Rickie Lee Jones – A Review by Colin Talbot

rickie lee jones – a review by colin talbot
Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones–Me & Ms Jones, there’s a thing going on…She & band played the Recital Hall which is a far far cry from Festival Hall or Rod Laver, thankfully. It is a mature venue, the like of which did not exist in my youth. And I’d never heard hardly anything RLJ had done apart from ‘Chuck E’s in Love’ which did very well around the traps. It is said she was in the sack with Tom Waits, so there’s that beatnik/jazz connection, that staccato thing.
The band was minimal, Ms Jones to you on semi-acoustic & a lead guitar & drums/vibes (both players subtle and excellent but I didn’t catch their names when she gave them out because there was random applause which drowned that out. One can always research it or find some program notes but I didn’t. Ms Jones said they’d all been living and playing in ‘New Orleans Lousiana’ for the past few years) and later in the set she went to the piano.
Her stage craft is cool and wry and polite enough and that’s okay by me. The big surprise was ‘Horses’ which I probably heard many years ago was one of her songs but forgot, and she invited Darryl Braithwaite to come on stage and sing which he did. It was a highlight because, yes, I recall Darryl from Sherbet all those years ago, and he sang well then, but with ‘Horses’ he found a true song for himself. They sang together well, and he was hanging off-stage and it was even remotely piossible they’d encore with it. They didn’t. Anyway, it went over well, very well. and she told the story of how he’d taken her song to #1 in Australia and she thanked her music publishers (why wouldn’t ya?) and Darryl and told the story of arriving in Melbourne into a hotel and turning on the TV (fighting over that with her daughter, about who the song was written 29 in a few days she said, —but ‘that’s another story!’ – and on the TV was a horse race and everybody seemed to be singing ‘that’s the way it’s gonna be’ because Darryl was doing his thing at the Races—I remember that time, I think there was a problem with the timing and the real horses  the song about the Horses were on a collision and a few million $$ worth of horseflesh started shying…Melbourne Cup or Cox Plate, I forget…anyway…back to last night.
So Rickie Lee slowly began to warm up to her best and in the end, tho she was 15 minutes late, went to about 10.15pm and whattya want? I’ve never been ‘into’ Ms Jones but that’s as may be, for she had many many fans there who knew the stuff, which I didn’t. But I did warm to the oblique style and the sparse but critical way the band played and she has a very strong voice that has charm and wit.
She’d been on guitar and then she moved to piano and that’s where her sublime talent at the piano showed. It turns out her grand folks were some kind of performers (circus, tin-pan alley, musicals, I forget) and her father was an accomplished performer & songwriter and in fact her encore was his song written in 1954 ‘The Moon is Gold’ which was a  nice tune that gave Rickie Lee Jones a time to sound a little like Billie Holiday’s phrasing.
 But that was last Friday and I have been thinking…and then from Sydney, Amanda Dweck wrote of seeing RLJ in Sydney… so…
here is that letter from Amanda:

What a treat Rickie Lee Jones must have been in Melbourne with Daryl Braithwaite singing “Horses”. I saw her last night said daughters birthday and I didn’t know that she had written this song for her daughter. But I listened to the lyrics for the first time and was choking back the tears. What a beautiful gift! Rickie’s unique voice was also a gift to us because she had caught a miserable lergy that she could only have caught in Melbourne. Sydney’s Basement was packed in like sardines on the second of two nights. She was simply amazing. I bought her album on the way out and the liner notes revealed that she had to rely on friends support to produce the album.


The thoughtful note we received did not prompt this addition yet it helped me to concentrate the mind, like the hangman’s noose at dawn – or the hangperson as the case may be.

Amanda’s letter mentioned  how she missed Sherbet’s former lead singer doing ‘Horses’ and it got me thinking – was it a ‘special moment’ because it was so good? Or was it such a moment because it was totally unexpected and then well done, so we the audience were generous? Possibly both, as the audience surely responded to the surprise with much more than good grace…and Darryl B with Rickie Lee nailed it, IMO.

