b. 8 November 1954, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Jones emerged from a thriving Los Angeles bohemian sub-culture in 1979 with a buoyant debut album, peppered with images of streetwise characters and indebted, lyrically, to beat and jazz styles. The set included the Chuck E. Weiss tribute “Chuck E.’s In Love”, a US Top 5 single, and “Easy Money”, a song previously covered by Little Feat guitarist Lowell George on his 1978 solo debut. Other selections bore a debt to fellow songwriter Tom Waits to whom Jones was briefly romantically linked. Although Rickie Lee Jones garnered popular success and critical plaudits and led to a Grammy Award for Best New Artist, the singer refused to be rushed into a follow-up. Two years later, Pirates, a less instantaneous, yet more rewarding collection, offered a greater perception and while still depicting low-rent scenarios, Jones revealed a hitherto hidden emotional depth in detailing her break-up from Waits. The mini-album Girl At Her Volcano, a collection of live performances of old standards and studio out-takes, marked time until the release of The Magazine in 1984. This ambitious work confirmed the artist’s imagination and blended her accustomed snappy, bop-style (“Juke Box Fury”, “It Must Be Love”) with moments of adventurousness, in particular the multi-part “Rorschachs”. The album, co-produced by composer James Newton Howard, also confirmed Jones as an expressive vocalist, at times reminiscent of Laura Nyro.
Jones retreated from the music business in the mid-80s, tackling a number of personal issues and giving birth to her daughter. It was not until 1989 that a further album, Flying Cowboys, was issued on her new label Geffen Records. While lacking the overall strength of its predecessors, the record maintained its creator’s reputation for excellence. The set was produced by Walter Becker and featured backing from Scottish band the Blue Nile. Later in the year Jones, in collaboration with Dr. John, won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Duet for their cover version of “Makin’ Whoopee”. The stripped down 1991 album Pop Pop stretched the idea behind Girl At Her Volcano to album length, with Jones tackling jazz standards by the likes of Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn alongside material from the late 60s psychedelic scene.
The 1993 release Traffic From Paradise revealed Jones’ songwriting muse to be in fine working order, although her cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel’ was the stand-out track. Released in 1995, Naked Songs, Jones” contribution to the unplugged phenomenon, was followed by the stridently modern Ghostyhead, on which Jones embraced the rhythms of contemporary dance music. It’s Like This, another cover versions album and the artist’s first for the independent Artemis Records label, was in marked contrast, offering more unique takes on songs as diverse as Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “One Hand, One Heart” and Traffic’s “The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys”.
Following a strong live set, Jones returned to the studio to record her first album of original material in over five years, The Evening Of My Best Day (2003). With Jones’ muse reawakened by her anger and misgivings over the flawed election of George W. Bush, she fashioned her strongest collection of songs since Pirates. The excellent compilation set Duchess Of Coolsville, which was released in 2005, showcased many unreleased live songs and demo tracks. The same year, Jones began work with her friend and author Lee Cantelon on a musical version of his book The Words, a contemporary presentation of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Her own recording The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard developed from this project, featuring several lo-fi tracks from the original sessions alongide a second group of more fully-realised songs recorded at a later date with producer Rob Schnapf.