A dozen years after Rickie Lee Jones brought together songs from the likes of Gershwin the Beatles and Marvin Gaye for “It’s Like This,” the singer has honed her focus for a second set of songs she did not write.
“The Devil You Know,” which Concord releases today (Sept. 18), is heavy on legends from the 1960s – the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Donovan – with a traditional jazz tune (“St. James Infirmary”) and a song from the album’s producer, Ben Harper.
“It’s a bastardization of a theme,” Jones says. “First I was going to do movie and TV songs – that’s a wide range. We started with (the Band’s) ‘The Weight'” – it appears in “Easy Rider” and “The Big Chill” — and I wanted to make it about the lyrics, think about the words” rather than the harmonies on the chorus. “Once we recorded it. I felt something powerful.”
“I also like to sing old soul songs, especially late 60s, early ’70s. There was the idea to concentrate on that era, 1968-72, and I think we did roughly stick to it.” Ultimately it didn’t matter. “Creation is an amalgamation,” she says, and shoehorning songs to fit a concept “feels false.”
The unifying element was more of an approach than anything biographical or thematic: “There’s a reserve and a quietude to the songs. Some part of me is reacting to what’s happening to creative world. It’s messy. Everything is so busy with the rhythms and I go to the other side with a whole other set of ideas. No reverb, pretty.”
While not heavy on soul music, seven of the 10 songs hail from the time period. She interprets two songs from the Stones (“Sympathy for the Devil” and “Pay With Fire”) and two associated with Rod Stewart (Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” and Ted Anderson’s “Seems Like A Long Time”).
Harper picked Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”; she wanted to record “Cowgirl in the Sand” but eventually acquiesced. “Ben was in charge and he saw a feeling and a flow,” say Jones, referring to the raw and unadorned arrangements.
Four or five of the songs will be included in Jones set’s on her fall tour that includes an Oct. 6 date in Santa Monica, Calif., and seven shows in November.
Minutes before this interview, Jones was tweeting about Libya and has made her Twitter account a combination of personal and political reflection in addition to providing news about shows and her recordings. The more she spoke, the more it became clear she is not comfortable taking about herself or her own creative processes.
“Not that I don’t like to talk to people, but I live a secluded life. And times when I have to speak, I have to talk about myself and that’s not really healthy. I hate elitism. I don’t mind talking about the work but I hate putting musicians above others.”
Issues are a far different matter and Twitter affords her an opportunity that Facebook and media interviews do not.
“I’m addicted to the immediacy,” she says of social media. “That’s a problem. This is something that is so not of my generation. We like to talk about things, explain them, use good grammar. It’s a different skin. I like to do more. I can’t say as much as I want to in 140 characters.”