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Bedroom of a Saint

Rickie's House: The official Rickie Lee Jones home page at Reprise Records. Includes a video vault, picture gallery, reviews, biography, sound clips and more.

    We who revere Rickie Lee have watched--or heard--her change, from a sassy girlfriend to a wry, honky-tonk demi-angel with lessons to teach. It is with a sigh that she advises in "A Stranger's Car" on her 1993 Traffic From Paradise album, "If your parents kill you year by year/Here's the time to say Goodbye."

    Traffic displays Jones's genius for weaving instruments into rich, moving tapestries. Her lyrics display a honed sense of human darkness--and light. In "Running from Mercy," Jones, accompanied by Lyle Lovett, both affirms an inner spirit while digging religion and government: "Little acts of kindness/And little words of love/Make our earthly home/Heaven above/And there is no sorrow/Heaven cannot heal/A fire within/No Cross/No Crown."

    Rickie Lee's latest, Naked Songs, is Jones stripped, crooning old tunes like "Chuck E.," and introducing new songs like "Skeleton" and "Last Chance Texaco," a funny, sad tune that incorporates oil company names into its lyrics. Newcomers might turn off to her nasal twang and girlish lisp, which are distinct with nothing but a piano, guitar or bass in back. And the enthusiasm of the live audience might annoy. But to turn off to Jones would be a shame and a sin--get Traffic instead.

    For fans, listening to Naked Songs is like sneaking into Rickie Lee's bedroom. And the bedroom of a saint, through a rarefied space, can be uncomfortable too. There's that lisp. . . but if you love Jones, the lisp grows endearing. The songs, so bare, are poignant, melodic and inventive.

    For once, you'll get almost all the words. And if you wondered about "Altar Boy": Yeah, she really does say, "A monk with a hard-on. . . [then,] In a lavender robe/That scratches his thighs/For the height that he strolls/As he follows a path/Filled with arid desire/That mimics his footsteps/And sets his prayers/On fire." It's that kind of dark, musical magical-realism that makes Rickie Lee a ragtag icon for devotees.

    If you're one, of course you'll get Naked Songs. You'll get it 'cause Rickie Lee's like mom with wings. And on Naked, she's like mom singing bedside. The songs are rough, oddly nude. But coming from mom, they're familiar and, finally, really, perfectly beautiful.

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From the Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 1995 issue of Metro

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