Thursday, June 30, 2005

the dutchess of coolsville

duchessI fell in love with Rickie Lee Jones and her music in the late 1970's shortly after hearing her self-titled first album. She was in her mid-20's and was riding the wave of her popular opening song, "Chuck E's in Love."

But one could tell from that first album that she was not interested in shaping her music to fit pop tastes or "stoking the starmaker machinery behind the popular song," as Joni Mitchell wrote. Her later dozen or so albums sold unevenly as she explored her different musical interests. But she remained a favorite of the music critics and an inspiration to female singer/songwriters. I never stopped listening either.

A couple of years ago I saw her live for the first time at the Barrymore in Madison. She was wonderful, now a grown woman leading her band all over the musical spectrum.

Now she has an anthology, duchess of coolsville on Rhino. It arrived last week, ordered in advance of release through her web site. Spanning her career the three disk set has it all, songs that define a style all her own - jazz, swing, pop, bebop - with lyrics that would be at home at a poetry improv.

Like most artists exploring edges, Rickie Lee has her share of misses. But when she gets it right, it is chicken-skin time.

Those interested in learning more about her music may find this 3-disc set a bit too eclectic. Her initial album still sounds fresh after all these years. It might be a good place to start. She also has a variety of live performances from over the years available through her web site.

I hear something different every time I listen to Rickie Lee. You might too. As Emmylou Harris wote in the liner notes, "...Rickie Lee still rules."

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