Rickie Lee Jones, erstwhile folk-jazz-pop boho heroine, has thrown her old fans a curve with her new album, "Ghostyhead," which sets her introspective, hallucinatory imagery to an aggressive, hard-edged electronic sound.
Jones' concert at the El Rey Theatre on Wednesday indicated that she's embracing this experimental approach with an almost obsessive intensity. Building the show almost exclusively on "Ghostyhead" material, Jones showed no interest in reconciling this music with her earlier, gentler periods. There are certainly common threads--most obviously the urban, pop-noir settings, and characters who are nearing the edge--but it would take an effort to forge a connection that made sense in concert.
That's fine--Jones has set her sights on places in the soul not accessible by finesse, and she's going at it with a vengeance. But it would probably be worth it for the breadth and diversity it would supply.
Wednesday's set was sometimes repetitious, the improvisations of her four-man band were only intermittently inspired, and the sound itself sometimes seemed thin, lacking a rich lower range. And band leader and "Ghostyhead" co-producer Rick Boston, whether cuing the musicians or taking a solo on bass or guitar, had a way of intrusively calling attention to himself at the expense of Jones.
The singer, amiable, amused and whimsical at the center of the sonic turmoil, did establish one link to her earlier work near the end of the show: a version of "Running From Mercy," a Van Morrison-like hymn she wrote with Leo Kottke for her 1993 album "Traffic From Paradise." Its tone of gentle affirmation and spiritual fulfillment echoed in a more innocent way the concerns of "Ghostyhead," and its effectiveness in that context should encourage Jones to unearth more of her old treasures.