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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

*** 1/2 RICKIE LEE JONES "Ghostyhead" Reprise

June 15, 1997|Richard Cromelin

In her last record, 1995's live album "Naked Songs," Rickie Lee Jones was a priestess of the pure singer-songwriter religion, offering her music in classic form--acoustic, minimalist, solitary, organic.

In 1997, say hello to MC Rickie Lee. Pop's neo-beat chanteuse has met the new beat.

In a radical departure, Jones, always one of her genre's limit-testers, plunges into the clatter and squeal of sampled rhythms and synthesized atmospheres. It's a Beck-esque hybrid of futuristic hip-hop/acid jazz and traditional boho poetry and song craft.

Don't worry about Jones' distinctive, delicate artistry getting swamped in this setting, which was produced by the singer and Rick Boston. It may be digital in nature, but it's primal in feel, and Jones' alternately sassy and ethereal vocals--recorded with utmost naturalism--always hold the center. Jones (who headlines the El Rey Theatre on July 9) seems to draw renewed strength and inspiration from the funky flourishes, shifting sonic shapes and shuffling beats.

Those elements combine to enhance and convey the disorienting nature of Jones' themes and scenarios, which range freely from the streetwise to the celestial. The passage from drug-damaged confusion to a serene transcendence recounted in "Ghostyhead" is hard-earned and satisfying.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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