Now I mentioned before that when Rickie Lee went to the piano, something of a revelation occurred, as the playing was pensive, dynamic, thoughtful and inherently beautiful all at once. Yet as she said while noodling, (ie: foolin’ around) she said how she had a gift for recalling tunes and songs—once heard, sort of never forgotten. Then she started to recall a tune right then…half under her breath singing ‘smiling faces, badabadabing blah yadda ya traces’ and hung that on us before moving on. Now that really stuffed me up because I could not recall what song it was and I spent the rest of the concert flicking thru my mind’s catalog of pop stuff but I freakin’ could NOT find it. Jeez to heck! No!!!!! Hold back the dawn!! Ye haw, hey jest a minute! Hold on, ’Smiling faces, going places aaah ha’ …And I find it kinda funny I find it kinda sad that I just can’t recall —I mean it were not a couple of things I looked up later that night on Gargle.Cum I really did start to lose it—and I remembered ‘smiling faces going places’ and I realised, like I saw I was in a mad place because it is a mad world—YES!

I had fund the Missing Link. The sog was the soundtrack for that movie where the guy sees a big rabbit. ‘Mad World’. Lots of minor chords I suspect. It had been written by I forget, maybe the band that sang ‘Life in a Northern Town’ maybe not, maybe by The Cocteau Twins –that sort of thing. What a beautiful song (to me), just piano (probably viola or whatever sitting behind so subtle that I don’t know I’m hearing it.) I don’t ‘hear’ everything, I become captured by the song and can no longer analyse it, I’m caught in it like what happens in the song Grace Jones sings, ‘Sometimes the Hunter is Captured by the Game.’ Incidentally on that Grace Jones album from 30 or 40 years ago (Jeeez!!) right there was ‘Walking in the Rain’ by the Easybeats songwriting team. And Grace kills the song so beautifully, who else would ever dare do it? I certainly don’t know, that’s the version I carry in my head catalog. But back to the concert, Amanda.

Then RLJ, after freakin’ me out and leaving me with half a song in my head, began to speak of a group called Left Bank and their album. I never knew they ever did another but maybe they did. She mentioned a song on it ‘Pretty Ballerina’. Now that song , the version by the Left Bank, was used in a movie about bent US Army Police in Thailand, the song playing over a scene where the body of a murdered bar girl is shown…I was not happy but I was happy. Because I loved and still love that song and that version – the only version besides mine that I have ever heard and I’m confessin’ you really wouldn’t want to hear mine.

But I found it most disturbing that in the film (name forgotten -please insert, dear editor and knower of all things) the song was played over an example of the human plague of murder that was kicked off all those years back by Cain, the selfish Biblical metaphor for the bad in us perhaps –unless you believe every word in the Bible is gospel (so to speak) and is the word of God handed down via ‘prophets’ and just guys who wrote stuff down they heard in their heads, and therefore Cain is real history…maybe it is…probably it is not. ASnyway and it is so that all murdering types carry the Mark of Cain — it’s just that I don’t know what that Mark is and so I’ve never been able to identify it—perhaps it is a different mark for each member of that evil fraternity. And I do not class self-defence or the elimination of certain gutter trash  as murder, more as restoring equilibrium (note: some may find the following language not to their taste…you may overlook this paragraph thus: when these cases are come before court apparently the wise lawyer employs what is called the ‘f*cking c*nt’ defence…as in, ‘Your Honor, my client pleads not guilty to murder because he knocked that rabid tosser because he was a f*cking c*nt.’ The judge then says. ‘Oh, sweet, no worries. Case dismissed.’)

