Rickie Lee Jones says she moved to New Orleans, in part, because she wanted to be around people. In Los Angeles, she was mostly around cars.
So far, so good. People from New Orleans — either real or imagined — are all over her latest effort, “The Other Side of Desire.” And one of Jones’ neighbors here even helped inspire a song on the album.
New Orleans has long figured into Jones’ enormous body of work. After all, this is where she met Woody and Dutch, who feature prominently on her 1981 “Pirates” album. Woody and Dutch are the lead characters of a funky song titled, “Woody and Dutch Take the Slow Train to Peking.” Jones describes the two men as part of a “fantastic group of people up to no good.”
Jones also has recorded the traditional dirge, “St. James Infirmary,” made famous in 1928 by Louis Armstrong. That was a song her father, Richard, sang to her as a child.
“Since I was little, he sang, ‘St. James Infirmary,’” Jones tells Gwen. “So I guess, in so many ways, so many things about New Orleans music have naturally been a part of my life.”
On “The Other Side of Desire,” Jones acknowledges Fats Domino with an original, belly-rubbing song called, “J’ai Connais Pas.”
“After I did this song, I started thinking about Fats Domino because … There’s nobody that doesn’t know, ‘Blueberry Hill.’ I mean, this guy is easily as big as Louis Armstrong in his impact on music … Where is his statue — not only in this city but around the world?”
“The Other Side of Desire” is the latest Jones album to showcase her artistic fearlessness. With the exception of opera, there appears to be no genre of music that’s off limits to her. What’s more, she has an uncanny ability to tap into the deepest emotional undercurrents of a song. And where the lyrics fall short, she carries the audience with captivating vocals — half raw, half wild and all Jones.
“I love music,” she says. “Nothing else goes into me as deeply and I don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. I want to entertain people. But the fact that I laugh or cry or am childlike or old, all these things I get to feel, I get to depict, because I get to sing. Who wouldn’t do that if they could?”