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Pop Music Review

Rickie Lee Jones Is Still Riveting, in Command

October 12, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even when an audience is eager to be mesmerized, few singer-songwriters can weave a spell like the one Rickie Lee Jones cast Tuesday over a packed crowd at the El Rey Theatre. The veteran boho-jazz-pop artist molded time and space at whim, relaying human pain, comedy and bliss with the authority of someone who has witnessed it all, and the deceptive ease of a vocalist in full command of her singular instrument.

Jones, 45, needed no magic wand to rivet listeners, only that earthy yet unearthly voice, seeming always on the verge but never actually cracking, now soaring high, now resonating deep. Jovial and chatty, she once digressed expansively to explain a single lyric with a story that, like her songs, wandered off into another country before getting back to the matter at hand.

Accompanying herself on guitar and piano, backed by up to six adept musicians in various configurations, she meandered like an old bluesman, often waiting until the last possible second to squeeze out lines before the band moved on without her.

The almost two-hour set encapsulated her entire career, but Jones focused on earlier works, which was a little surprising for an artist who never hesitates to embrace new directions. Still, one of the many highlights was a swinging take on Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids," from her new collection of other writers' songs, "It's Like This."

Yet the show never felt nostalgic, partly because such tragedies as the mistaken-identity cop shooting limned in 1981's "Skeletons" are every bit as relevant today. Ultimately, as she proved with a stunning, a cappella turn during "Coolsville," Jones' revisiting the past was a way of showing just how far she's come.

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