Can The White
Stripes' Elephant be more important than this album?
Whereas Rickie Lee Jones' The Evening Of My Best Day leaves the most heartless among us moved. Musically rich, like a timeless tapestry that she has woven since her last studio album six years ago, Evening mines the mother lode of jazz, blues, folk and even bossa nova. Since her debut in 1979, Jones has given us many classic albums Pirates (1981), Magazine (1984) and Ghostyhead (1997).
More than anything, she has given us her Christmas gift, the gift of epiphany, that blinding moment of truth and recognition, that the meek are truly blessed. It's just that they won't be silent anymore.
Prompted by "the election of George Bush, the passage of the Patriot Act, the monopolies of media and their misuse of language," Jones said that, "I began to realise that someone had to speak up. There is a tradition of protest music, from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and I'm naïve enough to believe that a song actually can change conditions." (For Singapore readers, take note that free speech is enshrined in the US Constitution, not for us though.)
George Bush weighs in on four tracks. The warm jazz melody of Ugly Man underpins a scathing mockery of Bush: "and he'll tell you lies/he'll look at you and tell you lies/he grew up to be like his father/ugly inside." Just imagine what would happen if something like this gets recorded in Singapore. The Bill Frisell trio, with Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums, provide that subtle jazz groove.
Bush gets Jones going on Little Mysteries, a cryptic conspiracy song that hammers at Bush's fake presidential victory: "for a certain brother down in Florida/famous for his cake/and when the boys came over from Texas/they said 'we'll take everything we can take'."
On Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act Now), a folk blues number, she reminds us of just what Bush did with the Patriot Act: "I want to know how far you will go/to protect our right of free speech/because it only took a moment/before it faded out of reach." The Patriot Act gave super-powers to FBI anti-terrorism surveillance. And there's the bluesy Lap Dog, which could be about Tony Blair. After all, he deserves at least one track.
On Evening, one realises that Jones' cool jazz inflections owe a lot to Steely Dan (than to Joni Mitchell) and the smart catchiness of Second Chance, has their mark on it, even a lyrical reference to their early album, Countdown to Ecstasy. And the tuneful It Takes You There reaffirms for Jones just what keeps her real. But it's the title track that could be the angriest. And yet it's couched in a ballad, a lonely, crying melody.
This is protest
with a lot of love. It's about fighting violence with non-violence. It's
about believing in your self once again. Philip Cheah
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