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Rickie Lee Jones: Loud and Angry

Singer Hopes to Stir Up Audiences With 'Invigorating' New Sound

August 08, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the nearly 20 years since the charming "Chuck E.'s in Love" put Rickie Lee Jones on the pop music map, the singer-songwriter has sounded, by turn, romantic, inquisitive, hurt, melancholy, even playful.

Now she's getting mad.

"It's really important to me that my songs are invigorating, or for lack of a better word, angry," Jones said. "I want to stir up questions and people's insides, so they are transformed . . . or at least walk away with something. That's really the quest."

To that end, the 42-year-old Chicago native is at work on an album that figures to be a stark turnabout from the delicate, mostly acoustic textures of her 1995 retrospective live album, "Naked Songs." To hear her describe it, the sound of the new album will put her more in the camp of Courtney Love than that of her longtime folk-rock model, Joni Mitchell.

"What I'm writing and planning to record will be [in] a different format [than 'Naked Songs']. It won't be acoustic; it's what I call my New Breath--it's music that is loud, electric and very powerful."

Rickie Lee Jones--loud, electric, powerful?

Part of this shift springs from her just-concluded stint on the nationally touring H.O.R.D.E. festival, where the heretofore folksy, jazz-tinged musician added a gritty, biting, contemporary edge to her musical persona. Her touring band, Chain Austen, consisted of guitarist Rick Boston, keyboardist Ranni Jaffee, bassist Rick May and drummer Sam Watson, and she'll be taking them into the studio with her.

Reached last week by phone at her hotel in Salt Lake City, Jones characterized H.O.R.D.E. as a "traveling gypsy caravan" that provided a sense of community for the performers, vendors and fans alike.

While such commercially successful acts as Blues Traveler, the Dave Matthews Band and Lenny Kravitz held down the main stage, Jones headlined the second stage, where lesser-known alternative, funk and country bands including Red Thunder, Super 8 and Medeski, Martin & Woods were featured.

The other change-inducing forces for Jones, who performs Friday in a benefit for the Surfrider Foundation at the Hard Rock Cafe in Newport Beach, have been less tangible than a rock festival.

"The things that inspire me accumulate over long periods, until all the vessels are full," she offered after pausing briefly. "I think it can be very subtle and private.

"If you're working from a point of inspiration, you can't really be aware of how the process works," she said. "I think if you could see it and discuss it with someone, then it would be too unnatural to be truly inspirational. Do you know what I mean?"

Jones' inspiration grew out of a rebellious childhood during which her family moved frequently--she spent three months attending a high school in Huntington Beach. She wound up in the L.A. area in the 1970s, settled for a time in Venice and worked primarily as a waitress. By 1978, she was performing " '70s Beat" music in local bars and clubs.

She was discovered and signed by a Warner Bros. Records executive. In 1979, her debut--featuring "Chuck E.'s in Love"--went platinum and received much critical praise.

Over the years, however, her career has been marked by bouts with alcoholism and inconsistent recordings, none of which have matched the commercial or critical success of that influential, breakthrough first album.

But whether she uses a whisper or hammers with brute force, Jones has maintained her ability to reach into the heart of her audience. She also holds on to a glimmer of hope even in times of darkness, whether it's in the celebratory mood of her own song "We Belong Together" to her more recent and downright tearful rendition of the Jefferson Airplane's "Comin' Back to Me."

"Whether they got it through a sad or happy song, I'd like my audience to go away with a feeling that they can make a difference," Jones emphasized. "Sometimes it seems like a hopeless world, but I try to revitalize people and open 'em up as much as possible. I hate to see people swallowed up by TV, just passively sitting around and not reacting to anything."

* Who: Rickie Lee Jones.

* When: 8 p.m. Friday, with Common Sense.

* Where: Hard Rock Cafe, 451 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach.

* Whereabouts: Take Pacific Coast Highway, the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway or the San Diego (405) Freeway to MacArthur Boulevard, follow MacArthur to San Miguel Drive and turn west into Fashion Island. The Hard Rock Cafe is near San Miguel and Newport Center Drive East.

* Wherewithal: $100. Net proceeds benefit the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization.

* Where to call: (310) 292-5683.

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