Rickie Lee Jones’s baby-girl drawl has always essayed mature themes. In the past, that’s meant emotionally charged personal tableaux filled with quirkily obscure characters. On her new Evening of My Best Day, though, Jones is more literal and direct. Where she once sang of love with a certain Chuck E., the first track here concerns a famous George W., and she’s not feeling affection, even if the swinging jazz-waltz groove and singsong melody nearly belie her venom. “He grew up to be like your father/he’ll look at you and tell you lies,” Jones sings. Then she asks, “Hey, ugly man: What’s your plan?”
Such outrage imbues several songs. “Little Mysteries” sounds like a Memphis soul session, with punchy horn charts and wah-wah guitar. But the lyrics focus on Washington, D.C.’s dark underbelly; it’s conspiracy-theorizing at its most suave, with digs about the 2000 presidential election, the Texas oilmen who’ve co-opted energy policy, even Senator Paul Wellstone’s fatal plane crash. And set to a church-revival tambourine beat, the call-to-arms “Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act)” has Jones challenging us like Nat Hentoff.
Her politics may be one-track, but Jones’s singing is frequently overdubbed and overlapped to achieve clever harmonies. Musically, she’s of many moods. “Sailor Song,” a ballad with cello and bass clarinet accompaniment, bears chamber-like tenderness; “Mink Coat at a Bus Stop” alternates wistful passages with hard-edged blues. And top-notch musicians, including jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, surround her as always. No wonder: Her magnetism radiates as powerfully as ever.