Friday, Jun. 18, 2010

Rickie Lee Jones' Short List

It's been just over 30 years since singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones recorded her hit single "Chuck E's in Love" and picked up a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The 10 lilting tunes on her latest album, Balm in Gilead, prove she hasn't lost her touch. When she gets a little downtime on the road, you might find her rereading Ursula K. Le Guin or blissing out to a classic Byrds song.

Sinatra on my mind
Sinatra has been my touchstone for many years, and "It Never Entered My Mind" recently became my new favorite. I love the way the opening line falters, letting you know right away that this is going to be a bittersweet tale. I think Sinatra is the greatest of singers--simple but with authority, exceptional range and that ease of personality that makes you feel as if he is sitting beside you or somehow inside you.

Poetic ecstasy
Kabir, the Sufi poet who lived 200 years after Rumi, is my favorite writer of ecstatic poems. If you haven't read either of these great mystic poets, I recommend both, but Kabir uses a language that is innocent yet driven, passionate and sweet--he speaks both informally and with intimacy.

Wizard ancestry
Three decades before Harry Potter, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote her Earthsea series, about Ged the wizard. Not a good name for a wizard, but it's a great, great story.

Lately I've been listening to "Chestnut Mare," a beautiful Byrds tune from 1970. It's a tall tale about a horse that got away, and its innocence and joy make me feel as if things are O.K. I used to dream of catching a wild stallion myself, so I can relate.

Roots music
The Band's songs are timeless. They initiated, with the help of Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline, a movement toward American roots. This is where it all began. Dylan did country, Big Pink went Appalachian, and we were off.