Rickie Lee Jones – The Devil You Know (2012)

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First, I’ll come right out admit that, unlike a lot of so-called critics, I kind of like covers albums. The complaints usually range from variants on “Their career is over and they’re desperate” (which might be true but is often beside the point) to “These songs sound an awful lot like the originals” to “Gees, these songs sound almost nothing like the originals.” I guess I dont’ really care about the “accuracy” of the new presentations so much as how the artist got there: Def Leppard visiting their glam roots on Yeah!, Diana Krall inspired by her dad’s collection 78s, Marc Kozelek giving Bon Scott-era AC/DC tunes the slow treatment, Joe Jackson paying tribute to Duke Ellington.

But then there’s Rickie Lee Jones and The Devil You Know.

It’s not just that Ms. Jones takes the melodies and sews them with golden threads of uncertain cadence (Sympathy For The Devil). It’s not that she sings with that hyper-personal level of intimacy (“The Weight,” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” and Ben Harper’s “Masterpiece”). It’s not even that I wished, on first listen, that I might be able to develop a new language to describe this music. No, it’s…well?

I had to think about this for a while, because while Rickie Lee is no stranger to covers albums — there’s the truly excellent Pop, Pop, Girl At Her Volcano (with those fantastic versions of “Under The Boardwalk” and “Walk Away Renee”), and the more recent It’s Like This — there’s something different about this one.

It’s that her interpretations go far beyond reverence. She’s lived with these songs for a long, long time…and I get the feeling that I’m hearing the original material combined with every single experience she’s had while listening over the years. This is of course an abstraction that I have no way of verifying, but sometimes a feeling carries more weight than a more focused bit of reality. Produced by Ben Harper, the record’s sparse supporting music — simple acoustic guitars, a little organ, very light percussion — manages to stay out of the way while holding Jones’ emotional delivery in sharp, sharp relief.

So I’ll take my somewhat fuzzy conjecture on the relationship between Rickie Lee and these songs. I don’t know what happened to her during her life’s listening sessions, but the end result is something that will no doubt live on in my own ears for a long time. Yours too, I bet.

Click on album image to purchase…

The Devil You Know [+digital booklet] The Devil You Know

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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