Anyway, Rickie Lee having mentioned ‘Pretty Ballerina’, the only singer I have ever heard to mention this song and this band,  she turns to the other song of note on that album. Most would think the Four Tops were the true agents of this song she turned to, but as I recall, it was a Left Bank Original. Rickie Lee talked genuinely of the Left Bank and if she’d done nothing else, that would have won me over. It brought to mind a scene from my ragged life back in West St Kilda when I was a journalist just beginning to learn the amount of alcohol a journalist must consume so as to deal with the absolute horror of this world —of having to meet and write about some of the people who perpetrate the worst acts humanity can dream up —and the worst is really really off. I had been a Pollyanna type, I couldn’t even listen to cautionary tales like Handsome & Gretchen without coming out in a rash. Anyway we’d had a party at my rooms (as they used to say) in York Street and I had intended to clean up, as had Steve and Dennis who shared the (Between the Wars) abode. But it was a busy time with news and newspapers that June. We didn’t have time, honest…sort of. Oh yeah it had been my birthday party and someone had decided I should have a party at my place but they’d forgotten to inform me so when I returned to the house after the evening shift finished at 10pm, and I thrashed the FC Holden home to get there by 10.38pm the joint was jumpin’, yo man it was absolutely packed to the freaking rafters with people I’d never met before all helping me to celebrate my 20th.

Anyway, sometime later, on another day, I woke with a remarkably clear head to find two policepersons standing in my room , regarding me. Fortunately the two girls who had been evicted from the hacienda next door and had sought refuge in our joint were not around, as one of them had decided it was better to sleep with me than to sleep in the room that the house’s owner (we were renting) used to keep his spuds—and he had thousands of them…(It wasn’t until years after I even wondered why he had crates and crates of spuds in this locked room. Odd when ya think about it, which I’m doing now…still odd. Who would have thousands of spuds in a locked room with three journos who were just out of childhood (but not mentally) in the same house. Anyway we’d broken the lock of the room to see WTF was in it. Spuds was the answer. Oh how we dined on mashed potato, roast potato, boiled potato and potato salad (with just potato)…so the de-homed, the de-domesticated. de-domiciled girls could try and find a spot in amongst the spuds after they were evicted. We made a nice level area so they could lie flat on the potatos. But, as I say, one of the lasses didn’t like spuds, and I was a preferred option but believe it or not, sometimes at 11pm after a horrible shift of reporting, chasing some dopey missing figure from the alleged on-the-run Czech consul up in the hills and being told by a local from those hills that my quarry ‘I baint seen him like but he be living a few chain down that ways.’ A chain being a unit of measurement in the Imperial System (which I’d called the Empirical System for a long time until some kid told me I was an drongo, not even ‘a’ drongo mind you), that was no longer in use after WW1, let alone in 1969. That’s the length of a cricket pitch for those of a sporting bent….where was I —oh yeah, sometimes after a bad night reporting a stupid story, you don’t want company in bed, even if it’s a girl, even if she’s a nice person, even if…(redacted dirty bit), even if you are not a terribly bad bloke, you yell out the locked door ‘Stay with the spuds, I’m quite done in.’

The door rattles, expletives are hurled, but you finally hear footsteps tromping off…but it accounted for why I woke up alone with two coppers standing over me.
And they ask a question or two about whatever and then one points to the pyramid of beer cans in the centre of the rather large room with mid-morning sunlight streaming in through the East-facing window —and the can pyramid is tall as a seven-year-old child (either —or these days any- sex) and the copper goes , ‘Did ya’s have a party here last night?’ And I thinks (‘to myself’ as the sports writers say) for a minute or two and I replies through the mental fog —‘Yeah…Nah, I think…yeah, the party was about two weeks ago.’ And they got a frown and a sneer & the hump and turned on their well-polished heels and exeunt.

Well the point of that silly story is that leaning against that pyramid of cans was my Left Bank record. And on that record was the song that Rickie Lee now chose to sing at the piano. And that was ‘Walk Away Renee’. The Four Tops did a great version but for me, it was always Left Bank. And Rickie Lee gave us a beautifully pensive version at the piano. Just so good. Thankyou. And a lover of Left Bank…just perfect.#


  1. What a treat Rickie Lee Jones must have been in Melbourne with Daryl Braithwaite singing “Horses”. I saw her last night said daughters birthday and I didn’t know that she had written this song for her daughter. But I listened to the lyrics for the first time and was choking back the tears. What a beautiful gift! Rickie’s unique voice was also a gift to us because she had caught a miserable lergy that she could only have caught in Melbourne. Sydney’s Basement was packed in like sardines on the second of two nights. She was simply amazing. I bought her album on the way out and the liner notes revealed that she had to rely on friends support to produce the album.