It's Like This

Rickie Lee Jones

Artemis Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Rickie Lee Jones is the kind of artist whom you will either love or hate - and, so long as you approach her on her own terms, she could probably care less either way. She walks her own unique musical path, daring to try and re-invent jazz one moment, kicking back with cover versions of her favorite songs the next. It's enough to leave you scratching your head - especially, if you're someone like me, when you haven't followed Jones's career over the course of the past 20 years.

So don't be surprised if you aren't certain what to make of It's Like This, Jones's latest collection of tunes, in which she tackles 11 songs running the gamut of 20th Century Popular Music. Is this pseudo hero-worship personified, or is Jones merely clearing out the pipes with material she fees as comfortable in as her own skin?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It takes guts for anyone to tackle a menagerie of artists as varied as George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein on one end of the spectrum, and Steely Dan and The Beatles at the other. What's even more intriguing is that this combination works, though it is not something you will grasp right out of the jewel case.

At times, one has to wonder if Jones's wispy, sing-song, school-girl voice will be able to handle tough material like Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," but those fears are quickly dispelled as Jones's vocals cut through the song like a chainsaw through a sapling. Clearly, effortlessly does she threaten to make material like this her own - and so long as she's delivering the goods with such finesse, who could resist? Similarly, Jones (dueting with Joe Jackson) sends chills down listeners' spines with "One Hand, One Heart". Other such moments come on "For No One" and a truncated version of Traffic's "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys".

Yet there are moments where one has to wonder what Jones is up to on It's Like This. Her cover of Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids" is solid enough, but she hardly chose the sharpest crayon from the Steely Dan discography to cover. (Then again, maybe she chose one which matched her vocal capabilities.) Her take on "Smile" makes me wonder if there is anything this song has left to prove, and what Jones's goal is by taking on Charlie Chaplin's well-worn song. And some of the earlier material, like "Up A Lazy River" and "Someone To Watch Over Me," doesn't carry the same impetus that the first half of the disc does. (In contrast, though, Jones puts wheels on "I Can't Get Started," taking it in directions even Gershwin probably never dared to dream of.)

It's Like This, in the end, seems to be a release where Jones allows herself the freedom to cut the creative rug on songs she admires. Whether you are willing to come along for the ride or not, that's your decision. And, for the most part, the ride is pretty smooth.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+



© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Artemis Records, and is used for informational purposes only.