Rickie Lee Jones moved to New Orleans a few years ago, and the city’s spirit and rich musical heritage have obviously inspired the music on The Other Side of Desire, her first disc since 2012’s The Devil You Know. She recorded it in studios there, with local musicians. She writes warmly of New Orleans in her liner notes and she seems to have been revitalized by her time there -- The Other Side of Desire is Jones’s first disc of all new songs in ten years.
“J’ai Connais Pas” is a good example of how much Jones absorbed from her new home. David Torkanowsky’s rollicking Wurlitzer electric piano announces the Fats Domino-inspired rocker, which Jones sings with a throaty conviction. Doug Belote’s slamming drums make the song sizzle, with help from bassist James Singleton. “Valtz de Mon Pere (Lovers’ Oath)” has a distinct Cajun flavor, thanks to Louis Michot of Lost Bayou Ramblers, whose mournful fiddle provides the backdrop to Jones’s moving vocal.
“Jimmy Choos” is a tale about a woman who likes both fashion and danger, and the New Orleans blues funkiness of the accompaniment gives the character in the story an edge of desperation. “Haunted” is reminiscent of the expansive musical canvases Jones used to such powerful effect on Pirates and The Magazine, especially her use of multitracked vocals and her effortless blending of jazz, old rock, and ’60s soul. Belote’s hard-snapping snare drum and solid backbeat ground the track, and Jones’s guitar playing adds a streak of menace.
New Orleans is so inherently funky that even the drum programming on “Infinity” swings hard. The track begins with spare accompaniment and builds dramatically as more instruments come in layer by layer. The lyrics describe a dream state where time is fluid and events occur at a slight remove from the narrator. “Christmas in New Orleans” takes the loneliness you can feel on the holiday as a starting point, but Jones fills her stories with scenes of life in its emotional complexity that you turn over in your mind:
Who can say what breaks inside?
Me I woke up in the wings
And I still can‘t recognize
The sound my scars make
When I sing
“Finale; (A Spider in the Circus of the Falling Star)” closes the disc on a brief, surreal note that evokes Tom Waits and Brecht/Weill, and it leaves you with a feeling of something special and unique coming to a close. It’s not unusual for the best records to grow on you, and The Other Side of Desire is a feast of poetic lyrics full of memorable characters and tunes that are more emotionally engaging with each play of the CD.
Jones has mentioned in several interviews that musicians in New Orleans have a different attitude from players in Los Angeles. Music courses through the city, and even if you arrive there from somewhere else you end up absorbing many strains of American music. The Other Side of Desire shows those many influences without once seeming derivative. The sound is warm and intimate, with Jones’s voice out front.
Jones funded The Other Side of Desire through a PledgeMusic campaign and released it on her own label, TOSOD Music. She has created a few of my favorite records, especially the two I mentioned above. I feel certain that The Other Side of Desire will join them.
. . . Joseph Taylor