Music for your speakers: Rickie Lee Jones’ first album

Rickie Lee Jones: Rickie Lee Jones

Not only do they sell the world’s finest hi-fi, but Grahams Hi-Fi, London, also stocks a carefully chosen selection of CDs and vinyl. This month they recommend Rickie Lee Jones’s classic first album, Rickie Lee Jones.

Although very different in their styles of music Rickie Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell share a few traits.

Both are female singer-songwriters, both moved to California, Jones from Chicago and Mitchell from Canada, both play guitar and piano, both are one offs, instantly recognizable when they sing, and both manage to attract the best session musicians and producers on their albums.  This, her debut self-titled album, ‘Rickie Lee Jones’, which was released in 1979, is the one that Jones will always be remembered for.  Known as the ‘Duchess of Coolsville’, ‘Coolsville’ being a track on the album, she changed the convention of female singer-songwriters.  It isn’t folk or pop, but her own blend of rock and jazz. She sings and plays guitar or piano, and wrote, or co-wrote, every track.  She is joined by a great group of musicians.  There is Willie Weeks on Fender bass, Fred Tackett on guitars and mandolin, Steve Gadd on drums, Tom Scott and Ernie Watts on horns, Dr John on keyboards, as well as guest appearances from Randy Newman and Michael Mcdonald.  She was named ‘Best New Artist’ at the 1980 Grammys for this album.

The most famous image of the ‘Rickie Lee Jones’ album is the picture of her on the front cover wearing a beret, and smoking a cigarillo. She claimed that the beret was a prop to make her more identifiable, but that people did not recognize her, only the beret.  She thought about sending out the beret on its own to make personal appearances instead of her.  The most well-known track on the album is the opening one, ‘Chuck E.’s In Love’, which is about her relationship with musician, Chuck E. Weiss.  However the track we use most from this album for demonstrations is ‘Easy Money’.  Little Feat’s Lowell George covered it on his solo album ‘Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here’, despite the fact that Rickie Lee Jones was a virtual unknown at the time.  The track opens with a riff played on an acoustic double bass followed by Jones’s distinctive voice, which is joined by guitar and drums, as well as vibes.  The vibes solo that follows is played by Victor Feldman who was a British child prodigy who played piano, vibes and drums. He played with Miles Davis on the album ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ and wrote the title track as well as the beautiful ‘Joshua’.  Listen out for the fizzing sound as the drummer raps the hi-hat when Jones sings “they flipped a dime” to test the fidelity of your hi-fi.

When you have bought a copy of ‘Rickie Lee Jones’, and listened to it, you could get her follow-up album, ‘Pirates’, next.  Jones continues to make fine albums to this day, in fact her jazz covers album, ‘Pop Pop’, which came out in 1991 with Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden and Robben Ford,, is one of my personal favourites.  But if you have to choose just one Rickie Lee Jones album, make it this self-titled album, which still sounds fresh and vital thirty-four years after it was originally recorded.

Paul Janove, Grahams Hi-Fi, London.

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