One of the most brilliant, acclaimed and insightful artists of our time, Rickie Lee Jones has continually evolved since the release of her Grammy-winning debut album in 1979. A distinctly original, highly unconventional musician - hailed by producer David Was as "a female Miles Davis" - Jones continues to bless us with profound works of art.
Late last year she released the magnificent album "Balm in Gilead." The title references the traditional spiritual "There Is A Balm In Gilead," which describes how a balm, a healing compound, makes the wounded whole.
In a laudatory review of "Balm," the U.K. Independent proclaimed: "When she's good she changes the very light."
You come see me, you say, hey, I know this and some part of our heart, your heart is lifted, and this, I believe, is my job.
Between heaven and home the musical genius of RICKIE LEE JONES
Among the CD's soothing balms is the beautifully haunting "His Jeweled Floor." Drawing from ecstatic Sufi poetry, this contemporary hymn celebrates a blissful union with God held "in His starry arms" at the passage of death.
"It was Kabir, one of the Sufi poets, like Rumi," Jones explains. "I read both of these ecstatic poets. I feel this way about God,the glory and love of the relationship between the soul and its home. God by any name you choose.These poems are about the lover waiting for her beloved's touch, and the sensuality of the waiting, and all things describing our relationship with God in sensual terms, quite un-Catholic.
"And yet in its way, the Catholic attempted to capture a sense of a visceral otherworldly experience as well.
* Rickie Lee Jones performs at 7:30 tonight in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. She arrives on Maui from a tour of Australia. Tickets are $25, $35 and $65 for premium seating which includes a post-show meet and greet, plus applicable fees, are available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
"I love these poems. I wrote this song after reading one, but the last verse was not finished. When my mother died, I wrote that there are no demons, only angels, and thought that I wanted to talk to my audience about the longing and need for a ritual, a secure setting in which to mourn and bury our parents and family,people we loved,a way to set their souls alight,to send them off with song and light,their souls, we envision, on their way to a safe harbor, and we are able to feel good about the burial.
"I think death catches us by surprise no matter how we expect it, and we find ourselves litter that isjust blown onto some grassy lawn, talking about mother, looking at each other, feeling like we have not in any way offered her any of the beauty and poetry andhonor we would have wanted to give our parents.They deserve that and we deserve some kind of formal, loving ritual. I thought it's clear,and we must make our own. I will start with a song.It's yours then. Sing it when you bury people."
Opening with a lovely tribute to her daughter, "Balm in Gilead" includes collaborations with a range of artists from Ben Harper and bluegrass star Alison Krauss to singer Victoria Williams and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell.
"Old Enough," with Harper, sounds like a great classic soul ballad that Al Green might have sung.
"Ben is a friend of David Kalish (co-producer and longtime collaborator) and he suggested him," she reports. "I did not really know Ben's work that well, but he and I had coincidentally ended up at the same clubs again and again when he debutedback in '96 or so. I know his voice and have a sense of his thing now. He is really quite interesting, a black man and a Californian. He listened to Jackson Browne I bet at least as much as Al Green. He has a great aesthetic."
Traversing broad stylistic territory, the album's gems include the plaintive, country waltz of "Remember Me," which could perfectly fit any Willie Nelson album.
"We were just talking about how great it would be if he would record 'The Moon is Made of Gold,'my daddy's song (on the CD)," she says. " 'Remember Me' is a real old-timey tune, two minutes long."
Enveloped in her warm embrace she sings of love and loss, hope and doubt, growth and death. Brilliant from start to finish, "Balm" may be her greatest work so far.
Two years earlier, Jones released "The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard," another extraordinarily powerful work, hailed by one critic as a "mystical masterpiece." Jubilantly rocking out - as if channeling Lou Reed and Van Morrison - the recording explores Jesus' teaching for our contemporary time, with songs improvised in stream of consciousness sessions.
"The first song is the first take of the first day, and there had been no plan really,and no idea," she says. "It just came, it was a holy hour.And much of the work then was done in much the same way, though I might have books open, or notebooks and books, and I glanced as I vamped, or I just went for it. It was reallya loving and exciting recording."
The album's centerpiece, "Where I Like It Best," interprets the Lord's Prayer.
"The Lord's Prayer, much maligned by compulsory rote memorization, is a really beautiful improvisation as well," she points out. "He was asked on the fly, how do we pray? What a question. He is telling them to find a new way, so they ask, how? He tells them, well, start like, 'father,' no, 'our father, our father in heaven,' and tell him how beautiful he is. Remind yourself of the holiness of what you do,hallowed be thy name, and a nod, lead us to your kingdom. Thy kingdom come, lead us to your will, let it be here as it is there with you. You know, show us the way. Your will be done, not mine. That way I walk in your steps, and I trust you. This is so much already. Thy will be mine. He didn't say that, but let's just say he did, and let that be as it is in heaven.
"So we have asked and reminded ourselves of so much goodness we could do already. Then,lead us not into temptation, because, man, it's hard enough here already. Deliver us from evil, that's all one thought. Don't starve us, feed us. Lead us out of temptation and deliver us from evil.
"I thought, how would we say that if someone asked this question today? And while I am at it, I will make it real.So here is the guy or girl who asked the question, on that day, and she says, I wanted to pray, really.
