yourself
just before your mother calls you on the phone
you are the prayer

all you gotta do is say hey hey
I’m down here too, I’m down here too
I’m down here too

and I hear you in the trees
and I hear you
and I’m near you
I wonder why there’s so much suffering?

I want to say thank you, thank you
thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you
I wanted to say thank you, thank you
I wanted to say
I wanted to say
you are where I like it best
you are where I like it best
you are where I like it best

That’s the Lords’ prayer
“You are where I want to be”
So, amen, just amen
Amen, all by myself, amen, amen

This is provocative stuff, and when Jones’ voice cracks as she sings “I’m down here, too; I’m down here, too; I’m down here, too,” we know that it is also deeply personal.

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A Firecracker of an Album – The Wailin Jennys

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I am sitting in my room listening to a great album I would highly recommend to anyone who loves folk/traditional country music with simple, yet beautiful melodies and lush harmonies. I am talking about the latest album by The Wailin Jennys, a Canadian Trio, which recently released a new album entitled Firecracker. I won’t give you a full review of the album, but I will point you to one that seems to sum up my feelings very well.  Written by Ed Huyck, it is  found on the Pop Matters website. Huyck begins his review be saying:

Firecracker indeed. This Canadian trio’s second album couldn’t have come out at a better time for me. After months of hearing artists trying to be rootsy without understanding what it takes (and even worse, artists with the pedigree who have lost their way), here is a group that finds the right mix of understanding and reverence, but who know-seemingly by instinct-when to add in the right outside touches.

He goes on to add later:

Despite its sometimes dark nature, Firecracker affirms that there are few things as beautiful as the bare human voice, except for a chorus of voices singing in harmony. Add in quality tunes and compelling lyrics, and you have an album perfect for nearly any mood.

I would add that several tracks stand out for me. These include: The Devil’s Paintbrush Song, Glorybound, and Prairie Town (the lyrics of which are below). Even the only song that this talented trio did not write showcases their beautiful harmonies in a cappella fashion. It is the traditional tune Long Time Traveller. To listen to some of the songs, read the lyrics and buy an album direct, go to the Wailin Jenny’s website here. I can’t recommend this CD too highly (9 out 10 dancing fish). BTW, if you didn’t know, the Jennys are often featured performers on A Prairie Home Companion, which is where I was first exposed to their music.

Prairie Town (Ruth Moody)

When it rains it snows in this prairie town
There’s a good three inches on the ground
It seems I’ll be losing any peace I’ve found

I see your face all over this town
But I know you’re nowhere to be found
You’re far away, you’re safe and sound

Far from this prairie town
Far from this prairie town

So leaving seems the thing to do
When I’m here I’m lost in thoughts of you
And in my dreams I’m city bound

But if you ask me to come to you
To leave these fields and these skies of blue
You know I’d be leaving my sacred ground

Leaving this prairie town
Leaving this prairie town

No one’s love comes close to yours
Nothing’s what it was before
My eyes are heavy and my heart is sore

Leaving this prairie town
Leaving this prairie town

When it rains it snows in this prairie town
And we just watch it fall to the ground
And wait for love to come around

So ask me in that way you do
And I’ll leave these fields and I’ll come to you
And watch my heart as it breaks in two

I’m leaving this prairie town
I’m leaving this prairie town

Illinoise – A Review of Sufjan Stevens’ CD

This is a great album. I have put off purchasing this album for over six months, but when it made number 4 on the top 50 albums list on my favorite radio station XPN-88.5 (which you can listen to on the web), I decided to make the investment. I am very glad I did. It is the best album I have purchased in the last year.

But one of the song’s titles gave me pause. It is entitled “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”.  I mean what can anyone say about such a horrible man – a heartless serial killer, who thankfully has gone on to face his Maker. I was leery of this song to say the least, but when I listened to it the first time, it brought tears to my eyes. It is a deceptively simple, yet hauntingly beautiful melody, and the words, well, you can read them yourself, They are printed below.

Just let me say that I was struck by how, early on, Stevens was able to humanize this monster, if only just a little. We see Gacy as a little boy, son of an alcoholic father, and we hear of his sense of humor and likeability. And then Stevens strikes just the right chords in portraying this man’s savagery. The lines “Oh the dead – 27 people – Even more, they were boys, with their cars, summer jobs – Oh my God – are you one of them?” are painful and poignant.

And as if that were not enough, the last lines are an indictment of all of us folks who are obviously much better people than Gacy could have ever been. He sings ” And in my best behavior I am really just like him. Look beneath the floor boards for the secrets I have hid.”

Of course our secrets are not as terrible or horrific as Gacy’s, but that’s not the point, is it? All I’m saying is that it makes you think, and in this world, anything that makes you pause for a moment and contemplate the nature of humanity and our own natures is a good thing.

I highly recommend this album and especially this moving song. Allow me to quote one more reviewer, this one just about this particular song – Michael Metivier, who writes

On the flipside of this US Mint issued 50 States coin is “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”, which focuses on one particular Illinois native, in this case the notorious serial killer. The challenge of writing and pulling off this song is monumental for wholly different reasons than the rest of Illinois. How does one create an affecting piece of art centered on a cultural figure so extreme and reviled without being obvious/trite, or (even worse) sounding sympathetic to his actions by the plain fact of writing a song about him? The answer is “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”: horrifying, tragic, and deeply sad without proselytizing. Who needs a song to tell them that murdering twenty-seven people is wrong? Instead, Stevens makes you feel it, describes the events in ways that strip away sensation and make you care, rather than numb, “Twenty-seven people, even more / They were boys / With their cars, summer jobs / Oh my God”. His voice is broken up on the phrase, going up into falsetto, as the weight of the situation overcomes both singer and song. The clincher is the final verse which begins, “And in my best behavior / I am really just like him”, echoing Mother Theresa when she was asked how and why she could devote her entire life’s work to the poor – because she was aware of her own potential for evil.

Sufjan Stevens – John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
(written by: Sufjan Stevens)From the album “Illinoise”

His father was a drinker and his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne’s t-shirts when the swingset hit his head
The neighbors they adored him
For his humor and his conversation

Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things, rotting fast, in their sleep
Oh the dead
27 people
Even more, they were boys, with their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Are you one of them?

He dressed up like a clown for them
With his face paint white and red
And on his best behavior
In a dark room on the bed he kissed them all

He’d kill ten thousand people
With a slight of his hand, running far, running fast to the dead
He took off all their clothes for them
He put a cloth on their lips, quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid