Rickie Lee Jones
Lots of creative sparks here--plenty of them. She sounds like she's going through a transformation throughout the album in a way that's reminiscent of Van Morrison's performances on his classic album 'Astral Weeks'. There's Rickie's spellbinding performance on the eight-plus free-flowing minutes of 'I Was There,' and so many other highlights here, including 'Where I Like It Best', 'Gethsemane', 'Falling Up', 'Circle In The Sand', '7th Day' and 'Elvis Cadillac' and especially 'Nobody Knows My Name'.
What will certainly be most striking to some fans about 'THE SERMON ON EXPOSITION BOULEVARD' (to be released in February 2007) is that it rocks harder than any album the two-time Grammy Award winner has ever recorded. 'Nobody Knows My Name', the striking opening track, might best be described as "minimalist pure pop punk rock", and the evocative, riff-'n'-hook-filled, stream-of-consciousness rant titled 'Falling Up' follows in a similar decidedly art-rock manner. And yet, this music transcends all of its historical touchstones, taking the elements ("Wind, fire, water, laughter," explains Ms. Jones) and creating something that sounds totally new--full of grace, soul and adventurous sonic textures. Rickie Lee's vocals soar throughout the album. What's ultimately just as fascinating as the remarkable music on the new album, however, is that all 13 songs are inspired by the real words and ideas of one Jesus Christ. But before anyone reading this poses the obvious question of, "What in the world does a title like 'Elvis Cadillac' have to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ?" perhaps a little history is in order.
Essentially what Rickie Lee Jones and her collaborators have done on 'THE SERMON ON EXPOSITION BOULEVARD' is to put Christ's words into a modern-day context, portraying those words in a way that anyone can understand. Hence, 'Elvis Cadillac'--which not only talks about cruising around Heaven in the King's most famous vehicle, but also mentions the late, great Janis Joplin. After all, if anyone in recent history can be considered a secular Jesus, it would have to be Mr. Presley, arguably one of the "Christs" walking among us for that generation.
The recording began in a painter's loft on an abandoned industrial street in mid-L.A in the summer of '05. Lee Cantelon, who can best be described as a modern renaissance man, originally conceived the project as a lo-fi, low budget undertaking, a spoken word interpretation of "The Words," his book of Christ's teachings. Cantelon had created beds of music with guitarist Peter Atanasoff ("The Velvet Underground was the name that seemed to come up most often," recalls Rickie Lee), and Cantelon's initial plan was to recruit friends and associates--running the gamut from punk icon Mike Watt to a homeless man he encountered every day to Rickie Lee--to do the talking.
When Rickie Lee arrived to record her spoken work track, the project was to take an unexpected turn. Instead of reciting the text, she improvised a stunning 'sermon' that was to change the undertaking in a wonderful and personal direction. 'Nobody Knows My Name' set the pace for what was to become 'THE SERMON ON EXPOSITION BOULEVARD'--and it appears on the record exactly as it was delivered that day. And the fact that she had not even heard 'Nobody Knows My Name' when she began to sing was no less remarkable. She found a niche by improvising off the texts to tunes she had‹and had not‹heard, and the resulting songs are truly inspired.
When circumstances put the recording on hold for half a year, the project seemed in danger of being abandoned. Ms. Jones hired producer Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, The Vines, Beck) to put the project back on track. Rob took Rickie Lee and her crew to Hollywood's legendary Sunset Sound. Peter and Lee kept the 'sermon' focused by using the same musicians throughout the recording. The new sessions would also find Rickie Lee now contributing musical ideas as well as lyrical ones, including such latter tracks as '7th Day', 'Tried To Be A Man', 'I Was There' and 'Elvis Cadillac'.
One evening, Rob brought in Joey Waronker (son of Lenny, co producer of Rickie's first two records) to play on a number of these new songs. Rickie began to play bass and guitar, and again, the project began to change. Within six weeks the 'words' project was completed, and the 'THE SERMON ON EXPOSITION BLVD' was born. Besides the aforementioned songs, the album includes 'It Hurts', 'Where I Like It Best', 'Donkey Ride", 'Road To Emmaus', 'Lamp Of The Body' and 'Circle In the Sand' (originally written for the recent indie film 'Friends With Money').
"If you just have faith and try to believe and don't control it, it will unfold and reveal itself to you," says Rickie Lee. "In life, that's true--but it's especially true in art. If you don't try to control it, you'll find that you've delivered something way beyond what you could've mapped out." She elaborates: "I love what I was able to do with it, putting myself in the skin of Christ and all the characters walking with him on the sand--in my mind, that's what I was doing. It's still hard for me, two thousand years later, to come to that stuff and those ideas and read them. But what you get out of it is how little there actually is--there were very few words. And that Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher you can go to for wisdom. And it seems that the real story of Jesus is lived over and over again in each generation but no one ever recognizes the Christ that walks among us."
"It would be great if you could dip your hands into any spiritual path and find what's actually there," she notes. "People today can't even hear the name Jesus without tensing up because they don't want to be associated with the TV evangelists and that lot. I just wanted to level the playing field a bit."
"You start to realize there are maps inside of you that lead you to all sorts of insights you cannot possibly retrieve in the normal hours of the day," says Rickie Lee. "Music is a true, living connection to the spirit, and it's a higher work we do, whether it's blues or jazz or punk or opera. Working with this text, improvising, and using this raw, tough sound was all new to me, so, in so many ways, I am new... new stars... new sun." 'THE SERMON ON EXPOSITION BOULEVARD' does sound like the beginning of an auspicious career in music, never mind the artist creating it has been making music for 27 years.