"But how do you pray in a world like this, so much violence, and these false and terrible voices on TV who say they are Christians, they seem so meaningless, so false, so specific to a sociological phenomenon, like a club, or a region, not really like God, spirit, transcending, all inclusive, hope, love. Where is that? It's not here. So I said, they close their eyes and bow their heads and - all this was improvised. And he said, when you pray, and this is the part left out of the Lord's Prayer,the first part, and in my opinion the most important part. He said, when you pray, pray from the deep part of your heart, and don't say prayers in rote like the heathen, making a display of your prayer. He said, as we know, a prayer is a private thing, between you and God, don't go around town banging your bell and doing what these TV evangelicals do, doing what these men walking around the village do to show how holy they are. God hears every word you think in private, your prayer is private.
"And then Iguess I took it into my own heart and said, you, you are where I like it best, this is the man and the Christ part, loving the human, in love with human, and loving God,so attracted to the Sufi idea, except reallyloving the God of humans, the humanness of the God. You are where I want to be, and long to be, and that's it, that's the Lord's Prayer.
"At the end of the Lord's Prayer, deliver us from evil. I guess I said instead, you are where I like it best. So yeah, it's a deep deep thing for me."
So what was her hope in crafting a work about the essence of Jesus?
"I hoped people would be able to weigh his words, and feel the spirit of them outside the realm of Christianity, especially American evangelical Christianity, which seems to be a runaway horse, a cart without a horse, running down a hill. I wanted people who long for community,for communing with their spirit, and maybe involvement with others in this way, to at least be able to make a fair decision about Christ's words as well as the Buddha or any other prophet, or idea, living under the yoke of so much minstrel show and jester kind oftreatment of the old rabbi. I thought it seems impossible for people to measure his great heart if they do not seek it, and only hear these sounding brass, these goofy, judgmental, intolerantChristianswho are indeed very unlike Jesus or his teachings. Not many teachings really, and the apostle Paul not necessarily the guy to give you the news. You listen to people talk about the events of the day, or do you listen to the events of the day and talk about them? Are you letting others tell you what to think, because that is a slippery slope. Many people have much to gain by controlling what you think. It is best to go to the source yourself. Read his words, only, with no commentary, no editing. Go right to some book, or make your own book of the words.
"Here is what so-and-so said he said, in red, out of the Bible, not under any subject even. Or read Lee Cantelon's book 'The Words.' I was married to Lee, and so was very eager to help him interpret these things to people, listening to him as well as toning down the evangelical background of his youth. His book is a good one, but it is again his interpretation and his categorization. You must seek the truth, and the truth will set you free, and when you find yourself free, you will have no other road but to offer this forgiveness and hope toeveryone you meet, I think. I am sure no one gets into heaven until everyone gets into heaven. We must truly love the neighbor and love the enemy as ourselves. They ARE ourselves.
"Like the sea, we are one, made of drips of water, no meaning unless we are part of the whole. When we isolate ourselves, we lose our way, lost in ego and filled with loneliness.Not that humans lead to happiness, but they are what we are, and we need them, and need to heal them, and to let them lay their loving hands on us."
As a unique artist consistently creating amazing albums, one wonders, does she sometimes feel frustrated that maybe she doesn't receive the attention she deserves?
"I suppose the level of work I do on stage deserves a lot more attention. The place should be full of kids," she responds. "It's music for all kinds of people, it's not nostalgic by any means.
"I have been about defying convention since I began, and that is still my banner. That my work was so instantly edified, that I have been so copied, imitated,honored and dishonored,from McDonalds commercials to Sheryl Crow, makes people knowing who I am, maybea more difficult task. " 'Chuck E's in Love' was only big, and is only still remembered because it was so different from anything that had been going on in music. The song and I helped open the door to the folky singer-songwriter thing from some back alley whereharder rougher stories were taking place. I was sexual, tough, wild, and these things mattered at that time, because it had taken on a pretty false and elitist attitude, the Eagles and Joni and all that Californiaisms.
"I believe that in the end,and hopefully before, the truth of things,the good of things,our revolutionary anchor, the part of all of us that wants to oustall oil and use solar energy, that wants to live together communally,that wants to save trees and save schools, normal stuff, right, that has been marginalized so that it's like, cute or something. Well, it's not cute. It's essential and it's who we truly are. I think all this will be recognized in each other, you hear this somehow in my work, you come see me, you say, hey, I know this and some part of our heart, your heart is lifted,and this, I believe, is my job."
"I play for people. They love, they are moved, they cry. I see their true selves. I love playing music, learning, learning,courage and sound. I love this. I see the world, I get paid. What's not to like."
No doubt folks will be smiling and merrily singing the chorus to the ironic "There Is Nothing I Would Rather Be Than To Be An Aborigine, And Watch You Take My Precious Land Away," at the close of the new Australian musical "Bran Nue Dae," opening the 2010 Maui Film Festival in Wailea on Wednesday evening.
Praised by Sydney's Sunday Mail as, "an indigenous comedy musical that succeeds on every level," "Bran Nue Dae" is based on an acclaimed stage musical by Aborginal playwright Jimmy Chi.
Set in the late '60s, featuring the rocking music of Chi's band, Knuckles, the film celebrates cultural identity, forgiveness and reconciliation, with many colorful characters including Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as a wacky Catholic mission school principal, an uptight German hippie and his spacey girlfriend, and a teenage hero searching for his roots.
A guaranteed crowd-pleasing joyful experience.