It’s something of a cliché to say an album will reward careful listening, but that’s what it takes with Rickie Lee Jones’s latest, 2012’s The Devil You Know—and man is the reward worth it. Covers such as “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” and “Play With Fire” become hers under the minimalist production of Ben Harper. Harper also provides guitar, bass, organ, drums, percussions, vibraphone, and background vocals. With the exception of David Lindley on violin and Sheldon Gomberg (who did excellent work with Harper and Musselwhite on Get Up!) on stand-up bass, most of the other musicians are on organ or piano—with one telling exception. “DJ” Bonebrake of punk rock group X plays, not drums, but the vibraphone. Interested yet?
If you are, and give it a chance, you will find an authentic little batch of minimalist covers, all well worth the listen. Rickie Lee Jones has chosen ten songs and not a one is a “likely” choice from the writers she’s picked from, with the possible exception of “Sympathy for the Devil” from the Stones. That’s the care evidenced here as each one reminds you of the originals while taking you someplace new—the best test of any cover.
Some of the best of the covers include Van Morrison’s “Comfort You” and Donovan’s “Catch the Wind,” though there is nothing better than her working of “St. James Infirmary.” There’s the great Ben Harper “Masterpiece” and a wonderful rendering of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe.” The most striking thing about all of these versions, beyond their minimalism and authenticity, is that they sound nothing like songs we would assume Jones would sing, if we based our expectations solely upon her early hits. This is a long way from “Chuck E’s in Love,” but it is an amazing place.
Not a Driving Album
The Devil You Know is for a porch or a veranda, certainly anything but a driving album. Rickie Lee Jones sounds like she’s sitting on a stool under the microphone with her eyes closed, giving us the best she can of heartfelt songs from all our pasts. It’s one of those albums that didn’t strike me at first and yet is now one of my favourites. That’s a small group of albums and The Devil You Know is pretty close to the top right now.