Rickie Lee Jones still riding the range, wrangling songsWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The cover of the 2012 disc “The Devil You Know” finds Rickie Lee Jones behind a feline face mask.
Whether she’s chirping, growling, trilling, purring, hissing or howling, Jones is one of the coolest cats around.
With that distinctive voice, Jones is fearless.
“I do think ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is a most compelling interpretation,” she wrote in an email interview referring to her version of The Rolling Stones’ song that opens her latest release, a collection of rock classics.
“‘Comfort You’ [is] good too,” she added about the Van Morrison track on the disc.
“I don’t have much to say about records I make. It’s my work, my art. I can’t sell it to you,” she wrote.
That independent spirit and defiant attitude mark a distinctive career.
Jones burst onto the scene with the folk-jazz smash “Chuck E.’s in Love” in 1979 and won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1980. Time magazine called the beret-wearing, guitar-playing singer-songwriter “The Duchess of Coolsville.”
Since then, she has wrapped that voice around blues, synth pop, new wave, rock, trip-hop, gospel, R&B and jazz.
“I first noticed I had a very uncool singing voice when I first heard myself on tape when I was 16 and, to my surprise, you know, sounded like I sound — like a very young boy, back then anyway, like Michael Jackson. I was devastated,” Jones wrote from her Los Angeles home, recently back from a tour of Japan.
“But I had sung all my life and could not sing, so I made peace with my voice eventually — say, 10 years later, cool. I like my singing now that not many people hear me.”
VH1 named Jones one of the 30 greatest women in rock. “The Horses,” which she co-wrote with Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, appeared on her 1989 album “Flying Cowboys” and was featured in the movie “Jerry Maguire.” And her duet with Dr. John on “Makin’ Whoopee” won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in 1989.
What does she think are the elements of a good song?
“I have never thought about it. Songs are all different. A song with a bridge, a song without a bridge. A tiny short song, a big complex rhythmic song, all kinda songs. Some reach me and others miss me and ignite my neighbor,” she wrote. “Who knows? If I knew, believe me, I’d be doing it right now — instead of talkin’ to you. Lol. I hope.”
Jones will bring her sense of humor and adventurous heart to the Ark in Ann Arbor for an 8 p.m. show Aug. 26. Tickets are $75 and $45. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
“I love that my audience takes on a similar spirit wherever I go, that they are full of enthusiasm and patience, and that often we take each other to the higher planes during the performance,” she wrote.
“I love that they come, after all these years, and love the whole show, none of this hit song thing.”